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William Watkins Old

"THE TALE OF TROY DIVINE."

LONDON:
JAMES BLACKWOOD, PATERNOSTER ROW.
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PREFACE.

FOR an unknown and inexperienced scholar to advance


a novel interpretation of the writings of an author,
whose works have been before the public for nearly
three thousand years, is too extraordinary a fact not to
require some explanation, perhaps, some apology. It is
true, that others have asserted the allegorical meaning
of Homel’s poems, and have affirmed that a spiritual
soul dwelt in the magnificent forms of the Iliad and
the Odyssey; but I am not aware that anyone before
myself has ever endeavoured to reduce his surmises to
a definite shape. Chapman, an earnest religious man,
seems to have comprehended the inspired teachings of
Homer’s poems, and to have pursued their revelations
further than I myself have done. But he is so obscure
in the narration of his discoveries, that one can only
guess at the construction he would convey. Pope
merely refers to “those secrets of nature and physical
philosophy which Homer is generally supposed to have
wrapped up in his allegories,” and vaguely expresses
viii PREFACE.

his admiration at the “new and ample scene of


wonder” which this consideration may afl'ord us.
Cowper contents himself with the admission of Homeric
symbolism, and with the acknowledgment of mysteries
which, he conjectures, time might perhaps unveil. An
annotated edition of Cowper’s version of the Odyssey
has fallen into my hands since most of my “new
readings” have been written. In this, the editor
(under the pseudonym of “Outis”) has taken a very
narrow and matter-of-fact view of Homer’s allegory;
and, although in some respects I find I am unwittingly
his debtor, I can only regard his interpretation as
crude, insignificant, and wrong.
Chapman remarks, that it is not mere scholarship that
can introduce one to the universality and mysterious
depths of Homel’s poems; and he aflirms that his own
discoveries were due to that species of knowledge,
which, leaping the barriers of language, is gifted with
that tongue in which Medes and Partheans, Greeks
and Elamites, alike hear the wonderful works of God.
I can quite understand and sympathise with Chapman’s
observation; and this leads me to‘ another point upon
which I feel bound to proffer excuse.
It is not with any pretension to lyrical skill that I
have couched my new readings in verse. I may best
explain my reason for so doing, by quoting a passage
in one of Masson’s Essays, where he speaks of‘ metre
as incentive to activity of imagination. “ In literature,
PREFACE. ix

as in other departments of activity, law and order, and


even the etiquette of exquisite artificial ceremonial,
though they may impose intolerable burdens on the
disaffected and the boorish, are but conditions of liberty
and development to all higher and finer and more
cultured natures.” In a work wherein the highest
synthesis and imaginative ~intuition must bear a large
part, such natural incitement and assistance will, I trust,
be deemed permissible, even to one who has no claim
whatever to the dignity of a poet. It is my incapacity
in this respect which has partly rendered the intro
ductory chapters necessary. Had I been able to cast
my whole idea into verse, there would have been no
need of context and explanation‘ to bring the story
fully before the reader’s mind.
CONTENTS.

\
PAGE
W
On the Esotioo Meaning of Homer’s Odyssey,
The Mastery of Ulysses over Polyphemus,
Self‘Rennuciation, 52
The Minstrelsy of Demodocus, 55
The Muse, . . 61‘
The Court of Sparta, '. 66
Imagination and Reason, 75
The Song of the Syrens, 80
Quietism,
The Metamorphoses of Proteus, 89
Analogy, 97
1Eolia, 102
The Philosopher's Stone, 124
Penelope’s Grief, 129
Il Penseroso,, 139

—-_-_-____ i if *
NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

Qtn the fisuteric weaning of gamers @hgasng.

“As cold Waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far


country.”
THE Paovnnns or KING SOLOMON.

Forms, in all ages, have been styled divine ; and


this has arisen partly from the heavenly sweet
ness of their measures, but mostly from the
oracular truthfulness of song. The hard, like
the prophet, is inspired. With each, it is never
the man that speaks, but the spirit of man.
Their information grasps the entire sphere of
human nature. Cognisant of the lowest instincts
and appetites that stir humanity, they never
theless retain the image of their Maker, and
are in communion with the highest spiritual
intelligence. The Greek mind, with intuitive
perception, placed them both under the pro
tection of Apollo, the most sublime pagan type
B
.n
"1
10 NEW nnanmes or HOMER.

of divinity. Both, indeed, are the children of


Imagination: both are governed by Belief. The
poet’s feet rest upon the dark earth, but his
head is among the stars.
The lofty position which has been assigned to
the poetic faculty has been supported by the
grandeur of its productions. Next to the re
vealed scriptures, there are no books mankind
could less easily part with than the Works of our
greatest poets: for in them we perceive a some
thing which the labour of the human brain
alone could never bring forth. The persevering
industry of successive generations might recover
the treasures of a lost science, or revive the
customs of forgotten civilization, but it could
never recreate a poem which had been destroyed,
could never of itself rekindle the sacred fire of
poesy. The fame of Homer, Dante, Shakespear,
belongs rather to the human race than to any
special period or people; and this, because
they bring with them most freshly “ airs from
heaven, or blasts from hell,” and, superior to
the aid of human instruction, present themselves
“in such a questionable shape,” that we never
tire of demanding from them the secrets of the
skies. These men were most accustomed to that
highest mood of soul in which the finite presses
NEW READINGS or HOMER. .11

upon the threshhold of the infinite; and, in sad


earnest, they were wont to interrogate the mys
terious oracles of nature. The weight and value
of their works spring from their superhuman
origin, from their containing those spiritual
significations and metaphysic problems which
excite the finest curiosity of our nature. We
trace in them the indications of prior experience;
and, like exiles glad at some token from across
the sea, we long for further tidings from our
native land.
Like all else that is truly great, the oflice and
purport of the poet has been often misunder
stood: he has been called on to create, when
it was his province to reveal. Most persons
mistake poetry as necessarily fictitious, because
it frequently wanders far from the beaten track
of circumstance. They are ignorant that the
realities which are essential to the vitality of
poetry are spiritual facts: for the poet can only
exist in the sunshine of truth—that immutable
light whose interrupted splendour casts around
us the fantastic shadows of our daily life! Mr.
Gladstone, in his learned and deeply-interesting
work on “Homer and the Homeric Age,” has
very justly remarked that, “by a false associa
tion of ideas, we have come to place accuracy
12 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

and. genius in antagonism to one another;" and


he proceeds to observe, that the later poets
themselves have contributed to this error, by
conferring on their art a deadly gift, “in claim
ing an exemption ad libitum from the laws, not
only of dry fact, but of Truth in its highest
sense, of harmony and of self-consistency, and of
all, except a merely external beauty, which was
meant to be the vehicle, and not the substitute,
for all those great and discarded qualities.” It
has even come to be said, in vulgar joke, that
poets are apt to play the liar (lyre). But even
when the term was synonymous with fable and
romance—poetry, with inherent dignity,. yet
advanced her claims, and from the entire world
received homage and worship. Plato might.
refuse to the poet a home in his Utopian Repub
lie, but he never could refuse to Homer the
title of “ divine.””" The intuitive inspiration, the
celestial afflatus of the bard commanded the
acknowledgment of the philosopher; for, clear
as may be the light of reason, it is outshone by
the illumination of Faith.
“The rude man,” said Goethe, “is contented

" “ Tbv 60¢ofis'wrov za/ rev ‘Jsiorwrov womniW—the most Wise


and most divine poet.
NE\V READINGS OI HOMER. 13

if he see but something going on; the man of


mere refinement must be made to feel, but the
man entirely refined desires to reflect.” It is with
the last of these I would have to do, with the
highest order of men as with the highest order
of work. Without hesitation I address myself
to these. It may be in the security of know
ledge; .it may be in the presumption of ignor
ance that I shall attempt to raise a fold of the
parabolical veil, which, like that of Moses, con
ceals the lustrous reflection of divinity, and
shelters the heaven-illumed features of Homer
from the common gaze: should I succeed, I
shall be satisfied with their approval; if, on the
contrary, I am at fault, and my audacious effort
. should prove unsuccessful and mistaken, such
men will admit that the aim I had in view was
too high for me to feel ashamed of failing to
reach it, that my object Was perhaps sufficiently
splendid to justify any attempt.
I do not at all presume that the interpreta
tions I may advance shall be altogether correct.
It will be sufficient should I indicate where
abouts the truth may be found, should I discover
as much of the teaching of those passages I may
select, as in the generality of sermons is shown
the boundless wisdom of scriptural texts. In
14 NEW amnmes or HOMER.

my endeavour to unfold the Esoteric meaning of


Homer’s Odyssey, I resemble one who stands
before the work of some great painter, and, in a.
portrait, sees “the shape and colour of a mind
and life,” and feels he is acquainted with the
character expressed.
Homer, I perceive, was one of those

“ To whom this world of life


Is as a garden ravaged, and whose strife
Tills for the promise of a later birth
The wilderness of this Elysian earth.” *

He seems peculiarly to have had in view the


mystery of man’s fallen estate and promised
redemptionfi to have understood the insatiable
craving of humanity for metaphysical research;
though he rarely touched on those dark points,
which rise, like the boundary-locks of our prison,
to forbid escape—points from which we recoil,
by some law of repulsion, and can only say of
them as St. Augustine, I think, replied to the
inquiry, What is Timel—“Intelligo si non
" Shelley's “ Epipsychidion.”
J[The Greek theology contains many references to the oflice of
the Messiah; and in the common Attic custom of serving round
wine and water after supper, Au‘ EwrfigI—J‘ To God the Saviour”
-—we may trace a remembrance of the primeval traditiom—Vide
i'lthenmusfrom Philochorus, Plato's “ Charm'ides,” &:c.
NEW READINGS or HOMER. 15

rogas.” In the Odyssey, Homer composed the


history of Philosophy itself: in its hero we
behold that noblest type of man, who, to quote
from one of Dr. Tauler’s admirable sermons,
“ will make these perishing things of time a mere
passage-way by which he will ascend through
the creatures, not being held down by any
selfish cleaving to them, up to his everlasting
home, the eternal source from which he sprung
at his creation.”
True poems, I enunciate, are, like the human
beings that produce them, twofold in nature.
Their Words enchant the bearer and their forms
attract our sight, but their higher disposition,
their spiritual portion, remains unseen to mate
rial eyes. The moral essence that informs and
animates the transitory frame reveals itself only
to those whose sympathies are kindred. Thus,
when we love and are beloved, we enter, self
forgetful, into the secret presence of the soul,
and discover its most holy and godlike qualities.
In this invisible function, this inner meaning
which is the characteristic of all works of high
art, we attain the real proportion and due end
of their being. The human form is symmetrical
and fair; but it is a ghastly slough compared
with the spirit it imprisons. The action and
16 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

events of this world are of interest and dignity;


but they shrivel into blank insignificance beside
the eternal truths they enfold. Noble as may
be the rolling thunder of Homer’s verse, exciting
as may be the incidents of his story, deep as
may be his influence over our affections and
sentiments, he kindles our admiration and wins
our hearts, by having bequeathed to us the
undying experiences of his own boundless soul;
by having (perhaps unconsciously) imbued his
works with a secret inextinguishable flame which
ignites whatever is lofty in our own bosoms, and
enables us to descry those sublime immutable
ideas whose shadows bewilder and deceive the
student of science and the disciple of reason. It
is this which has raised aloft the name of Homer
as a beacon of lands far beyond our horizon, as
a star of primeval intelligence. His poems, as
Mr. Gladstone has observed, are, “like the
shield of Achilles, an epitome of life.” They
are no mere dead histories of commonplace
events, but are living memorials of superhuman
truths: they embody subtle philosophies and
important secrets: they possess that spirit within
which enthrones them among the nobles of lite
rature, as soul-possessing man himself is throned
in the scale of animated nature.
NEW READINGS OF HOMER. 17

This is a theory which, I admit7 is unlikely to


receive sanction from the present generation.
Amidst the din and turmoil of modern Europe,
it is usual to ignore the unseen, and to contemn
the ideal. None would be so visionary now, as to
waste time in listening for the sphere-harmonies.
Few are candidates for any glory, however abid
ing, that remains invisible. The age is an age
of realism: its system is that of the multiplica
tion table. Fed by the wonderful achievements
of mechanical science, the progressive develop
ment of the Baconian philosophy, men would
cut down the very tree of life in their greed for
“ fruit.” Socratic philosophy and the aspirations
of Idealism scarcely flourish in this soil. The
profit derived from them is not so direct or so
tangible as to gratify the commercial spirit of
the day; but, if we regard the blazoned roll of
Fame, we shall perceive their rich result. Most
valuable on man’s earth is man; and a large
proportion of the rarest genius this world has
yielded Will be found under the banner of Plato,
and devoted to the real philosophy of the un
alterable, of the things which, though unseen,
are eternal.
It is not long since our leading journal de
nounced allegory as incompatible with the
18 NEW READINGS 0F HOMER.

functions of modern art. Such is, perhaps, the


case; but it presupposes a degraded and efl'ete
condition of art itself, or a singularly narrow
and matter-of-fact popular taste. It is difficult
to understand how art, however debased, should
fling aside so elegant and natural a mode of
expression. Lord Bacon, who certainly had no
undue tendency towards the ideal, asserts, “As
hieroglyphics preceded letters, so parables are
older than arguments; and, even now, if any
one wishes to pour light into any human intel
lect, and to do so expediently and pleasantly, he
must proceed in the same way, and call in the
assistance of parables.” And again, “ There is
no expounding in invention of knowledge but
by similitude”—“ New truths must pray the aid
of similitudes.”
In the same spirit, a modern poet, Walter
Savage Landor, writes-—“ You may as reasonably
expect a rich crop of corn in a field of pulverized
granite, as any breadth of poetry among the
tares and poppy-heads of metaphysics.” Yet, in
the most perfect of Shakespear’s plays, if the
philosophy is to be winnowed from the poetry,
We should, I imagine, be confronted by the stock
jest of “ Hamlet,” with the principal character
left out!
NEW READINGS or HOMER. 19

I cannot perceive why Imagination should be


thus divorced from Reason, or why Poetry and
Philosophy should be at variance. Rather would
I believe with Schiller, in his “ Die Kunstler”—~
“ It is only through the morning-gate of the
beautiful that you can penetrate into the realms
of knowledge”—“ That which we here feel as
beauty we shall one day know as truth.”
Allegory, in spite of the suspicion with which
the word is regarded, is, as Hazlitt said, “ really
a harmless word, and won’t bite you.” Allegory,
I aver, is peculiarly fascinating and instruc
tive to the healthy human mind: it possesses
mystery, without which there can be nothing
sublime; it is suggestive rather than explanatory,
as are all poetic conceptions; and it gives the
reins to imagination, the most exalted of human
faculties. Metaphysics, moreover, are the very
soul of poetry; and poetry reaches its highest
flight when it shows us that nature itself is
representative, and the universe itself the su
blimest allegory.
Thus I am quite prepared to meet with oppo
sition in the theory I would propound, though
it is no new theory. An allegorical Odyssey
and an Iliad full of metaphysics are perhaps not
very inviting to the popular appetite. But it is
20 NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

questionable whether the popular appetite is


much exercised in the wanderings of Ulysses or
the fall of Troy. It consoles me, therefore, to re
flect, that whosoever should present these events
to a public whose school-remembrances of them
may be waning, will be doing good service even
though he may have little new to produce on the
subject, and that little but of a distasteful sort.
In introduction and support of my views, I
will first produce as credentials the expressed
opinion of others; but, I must observe, I have
taken no trouble in collecting these (judging
the matter independent of precedent), merely
gathering such as came to hand; and I do not
doubt that far more apposite and weightier
examples might easily be culled by the learned.
There is always a certain pleasure in receiving
from another the expression and fulfilment of
those ideas whose germs are indigenous to our
own minds, especially when the subject is of a
rare order which finds no echo in common intel
lects. Although it might not distress us to
remain misunderstood and unappreciated, never
theless, as has been said, “ we are never properly
ourselves until another thinks entirely as we do.“

"‘ Goethe’s “Wilhelm Meister.”


