10 MAY 1924, Page 16



The Homer of Aristotle. By D. S. Margoliouth. (Blackwell. 10s. 6c1.)

PROFESSOR MARGOLIOUTII'S new book is astounding. To read it is a continuous excitement. Only the multiplicity, the closeness, and the sobriety of argument kept me from becoming wild with enthusiasm as I read. By good fortune, too, I began with a complete incredulity, and it was gradually and quietly that I understood the significance of the book and was persuaded to agree with its thesis. At school I had been given a modernistic-classical education ; I had been taught to reverence the Higher Criticism of literature and of the Bible ; to regard Sir James Frazer as the apex not only of industry but also of inspiration ; to pay reverence to the brilliance of Wolf, Bentley, Porson, of all text-emenders and internal-evidence men ; to study with delight the theories of Rutherford, Verrall, Wilamowitz-Moellendorff and Professor Gilbert Murray ; to hold the latest word of any brilliant modern scholar sacred. And here the whole of my education was being swept away, and I was left with the comfortably ecstatic feeling that all my knowledge was false.

In its narrowest bearing the theme of The Homer of Aristotle is this : Homer was an actual, historical man, we know more of him than any of our savants will admit, and we have always had before our eyes a store of information about him that is for the first time, here, in this book, laid open. Incidentally, if Professor Margoliouth's contentions are true, the whole system of scholarship for the past two hundred years is sapped, is falling ; for it has been based upon the theorizing, the calculation of probabilities, the interpretation of evidence that this same Wolf and his German fellows invented. But to communicate the excitement and the conviction I felt is for a very definite, very delicate reason immensely hard. For this reason Professor Margoliouth's book stands little chance of attracting the attention it deserves. For this reason I must delay till later in the review the heart of the discussion, Professor Margoliouth's chief discoveries, the most breath-taking and overwhelming of his proofs. Modern scholarship is threatened with the extreme penalty, but we must go modestly about our impeachment.

In poring minutely upon the text of Homer our scholars have found inconsistencies of idiom and action, differences of outlook, hiatuses, irreconcilable customs, earlier and later civilizations, iron weapons against bronze, and a thousand such puzzles. Homer, they have concluded, was not one man but all mankind's collaboration. Or, to be more precise, the Iliad and the Odyssey were folk-songs, religious and historical legends developed and done up fine by the successive addi- tions and improvements of generations of Greeks. As with the Pentateut h, we can split up these poems into the work of half-a-dozen different hands, and we can infer a multitude of others. They, and the rest of this ballad- legendry, the Cyclic Poems, were recited from memory for centuries and were passed down traditionally from rhapsode to rhapsode, for writing was not yet known to the Greeks. Pisistratus was the first man to collect and arrange them into their present form. This view, says Wolf, is supported by " the whole voice of antiquity." The poems were com- posed, it is almost irresistibly argued, in the Aeolian dialect, and a good deal of alteration was necessary before they could assume their Ionic form. They most probably celebrate the confused memory of a trade war between the Greeks and the Trojans. The Iliad and the Odyssey were perhaps the best of these sagas, and therefore are preserved to us, while the Cyclic Poems have vanished and left only their plots behind; but they have been preserved with a vast amount of excision, interpolation and change.

Now, Professor Margoliouth has listened intently for the whole voice of antiquity, but could not find it saying any such thing. It is true that Cicero, who " only on this occasion is regarded as a serious authority on the history of Hellenic literature," mentions, in a passage full of startling blunders, the Pisistratan recension. It is true that Flavius Josephus, " an authority on Hellenic literature about as high as Cicero," states that various discrepancies in Homer were explained by this oral tradition. True, too, that a worthless Byzantine scholiast of A.D. 1000 observed that the poems had once been lost because they were not committed to writing but passed on by memory. But every other writer on Homer, from the earliest recorded criticisms till the time of Wolf, either makes no mention of these theories or, having read them in these three sources, quotes them only to deny their truth. And Professor Margoliouth proves very neatly that the theories took their origin from a false etymology of the word " rhapsode."

He sets out with the opinion that earlier authorities, who have not even heard of the Pisistratan recension, or the oral tradition, are the most reliable witnesses. Both Plato and Aristotle had no doubts that Homer was a man, that he was the author both of the Iliad and the Odyssey, that both poems were current in Athens long before Pisistratus. They regarded his work as the Jews regarded the Pentateuch, as the sole revelation of religion, as of plenary inspiration, and as the composition of one man. And these men, surely, in their real consensus with all antiquity, can speak with more con- viction upon their own literature than a Roman, a Jew, and a Byzantine scholiast so wretched that this is the only citation with which he is ever allowed to disgrace himself.

But this by no means exhausts Professor Margoliouth's capacity for argument. He shows by excellent illustrations from modern historians and men of letters that inconsistencies are not necessarily a mark of divided authorship. He makes it obvious that many of the reputed inconsistencies in Homer are perfectly consistent, and that none are serious. He convinces us that even the Cyclic Poems are not folk-song : that both these poems and the Attic tragedies derive their mythology entirely from Homer. By a sort of Midrashie and Kabbalistic interpretation of episodes and names new myths were deduced from the old. Dionysius of Halicarnassus truly said " Homer is the source of every sea, every river and every spring." And, most important, most persuasive of all, he proves in detail that Aristotle was right in taking the Iliad and the Odyssey for the supreme examples of con- struction in literature : he analyses the plots of both poems, showing how one episode springs from another, gives birth to another, how each is fitted to a unified scheme, is organic, is invented by necessity of art. This could be true only if the poems were the work of one man and he were a supreme artist.

