468 UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.
with the spirit, and nowhere left a dead, inert mass behind it--of a people which, in
spite of its decisive abhorrence of every thing bombastic, circumstantial, or obscure,
understood how to accomplish an infinity of results by the simplest means. The whole
language resembles the body of an artistically trained athlete, in which every muscle,
every sinew, is developed into full play, where there is no trace of tumidity or of inert
matter, and all is power and life."
It is not possible within the contemplated limits of the present work to discuss the
literature of the Greeks under an exhaustive analysis. All that can be done is to note,
with some degree of care, the leading branches in the literary art of the Greeks, the
poetry and history of the Hellenic authors. On the very confines of the cloudy horizon of
Greek history stands the sublime figure of HOMER. Myth or man, who knows ? At any rate, he
was a Being-one whose radiance has fallen on all the subsequent ages of man's endeavor.
Even before him we have reason to believe that there were precursive bards of feebler wing
who put into the lips of the primitive Greeks the chant, the paean, the choral song, the
merry roundelay of the singing girls and vintagers. But it remained for the deeds of the
heroes of the nation to, furnish the material of a loftier strain, and Scio's rocky isle
to furnish the singer.
Here, then, was the beginning of EPIC POETRY-the song heroic which recounts the warlike
deeds of the valiant and strong. The Blind Being chose for one of his themes the siege and
sack of Troy-its causes, the outrage done to hospitality and trust, the counsel of the
belligerent gods, the array of nations, the stratagem, the catastrophe, and for the other
the wanderings of the brave and sagacious Ulysses, involving the social aspects of his own
and foreign lands. Thus were wrought the Iliad and the Odyssey.
The work was greater than the theme. The language was still plastic. Under the magical
touch of genius the two great epics rose like exhalations from the new- made earth. They
were chanted in the ears of all Greece. It was the beginning of the literary culture of
the Aryan race. The influence of Homer's heroic songs was transfused, like a strong
current of ancestral blood, into the whole body of Greek letters that rose out of this
radiant dawn. The Iliad and the Odyssey have remained the best in their kind among the
works of the human genius; nor is it likely that the deliberate judgment of three thousand
years will ever be reversed in the tides of, time.
The Homeric poems have not reached us in their original form. At the time of their
production the Greeks already possessed the art of writing, but that art was employed
rather for the brief and business affairs of life than for literary composition. The ear
of the early Greek was attuned to harmony. He would hear the music of verse recited by a
living master. He would feel the thrill of enthusiasm which could be kindled by no
lifeless tablet. The swaying form of the rhapsodist, his rapt visage, his flashing eye,
his sonorous voice rising and falling like the sea--these were the elements of
inspiration, these the coals that kindled emulation. Thus it happened that memory became
the repository and the tongue the deliverer of the verse of Hellas.
It is likely that for several centuries together the poems of Homer, vast in extent as
they are, were written only in the memories of men. Doubtless in this period many changes
were introduced by the caprices of not too faithful rhapsodists -many transpositions of
parts, and per- haps some total loss of sections or whole episodes of the epic. Finally,
however, in a day of happy fortune for all the world, the poems were reduced to writing.