NEW READINGS OF HOMER. 21

Thus, the satisfaction of hearing one’s own


opinion uttered by a stranger’s tongue, may in
duce me, perhaps, to quote what, at the same
time, I may deem altogether unnecessary for the
establishment of my own notions.
The poet Cowper, whose version of the
Odyssey is quite superior to that of Pope, writ
ing on this subject to the Rev. Walter Bagot
(vide Life by Hayley) observes :—
“ From Villoison I learn that it was the
avowed opinion and persuasion of Callimachus,
that Homer was very imperfectly understood
even in his day; that his admirers, deceived by
the perspicuity of his style, fancied themselves
masters of his meaning, when in truth they
knew little about it. Callimachus meant that
the poems of Homer were in fact an allegory;
that under the obvious import of his stories lay
concealed a mystic sense, sometimes philosophi
cal, sometimes religious, sometimes moral; and
that the generality either wanted penetration or
industry, or had not been properly qualified by
their studies to discern it.”
Addison, writing of allegory in the “Spec
tator,” remarks:—
“ The ancient critics will have it that the Iliad
and Odyssey of Homer are fables of this nature,
22 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

and as for the Odyssey, I think it plain that


Horace considered it as one of these allegorical
fables.”
Mackay, in his “Progress of the Intellect,”
declares that the conflict of life and death, light
and darkness, good and evil, (in a word, the
opposition of opposites,) are exemplified and
shadowed forth in the mysterious calamities of
Atreus and the tragedy of Agamemnon and
Clytemnestra.
In Bruce’s “Age of Homer,” it is given as
the opinion of some of the ancient critics, that
nepenthe, the soothing drug which Helen
infused into the wine of which her guests drank,
was a figurative description of the charms of her
conversation.
“ The very frequent intrigues of Neptune with
women may be the mythical dress of the adven
tures of Phoenecian sailors in this kind,” says Mr.
Gladstone. And, again—“ With Homer, the tale
of Ganymede is the most simple and perfect
assertion of the principle that beauty, heavenly in
its origin, is heavenly in its destiny; and that the
heaven-born and heaven-bound should contract
no taint upon its intermediate passage.”“'k

* Gladstone's “ Homer and the Homeric Age."


NEW READINGS or HOMER. 23

It may not be irrelevant to remark that it was


the belief of certain of the old Greek philosophers
that the name borne by each man and woman
has some connexion with their part in the
drama of life: (Eschylus refers to this, speaking
of Helen in one of the choruses in his “Aga
memnon.” This perhaps may be traced,in some
measure, to the practice of Homer.
In the names of persons and in the attributes
of gods we can most clearly perceive Homer’s
design of veiling abstract principles under signi
ficant forms. Of the one the names of Demo
docus and Phemius may be cited, or of Aglae
and Charopus, the parents of handsome Nireus.
Of the other we may take the Erinues or Furies,
wherein we may detect the profound conception
tha “ the exercise of an evil will is itself penal ;
and that when the mind is disposed to offend,
retributive justice may take the form of a per
mission to commit the offence.”
For the Eumenides not only pursued the
offence, but incited its commission!—A concep
tion which Ruskin forcibly presents in his “ Mo
dern Painters,” when he remarks that “men are
guilty or otherwise not for what they do, but for

* Gladstone’s “ Homer and the Homeric Age.”


24 NEW READINGS or 110mm.

what they desire, the command being not “ thou


shall obey, but thou shalt love the Lord thy
God.” And which is further exemplified in the
following passage from the “Divine Poemander”
of Hermes:—“ The rational man will not suffer
for adultery, but as the adulterer; nor for mur
der, but as the murderer.” As another instance
of Homer’s veiling abstract principles under the
machinery of his Olympus—“ Mercury repre
sents, so to speak, the utilitarian side of the
human mind, which was of small account in the
age of Homer, but has since been more esteemed.
In the limitation of his faculties and powers, in
the low standard of his moral habits, in the
abundant activity of his appetites, in his indiffer
ence, his case, his good nature, in the full-blown
exhibition of what Christian Theology would
call conformity to the world, he is, as the nature
of the case admits, a product of the invention of
man. He is the god of intercourse on earth, as
Iris in Heaven?‘
“ In the legends of the Theogonia,” says a
writer in Fraser’s Magazine, “in that of Zeus
and Kronos, for instance, there is evidently a
metaphysical allegory; in those of Persephone,

’ Gladstone’s “ Homer and the Homeric Age."


NEW READINGS 0F HOMER. 25

or of the Dioscuri, a physical one; in that of


Athaene, a profoundly philosophical one.” And
the same author remarks, that modern German
critics opine Phcnacia to have been a symbol of
the Elysian fields.
“The information or fashion of an absolute
man; and necessary (or fatal) passage through
many afflictions (according to the most Sacred
Letter) to his natural haven and country, is the
whole argument and scope of this inimitable and
miraculous poem.”
“VVherein if the body (being the letter or
history) seems fictive and beyond possibility to
bring into art, the sense then and allegory,
which is the soul, is to be sought; which
intends a more eminent expressure of Virtue
for her loveliness, and of Vice for her ugli
ness, in their several effects, going beyond the
life, than any art within life can possibly deli
neate.”‘
Athenazus pronounces the seven mystical
birds, which, though under the protection of
Jove, could not pass between the Symplegades
without one of their number being destroyed, to
have signified the seven stars of the Pleiades,

"' Chapman’s “ Homer’s Odyssey.”


C
26 NEW' READINGS OF HOMER.

one of which may have been hidden behind


these rocks occasionally.
The fact is, when we come to take the poems
of Homer literally, we find much to puzzle
us. It is ditficult to reconcile the story with
reason; and the moment we bind it down to prac
tical exactitude we find ourselves confronted by
chronology outraged, geography all abroad, and
the most perplexing and unaccountable combi
nation of circumstances. It has even been
doubted whether there was ever such a place as
Troy, whether Helen and Achilles ever had ex
istence. Some of the characters of Homer’s
poems have been divided and split up into two
or three, and the scene of their exploits has been
shifted to serve the ignorance or satisfy the pride
_ of later generations. The modern traveller in
Sicily may have the precise spot pointed out to
him from which mortified Parthenope flung her
self into the sea when she found her siren voice
was ineffectual over wise Ulysses; and the reader
of Virgil may discover the Sirenum Scopuli near
Caprea on the Italian coast; and on consulting
a chart of the voyages of Ulysses it is probable
that an entirely different locality will be indi
cated. Directly we insist upon facts we are met
by contradiction and fable. We ask in vain,

.- I—w.
NEW READINGS 0F HOMER. 27

how it came to pass that Penelope should have‘


remained, as it were, a widow for twenty years,
‘when it appears to have been the custom with
the women of that age to re-marry almost imme
diately on the loss of a husband Z—how it was
that Telemachus, as a young man, had not the
power to expel the suitors from his mother’s
house, or why the suitors, in their unbounded
license, yet refrained from enforcing their plan?
It is incomprehensible how Priam should have
gone on for ten years with the Greek army close
beneath his city walls, and never have learnt
to know Agamemnon and Ulysses by sight till
Helen, in the third book of the Iliad, points them
out to him. ‘Ve are puzzled by the self-motive
ships of Alcinous, the enchantments of Circe,
the pilgrimage to Cimmeria, and a hundred
other difficulties.
It is this, probably (together with a certain
godlike aspect that warns one of a superior pre
sence), which has kept afloat, amongst both
ancients and moderns, a belief in the occult wis
dom of these poems. With the ancients espe
cially we know they were looked upon as theo
sophic parables. Socrates, though he pronounced
the poetical office'to be adverse to the philoso
phic, was in the habit of quoting Homer as an
28 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

authority on the highest principles. He was


evidently disposed to believe in these verses as
altogether representative of superior spiritual
truths of that “ doctrine" which, as Ben Jonson
averred, “is the principal end of poetry; to
inform men in the best reason of living.”
Kingsley, in the eloquent lecture he has placed
in the mouth of Hypatia, expresses the exact
sentiment of the Nee-Platonic school, when he
demands—
“ Can one suppose that the divine soul of
Homer could. degrade itself to write of actual
physical feastings, and nuptials, and dances;
actual nightly thefts of horses; actual fidelity of
dogs and swineherds; actual intermarriages be
tween deities and men; or that it is the seeming
vulgarity which has won for him from the wisest
of every age the title of the Father of Poetry?”
I do not quote this as Mr. Kingsley’s own
view of the subject, though it may be; for, as
we have seen in the present day, the feeling is
still extant. Nor to the other quotations I have
given do I intend myself, in all respects, to
subscribe. I admit that the city of Troy pro
bably stood on the spot which tradition assigns
to it. I do not deny that Helen may have been
the imprudent wife of a Greek chieftain. The
NEW READINGS OF HOMER. 29

events may be substantially correct, but they


come down to us with such fine spiritual import
interwoven in their tissue, that we may quite
overlook themselves as inconsiderable and worth
less. It is the same as when in the Bible we
read of Esau coming in hungry from the hills,
and bartering his birthright to Jacob for the
mess of red pottage of lentiles. The fact itself
is comparatively unimportant; but it becomes
stupendous as it takes a spiritual meaning, and
the simple story overshadows the centuries with
its solemn and prophetic lesson.
The mere circumstance of these poems having
upheld themselves so many ages before the
world, would suggest to a reflective mind that
there must be something uncommon and of ster
ling interest in them—something beyond the
mere romance of fictitious adventure, or the in
struction of bare historical incident—something
even sweeter and more powerful than those har
monious chords of epic verse which form the
meet accompaniment of poetic inspiration. If
it be true that “ the practical art and science of
animal nature consist in this-that the viler
matter be rejected, and that the better be re
tained,” it is no less true that a similar law
governs the opinions and judgment of mankind.
iii) NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

Many a seed perishes together with its husk and


coarser material, but this is the infraction of a
rule. Nature, in such a case is violated; or
rather, perhaps, she proceeds to carry out the
same “art and science” upon another level.
Although much that is noble as the product of
human thought must fail and sink in the current
of Time, we may take it as a general rule that
whatever survives the lapse of generations must
contain in itself some special merit, and its long
evity may be accepted as proof of its sound con
stitution. Such merit surely belongs to the
writings under our notice which, for more than
two thousand years, have stood the test of Time.
Let us, then, endeavour to elucidate this point,
to consider in what this peculiar quality may
consist.
Now, I conceive that all those great things
which influence the destinies of the world have
some fateful relation to higher actions; and I
fancy an unsuspected yearning for divine insight
rightly to interpret such events, invests the
combats of heroes and the trials of individual
lives with secret and superior interest. The
value of a thing is in proportion to its signifi
cance. Homer’s verses abound in such rela
tions; accordingly, the reader is irresistably
NE\V READINGS OF HOMER. 3].

attracted by this additional but latent worth,


though he cannot recognise the subtle spirit.
which informs the material frame his eyes be
hold. He may shudder at the wrath of Achilles,
he may follow with eagerness the adventures of
Ulysses, his colour may turn and his tears flash
at the woe of Hecuba; but the core and key
stone of his emotion is beyond the machinery of
the tale, is deep in those metaphysical truths
with which his own immortal soul is in perpetual
sympathy, however numbed and stupified within
its fleshy prison. ‘
This, I hold, will account for the remarkable
popularity of Homer’s books. Without this, it
seems to me they would be mere lifeless shells
upon the shore of time, mere mummies, which,
however well preserved, would be most doleful
companions at table or fireside. They live in
the immortality of spiritual truth; and this is
the reason of their outlasting the decay of
nations, and exciting the continual admiration
of mankind. Invested with that perennial
moderness which characterises the highest works
of art, and which may be traced to the above
source, they charm the youth of the present
day as they charmed the past. For they address
human nature, not individual taste; and, with
32 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

revelations of divine intelligence, hold attentive


that portion of our being which is heedless of
fashion and insusceptible of change.
Homer has raised to himself a monument of
miraculous structure. As Wilhelm Meister
says of “Hamlet”—“ It is not invented, it is
real!" Elucidating and supporting the revealed
scriptures, his writings are themselves a very
bible of texts, from which the most instructive
sermons might be preached.—“ We may say
with reverence‘ that these primteval records
are likewise another schoolmaster, teaching us,
although with another voice, the very same
lesson, because they show us the total inability
of our race, even when at its maximum of
power, to solve for ourselves the problems of
our destiny.” The discipline of philosophy, the
instruction of primaeval tradition—“ the thrill
ing secrets of the birth of time”-—-the harmony
and significance of nature all find their expon
ents in Homeric verse. Well might ancient
Greece guard with jealous care a treasure so
precious! Well might these poems, erstwhile
sang by the rhapsodists of Sicyon, be reverently
preserved as a. national institution, and recited,

’* Gladstone's “Homer and the Homeric Ago.”


NEW READINGS or HOMER. 33

under fixed regulations, at the Panathenaea and


recurring festivals of the various States, from
the earliest period! “Homer,” again, says Mr.
Gladstone, in his learned and interesting work,
to which I am already so largely indebted—
“Homer was the source of tragedy, the first
text-book of philosophers, and the basis of liberal
education.” He was all this to Greece, and
more than this. He was the repository of the
divine scheme of human nature—“ Homer spoke
out in simplicity and in good faith the religion
of his day, under those forms of poetry with
which all religions have a well-grounded afiinity;
for the imagination, which is the fountain
head of poetic forms, is likewise a genuine,
though faint, picture of that world which re
ligion realises through Faith, its groundwork,
“ the substance of things hoped for, the evidence
of things not seen.” Herein lies the secret of
his sublimity. The hard, like the prophet, is
inspired. With each it is never the man that
speaks, but the spirit of man. The poet’s feet
rest on the dark earth, but his head is among
the stars !
In the choice of the Odyssey rather than the
Iliad for the exemplification of my views, I am
influenced by its greater succinctness and variety,
34 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

and by its being more conspicuously ethical.


The transcendant grandeur of the Iliad, I will
not now touch upon; though, from its connexion
with the Odyssey, I shall be compelled occa
sionally to glance at the stupendous pictures of
radiance and gloom which it presents.
Foremost in the Odyssey stands the person of
Ulysses, a symbolical embodiment of worldly
philosophy, or that human principle which
yearns for the knowledge of good and evil—the
fruit which man tasted at the Fall. Ulysses-

“ Who, when his arms had wrought the destined fall


0f sacred Troy, and razed her heaven'built wall,
Wandering from clime to clime observant strayed.”