See Homer reinstated, a blind old poet of Ios, one of the world's greatest men. See that he, this Homer, invented the whole mythology of Greece, was the inspiration of all Greek poetry, art, and religion. Homer a bible to the Greeks ? Yes, in the deepest truth. He was their authority upon everything—he has invented the very history of the Greeks.

We have arrived at the time when the very momentous, very delicate affair to which I referred must be made public. Professor Margoliouth has discovered a cryptogram in Homer. It is a word which may well make the most well inclined reader turn a deaf ear to all that follows. Professor Mar- goliouth is brazen about it : he places the cryptogram and its solution in the very forefront of his work : it was the cause and impetus of his argument. But a world justly weary of Baconian and ingenious pedants will be difficult to persuade that any cryptogram can be anything but a fraud or at best a grave disability in serious speech.

But Professor Margoliouth is no habitual cryptographer ; and, unlike all other cryptograms, those he has discovered and solved are simple and compulsive. He did not begin with the assumption that there must be miracles about. Diogenes Laertius has an unmistakable reference to the fact that Attic tragedians left in their plays this peculiar seal of authorship ; and he pointed out where it was to be found. In every play of rEschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, Professor Margoliouth has taken the first six lines, and, couplet by couplet, without adding, omitting, or changing-a letter, he has found that the letters of the couplet can be rearranged to give another iambic couplet. In every instance the first couplet, so treated, gives the name of the dramatist, the second the Olympiad in which the play was produced, the third a warning to waste no more labour in deciphering the other couplets of the play. He takes the beginnings of thirty-five plays and from each obtains an Ascription, a Chronogram, and an Admonition. It would be a bold man who called this coincidence.

We know that Italicus signed his name acrostieally to the first eight lines of his translation of the Iliad. Professor

Margoliouth, reading the letters of the seven-line prologue to the Iliad, and the ten-line prologue to the Odyssey, down-

wards, in columns, two by two, and changing the order of the letters in each separate column, obtains a continuous,

grammatical, in every way perfect, account of the poem. He has never, in the Iliad, more than fourteen letters to rearrange (there are eighteen in the last three words I wrote), never in the Odyssey more than twenty. Both of these accounts turn out to be in regular iambic verse.

I could not be fair to Professor Margoliouth's cryptograms, without reproducing them whole ; and for that, of course, there is no room. They seem completely convincing, and Professor Margoliouth rightly urges that anyone who disputes

their necessity should attempt to produce the same result from any other lines in Homer. Meanwhile it will be inter- esting to quote (not quite in the original translation, for that is done with an eye to absolute literalness) the signatures of Homer both in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

" Preface to the Iliad.

Into the voice of Homer of Ios,

Expelling from the bounds all contrary fiends, Enter, 0 gracious deity, As ye entered the laments of Orpheus ; The waters were held back, they kindled strange lands like fire.

Let me, the Achilleis, a gift to Troy, kindle two lands : The allotted lands of the Danai and thy children Are sundered, brave Aeneas.

And if I have composed with skill Tales for the powers of Strife, Consider what tribute you will take for the counsels of Athene."

The final sentence implies that this tale of battle is a prepara- tion for a tale of wisdom.

" Preface to the Odyssey.

Thou art the author, Apollo.

0 Lord, be very gracious.

Expel the load of care which has entered, Come, enter me, and bear me aloft, Not unaccustomed to the road.

Thou badat me lay aside Slaughter whence it arose, And Strife ; Ares in his place, directing him To the region of the North Wind, With sacrifices, prayers, and torches : Then to rehearse such lays as will relieve the sleepless mind, Paying, 0 patroness of Laertes's son, thy tribute of speech, Composing as many lays as New Ilion elected Homer should make of her tales, Twenty-four the meaning.

That scion of Aeneas, Whom I used to lull to sleep amid the cares of office, Used to urge me to take another Trojan theme."

If these hidden sources of knowledge can be accepted, then all Professor Margoliouth's contentions are proved. Without them he has still greatly perturbed our confidence in modern scholarship. He has WI initial advantage over most scholars ; he is a Professor of Arabic, he is erudite in the Mohammedan and Jewish religions. He is not likely, therefore, to fall under the spell of Sir James Frazer and regard religions as a natural growth from superstition and magic ; he knows beforehand how much a religion depends for its power upon the personality of a founder. He is, indeed, erudite upon an almost inconceiv-

able number of subjects, and he is perfectly fitted to hold his own in any argument if he is allowed a hearing. It is to be hoped that all the work he has accomplished in this enchanting volume will be rigorously tested, and I imagine that he would wish it no better fate. " It is not desirable," he states in his preface, " to endeavour to demonstrate anything which is