Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

ON THE MEANING OF CERTAIN HOMERIC WORDS.

By John FLETCHER DAVIES, M. A., Trinity College, Dublin.

THAT praiseworthy investigator and discoverer who first determined the rate at which sound travels was at the same time the first to determine the meaning of a common Homeric phrase. I venture to propose for consideration whether this latter was not a very important part of the discovery. It has scarcely ever been of even the least importance to me to know that sound travels eleven hundred feet, more or less, in a second (the odd units and fraction are really not material), but to be able to fasten on the fact that Homer means words which fly at about that rate of speed from the tongue of a speaker to the understanding of a listener has been an actual pleasure to me many times in many bygone years. To explain Homer and give a thoroughly definite and well proved meaning to Homeric words, whose meaning was unknown before, is to perform a great service to the more cultivated part of society by increasing the delight of reading Homer. We do not, many of us, wish to stand Government examinations in Natural and Experimental Science, and become manipulators of those wonderful modern contrivances for making words vastly more winged than Homer's. Natural philosophers shall discover, if they please, the way to make words fly at any multiple of one hundred and ninety thousand miles per second. The discovery will not much increase the happiness of any portion of mankind, however much it may make some people stare and gape. But it is a matter of sublime interest to all readers of Homer, such, for instance, as was Peter de' Medicis, to whom the first printed Homer was dedicated, or the English statesman Fox, or the now living William Gladstone, that the Iliad and the Odyssey should be well understood. For they have power to de

K

light the mind impatient of silliness when Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, the Pilgrim's Progress, Ivanhoe, and even Lady Audley's Secret, can please no more. Of those two poems no man ever tires; and we can hardly call him a man who has not read them at least once in his life.

But you would be very willing to tolerate a man's ignorance of any number of natural sciences.

There are many men, however, to whom Homer is much more than the progenitor of a large portion of their intellectual life. There are many who have been moved to say over and over again : “ that mortal man who put those words together was the greatest of the sons of men, and there is no name fit to be mentioned by the side of his, no, not one." Think: there was a great Transpadane Roman, and we were very near having a great Englishman in the reign of one of the Tudors, but he was too rude; and there has been no good second to Homer. Like that Yorkshire Pherenicus of a hundred years ago, Homer is first, and the rest, good runners some of them, are nowhere.

And so Aeschylus called himself a rechauffeur of Homer's scraps, and Virgil preferred Lucretius before himself, and so would William Shakspeare, if he had been able to read the De Rerum Natura and the Odyssey. In Homer's poems we have the true paragon of poetry, and their maker sways the princedom over all the givers of delight. How judicious, too, was that arrangement of mundane occurrences by which the poet who possessed this supreme power to please was made to live so early in the life of the world, even in the very rosy fingered dawn of man's mental birth, and be the delight of the greatest possible number of generations ! For the literary works of the Easterns, which are either wholly religious or amatory, and deal so largely in the grotesque and supernatural, are not remarkably interesting and pleasing. The best are the fables of Lokman, the ancient Persian, and the only barbarian to whom the Greeks were indebted for any portion of their poetic literature.

Because of this incomparable and inexhaustible beauty of Homer's poems, I do not think that it is too much to say that the discovery of the meaning of Homeric words is a contribution to the pleasure of cultivated men with which not many other discoveries can compete. Suppose the question were put to you: "would you rather that Homer's poems were utterly lost out of the memory of men, and that all the influence they have had on men's minds should be wiped out, and this one cause of human culture and life's embellishment should never have existed, and that you should have no Homer near your hand on your study table, and no Odyssey in your pocket when you take your summer trip to Theaki, or: that the printing press and the London Times, electrical machines and very quick telegrams, the steam engine and frightfully perilous locomotion, the mariner's compass, telescopes, microscopes, logarithms, gunpowder, photography, and all the new planets, comets, and lucifer matches had never been thought of, and did not exist ?" It is, I know, a heartsearching alternative. But, as I have no power of divine language to do what Henry Stephens shrank from attempting in the Preface to his Poetae Graeci Principes, “Homerum ita laudare ut volebam non poteram,” for only a Cicero could worthily pronounce the praises of Cicero, and as I would, nevertheless, testify my solemn homage to the great king and father of inspired men, I will throw this little handful of barley meal and honey sweet words of loving adoration of Homer over my own private holocaust of all those tricks and toys of late born men. Oye lucifer matches, ye sulphurless, nophosphorus, onlyigniting-on-the-box and nonpareil Tandstickors, useful but not beauteous beings, shall I keep you, or Homer? I shall miss you, to be sure, but how much more miss Homer! Ye must go; and the great two-headed continent that Columbus discovered shall go along with you to swell the precious pile. Among the successors of Professor Buttman Mr. F. A.