Ulysses—who, having eaten of the tree that Was


good for food, and pleasant to the eyes (for, as
Bacon says, “ Knowledge is more beautiful than
any apparel of words that can be put upon it”),
was driven forth into the world, an exile.
The figure of Penelope next engages our
attention. A type of the human soul, she
dwells in her island home, queenly and free, but
sorrowful, under the shadow of a great loss.
Tempted by a crowd of lawless suitors, she
remains faithful to her spouse; often recollect
ing, with tears, the Eden-joy she partook of
NEW READINGS OF HOMER. 35

when the desire of wisdom, divine philosophy,


abode with her, as her husband, in the satisfied
and happy hours before the fall of Troy.
In Telemachus, we perceive an emblem of
youth, of the rising generation. Most fitly he
exhibits impatience at the many enticements
that beset the soul; indeed he may not of him
self destroy them, but it is for him to go in
search of that errant philosophy, the return of
which to the soul shall herald their doom.
Laertes, the remaining member of the hero’s
family, probably symbolizes bygone generations.
Exercising a silent influence throughout the
story, he appears, after the great day of doom,
and assists in restoring the empire of philosophy.
The figure of Mentor is so enveloped in that
of Pallas, that this friend of philosophy exhibits
that divine aid which we find in Christianity;
exhibits that principle which lurks even in the
theology of pagan nations, the means of restora
tion for our race through the entrance into its
ranks of divinity itself.
It may also be remarked, that “ Ithaca” may
be derived from Sam; (sedes), as especially the
home of the hero of the tale.
‘ So the plot of the Odyssey shows the conflict
of the God of this world, Neptune, the ruler of
36 NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

the sea of life (between whom and the power of


evil a relationship may be traced), with Pallas,
the divine wisdom: A conflict which results in
the ultimate triumph of wisdom, and the restor
ation of woe-worn philosophy to the human
soul. There is every reason to believe that
the goddess Minerva exhibits a traditional form
of that wisdom or M70; of the Gospel of Saint
John; and, with remarkable coincidence, We here
find the divinity taking a form of flesh in order
to procure more than pristine felicity for the
widowed soul. We see philosophy, on its re
turn to a state of innocence, clothed in the
righteousness and grace of the deity, and rich
with the gifts and offerings of the harmless
descendants of the God of this world—the
Phceacians—who, as sprung from Neptune,
shadow forth the innocent pleasures of life.
Looking at the Odyssey in this light, the
ancient poem is no longer a simple collection of
songs which the bard chanted at the banquet
board to entertain a semi-barbarous audience.
The old musty tale, like Ulysses himself at the
touch of Minerva, becomes young, and regains
strength and influence for the present, aye, for
every generation. It is a solution of that
strange antagonism and distance between faith
NEw READINGS or HOMER. 37

and knowledge, philosophy and religion, to re


concile which. as Archdeacon Hare has observed
in his life of Stirling, is the great problem of our
age. It sounds like an echo of the Bible: it
seems like the shadow of that fuller revelation.
With this key we may decipher those hierogly
phics which have hitherto puzzled us. We may
see, in the journeying of Ulysses, the struggle
of scientific philosophy to restore wisdom and
innocence to the earth—a strife, indeed, “long
exercised in woes,” as the records of science
prove at every page! “ Vain toils,” indeed, to
reach that home where soul-like Penelope waits
harassed by a crowd of tempting suitors! This
drama may well engage our warmest sympathies,
for it is yet in action: it embraces that progress
of reason and morality in which all rational
nature is so deeply concerned. Crafty energetic
Ulysses is still detained, a captive, or is still
driven on the tempestuous ocean of life.
“ Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers,” and
this extended probation is of the deepest im
portance, and is a source of unmitigated grief
to the human soul; nay, may we not likewise
believe, as in the legend, that it excites the
notice and the interest of heaven’.l
We should regard all things from the highest
38 NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

point of View, for it is only by so doing that we


can comprehend their true nature. In this
inspired poem, accordingly, we find all super~
ficial individuality is ignored and banished, and
those detached and petty interests which sway
a shallow and imperfect mind are merged in
abstract unity. The characters are collective
and aggregate, and not individual in their na
ture. Penelope is not my soul or your soul, but
is the soul of the human race, whose advance
ment is our advancement, whose sufferings and
bliss are our own—the soul that fell in Adam,
and which Christ took on him the form of man,
to save. In Ulysses we behold the intellectual
supremacy of the ancient peripatetics, and the
human potency of modern Rationalism; both
struggling, under a curse, towards the same
end.
The character of Ulysses, is so pregnant with
instruction, that it demands our most attentive
study. Every school of philosophy is visited in
his wide travels: every phase of inquisitive intel
lect is presented in his various adventures. The
power of setting himself in sole action against a
multitude, which he exhibits so frequently, is
one of the special attributes of the philosophic
character; as, likewise, is that never-failing pre
NEW READINGS on HOMER. 39

sence of mind, forethought, and mastery over


emotion, for which the hero of the Odyssey is
distinguished. Ulysses expresses those irrepres
sible aspirations, that strength of purpose. that
native dignity (which forsakes him not, even
when cast, a naked wretch, upon the coast of
Scheria), those general capabilities, which make
man, as Carlyle has so finely termed him, “ a.
glorious possibility !”
But Ulysses himself is no man. It is not
insignificant that he assists in extricating him
self from the clutches of Polyphemus by adopt
ing the name of Outis (no one). He is an
abstract principle. He is a type of philosophy,
of that appetite for knowledge which wrought
the fall of man. It is impossible thoroughly to
understand his many-sided character, unless we
accept the fact that tradition had handed down
to Homer, and that poetic inspiration had eluci
dated much of the early bible record of our
race.
I cannot help believing that the poet was
instructed in certain of the leading events of
antediluvian history; and that in the destruc
tion of Troy is veiled, in exquisite allegory, the
dreadful fall of the human family. \Vhen we
trace the plot of the Iliad to its source, we find
40 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

it rises from an apple introduced by a malevo


lent deity—corresponding to the Hebraic Satan
—at the marriage of a mortal with an immortal
(which is probably a mythological description
of the soul’s union with an animal form). This
apple, answering to the apple of Genesis, is the
prize of Venus, a type of sensual love, which
low affection has been thought, not without rea
son (vide Sir Thomas Browne’s “ Pseudoxia
Epidemica”) to have been the special tempta
tion of Eve.‘ That primeeval legends were thus
treated by Homer we see even more clearly in
the myth of the celestial harbinger Iris, and
again in his allusions to the punishment of the
rebellious giants whom Apollo slew. In those
huge shapes of Otus and Ephialtes, tallest and
most beautiful of earthly creatures after Orion,
are evidently figured the pride and ambition of
the devil and his angels. And in these and
other passages we recover traces of that war in
Heaven, of which, in sacred writ, we meet the
looming fragments, like asteroids Wheeling in
the course of a shattered planet.

" The fable of Thetis and Peleus deserves close examination.


lt would be inconvenient here to point out the remarkable truths
which it embodies; but there are few of the Homeric myths that
are more significant or clearer in their teaching.
NEW READINGs or HOMER. 41

So, if we will read the character of Ulysses


aright, we must do so by the light of our bibles,
as well as by the observation of human society
at large. We shall perceive the exact verisimi
litude which he presents to the wide but un
satisfactory experience of Jerusalem’s Royal
Preacher with his cry—“ Vanity of vanities, all
is vanity !” It is only when the divine wisdom,
taking the form of man, leads the wanderer
back to his home, that philosophy can rest from
the weariness of labour, or can obtain its right
ful possessions and dignity. Thus, the Christian
is the true philosopher; and Ulysses, restored to
his faithful Penelope, typifies the triumph of
real religion. This intervention of celestial Wis
dom on behalf of Ulysses is, I repeat, strictly in
accordance with sacred revelation, and lends
fresh weight to the prophetic and sublime poem.
It is another version of that tale of infinite
goodness which has found means of satisfying
eternal justice, and at the same time of procur
ing man’s salvation. Strange and very touching
is it to receive this unexpected witness of Christ
the mediator, to hear the familiar accent of this
voice sounding from the sepulchre of the past.
It is solemn to reflect that the blind hard of
pagan Scios should be one of that band of pro
1)
42 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

phets and righteous men of whom our Saviour


spake; who desired—to see those things which
we see, and to hear those things which we hear
—children of faith, “not having received the
promises, but having seen them afar off.”
“ In the school of the spirit,” says Dr. Tauler,
“ man learns wisdom, through humility; know
ledge, by forgetting; how to speak, by silence;
how to live, by dying.” It is not difficult to
understand, therefore, why Ulysses should return
to Ithaca in the garb of poverty; nor does it
appear to me that any one who has ever tested
the natural pride of his own heart would find
the dissatisfaction of Penelope, at first sight of
her spouse, unnatural.
In this manner I would endeavour to educe
new beauties from every line of the fable. With
this construction I derive increased satisfaction
from the perusal of the restoration of Ulysses,
and the doom of the suitors. I perceive a
special fitness in the meeting between the royal
wanderer and his aged father taking place in
a garden, which, peradventure, may typify that
Paradise wherein Christ met the penitent thief,
and where, according to one interpretation, he
preached to the bygone generations of the earth.
Thus, I anticipate the traditional millenium in
NEW READINGS OF HOMER. 43

the lasting peace established by Pallas in the


Kingdom of Ulysses; and I rejoice over the
happy termination of that metaphysical restless
ness and doubt which characterises the Odyssey
of Human Nature.
44 NEW READINGS 0F HOMER.

(Ely: Zflastcrg sf wgsses star finlgghemus.

ULYSSES, upon his homeward passage from Troas,


having surmounted the temptation of indolence
on the coast of the Lotophagi (for philosophy,
like the infant Hercules, “in cunis jam. Jove
dignus erat”), arrived at the land of the Cyclops.
Here he entered on those supernatural proba
tionary adventures which retarded his return to
Ithaca: here he was confronted with one of the
first requirements of philosophy, one of the hard
est proofs to which an aspirant of wisdom is
subjected—the abnegation of self. “If we
would be new born,” says Jacob Brehmen in
his “Signatura Rerum,” “the self-will must
enter again into the first mother which brought
it fort .” In other words, the individual aspir
ation must merge into the universal. It is the
very initiation of the tyro-philosopher, this los
ing of self in humanity.
NEW READINGS or HOMER. 45

Accordingly Ulysses, with a picked band of


followers, entered the cave of Polyphemus, an
unjust, solitary, hateful monster, one-eyed and
hideous in form. In which egotistical and god
defiant savage we behold the impersonation of
that selfhood which, we have seen, it is neces
sary to maim and leave behind ere we can
proceed far in quest of wisdom. Polyphemus
was the son of Neptune, the ruler of the sea of
life: so our individuality springs from our divine
origin, and is peculiarly bound up with our
present existence. This giant greedily devoured
the followers of Ulysses; but the hero having
lulled him with some sacred wine, the gift of
Maron, Apollo’s priest in Ismarus, overcame
him as he slept, and, with extreme skill and
courage, destroyed the Cyclop’s single eye. And
herein we perceive the effect of religious teach
ing to enable man to subdue that selfhood
which in his bodily nature (being peculiary
detached and individual) he may blind and
defy, but cannot wholly exterminate.
There is a grim humour, a terrible grace at
this point of the story which deserves notice.
When the giant, pleased With the delicious
drink, asked the hero’s name, Ulysses replied,
“ Outis,” that is, no one. Consequently, when
46 NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

his fellow Cyclops came to the mouth of his


den to know what ailed him, as he roared‘in
agony, he could only say that no one hurt him ;
and they accordingly left him at once to howl
alone. I have already remarked on a certain
fitness and suitability in the title of “ Outis ”
for Ulysses. It becomes apposite, also, in
another way, when Polyphemus, as a boon,
declares “05m £7“) swam gd0/Lal”—I will eat
Outis last. Non-individuality would, of course,
be the last thing possible for the selfhood to
feed upon. Nay, fate renders it altogether
impossible, as in the sequel of the tale.
The selfish Cyclops demanding what was the
matter, because they had been disturbed from
their sleep, and immediately abandoning their
suffering brother, present, I conceive, the very
clearest type of individual interest—

“ Judging each his own,


And heedless of the welfare of the rest."

By further exercise of his cunning, Ulysses


managed to escape with his remaining com
panions from the cave, attaching themselves to
the sheep of Polyphemus as they went forth to
morning pasture; and, returning to their ship,
they carried off as spoil the giant’s flocks and
NEW READINGS OF HOMER. 47

herds. So, all that we labour for as individuals


becomes the prize of those higher and extended
aims which embrace humanity. The unit, when
it becomes the member of a sum, has far greater
meaning and consequence than when alone.
It is in our relation to the whole that we fulfil
every requirement of the part. For “ he whose
works proceed from himself does little good
service to God; while he who suffers himself
to be guided by the Holy Spirit does the
greatest works even in small actions." .
Having embarked, Ulysses, from the crimson
prow of his galley, defied Polyphemus, telling
him who it was that had punished him. The
giant acknowledged that the prophecy of Tele
mus Eurymedes had foretold the circumstance;
but added, that his father, Neptune, and he
alone, should heal him. Ulysses, exultant, re
torted that he only wished he could have slain
the monster as surely as Neptune would be impo
tent to help. Then Polyphemus called down
in imprecation the vengeance of his father on
the hero. and threw an enormous rock at the
departing vessel, which, however, proceeded un
injured on its voyage. Herein is centred the

* Dr. John TauIcr’s Life and Sermons.


48 NEw READINGS or HOMER.

fine moral of the parable—the aptness of philo


sophy to exult in its triumphs; to vannt a power,
which, unaided by divinity, is quite incapable of
effecting its purpose; to assume a sceptical and
irreligious tone.
The story of Balaam, the son of Beer, which
forms so remarkable an episode in the Pentateuch,
is a similar example of human wisdom setting
itself in opposition to Deity, but nevertheless
compelled to recognise and carry out the supe
rior will. This ancient heathen sage admitted
to the elders of Moab and Midian that he could
not “ go beyond the commandment of the Lord;”
yet, we read, he went astray, and “loved the
wages of nnrighteonsness.” Looking at the cir
cumstances in a casual way, it might sometimes
seem rather hard that Ulysses should have been
persecuted so relentlessly by Neptune; it might
seem rather hard that a pagan philosopher, who
recognised and proclaimed the rule of the sceptre
of Israel, should nevertheless have been the
subject of divine displeasure, should have been
slain by the edge of that sword whose triumph
he had been the first to announce, should have
been an object of execration to the apostle of
that very “star out of Jacob,” whose glorious
advent he had predicted. Yet Fate is just;
MM >._,__n. _,

NEW READINGs or HOMER. 49

and we may learn, from the condemnation and


punishment of Balaam, as well as from the
trials of Ulysses, that defiance of the Divine will
(though not expressed in action) is penal Ba
laam, it would appear, shall see the Messiah of
his prophecy: Philosophy, under the guidance
of celestial wisdom, shall return to the human
soul.
In the prognostic of Telemus Eurymedes
(whose name, derived from Him, far, sugug, wide,
and Mriqww, to rule, has been thought to relate in
signification to the Jewish‘ Messiah; to him who
“ shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from
the river unto the ends of the earth”) we may
trace the ultimate design of Christianity to
overthrow the petty distinctions of false reli
gions, to unite in one all the families of man
kind; that principle of totality, in fact, which is
seen in the figure of a Saviour crucified for the
sins of the whole world, and which is heard in
that universal prayer which each disciple of
Jesus utters, not as an individual, to “ our
Father.”
The curse invoked by Polyphemus points to
that lofty sorrow which has ever dogged the
steps of philosophy. To be misunderstood has
been the constant fate of philosophical genius.
50 NEw READINGS OF HOMER.

