Greece Literature – Homer Part II
This unity is shown especially by the – so to speak – finalistic conception of both works, whereby all the parts, all the episodes, although here and there relaxed or marked by traces of imperfection and by residues of various eras, are however, not only relived with the same spirit, with the same sentiment, but directed and coordinated to the same final effect, which has a highly dramatic purpose. Drama is another essential feature of Homeric poetry; and it was exactly intuited by the ancient philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, etc.), to whom Homer’s epic seemed the prototype of the Attic tragedy. It is, after all, the true and only gift that has made it possible to transform the enormous material of the myths, of purely pragmatic-narrative content, into living and palpitating poetry, permeated with interior lyricism. AND, in fact, it replaces the lyric-musical element of the previous songs of deeds. Without it we will then fall into the arid narration of cyclical poems. Iliad and Odyssey are substantially also “mythopean”, like the other poems: their author immerses himself in the joy of the novel, in the luxury of images, and so on. But here the myths (it is indubitable) do not count if not because of their emotional capacity; they are chosen and conducted and relived with regard to the passions they can arouse. There is a mind participating in the action. All the cases of life, happy or sad, pass through the two poems: but contemplated and almost watched from above with a wide and painful sense of humanity. This sense of humanity has given the two poems universal value. Therefore the Hellenes, not only of Ionia but of every part, immediately recognized themselves in them and made it their “book” par excellence, the foundation of their culture.
Around the Iliad and the Odyssey the epic flowering was abundant in Ionia, through the eighth and seventh centuries, then also continued, by sheer force of inertia, right up to the threshold of the fifth century. C. It gave rise to a series of poems, most of which are usually designated with the overall name of epic cycle. Of these poems only the summaries compiled by grammarians and a certain number of fragments have survived. They were mostly attributed to the very person of the glorious initiator, Homer; and only in progress of time, with the advent of criticism, through the work of Herodotus, Aristotle, etc., did we begin to doubt such an attribution: therefore the poems of the cycle remained anonymous, or were assigned to different names of rhapsodes and Omerides (Stasino, Egesia of Cyprus, Aretino of Miletus, Agia of Trezene, Antimachus of Teo, etc.). They formed a kind of corpus of the most solemn and most accepted legendary heritage among the Ionians. Connecting with each other, they comprised the narration of mythical events from the origin of the world to the end of the heroic age: Oedipodia ; Thebaid and Epigoni ; Face powders (which served as a broad and comprehensive introduction to the short action of the Iliad); Ethiopid ; Little Iliad ; Iliupersis (ie “Destruction of Troy”); Nostoi (ie the “Ritomi”, among which the Odyssey was naturally framed, and was the last to come); Telegony. The matter of some of these poems could also be prior to that of the Iliad or the Odyssey ; but certainly the form was more recent. A new spirit was now taking place in them. The tendency towards the great narrative organisms, for which Homeric poems had already arisen from Aeolian songs, proceeded more and more; and, not assisted by the poetic genius, it was transformed into a reflective attitude and curiosity ordering the facts: that is, the facts, however legendary, were sought and looked at in a realistic and pragmatic way, as a matter of history, as truth; therefore they were connected and fully exposed, in their chronological succession. The sublime Homeric faculty of cutting a brief action from the complex of facts by subverting the chronological order to arouse dramatic interest has failed. The epic cycle it is the expression of a fantasy that runs out; of a poem that will have to give way to prose. In fact, the transition from the πος to the στορία of the logographers and naturalist philosophers of Ionia is not far off.
But meanwhile the production of the epos – which was perceived as the highest and most universal form, not only of poetry, but also of knowledge – was not limited to Ionia. From Ionia, and in general from the Greek colonies of Asia Minor, where it had developed and perfected, the epos flowed back into the motherland; and then accompanied the Hellenes in the other colony lands, towards the West, in Sicily and in Magna Graecia, also communicating its influences to different peoples, Italics and Etruscans. The largest of these branches was formed (this does not seem coincidental) in Aeolian countries of the Hellenic continent, in Boeotia, where there was an ancient cult of the Muses and where the germs of that primitive epic-lyric poetry that had transmigrated to the East probably existed, in the Aeolian colonies and then especially in the Ionian ones, and that from