Paley holds, I think, a high rank. To him we owe the interpretations αμφιγυήεις « ambidexter,” βοήν άγαθος Μενέλαος “Menelaus good at need, and γλαυκώπις Αθήνη “lion eyed Athené.' In all of these the advantage is immense over the old renderings, while their Homeric propriety and etymological probability are unimpeachable. They seem to me to require no proof; they commend themselves at once to the experienced reader of Homer. Menelaus, for instance, the most courtly and best mannered of the Homeric heroes, is no longer represented to us as constantly vociferating and using his voice in an undignified style. The etymological probability that kiutos aupuyviais means “the famous artificer with two right hands” may be shown in the following way; for this is rather a wonderfully acute guess of Mr. Paley's than a discovery with proof. Túns originally meant the spike or pointed end of a wooden ploughshare, which was afterwards shod with an iron Üvvis. The word yuns occurs (nine times in the Il. and Od.) in the epithet of ¿yxos, applyvov, which means a spear “having a spike at both ends;" one was the aiyun or dóyxn, the spear head, and the other the gavpwrno used by Homer's heroes for sticking the spear in the ground, Il. 10. 153. 'Aupayunas, then, as an epithet of a skilled workman, will mean one who is sharp on both sides, or with both hands, who has not a left hand blunt as compared with his right hand.” The metaphor of dulling or blunting hand or heart was familiar enough to the Greeks, as all know. Shakspeare, too, has “do not dull thy palm" and “blunts the edge of husbandry." I suppose that every one can see that “the famous cripple with two lame legs”. is a very limping expression for Homer to use. And so with many more of Mr. Paley's contributions : they almost dispense with proof because of a certain patency of fitness and rightness which they bear in their front. But my object is to introduce, in these papers, some new interpretations of my own. I am not altogether a novice in Homeric interpretation. Mr. Paley has tacitly adopted in

several passages the translation of auúuwy “faultless in beauty" which was suggested, and nearly proved on p. xi of my Choephorae, 1862. I am still of opinion that that is the primary meaning, and that the old translation, “ blameless, in a moral sense,” is quite wrong. My suggestion that in uávrıç auóụwv the allusion may be to some superior elegance of costume and other professional adornments, such as the crown and golden wand (poor Cassandra's Xonornpía toons, and kóduoi, Aesch. Ag. 1270, 1; Arion's OKEVÌ which he puts on to sing his last melody in), has been confirmed by such passages as Ovid Amor. 8. 59, ipse deus vatum palla spectabilis aurea ; and it seems to me to be only by a wrong prejudice that one is prevented from saying “the handsome seer.” We are so full of the notion that a prophet must be a grey bearded old man with a sour face, who delights in jeremiads and is always saying unpleasant things. As if onions Theoclymenus (Od. 17. 151) was not a handsome man, and the pávrıç Agasias not in the flower of grace-beautified manhood when he won a chariot race at Olympia, Pind. 01. 6. Kaloynoós, Modern Greek for “a priest,' looks very like 'handsome old man.' 'Ayasoáuɛ0' is another word the meaning of which I have tried to define more clearly (Agam. p. 191). If you take ảyav to be the root, an old accusative of äyn 'surprise,' the verb will mean 'to regard as in excess' and will bear the two meanings 'to admire' and 'to disparage.' Then we can interpret the line about Ulysses, Il. 3. 224, always rejected as spurious: “after hearing him speak, we did not think so meanly of the person of Ulysses when we looked upon it;" and that about Eurylochus, Odyss. 10. 249, “when, asking him questions and getting no answers, we began to think he was carrying the thing too far," that is, “was in too great a fright for a brave man.” In Odyss. 16. 203, ούτε τι θαυμάζειν περιώσιον, ούτ' αγάσασθαι you ought neither to admire your father too much, nor to disparage him," two verbs, one half neutral and the other quite, have their sense defined in opposite directions. Nor have I changed

« AnteriorContinuar »