The centuries have seen their noblest children


persecuted or neglected. However much the
time may have been out of joint, the unthanked
reformer has been driven to cry with Hamlet—

“ Oh cursed spite!
That ever I was born to set it right I ”

The mournful prince of Shakespear’s master


piece, indeed, himself embodies that ardent prin
ciple of philosophy, which, though powerful in
desire, is yet incapable of carrying out the high
work appointed to it. In “ Hamlet” we see the
history of philosophy performed to a certain
limit; but it is in the “ Odyssey” of Homer that
we witness the grand drama in full. There,
although the curse of Polyphemus may fall in
all its details on the head of Ulysses,'although
the God of this world, the ruler of the sea of
life, may persecute the hero with misery and
wreck, yet the bark of philosophy escapes the
fury of individual hatred; and eventually Ulysses
is restored, by the Divine Wisdom, to his king
dom and home.
In an artistic sense, none of the statuesque
and clear-set figures which the genius of Homer
modelled excels this marvellous image of Poly
phemus: so strong, so greedy, so isolated, so
NEW READINGS or‘ HOMER. 51

godless! Thecharacter is without a flaw. A


dreadful interest broods over the savage. As a
picture, not a shade, not a hue is wanting. It
is as marked in its bold effect as one of Michael
Angelo’s frescoes. It is as exquisite in its mani
pulation as a Mieris.
52 NEW READINGS 0F HOMER.

fizlf-gsnnntiatinn.

“ Selbstodung, annihilation of self, justly reckoned the beginning of


all virtueF—Csurnx’s “ Latter‘ Day Pamphlets."

HAD thunder fallen among the ancient hills?


Or was it the loud fury of a. blast
Driving battalions of rebellious clouds
Routed through heaven ‘? Ocean, as it passed,
Shuddered and moaned along the Cyclop coast :
So direful was the sound, it seemed, almost,
Vt'rung by the pangs of Hell from some worm-tortured
ghost!

The pale stars shook above the startled air


As that keen outcry rose from off the earth:
The faint stars died upon the burning breast
Of heaven, and the ever-welcome birth
Of morning woke the joy of sea and land—
Day entered like an empress, fair and grand—
But still that lamentation rang along the strand.

Midway between the mountains and the wave,


(Where sloping forests led the eager eye
Towards an upper range whose snowy ridge,
Like heaps of shattered opal, clove the sky,)
Lay the huge Cyclop, wailing in despair,
Spread like a comet whose portentous glare
Measures from bright Arcturus to the greater Bear.
NEW READINGS OF HOMER. 53

His robbed and vacant cave resounded loud—


As when a. wounded lion, in his den,
Tugs at the barb with thunder in his roar-—
Aloud the hollow vallies echoed then,
Where hoary olives spread their shadow wide,
The laurel glittered, and the brooklet sighed,
’Mid osier-beds, to meet the lordly ocean-tide.

With one clenched hand upraised in bitter ire,


With one hand covering his sightless brow,
The monster groaned in anguish, cursing Fate,
Inevitable Fate, whose ancient vow
The sea-god could not cancel; but, in strife,
Did, for his selfish son, with vengeance rife,
Pursue the wise Ulysses through the voyage of life.

Balked and defied, the giant’s heart was stung


W'ith sorer pangs than burned within his brain :
Sick for revenge he shuddered :—like as when
(His ghastly face betraying all his pain)
He watched dark Acis, from the clifl‘s, and heard
The laughter of the lovers, which averred
The joy of each fond look, the joy of each fond word.

Nothing for him cared any of his tribe:


Heedless, apart, the selfish Cyclops dwell,
Hating all others, and, with narrow greed,
Hoarding provision in each gloomy cell.
A god-defiant heartless monster race,
With evil branded on their one-eyed face,
Sprung from the self-sphered Gods, yet brutish, cruel,
base.
54 NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

The fearful shrieks of guilty Polypheme


Failed in the distance, as the ship attained
The blue horizon. Then Ulysses knew
The sharp and hard-earned conquest he had gained
Was such as high philosophies require
First from young hearts that ardently aspire
To knowledge and the quenchless light of wisdom’s fire.

A splendid victory! To vanquish self—


To merge the separate in total love—
To lose all personality, and soar,
Like a cahn god, the universe above—
From the dull bonds of earthly nature free,
Rapt in the Infinite, alone, to be;
Owning the single spirit of Humanity.

So lofty was his fate l—But, dark with rage,


The sea-god’s brow in swelling furrows bent,
_ Angered at rash Ulysses’ parting words—
To pay which debt must many years be spent.
Not with the lightest breath shall man defy
The strong Immortals, but on him shall lie
Long expiation on the weary way to die.
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@he @instrelsg nf @.zmnhums.

I HAVE already observed that the Phueacians


typify the innocent pleasures of the world. It is
necessary for me now to refer again to this very
remarkable people, though I do not ‘intend to
expatiate here on that interesting and delightful
portion of the Odyssey which introduces Ulysses
to the court of Alcinous.
The shipwrecked hero, having been cast naked
and forlorn upon the coast of Scheria, was met
by Nausicaa (the daughter of King Alcinous), a
charming portrait of purity and innocence. By
her advice he applied to her parent for aid, and
in that monarch’s resplendent palace he was
feasted and entertained with a variety of games,
but especially with the minstrelsy of Demodocus.
It was the opinion of Maximus Tyrius, that
Homer, in the description of the Phoeacian bard,
pictured himself. Such may have been the case;
56 NE“' READINGS OF HOMER.

but it is not with any individual likeness we


have to deal; it is rather with the striking per
sonification of poetry in the abstract which the
figure of Demodocus presents. None of the
theories of poetry which have ever come under
my notice have appeared to me so satisfactory
and clear as this remarkable impersonation.
Aristotle judged poetry to be the art of imita
tion, and, therefore, common to music, painting,
and the dance: may we not add, that the art of
imitation is exercised by monkeys as well as
men! Bacon considered it to be the creative
art, or, in other words, the practice of fiction.
Plato’s definition was somewhat similar, when
he deemed it the art of begetting or making.
Both Aristotle and Bacon allowed poesy to m‘ 0
nify and improve upon nature. “ The poet’s
business,” says Aristotle, in his “ Poetics,” “is
not to tell events as they actually happened, but
as they possibly might happen.” “ And, there
fore,” says Bacon, in his “ Advancement of
Learning,” “it was ever thought to have some
participation of divineness, because it doth raise
and erect the mind by submitting the shows of
things to the desires of the mind, whereas
Reason doth buckle and bow the mind into the ‘
nature of things.” And. in this, again, Bacon only
NEW READINGS or HOMER. 57

repeats what Diotima taught Socrates, how that


the highest intellectual enjoyment results from
“the love of generation and of begetting in a
beautiful thing ;” which, with Plato’s usual felicity
of thought, is traced by him to the desire of
the mortal for immortality. These theories are
all correct, but they perceive only one side of
the sphere of poetry, while, from Homer’s omni
present glance, nothing is hid. The art of poetry
includes the imitative as well as the creative.
' The name itself is derived from the Greek mm»,
and poetry is the generation and making of
noble thought; but, beyond all this, Homer
discovers that poetry is the projection of an
inspired nature into language; that it is the
translation of a man, soul and body, into words;
that the poet not merely expresses in exact simi
litude, and coins the native treasure of imagina
tion, but that he specially reveals himself, and
embodies the promptings of his proper spirit—a
spirit so sublime, that, in the frenzy of genius,
it bursts away from all hold of mortality, soaring
in divine assumption.
The muse, therefore, as figured by Homer,
very properly wore the form and visage of him
self—the poetic faculty being that which enables
man to express the wonders of his own nature,
E
58 NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

to reveal the beauty and grandeur of the macro


cosm through the microcosm.
The name of Demodocus (esteemed by the
people, derived from the words Anne; and damn»),
as well as the respect shown to him by Ulysses,
exemplifies mankind.’s universal approbation of
this harmonious art. He was one of the prin
cipal ornaments of the court of Alcinous, in the
land of Phmacia, the very realm of entertainment
and pleasure, where “to race, to sail, to dance,
to chant the song,” were the business of life.
The blindness of Demodocus may typify that
inaptitude for what is passing around, that inner
life and seclusion, which generally characterise
the poet. The muse sees more clearly with
spiritual than with material eyes, and, while
familiar with the deepest, innermost thoughts of
man, is blind to the petty cares of common exist
ence.
It should be observed that when Ulysses him
self chose the subject of song, he demanded the
story of his own exploits. This fact is very
significant; for it is remarkable how, when a
man of philosophical turn of mind begins to
write in verse. he becomes introspective. We
see this in Shakespear, in his sonnets and those
searching flashes that illumine his plays; in
NEw REAnlNos or IIoMER. 59

George Hcrbert’s quaint but superior stanzas; in


Coleridge; in Tennyson. In fact, there are no
true poets but such as are philosophers in heart;
and, as Homer has shown, the true theory of
poetry is the reproduction and revelation of the
poet’s self.
“What see I in the highest place
But mine own phantom chanting hymns,
And on the deep of death there swims
The reflex of a human face.”*

These lines apply to the poet as well as to the


philosopher; and herein is expressed the hidden
source of that sad, contemplative nature which
belongs alike to both. It is the impossibility of
satisfying, with human nature alone, the yearn
ings of humanity: the impossibility of reaching,
of ourselves, the home which we claim.
Ulysses wept as Dcmodocus sang the “ tale of
Troy divine,” and such are the tears of the
poet’s song, called up by strange and ancient
memories: Tears, which

“From the depth of some divine despair,


Rise from the heart and gather in the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more l"

* Tennyson’s “ In Memoriam.”
60 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

But, be it remembered, even the strains of


Demodocus failed to maintain the attention of
Ulysses when everything was prepared for his
return to Ithaca.
“ All but Ulysses heard with fixed delight:
He sat and eyed the sun, and wished the night;
Slow seemed the sun to move, the hours to roll,
His native home deep'imaged in his soul.”

Ruskin has remarked that he never met with


any one whose heart was thoroughly set upon the
world to come who cared about art at all. So,
this belief is fully supported by the experience
of Homer. As a poet he extols his function in
the proudest strains; but he sets a limit to its
power, and admits, with a frankness and humi
lity most becoming in such a perfect master of
his art, that it is futile and insignificant in the
presence of the loftiest aspirations of human
nature.
NEW READINGS or HOMER. 61

@Zlgz wuss.

“ Mental philosophy is always some man endeavouring to see his own


image, either in himself, or in one of his fellows."
GARTH WILKINSON “ ON ran Horus Boar.”

Dsmonoous, the superhuman bard,


Sits on his silver throne: a golden lyre
Throbs at his touch; as, in the might of truth,
His fervid soul mounts like a flame of fire,
And all the palace-courts are filled with song;
W'hile, far without, the city streets among,
And by the harbour-tide, sweet echoes float along.

A splendid train of nobles, clad in arms


That gleam beneath their trailing robes of state
Like sheeted lightening on a sultry night,
In wrapt attention on the poet wait:
Three stately princes stand beside his throne,
Within a high alcove of fretted stone
With carven wreaths of bay and amaranth o’ergrown.
v
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Conspicuous, amid the stat‘like forms


That throng the spaces of that vast saloon,
Ulysses shines, in dignity restored,
As from eclipse the calm unsullied moon;
\Vell pleased awhile to hear the poet sing,
To own the honour that the muses bring
The man who soars on quick Imagination’s wing.

Intent, the sceptred monarch of the land


(That realm of pastime and august delight)
Marks the seductive verse, and graciously
Accords the praise that is the minstrel’s right.
A herald, answering the royal sign,
Bears to the bard a jewelled cup of wine,
Whose rubies pale before the ruby of the vine.

All ages here in commendation join—


Youth with its eager sympathetic heart;
And manhood, watching from its guarded tower ;
And the pale embers of what bore a part
In the renown that lit up other days—
One cry alike, both Past and Present raise,
“ Praise to the poet; to the god-like poet, praise!”

A glory gathers on his thoughtful face—


A face whose eloquent expressions tell
The wide experience that floods his brain;
(The bliss of heaven with the woe of hell 3)
And, while the echoes of the music pause,
Ilis inner soul a satisfaction draws
From the auspicious thunder of deserved applause.
NEW READINGS OF HOMER. 63

Again, in modulation sweet and low,


The master courts the favour of the muse;
Till inspiration, like a blast of wind,
The rising prelude of his harp imbues:
Then, to the blind and lonely bard, appear
Those truths eterne, whose shadows, falling here,
Clothe with apparent life Time‘s little hollow sphere.

His words describe the tender joy of love,


And lead the young to Eden’s open gate,
And softly wake the dreaming buds of spring,
And pave with rosy light the paths of fate.
Happy the hearts enlivened by his lay !
Gladly they fleet the starry hours away,
And hail with new delight each welcome-smiling day.

Anon, he chants a eulogy of Fame,


Making the swarthy check of manhood glow;
He paints the solemn pomp of bannered hosts,
And swa'ys the tide of battle to and fro.
The weapons clash, the jarring trumpets blare,
The hurtling arrows sing along the air,
And ghastly Death brands conquest with despair

With cunning spell he breaks the trance of time,


And, for the old, revives the darling Past:
Gentle as honeydew, their falling tears
An iris o’er the distant prospect cast;
And, as departing exiles fondly pore
On the dim beacons of their native shore,
Benighted age regards the days that are no more.
64 NIHV READINGS OF HOMER.

So potent is the witchery of songl


Sounding the heart as sailors sound the deep;
Weaving with brighter more enduring hues
The tapestry of dreams that curtains sleep;
The vatic bard shall ever live renowned:
A priest—he consecrates his native ground:
A king—his touch ennobles those who kneel around.

Ulysses now entreats him to recite


The mystic story of the fall of Troy:
The fault of Helen—nay, the fault of her
Who took the apple fi'om the shepherd boy.
For oft the philosophic man is fain
To trace the secret labours of his brain,
Or, in another soul, to see himself again.

And while the vivid pictures of the tale


Flash on the dormant night of memory,
As where the falling star of lightening flits
Athwart a cloud and dazzles those who see,
The hero weeps, and calls to mind the day
That he beheld the rocks of Ithaca,
When from his faithful spouse he tore himself away:

The anxious councils and the weary fights


In which he since hath borne an active part;
The dire adventures that have dogged his way;
The awful ordeal of his restless heart;
The sharp denials he has had to learn;
All, at the bard’s enkindling touch, return,
And, lighted at the flames of Troy, together burn.
NEW READINGS OF HOMER. 65

The wrongs and sorrows of the human race


Affect the most the most accustomed soul:
He bears the load of universal doom,
Beholding in each part the secret whole;
Well may the tears of brave Ulysses flow,
Wrung by the tale of Troy, that common woe
With which disastrous fate deformed this world below.

The music ended, and the favoured dome


Rang with a tone of exquisite regret;
As sad, as lovely, as the crimson shade
That kindly lingers where the sun has set.
The last rich notes, in tender cadence drawn,
Dear as the voice of one for ever gone,
Fell, like the passionate lay of the dying swan.
a. <w-__-_.“__I

66 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

@Zhe Qinnrt of Sparta.

Ir would be quite possible for that Divine \Vis


dom which “ shapes our ends,” to reveal at once
to the youthful mind the ultimate goal of those
efforts and desires which itself has gratuitously
implanted in the philosophical aspirant’s breast;
but such enlightenment is never bestowed.
“There is no royal road to geometry,” said an
ancient philosopher to the king, who was impa
tient to master that science; and the observation
applies to all knowledge. The fruits of wisdom
generally constitute the ultimate reward of long
suffering and research.
This is very clearly exemplified in that portion
of the Odyssey which we are now considering;
and it will be well for me to expatiate upon
this before entering on the special characteristics
of Helen and Menelaus, at Whose court Tele
machus obtained that information which was the
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object of his voyage from Ithaca. VVheu start


ing from home to seek tidings of his father, the
prince was accompanied by Minerva, the goddess
of Wisdom, under whose auspices and counsel
he acted. Now, it must have often occurred to
the student of Homer, that Minerva sadly
belied her attribute when she advised and
assisted Telemachus to prosecute a long and
troublesome journey—conducting him first to
Pylos, and thence despatching him to Sparta—
merely for him to learn that of which she
herself could have instantly informed him.
But for the ethical teaching which this was
intended to convey, the episode of such a wild
goose-chase would have been needless and even
puerile. To those who have ever smiled at
the awkwardness and absurdity of this round
about method of instruction, we may, however,
repeat, “ It is not Homer nods, but you that
dream.” His inconsistences, as Mr. Gladstone
has remarked, will be “ found to require nothing
but the application of a more comprehensive rule
for their adjustment ;” and that circumstance in
his narrative which seems most unnecessary, is
frequently the keystone of the structure.
Whether—as ZEschylus imagined—the very
name of Helen bears indication of her history, I

-..~-- a W-_
68 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

will not here consider. It is enough that, in


other instances, Homer has clearly bestowed the
most apposite and significant titles upon his
dramatis personaa. To those who may accept
my theory, Helen will shine brightly as that
quick perceptive faculty, by the aid of which
we penetrate the spiritual gloom which environs
us; while, under the form of Menelaus, will
appear the corresponding intellectual power of
inference.
The king and queen of Sparta typify the
union of the heaven-born imagination and human
reason.
In support of this interpretation, I would ad
duce the parts which they play in the dramas of
the Fall of Troy and the Fall of Man. Herein
they offer an exact parallel. I have already
observed, that the apple of Discord, which was
the mainspring of the Homeric tragedy, has its
antetype in Eve’s apple, of which we read in the
book of Genesis. In like manner, as Helen and
Menelaus are prominently the occasion of Troy’s
destruction, so, in the biblical account of the
Fall, we find Imagination and Reason are the
instruments of the catastrophe. Eve is repre
sented as reasoning to herself prior to gathering
the fruit, and, with an imagination inflamed by
NEW READINGS or HOMER. 69

the suggestions of the serpent, as allowing her


self to be beguiled by the sight of the apple. If
the infidelity of Helen brought deadly war and
ruin upon many, much more did incontinence of
imagination bring condemnation and death upon
the human race. The beauty of Helen, her
celestial descent, her very errors—do they not
all claim kinship to divine Imagination, so fair,
so alluring, so liable to stray beyond the rule
of Reason, to which it should rightly be subject?
It was Helen who first recognised in Tele
machus the likeness to Ulysses. It may be
urged in scorn, that not the most acute imagina
tion could now-a-days discover any tendency to
philosophy in the rising generation. This, how
ever, in no way affects my theory. When the
quest of true philosophy is earnestly undertaken
by the young, then, and then only, is there any
chance of gaining the desirable tidings. Tele
machus, it must be remembered, like all the other
characters of the Odyssey, embodies the most
extended abstraction. He does not merely re
present the rising generation of to-day or of the
tenth century, BC. He is the emblem of youth
in the aggregate. In him, Homer has shown how
the permanent re-establishment of philosophy
in the soul of man can only be expected when
70 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

the energies and aspirations of the young are


directed to its attainment; and that imagination,
rather than reason, is ever first to discover the
lineaments of philosophy in the youthful mind.
Reason and Imagination may justly be deemed
the poles of our mental sphere; and they were
most fitly represented by the Greek bard as male
and female, as man and wife. Reason, it will be
allowed, is essentially a masculine attribute: it
is also peculiarly human. \Vhen Telemachus,
dazzled by the splendour of the Spartan court,
deemed it godlike and divine, (like enthusiastic
Glaucon pronouncing the whole measure of life to
consist in the pleasure of hearing Socrates dis
course), Menelaus humbly replied, that the gran
deur of his palace should provoke no comparison
with heavenly riches.
“Jove’s palace stands
“ For ever, and his treasures ne’er decay."

Reason fairly admits its temporary and imper


fect state when compared 'with divine inspiration :
and although, from its alliance with heaven-born
Imagination, we may conceive its destiny will be
superior to that of man’s other faculties—like the
rest in Elysium promised to Menelaus on account
of his relationship to Jove-born Helen—yet its
NEW READINGS or HOMER. 71

doom on earth is to regret the absence of real


philosophy; nor can it do more than indicate to
youth the metaphysical retreat of that restless
principle which yearns incessantly for the know
ledge of good and evil.
But, if we cannot admit reason to be celestial
-—-for to divinity reason is inapplicable—we can
easily credit the superior nature of imagination,
and can perceive how more nearly it approaches
that power of divining true principles which we
conceive belongs exclusively to superhuman na
ture. As women are proverbially quicker to
discern than men, and more liable to make false
conclusions, so imagination—not always to be
trusted, though far keener than reason—is essen
tially a feminine attribute. I do not mean by this
to infer that imagination is found most exuberant
in women; on the contrary, it is very remarkable
that even a third-rate poetess is rarer than a
black swan. But there is something feminine in
Imagination. She does not seem created for hard
work; she is fair and tender-hearted—altogether
different from strong masculine Reason, that
labours away with the sledge hammer of logic like
a blacksmith or a navvie. In the few first-class
poets, “ whose thoughts enrich the blood of the
world,” we see imagination culminate; and in
72 NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

them we may trace this feminine instinct which


I speak of—a something which caused Dante to
look up to the sublime Beatrice as his protectress
and support, and which has made Shakspear and
Tennyson shower the unalloyed wealth of their
affection upon one of their own sex. The rich
monuments of love which “The Sonnets” and
“In Memoriam” present, claim special observa
tion from all who take interest in the highest
mental constitutions of humanity. The feelings
they embalm are so rare as to be beyond the pale
of vulgar sympathy, and almost incomprehen
sible to the common world. Nothing that these
men have written to their mistresses can com
pare with the “godlike amity,” the passionate
- devotion of these verses addressed to their friends.
It is strange that this has not elicited more
general notice, for it unfolds the secret of their
genius. It is to the abnormal development of
the feminine imaginative faculty that they owe
their transcendent poetical powers; and it is to
this the world is indebted for those singular
and peerless effusions of spiritual love.
The stories narrated by Helen and Menelaus,
when they entertained Telemachus at the court
of Sparta, fully exemplify the view which I have
taken of their characters. The queen’s is a
NEW READINGS or HOMER. 73

marked instance of the employment of the per


ceptive faculty. She describes the subtlety of
Ulysses, who, having wounded and disguised
himself as a slave, entered the hostile precincts
of Troy, in order to spy out the enemy’s position.
She alone recognised and challenged him, but
kept his secret, and allowed him to return safely
to the Grecian camp, after having informed him
of all that he required to know. Menelaus, on
the other hand, extols the wisdom and patience
of his friend Ulysses, and tells how, when the
Grecian chiefs were concealed within the wooden
horse, Helen walked thrice around and called
upon them by name, simulating the voices of
their wives; and how he himself would have
been unable to repress an exclamation but for the
prudent control of Ulysses. This description of
the temperance and firmness of our hero, and of
the submission paid him by his companions, as
related by the King of Sparta, agrees with the
reasoning of Socrates in Plato’s “Republic,”
wherein he shows that the rule of a perfectly
modelled state should be intrusted to the philo
sopher alone.
Lastly, it may be remarked, that Helen’s mix
ing nepenthe in the wine she gave her guests
when they were overcome with grief, answers
F
74 NEW READINGS or 110mm.

the poet’s description of the office of the “glo


rious faculty,” Imagination; to bind the brows
of suffering with wreaths of the amaranthine
blossoms of Faith—

“ Wreaths that endure afiliction’s heaviest shower,


And do not shrink from sorrow’s keenest wind"
Woanswon'rfl’s “ 50mm."
NEW READINGS or HOMER. 75

@mag'matitn anh gasses.

“ For Reason is nothing else but a human constellation."


JACOB BmnMEn's Emsr.

“ The glorious faculty assigned


To elevate the more than reasoning mind,
And colour life's dark cloud with orient rays:
Imagination is that sacred power.
Imagination lofty and refined."
Wonnswon'rn’s “ Scams‘rs."

KING MENELAUS, sitting in the hall


With Prince Telemachus, his stranger-guest,
Spoke of the absent king, and called him best
Of those heroic victors at the fall
Of Troy: But, poisoning each welcome word,
The blight of sore regret and hope deferred
Struck on the heart-sick youth, and withered all he heard.

And, like a sudden shower of summer rain


When thunder breaks above some mountain-dell,
Tears from the youthful prince’s eyelids fell:
But noble Helen, in her sweeping train,
Was heard without; whereon both small and great
Rose to receive her with becoming state,
And every face was turned toward the outer gate.
76 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

There, on the sunny threshold of the court,


Clad in Sidonian raiment, stood the queen,
Fair as the fatal day when she was seen
Landing like some bright goddess at the port
Of Troy, whose unsuspected doom, afar,
Followed the rising of that splendid star—
The destined harbinger of wrath and deadly war.

For change, which hateful as the taint of crime,


Mars the descending years of mortal man,
Can never lay its execrable ban
On fair Imagination. So sublime
Is her etlierial nature, time’s alloy
Fails to affect her; nor can age destroy
Those countless charms which prove an everlasting joy.

Now, in the heat and burden of the day,


As at the dawn of new humanity,
When Adam listened to the plaintive sea,
Or felt the wind of Eden round him play,
Or gazed in wonder at the starry night,
Or trembled in the depth of love’s delight,
Her peerless beauty shines unalterably bright.

So, like soft music on a moonlit lake


Where bands of happy lovers sail and sing,
So, like the fragrant buds of pleasant spring,
When earth and heaven novel lustre take,
Fair H elen’s beauty seemed to shed around
Delight; and all who looked upon her found
Their own supreme ideal of perfection crowned.
_,.__ iM-a-a" I; -.-"_ Jul" - al‘uFZ-v'l'

‘1 *1
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Thus, through the hall she moved toward the throne,


With regal aspect and majestic walk,
Her head, like some gay flower on .its stalk,
Turned to the youth whose sunny visage shone
Through tears. But, all at once, her gentle eyes,
Loadstars of love! glittered with surprise,
Ere rosy down upon her cheeks appeared to rise.

Rosy and white by turns she altered fast,


‘While phantom-voices echoed in her soul,
And pale Remorse upon her conscience stole,
Raising a trembling mirror to the past.
Pity, and pride, and shame, cornmingled were
For those whose courage had been spent for her
’Neath Troy’s beleagured ramparts, fighting year by year.

Again she heard, as she had heard before,


The outcry for revenge—the fall of feet
Running for life along a blood-stained street—
Again she shuddered at the mighty roar
That rose and widened on the troubled air,
What time her sight was dazzled by the glare
Of flaming palaces, when Troy was in despair!

For, by her husband’s side, she saw again


The clear cerulean eye and auburn locks
Of wise Ulysses, whom the hardest shocks
Of fortune, through her fault, had vexed with pain ;
And, with her woman’s quick perception, she
Knew, at a. glance, that stranger youth must be
The heir of wise Ulysses and Penelope.
78 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

Then, turning to her lord, she spoke her mind ;


And he, considering the stranger’s grief,
To her conjecture yielded his belief,
Delighted in his heart, and proud to find
His old companion’s son so fair a youth,
To find him following the right, forsooth,
In search of great philosophy, the quest of Truth.

Heartily glad, they welcomed him anew,


Asking him much about his island-home,
Mourning that good Ulysses still should roam,
Praising the queen that she continued true,
Predicting that the tide of doom should roll
In vengeance on each vice that would control
The continent affections of the human soul.

Then, speaking of Ulysses, quoth the queen,


(And as she told the tale she gently laughed)
“ I well remember how, with guarded craft,
He in a beggar’s filthy rags was seen ;
And all were cozened by the base disguise
But me—I could not fail to recognise
Ulysses’ greed to know, his project to be wise."

But Menelaus, in a graver tone,


Spake of the uses of philosophy;
That even reason’s self should patiently
Submit to such restraint; as he had done
When, prisoned in the wooden-horse, he heard
The voice of Helen, and his friend deterred
What would have wrecked their cause, one weak imprudent
word.
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So sped the night-hours while the stars, in turn,


W'heeled in their courses to the gloomy west,
Bringing to all the welcome need of rest,
When trouble sleeps in silent uncoucern !—
Pleasantly speed the hours, serene and sweet,
Where Reason and Imagination meet,
And youth's fresh aspirations after wisdom greet.
80 NEW nmnmes or norms.

(The filing of the Sinus.

“ Eli yrlg a": n \l/uxr'f 16 5‘2 dwptarow—It 2-8 the soul that 1:8
you, and the body that is yours, was the maxim of
Hierocles; and in the episode of Ulysses and the
Sirens, Homer has shown how the philosophic
soul should subordinate its corporeal possessions.
The story is very simple; the moral is quite clear.
Ulysses, having been warned of the temptations
and dangers which beset his course, took the
precaution of stuffing his companions’ ears with
wax, and of having himself bound to the ship
mast, and by these means he succeeded in passing
the coast of the Sirens unhurt.
These Sirens (whose music entraps unwary
mariners off Cape Pelorus) undoubtedly typify
the senses. “Their song is death, but makes
destruction please.” The allurements of our
bodily senses have been the favourite theme of
many a moralist’s warnings. From the lofty
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rhapsody of the ancient Indian sage to the de


nunciations of a modern camp-preacher, we may
meet with a thousand modes of expressing this
one truth, that “The lust of the flesh, and the
lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the
Father.”
But Homer has not merely set forth the entice
ments of sensual enjoyment, has not merely exhi
bited man as struggling against them Withvariable
success, as is the case even with the best-inten
tioned; he has pictured for us the triumph which
a certain sect of philosophers has always declared
may be won by the soul’s temporary absence from
the body; he has shown that, by a certain abne
gation, the philosophic spirit can defy the temp
tations of bodily sense, by binding, in fact, and
deadening the impressions of the material world,
and by rising into ecstacy, alone. That many
philosophical minds have been subject to this con
dition of trance is unquestionable; and those of a
very high order. I need only mention Socrates,
Plotinus, Bozhmen, Pascal, Swedenborg.
We read in the “ Bhagvat Geeta”-——“ The
enjoyments which proceed from the senses are as
the wombs of future pain.” Again--“ In every
purpose of the senses are fixed affection and dis
like; a wise man should not put himself in their
82 NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

power, for both of them are his opponents.” This


last quotation, it will be observed, goes beyond
the other. Not only are the common enjoyments
of the body reflected upon, but the feelings of
desire or hatred are themselves condemned; the
state of “nirwana" or a silent calm being the
fittest condition for the wise. This is that quietism
which Madame Guion and others have practised,
and through which we see Ulysses sailing past
the Sirens, unenchanted. This is what Plato
commends when, in the “Phaedo,” he declares
that the soul of the true philosopher should ab
stain from all pleasures and desires, griefs and
fears, “ because each pleasure and pain, having a
nail as it were, nails the soul to the body.” This,
in the opinion of some, is the ultimate teaching
of those gospel-texts which announce the utter
incompatibility of serving two masters, and com
mand that we should take no care for the body,
what we should eat, or what we should drink,
or wherewithal we should be clothed.
Now, although certain minds of a very rare
order may be able to effect this conquest over
bodily sense, and in the recesses or adytum of the
soul’s temple may be able to contemplate the
mysteries of wisdom, or to worship the divine
spirit, unimpeded by the trammels of the flesh,
NEW READINGS OF HOMER. 83

there is no miracle in this; nothing of the mar


vellous pretensions of St. IVIariaD’Agrada’strances
or the gravitation-overcoming ecstacy of St. Do
minic. Philosophy hears the song of the Sirens;
but, by precaution, guards himself from yielding
to their solicitation. He passes them unharmed,
having commanded himself to be tied, and having,
with his own hands, deafened his crew. Yet this
victory of prudence is as difficult as it is rare.
It requires the courage of a Mutius Scaavola, the
fanatical earnestness of an Eastern Fakir: like
the eagle, the victor must gaze upon the sun
without fiinching ; like a virgin, must pass
unscathed through the fiery ordeal.
It is remarkable that this “ Eudaemonia,” this
sacred placidity is not to be compassed without
difliculty and peril. Instances of it may be found
in almost every age and amongst the most distant
nations, and they all bear witness to this. The
apex of being (Mm; voou, as it has been termed)
may be gained; but the giddy height to which
the aspirant is caught up is sufficient to turn his
brain. Disease is its frequent accompaniment.
The human soul, it appears, is capable of wider
flight than our fallen condition allows; but the
moment escape is attempted, the bonds of the
flesh are peremptorily tightened, and nature
84 NEW READINGS or HOMER.‘

seems determined to punish any effort to infringe


her restricted laws. Even Ulysses, though so
successful in passing the dangerous coast of the
Sirens, was immediately beset by yet harder trial ;
and all his craft could not ward off those losses.
whose inevitable succession had been predicted
to him by the enchantress Circe. If it be true,
as the German poet Goethe sang, that “ Man
himself grows with his aims,” no less true is it
that the highest aims are the most perilous, and
the capacity for enjoyment is counterbalanced by
the capacity for suffering. Plato, in his “Re
public,” asks in what manner a State should un
dertake the study of philosophy, so as not itself
to be destroyed. Enthusiastic as he himself was
in the quest of wisdom, he could perceive and
admit that “ all great pursuits are dangerous;
and—as the saying is—those noble even are truly
ditficu1t.”‘
" “Republic,” B. vi. c. 11.
NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

@uiztism.

“The knowledge of good is a divine silence, and the rest of all the
senses."
“ Tun Divnnc Pommrmnn” or Hmmns Tmsnnors'rmrs.

CHAINED to‘the mast, the kingly captain gave


Mute orders to his deaf and silent crew;
And the obedient vessel onward flew,
Like a swift bird, across the sunny wave.
Afar, along the pale horizon, lay
A line of coast, which, as they went their way,
Increased and brightened like the break of day.

The quest of brave Ulysses was to win


The pearl of pearls, the wisdom of the wise!
And he who seeks sincerely such a prize
Must toil alone, away from wife and kin;
Alone, a hermit of the inner brain
Will-bound and passionless, as if insane,
Tasting no pleasure, suffering no pain.
86 NE‘W READINGS OF HOMER.

Oh voyage of terror! difficult to go!


Demanding calm amid the maddest strife—
Tearing the youthful heart away from life—
Denying every prospect here below—
Hard are thy trials! But we dread the most
Those soft allurements which ensnare the host
Upon the sirens’ fascinating coast.

.And well the hero knew the risk they ran,


The real danger of the present hour,
That common, sensuous, deceptive power
Which, through some flaw in nature, governs man ;
But throwing off the clay-imprisoned state
That keeps the soul from rising to be great,
The rapt, ecstatic hero conquered fate.

The misty shore resolved, upon their right,


Into an amethystine headland, prone
Upon a sapphire sea, whose waters shone
Bluer than the blue sky, with stars of light:
A land whose distant prospect was so fair,
All joy might well be deemed to harbour there
In golden light and irridescent air.

And as the ship drew nigh might be beheld


The flowery coast with fields of vivid green;
And forms of women on the beach were seen—
Womenwhose forms all other forms excelled!
And rang the air with their voluptuous song!
And blossomed the salt sands they danced along!
And to them the fond billows seemed to throng!
NEW READINGS or HOMER. 87

From the green meadows and the tawny strand


Floated the dulcet measure, note by note,
And, like a magnet, drew the willing boat
Toward their beautiful but deadly land.
Sweet as the potent juices of the grape,
Tempting as passion’s most seductive shape,
Was the rare music of the magic cape.

Two lovers, whispering beneath the moon,


With fingers interlocked, and eager eyes,
And hearts atremble like the twinkling skies,
Knowing that they shall be united soon—
Souls on the verge of bliss—may, haply, hear
An echo of that song, which, loud and clear,
Rose as the wandering hero’s bark drew near.

Rarely they sang, enkindling in the soul


A blaze of passions; so that one could fain
Explore the horrors of the Arctic main,
Or race through fire, to win the longed-for goal
Rarely they sang; and sing for ever: still,
The senses counsel us to take our fill,
And tempt the weak though God-directed will.

They told the man long exercised in woes,


Who sought his native home, beyond the sea,
That they were guardians of the pleasant tree
Of knowledge, and could grant whate’er he chose;
They told him, without words, in song divine,
'Twas futile thus to navigate the brine,
Denied and crossed by Fate in each design.
NE\V READINGS OF HOMER.

And tenderly the echo of the air,


And tenderly the murmur of the shore,
Repeated the sweet song, for evermore—
“ That life is wasted that is worn with care!
Live and enjoy, 0 hero! It were well
To break thy solemn and inhuman spell,
And with the sirens happily to dwell!”

But all their fascinations were in vain.


The deafened sailors urged the vessel by,
Until the headland was no longer nigh,
And the wise king no longer heard the strain 2
He who in discipline himself had bound,
Alone allowed to hear the tempting sound,
T0 hear, yet pass unharmed that mortal ground.
NEW READINGS or nomnn. 89

til/hz alrtamorghoszs of firotzns.

IN Analogy man obtains that fulcrum by which,


with the lever of the mind, the spiritual world
itself may be moved. It is the masonic secret,
the occult signal which binds together material
and ideal structures. It is the key with which
to unlock the treasuries of mystery. Analogy
is the hidden strength of music, is the native
tongue of poetry, is, in fact, the medium through
which all art attains command. One would say
that the old Pythagorean doctrine of the uni
verse, being framed in harmony, is substantially
correct; such concord and correspondence meet
us at every turn. So accordant are the principles
of nature, that there is literally nothing that we
may not learn from analogy; and, as from a few
settled axioms we can deduce the most intricate
mathematical theorems, so through similitudes
we may solve the most abstruse problems of
metaphysics.
G
90 NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

Nevertheless, few men have ever followed up


this Proteus through its manifold transforma
tions, which are sufiicient to bewilder all but the
serenest faculties. The same air may be played
in a variety of keys, but the transposition re
quires the practice and skill of a master. ()f the
few who have been successful in this pursuit,
the name of Emanuel Swedenborg stands promi
nent—a name which, from his having founded a
religious sect, is apt to be suspected; but which
should be known as that of the most enthusiastic
philosopher of his age. Swendenborg’s theolo
gical pretensions have unduly eclipsed his fame
as a philosopher; but it is only in this latter
aspect that We would here regard him; and
doing so, we shall find that he was as well
instructed in the secret haunts of analogy, and-—
having found this Proteus—that he held him
with as tenacious a grasp as Menelaus himself, in
the Homeric fable. This man, indeed, pursued
analogy with a vigour that only stopped short of
winning from it the final interpretation of nature.
In his “ Animal Kingdom,” an anatomical work,
in which he exalts science by leading it to the
most sublime and transcendental ends, he de
clams:—
“ If we choose to express any natural truth in
NEW READINGS 0F HOMER. 91

physical and definite vocal terms, and to convert


these terms into corresponding and spiritual
terms, we shall by this means elicit a spiritual
truth.”
In other words, seeing that mundane nature
is the image and reflexion of divine, he pro
claims that man may translate the visible into
the invisible, and by the aid of analogy may read
off telegraphic tidings of the most remote and
inaccessible states of being. Thus he evokes
meaning from all things—“ The very organic
form resembles the end inscribed on it.” Colour
to him is legible, and the functions of our bodily
members are explanatory of abstract truths.
He describes the heart and lungs as correspond
ing with will and understanding, with love and
knowledge, with the grades of angelic life; and
he makes the corpse bear witness to the condi
tions of the undecaying soul.
The French have a proverb--“ Comparaison
n’est pas raison”—-and there is the usual amount
of truth in this aphorism. Comparison is not
reason; but by comparison we may reach what
we could never do by bare dialectic; and, there
fore, we often make use of it in the other’s place.
“ Scholastic logic,” says Bacon, in his “ Novum
Organum,” “is only of use to disentangle the
92 NEW READINGS or nonnn.

errors which are founded upon common notions,


but is absolutely useless to enable us to discover
truth.” There are some things which direct
reason refuses to bear upon, but which may be
seen as 'it were, askance, as those minute stars
which the naked eye perceives better in looking
near them than in full gaze. Pure reason is
incompetent to deal with certain subjects: Plo
tinus remarks (Ennead. l. lib. 3. c. 1.) :—“ You
ask how we can know the Infinite? I answer,
not by reason. The office of the reason is to
distinguish and define. The Infinite, therefore,
cannot be ranked among its objects.” In such
difiiculty we may learn all we require from
analogy; and, if we can only hold this Proteus
till he resumes his abstract shape, we may
receive from his lips that information which is
denied to the researches of mere argumentative
intelligence.
When Socrates ('Avdgu'w n'dwwv o'oqbufimrog, as the
oracle pronounced him) wanted to define his
idea of the human soul, he remarked—“ What
it is, would in every way require a divine and
lengthened exposition to tell; but what IT IS
LIKE, a human and shorter one. In this way
then we will describe it”--and then he proceeds
with his charming apologue of the charioteer and
I

NEW READINGS 0F HOMER. 93

horses, which gives a far clearer idea of what he


meant than all the sophistical cunning of the
“ Parmenides.” That Plato was familiar with the
instructive properties of analogy is evident, though
he employed the same sparingly. The Witty
imagery and incomparable fables which adorn
his Works are mere indications of his knowledge
rather than the exercise of the same. Every
poet of every age has played with analogy thus;
but, as Emerson observes, to them it has been
known “ only as the magnet was known for ages,
as a toy.” I have called analogy the native
tongue of poetry, so indigenous to a poetical
mind is the perception of similitudes. Directly
we rise on the pinions of imagination, the rela
tionship and harmony of universal nature become
more and more apparent, till, soaring in “ pride
of place,” we view the earth as a crescent star,
and detect our own sublunar laws governing the
remotest spaces of the firmament. When Plato,
in “ The Republic,” declares “ Science and truth
here are as light and sight there,” he is hovering
as it were upon the verge of our system, and
approaches so close to the grand discovery, that
we only wonder he did not overbalance, and,
gravitating towards the sunlike truth, announce
94 NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

the fact as clearly as Swedenborg himself has


done.
The closer we examine the marvels of analogy
the more we shall be struck with its perpetual
metempsychosis. We may discover correspon
dence between the relations of the eye to light,
the female to the male, the human mind to truth;
there is indisputable fitness between each, and
from them spring sight, love, and religion. The
analogies of nature meet us at every turn,
“ Orpheus in sylvis, inter delphinas Arion.”
Most suggestive are the resemblances that con
tinually tally between the many-hued woods of
autumn and the gold and crimson clouds at sun
set, between the tribes of parrots, monkeys, and
orchidian plants, between the snows of winter
and the white locks of age. Nay, even our
habits and manners echo and reflect ulterior
truth. “ Forms,” says Bacon, “ are the translation
of virtue into the vulgar tongue”—“ Politeness,”
says bearish Dr. Johnson, “is the mirror of
virtue.”
It is through the synthetical teaching of
analogy that these “new readings of Homer”
have been written; and I have largely employed
the same in explaining my views. All who
NEW READINGS OF HOMER. ‘ 95

attempt to expound anything beyond the realm


of matter-of-fact will find themselves obliged to
seek aid from this source. The higher they
range the more they must become indebted to
analogy. In the “Bagavat Geeta,” God is re
presented describing himself entirely by meta
phor—“ I am the radiant sun amongst the stars;
amongst the faculties I am the mind; amongst
floods I am the ocean, and I am the monosyllable
amongst words.”--It is only thus it is possible
for man to express the ineffable grandeur of
Deity.
With appropriate significance therefore Homer
allows Telemachus to gather the first tidings of
Ulysses (Philosophy) through the intelligence
conveyed to his father’s friend, King Menelaus,
by Proteus, the embodiment of analogy. Mene
' laus himself typifies intellect or reason; and in
the story of his victory over’ Proteus we may
perceive the ability of intellect to force from
analogy an interpretation of the difliculties of
abstract science. To Menelaus (Reason), Tele
machus (Youth) is directed by Nestor (Expe
rience). Intellect, when questioned as to the
fate of Philosophy, relates how he obtained news
of the probationary state of Ulysses through the
teaching of Proteus, a prophetic sea-god, who,
96 new nmnmcs or HOMER.

dwelling in the ocean of life, exhibits very


clearly the instructive metamorphoses of analogy.
The variable metaphysical revelations of this
power are depicted with epigrammatic point by
Homer, who, in a few lines, unholds the abrupt
yet connected transformations which it can
undergo; and discovers how intimate he himself
must have been with the significance of analogy,
in the prophetic and wise nature with which he
has endowed the impersonation.
NEW READINGS or HOMER. 97

finals”

“ There is no expounding in invention of knowledge but by simili


tude."-BAooN’s “INTERPRETATION or NATURE."

“ TELL me,” the youth demanded of the king,


King Menelaus with the golden locks,
“Tell me whatever tidings of my sire
The years have taught thee; for suspicion mocks
My hope that o’er life’s stormy billows hurled
He yet may come, with faded sails unfurled,
Lest guilty Death have stolen him from the hapless
world.”

King Menelaus with the golden locks,


Beloved of Jove, through Helen, (fairest mate !)
Answered the youth Telemachus, and said,
“ AH that I know of dear Ulysses’ fate
I learned from Proteus, who, with subtle change,
Veils mighty truth in emblems deep and strange,
Linking the orbs of mind and matter in his range.
98 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

“ Much of the wonders of the sea of life


Is held in secret by this crafty sage :
Deeds of the past, and actions yet to come
To crown with dignity some future age:
That contradiction, which we cannot quell,
Of right- and wrong. of heaven and of hell,
To foolish man could Proteus, if he listed, tell.

“When home returning from the siege of Troy,


Neglectful of my duty to the gods,
Want and misfortune stared me in the face,
As when the Furies vex a soul that plods
In torment: stifiing his forbidden prayer,
They knot the stiffened horrors of their hair,
And fix their smouldering eyes to sear him with despair.

“Moved by the heavy aspect of my woe,


As, sick at heart, I paced the lonely shore,
The daughter of immortal Proteus came
And taught me how to profit by the lore
Of Proteus, subtle Proteus, who, with change,
Veils mighty truth in emblems deep and strange,
Linking the orbs of mind and matter in his range.

“ By her advice I caught him where he lay


Asleep, at noon, upon the steaming sand,
Close to the surge whose silver fringe of foam
Borders the purple mantle of the land
With splendour, like the mysteries which shine
Along the verge of life's contracted line,
‘Where noblest human nature touches on divine.
v m . .ww—r -_r_- '...m‘wi an’r .n r 1 .

NEW READINGS OF HOMER. 99

“There, as I held him in my grasp, he woke;


But, proof against surprise, he blankly stared
At me a moment, till I laughed; on which
A dreadful meaning in his eyeballs glared,
As when the lightning quivers in a cloud,
And all again is dark: yet was he cowed
By the weak shaft of scorn, so fatal to the proud.

“But, ere my heart could beat, I saw him change


Into a lion with a tawny mane;
A royal beast with eyes like carbuncles,
Whose angry roar, resounding, stunned my brain :
One heavy paw was up to strike me dead—
Wide gaped the jagged cavern of his head;
But the pure might of Proteus I discerned instead.

“ On which, be altered with a sudden throe,


And, like a dragon. writhed within my arms:
Big, with unfeathered wings and smoking maw,
Fitted, with scaily mail, to guard the charms
Of some enchanted lady, or to hold
The private treasure of‘ a wizard’s gold:
Thus did analogy the hidden truth enfold

“So elegant, so agile in pursuit,


One moment, in a panther’s spotted hide,
He nearly bounded from me; and, anon,
Like a huge boar that roams the mountain side,
Spoiling the vineyards when the grapes are ripe,
He turned; the while, with many a sharp stripe,
I spurred my fancy, hunting truth from type to type.
100 NEW READINGS 0F HOMER.

“Nor could he yet escape me, though he ran


In streams of water through my settled grasp,
Reflecting, on an azure sheet of sky,
The round sun shining in his painted clasp:
Deep in the limpid current I beheld
My features mirrored, and their presence quelled
The fountain of his being which no longer welled.

“ But, in its stead, arose a lordly tree,


Branching aloft with leaves and pleasant fruit,
Above the trunk, whose shaft of fluted bark
Sprang, like a column, from the solid root:
A living emblem of analogy,
Rooted in Time, and growing fair and free
In the far-shining sunlight of Eternity.

“ Foiled by my perseverance, he at last


Gave up the contest, and himself appeared,
No longer clad in shape or set in act,
But as the gods whose likeness is revered
By man—the gods, immortal from their birth,
Ideal and divine, whose matchless worth
Is weakly shadowed in the fairest forms of earth.

“There, as I held him in my grasp, he woke;


And there I learnt how deeply I had erred.
He showed me how I must retrace my way,
And, in humility and hope deferred,
Wait on the will of Zeus: In maxims, fraught
With truth, he pointed out the home I sought;
And, through the fear of God, to wisdom was I brought.
NEW READINGS or HOMER. 101

“ Nor did he fail to show me the retreat


Of dear Ulysses in Calypso’s cave,
Far from the haunt of men, and isled apart
In the great River-Ocean’s endless wave;
And there, aweary, grieving at his lot,
He eyes the starlit sea and slumbers not,
But longs to be released from that inactive spot.

“ Unheeding fair Calypso as she sings


Of love and sweet enjoyment at his side,
The hero sees her golden distafi‘ spin,
And hears the motion of the busy tide,
Impatient; as a warhorse in his stall,
When trumpets, pealing from the castle wall,
Sound an alarm at night, and terror startles all i

“ Yet shall he journey homeward,” said the king,


King Menelaus with the golden locks,
“ And, led by wisdom, shall Ulysses land
On sunburnt Ithaca’s remembered rocks,
Again to dwell in peace: the while, to me,
The gods a better destiny decree,
1n bright Elysian fields, from sin and sorrow free.”
102 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

jEOLIA.

lEoLUs, the son of Hippotas, says Lempriere, in


his classical dictionary, was called the god of the
winds, “because he was the inventor of sails,
and a great astronomer.” I shall endeavour to
outstrip this lexicographer’s explanation by ad
vancing that the 1Eolus of Homer had little to
do with the science of astronomy, further than
as that sublime science was figuratively employed
by a certain sect of philosophers; that he had
little to do with the invention of sails, except
symbolically in connexion with that spiritual
wind which “bloweth where it listeth,” and we
hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell whence it
cometh or whether it goeth.
In venturing to elucidate the fable of Eolus,
I enter upon more than common difiiculty. The
interpretation involves another exposition; and
it will require expert management to exhibit not
NEW' READINGS OF HOMER. 103

merely the shadows and the puppets, but the


very hands that work them.
The story of Ulysses’ visit to King JEolus is
the exact reflection of the dealings of philosophy
with a science called alchymy—a science in
itself governed by hidden motions whose springs
were concealed from the public with the strictest
care. Ulysses obtained from ZEolus a bag in
which the winds were imprisoned. By this
means, despite the enmity of Neptune, he was
enabled to arrive even within sight of Ithaca
itself. The cupidity of his sailors, however,
induced them to open this bag in the expectation
of discovering treasure; the Winds rushed forth
and drove them back to sea; and thus the
wonderful gift of the wind-god was rendered
worthless and unavailing. In this parable is
couched the effort of philosophy to reach its
resting-place by a peculiar road, which in the
dark ages became notorious under the name of
alchymy, or the search for the philosopher’s
stone.
The alchymical school of philosophy has been
generally misunderstood. The real alchymist
sought for the elixir of immortality, not as a
potion which would render the body incorrup
104 NEW READINGS 0F HOMER.

tible, but as a spiritual antiseptic for the soul.


as a draught which should be in him “ a well of
water springing up into everlasting life.” In
labouring to obtain the lapis philosophorum, the
real alchymist wrought not for a red powder
which should transmute base metal into gold;
but, as Ashmole observes, for “ That stone which
some builders up of life have rejected, when in
truth it was the chief stone in the corner.” The
common herd, however, were misled by the
jargon in which the adepts wrapt up the mys
teries of their profession. They fancied the
riches which were to reward their labours must
be the wealth of this world, instead of riches
incorruptible and abiding.

“ And, in the temple of their hireling hearts,


Gold was a living god,” '

In ignorance and folly they wasted their lives


over the alembic and crucible, hunting after
“ the green Lyon” and “ the Basylyske,” rather
than for those spiritual virtues which were con
summated in the lion of the tribe of Judah, who
vanquished that symbolical serpent, and reco

‘ Shelley’s “ Queen Mab.”


new Rnxnrxos or norms. 105

vered what mankind lost at the Fall. Thus did


alchymy fail in regaining for the world a state of
innocence and wisdom; and thus philosophy lost
another chance of being restored to its home,
and of becoming permanently united to the soul
of man.
Another mistake (equally common with the
total misconception of its doctrines), is to
presume that alchymy was engendered during
what are called the middle ages. Now, if we
examine the history of this science, or pseudo
science, we shall find that it lays claim to
primzcval descent; and, if my assumptions be
correct, there can be no doubt that the search
for the philosophers stone was antecedent to the
era of chivalry, was carried on even before
Jerusalem was built, much less before the
Crusades were undertaken. As I interpret
alchymy, Plato may be said to have been an
adept, when he wrote, in the “Phat'do,” “But
that alone is right coin for which we ought
to barter all things, wisdom; and for this, and
with this, everything is in reality bought and
sold.” ‘
. Zozimus, the Panapolite, refers the search for
the elixir to those sons of God from whose inter
course with the daughters of men sprang the
H
106 NEW nnxnmes or HOMER.

giants of holy writ. Raymond Lully, Ashmole,


and others, do not hesitate to deduce it from a
source still more remote, and to pronouce

“ That stone of price,


The which was sent out of Paradise,"*

To have been the relics of “ that undefiled virtue


yet left with the creature ”—a tincture, as it
were, of Adam's knowledge, when he yet stood
in the Divine image. For our first parent, as
Jacob Bcehmen has remarked, “knew the pro
perty of all creatures, and gave names to all
creatures from their essence, form, and property:
he understood the language of nature, viz.: the
manifested and formed word in every one’s
essence.”
Alchymy, in fact, was a kind of natural religion
indigenous to man’s spiritual existence, whose
growth was nevertheless interrupted and stopped
by the avarice and delusion of charlatans and
rogues. Under a veil of symbolical nomencla
ture, it taught the most exalted aim of Physics
—“that divine science, even God’s theology; for
the Almighty wrote his Scriptures in that lan
guage before he made Adam to read it”: Hermes,
* “ Hermes Bird." 1* “Mystcriurn Magnum.”
i Ashmole’s “ Theatrum Chemicum."
NEW assumes or HOMER. 107

Democritus, Porphyry, &c., however they may


throw dust in our eyes, cannot blind us to the
ultimate point of their doctrines, viz., to ascend
through the natural to the supernatural, and from
our own being to construe the divine. “ Quod
est superius est sicut id quod est inferius.” ‘
Whether the recovery of this primal tradition
is due to Tubal Cain or to those angels who in
termarried with mankind—and to whom, accord
ing to the “ Book of Enoch,” “ a reprobated
mystery ” was known—it matters little: whether
the men, whose names we have quoted above,
wrote the works assigned to them, whether in
deed they ever had existence, it matters little.
From a very early period in the history of our
race, I think I may aflirm from the very moment
of man’s expulsion from Eden, there has been a
restless yearning for regeneration, a blind groping
after the native perfection of our nature. This
has expressed itself in a hundred forms of religious
enthusiasm and philosophical aspiration. It was
this which was the motive spring of alchymy;
and Homer’s " Odyssey” is but the expansion of
this idea. By the philosopher’s stone was typified
that wisdom through which the world might be

* Hermes’ “ Tab. Smaragd.”


108 NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

healed of its infirmities, and the primeval state


of innocence resumed. The tree of life, yet
standing untouched in the paradise of God, the
alchymist put forth his hand to reach towards
it; and, having eaten of the tree of knowledge
of good and evil, turned with persistent hope
toward that other tree beside it, from which
fallen human nature is debarred.
Thomas Robinson, in his poem, “ De lapide
Philosophorum,” speaking of the mystical ele
ments—ignis, aer, aquis, and terra—‘(the junction
of which dispositions generate that consummation
of science which was expressed in the noted
formula, “ When thou hast made the quadrangle
round, Then is all the secret found,”) writes ex
pressly enough :—

“ And for the time of earth’s Heaven'purifying,


Six thousand years they live and have their dying;
Then all shall rest, eternal and divine,
And by the beauty of the Godhead shine.
I swear there is no other truth but this,
Of that great stone which many seek and miss.”

In which allusion to a Well-known tradition of


the millenium,‘ we have a clear intimation of the
' “It was concluded by the Cabalists and Jews that the world
was to continue 6000 years; and, on the conclusion of this period,
there would succeed a Sabbath of a thousand years, a millenium of
NEW READINGS OF HOMER. 109

real ‘creed of the alchymical adept; nor will it be


difiicult, I think, to recognise how closely it
assimilates with my own version of the Homeric
fable.
It is everywhere the same.
" Hermes’ sons for wisdom seek,
Your footsteps she’ll direct;
She’ll nature’s way, and secret cave,
And tree of life detect.”T

Man cannot extinguish the remembrances of


Eden. “Some legend of a fallen race” haunts
and follows us; and with prophetic instinct the
human heart migrates towards the land of pro
miss, and in every age and country ceases not to
crave “ more life and fuller ” as its heritage and
right.
Moses and Solomon are said to have excelled
in the knowledge of the philosopher’s st0ne,which
stone St. Dunstan called “ the food of angels, the
heavenly viaticum.” Ashmole styles them “ the
great Phy sitians,” for it was through their
knowledge of physics that they became adepts in
rest and of peace. This idea has been traced to the Sybilline
oracles, in the poems of Hesiod, in Plato, and prevailed long before
the birth of Christ. We find this expectation expressed by the
Chaldeans, the Persians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans,”
‘&c.—Dn. CUMMrNo’s "THE GREAT TBIBULATION."
T “ The Magistery,” by W.'B.—1633.
110 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

metaphysics. Perhaps I should remind my


readers that the rod of Moses is said to have
been cut from the tree of knowledge of good
' and evil (which, according to the Talmud, was
created between the stars on the evening of the
Sabbath), and given to Adam. This staff de
scended, an heirloom, to Joseph the son of Israel.
Pharoah, king of Egypt, took possession of it on
the death of Joseph; and from him it passed into
the hands of Jethro the magician, whose daughter
became the wife of the great lawgiver. Jethro
(who, by the way, is said to have enjoyed high
favour in the court of Pharoah, and to have pre
sided, together with Job, in the councils of
Memphis), planted this rod in his garden, where
it blossomed and brought forth almonds. Upon
it was cut the Schemhamphorash, which Moses
learned on Mount Sinai from the angel Asael,
and on it the ten plagues of Egypt were in
scribed. Solomon, again, is thought to have
excelled in wisdom through knowledge of the
Schemhamphorash. It may be remembered,
likewise. that the Jewish Rabbis never denied
the miracles of our Lord, but attributed them
to the possession of this omnipotent secret. By
this means Soloman is said to have risen to
the firmament, and gone daily to the mountains
NEW READINGS or HOMER. 111

of the East to acquire secret wisdom of the


spirits Asa and Asael—those very sons of
God who, elsewhere, are described as having
instructed antidiluvian mankind in the craft
of alchymy, and as having been hung, in pun
ishment, between the stars; and one of whom
also seems to have informed Moses of this
mysterium magnum. The connexion here cer
tainly appears very close. \Ve may place no
confidence in the fables of the cabala, and may
discredit the pretensions of alchymy ; but we
cannot help seeing that there is a certain thread
of correspondence between the philosopher’s
stone of Hermes and that divine knowledge of
which Moses and Solomon so largely partook ;
that the aspirations of this peculiar school of
philosophy were heavenward, and approached
those‘ “ hid treasures” of a wisdom which “is
more precious than rubies, and the gain thereof
than fine gold.” It has been conjectured that
the above legend of the Preacher of Jerusalem
may be merely a poetical description of Solomon’s
studying the sciences of astronomy and meteoro
logy—a conjecture parallel to the common

" “ Proverbs of Solomon.”


112 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

notion of the attainments of JEolus, and the


astrological fancies of pseudo-alchymists of a
later age, who took the names of sun, moon, and
planets literally; whereas the adepts employed
them figuratively in the description of spiritual
operations.
It is certainly very remarkable that the tradi
tions of this science are constantly associated
with the trees which grew in the midst of
Paradise, and with a certain admirable secret,
which, like the Schemhamphorash of the Talmud,
veils itself under a conventional form; for the
term Schemhamphorash is only a stipulated ex
pression for that which is ineffable-—in the same
way as the cities of antiquity were called Athens,
Rome, &c., by the people, while their real mystic
name was known only to the highest order of
priests. So the words aurum, potabile, elixir,
philosopher’s stone, &c., were employed to indi
cate that which it was deemed sacrilegious to
name in common.
Mystery has ever been the vestment of natural
‘ religion; and the legend of the Fall of Man has
ever been cloaked beneath it. From the deifiea
tion of Nehushtan to the doctrines of modern
Freemasonry, we everywhere see how persist
.NEW READINGS OF HOMER. 113

ently the human heart clings to the memories of


Eden. Not merely in the serpent-worship of
both east and west, but in the marked reverence
which every ancient race has paid to some par
ticular tree, we may discover this remembrance.
“ The Chaldeans, the Hebrews, the Greeks, the
Romans, and the Druids, had each their groves,
their elms, and their oaks, under which to
worship. Like them, the Brahmins have their
Kalpa tree in Paradise, and the Banyan in the
vicinity of their temples; and the Budhists, in
conformity with immemorial practice, selected
as their sacred tree the Pippul, or B0 Tree”
(Ficus religiosa.)‘ Even among the savage
tribes of Africa, as we learn from Krapf’s
Travels, “ a tree has an important place in their
religious ceremonies. Under the shadow of the
Woda (Ficus sycamorus) sacrifices and prayers
are offered up.” And this we find in connexion
with serpent-worship—clearly indicating its
source. Serpent-worship, Krapf informs us,
was a prominent feature in the old Ethiopian
idolatry, and, even now, “the Gallas pay great
reverence to the serpent, which they regard as

" Emerson Tennent’s “Ceylon.”


114 NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

the mother of the human race.”*‘t The Biblical


legend, we may perceive, has here become con
fused, and Eve has been confounded with her
satanic tempter. I have said, we may trace
this primaeval tradition throughout the poems of
Homer. I believe we may discover it wherever
‘ human nature has been inflamed by the desire
of wisdom. It is indigenous to humanity, and
becomes vivified and active directly the spiritual
atmosphere is genial and accordant.
The serious construction which I have pre
sumed to put upon a science so obselete and
disreputable as alchymy, now demands that I
should exhibit my grounds of belief.
A strong argument in favour of my supposi
tion, that the object of the real alchymist was
nothing temporal, is that solemnity and rever
ence with which the old alchymical authors
opened and concluded their writings; mostly
beginning with an address to the Trinity, and
closing with prayer and praise. There is some
thing quite superior to the quackery of changing
lead into gold, or of fancifully doctoring the ague
or the stomachache, in the tone of religious

" Krapf’s “Travels in East Africa.”


NEW READINGS or HOMER. 115

fervour which breathes through the poems of


these men. What can be nobler than the
exordium of Sir G. Ripley’s “Compound of
Alchymiel”
“ Live clean in soul; to God do none offence;
Exalt thee not, but rather keep thee low;
Else will thy God in thee no wisdom sow.”

This is altogether incompatible with the vulgar


jugglery which we commonly associate with the
name of alchymist. Ripley, indeed, expressly
declares wisdom, and wisdom alone, to have been
the goal of his exertions :‘—
“Make Wisdom, therefore, thy sister to be,
And call on Prudence to be thy friend.
Pray God, therefore, that thou may'st find
Wisdom and Prudence with mouth and mind."

He enlarges constantly on these “ riches incom


parable,” declaring, with Solomon, that they are
“ above all treasure, such is their excellence ;”
and extols them as the elixir of life, “ for both
body and soul both will they save.”
Ashmole may seem to share in the delusion of
the magical properties of Sol and Luna; but it
is assuredly no dupe who writes, in the prologue
to his “ Theatrum Chemicum” :—
“ As to make gold is the chiefest intent of the
alchymists, so was it scarce any intent of the
116 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

ancient philosophers, and the lowest use the


adepti made of this materia. For they, being
lovers of wisdom more than worldly wealth,
drave at higher and more excellent operations.
Truly, whether such men were in the body or out
of the body, I cannot tell; God knoweth; doubt
less they were not far from the kingdom of God.”
Augurel describes the search for the philoso
pher’s stone as beyond the powers of unassisted
man. “ Look not then for it at the hands of
man,” he says, “ for it is the gift of God only.”
The alchymist, like the poet, nascitur, non fit.
“ Heaven doth all things GRATIS give,” is the
alchymical dictum of Sir John Abbot of Brid
lington. Rogues and fools might become adepts
at the manipulation of the chemicals of a labora
tory; and alchymy, in its common acceptation,
may be followed by the million—but the true
science is far above the reach of most. You may
obtain it “ si te fata vocant, aliter non.”*
A reiteration of many being called but few
chosen, is marked throughout these men’s works:
“As there be but planets seven
Among the multitude of stars in Heaven,
So among millions of mankind
Scarce seven men may this science findf’i'

‘ Augurel. . T Norton’s “ Ordinal."


NEW READINGS or nomnn.. 117

And again,
“ Of a million, hardly three
Were e’er ordained for alchymy.”

So rare, so Wonderful did they deem the tincture


of “ holy alchymie”:
“A singular grace and gift of the Almighty,
Which never was found by labour of man,
But it by teaching or revelation began.”

Symbolical pictures are frequently introduced


into these works, which point clearly to their
scriptural doctrines. The common device of a
man and woman embracing, while serpents bite
their heels, or of the dragon standing upon a
globe between the sun and moon, plainly alludes
to the history of the Fall. The tree of know
ledge in the garden of Philosophy, which forms
the frontispiece to “ Bloomfield’s Blossoms,” and
is elsewhere called “ Hermes’ Tree,” in like
manner indicates the source of these mystical
conceits. Nothing must be taken literally. The
commonest forms represent superior ideas :—
“ For it is most profound philosophy
The subtle science of holy alchymy.“

The work from which I have made the last

" Norton’s “ Ordinal.”


118 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

quotations is itself very curious. It is divided


into seven chapters, each of which inculeates
some particular step towards the acquisition of
wisdom; and in every way supports the views I
have taken. Its elucidation, however, would
require more space than I can afford, more
especially as it is couched in the most provoking
jargon; for these mystical philosophers seem to
have loved to clothe themselves in a cloud, like
the deities of Olympus.
Various reasons have been given for the
alchymical dogmas being thus disguised in figu
rative language. In the early ages of the world,
a superstitious reverence guarded the treasures
of knowledge from contact with the million.
Ignorance was the natural heritage of the
masses; and the lofty doctrines of science and
religion were rigorously held in possession by
the few. Thus, in the Pythagorean treatise,
commonly called the “ Epinomis” of Plato, allu
sion is made to secret names of the stars, which
“have no names with the many, but they have
appellations with some divine persons.“ Even
the ordinary names of ancient cities, as I have
already observed, were not the same as those in

"‘ “ Epinomis,” c. 9.
NEW READINGS or HOMER. 119

their archives. The beggar and the slave might.


use the one; the other was never uttered in
public, (vide Godwin’s “ Anthologia Romanae
Historiae). A similar feeling, upon a higher
level, forbade the Budhist of India to pro
nounce the syllable “ Om” (the mystic emblem
of deity) except in silence. Eclecticism was the
badge of ancient scholarship; and in the Elen
sinian mysteries, we recognise the paramount
jealousy of intellect concerning the discovery of
its grandest acquirements. Thus all the highest
assumptions of philosophy have perpetually been
enveloped and hidden from casual observation.
Ashmole attributes this to the fear of knowledge
being misapplied. “ For such was the goodness
of our Fathers that they would not willingly
hazard (much less throw) their children’s bread
among the dogs; and, therefore, their wisdom
and policy was first to find out a Way to teach,
and then an art (which was this) to conceal.”“'k
But it may be, perhaps, that I myself am right
in judging that the noblest mental efforts of man
naturally resemble himself, and cannot but be
twofold in their nature; the immortal spirit

' “ Theatrum Chemicum."


120 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

being sheltered beneath an inferior though ana


logous body.
Alchymy seems to have specially infected
English literature during the middle ages;
though, I repeat, we must not presume it was
peculiar to that era. It may be detected lurking
among the hieroglyphics of an old Egyptian
sarcophagus; and it is seen displayed among
the decorations of a modern Burmese festival.‘
But at that period traces of it may be found in
many books that do not in the least profess to
treat upon this subject, and in the works of the
most illustrious as well as inferior authors. Sir
John Gower’s “Confessio Amantis” and “Golden
Fleece” embody its dogmas; and the poet

' At the national festival of Burmah, the Phrongyee Bryan,


which takes place upon the death of the high priest, the body lies
in state for months in a hall, the walls of which are hung with
curtains, upon which are represented the mysteries of Budhism.
“Among the scenes here depicted” (says Captain Briggs, in his
“ Heathen and Holy Lands,”) “ you may at last find the successful
alchymist, who sits entranced with delight, crucible in hand, in
which he has just perfected the great secret." This, I think, I
may also claim as testimony in support of my views; for it would
be cruel mockery for any nation to adorn the obsequies of their
best and wisest man with a representation which, unless it were
taken figuratively, would proclaim the dead sage to have been
unsuccessful and deluded.
NEW READINGS OF HOMER. 121

Chaucer, “that loadstar of our language,” as


Lydgate ter'ms him, was an adept at alchymical
fable, as his “ Chanon’s Yeoman” attests. Thus
it was by no'means confined to the ignorant and
vulgar; though the illiterate doggrel, in which
alchymical instructions were frequently couched,
has helped to cast discredit on a science which I
have endeavoured to show was not altogether
empirical.
It now remains for me to connect the Homeric
and Rosicrucian fables, and to evolve my inter
pretation of the twain. Common to each is
the pursuit of astronomy, “that most beautiful
and plenteous fountain of philosophy,” as
Apuleius terms it, in his book on the doc
trines of Plato. Homer’s god of the winds and
the adepts of “ holy alchymy ” are alike familiar
with this science—a science anciently deemed
sacred. (Vide Pseudo. Tim. Locr.) So highly
indeed was astronomy esteemed by the Pytha
gorean sages, that, in the “Epinomis” of Plato,
we read-—“ Are you then ignorant that the
person who is ‘truly an astronomer is neces
sarily the most wise"! Not indeed he who is
an astronomer according to Hesiod, and all such,
and looks to risings and settings; but he who
looks to the circle of the eight orbits," &c. In
I
122 NEW READINGS 0F HOMER.

which passage we perceive the literal is entirely


set aside for the ideal and metaphysical science.
Again, immortal Z'Eolus and his children,
banqueting daily in their serene island-home,
cut off from intercourse with the common
world, present a not unnatural likeness to this
sect, who constantly held themselves aloof from
the many; claiming exemption from death, and
gifts altogether supernatural, as they partook of
that “ perpetual feast of nectared sweets,” which
is ever spread in the palace of “divine philo
sophy.” Their floating island, even, will find a
parallel in the apparently foundationless science
of which we treat, which, nevertheless, has been
one of the marvels of the sea of life, the re
puted dwelling place of that celestial power by
whose aid philosophy sought (to quote the title
of an old alchymical tract) “The Waye to
Blisse.” ‘
Of the sons and daughters of JEolus, I can
only surmise that they may represent certain
sciences which sprang from the study of alchymy,
or may embody those virtues which were deemed
attendant upon the pursuit.
The story of the bag, in which the winds
were fastened with a silver cord, is a very trans
parent allegory of the mode in which the
NEW READINGS 0F HOMER. 123

alchymist conveyed his doctrines, describing


spiritual operations with metallical nomencla
ture. The concealment in each case brought
about the same catastrophe. Nor let ,it be
fancied that the Winds being confined, lest they
should be adverse to Ulysses, is contrary to my
alchymical interpretation. These winds, directly
they were loosed, came under the rule of
Neptune, Who bears, as I have already remarked,
a relationship to that power of evil which
thwarts and persecutes the better part of human
nature. When misapplied by the foolish sailors,
they were turned by Neptune to the detriment
of the hero; just as the finest spiritual gifts,
wrongly employed, become Satan’s agents to
effect the most terrible moral shipwreck.
124 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

@112 aflbiinsnpher's fitrmc.

" Thus you will possess the glory of the whole world; and all obscurity
will fly far from you.
“ For this reason I am called Hermes Trismegistus, because I possess
three parts of the philosophy of the whole world.”
“ THE ARCANA" or IIEaMEs.

THE wedded children of King JEolus,


Like planets drawn around their parent sun,
Lived in a royal castle with their sire,
Nor mingled with the world: and, of them, none
Knew discontent, or pain, or common care;
Above them shone a sky for ever fair;
Nor were the storms of Fate allowed to bluster there.

For the great king of that enchanted isle


Was he whom all the fickle winds obey—
The welcome airs of Fortune (like the breeze
Of June when sunny fields are sweet with hay),
The bitter blasts of penury and woe,
The gales that on the happy freshly blow,
The hot sirocco-gust at which despair lies low.
NEW READINGS OF HOMER. 125

There, dwelt they in their floating island-home,


Banqueting daily on the “ nectared sweets”
Of rare philosophy; and, thus it chanced,
Ulysses voyaging-—as one who meets
With unexpected treasure on the ground—
Sighted their land, and soon the harbour found,
With the white turrets of the castle-towers crowned.

Fair were the marble cliffs that softly shed


The light of alabaster down the deep,
Down through the glassy gloom of purple sea—
As where the pale-limbed mermaids lie asleep
Beneath the moon, what hour the shallow tide
Ripples above them. Fair, in lofty pride,
The spotless castle with the snowy headlands vied.

A fortress, inaccessible to force,


Girt with a rampart of refulgent brass ;
But free and open to the ardent mind
That seeks across the sea of life to pass
Successful, and to reach the sacred seat
Where Wisdom and the Soul together meet,
Trampling the sting of death beneath their guileless feet.

Within the castle wise Ulysses met


With friendly welcome and with royal cheer,
Banqueting with the princes day by day,
And telling all that they desired to hear
Of Troy and his adventures: till he prayed
The great King ZEolus to lend him aid,
That he from Ithaca no longer might be stayed.
126 ‘ NEW READINGS or HOMER.

Then lEolus committed to his care


The secret lore of Immortality !
That pure elixir, that transmuting stone,
The prize of knowledge in its victory!
Whereon, as joyfully as when we kiss
The face we love, Ulysses treasured this
And saw, with happy eyes, the certain way to bliss.

But wrapped, as in a bag, and hidden close


In jealous jargon from the common crew,
' He placed the valuable gift aboard
His fleet, and from the floating isle withdrew.
Swift, with a favourable breeze, they sailed;
Each mariner some foolish omen hailed,
As, with the thought of home, their faces flushed and
paled.

So, day by day, the sun beheld them pass


Across the circles of the level sea;
And, with each hour, their quickened hearts were drawn
The stronger to the land where they would be:
And when, at length, as on the vessels ploughed,
Their island rose before them, like a cloud,
They raised their eager voices,~cheering long and loud.

Anon the eventidc began to shade


The pale gray ocean, and the crescent moon
Sank to the ruddy west, the while a line
Of sea-birds streamed athwart their wake; and soon
The smoke of watch-fires, on the headlands, rose
Against some purple hills, in dim repose,
Which took a deeper bloom as day began to close.
NEW READINGS 01-‘ HOMER. 127

There lay the home for which the spirit yearns—


The centre of high hope and noble plan— '
That innocence and freedom man enjoyed
In Eden ere the dreadful fall of man—
There shall we dwell exempt from want and pain,
Our former loss transmuted into gain :
Insatiable Death shall clamour there in vain!

But pale Ulysses, overcome with toil


And constant watching and anxiety,
Rested his weary head upon his hands,
In slumber, dreaming of Penelope,
Who met him, with her son, a little child
As when he left for Troy; but, as he smiled,
They passed away across a desert dark and wild.

Meantime, the ignorant disloyal crew


Misunderstanding the divine intent
Of their great master, laboured at the knot
Of silver cord by which the truth was pent
In mystic covering and secret fold;
Deeming within their selfish grasp to hold
An endless fund of pelt‘, the common hoard of gold.

They loosed the store, but failed in their design;


For fickle winds rushed out; the tumult spread:
And blasts of sickness, penury, and death,
Now unimprisoned, burst upon their head,
Driving them back, with tempest through the night;
Till pale Ulysses, in the morning light,
Awoke, to gaze through tears, on that disastrous sight.
128 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

The ragged edges of the murky sky


A sinistrous and brazen lustre wore;
The low clouds brooded 0n the leaden deep;
No longer could he see the pleasant shore:
He saw his dearest hopes for ever gone;
Saw the hard-hearted billows rolling on;
Saw the new-coming era of probation dawn.
NEW READINGS 0E HOMER. 129

firmlspr's Qérisf.

THE disposition of melancholy, or rather of that


pathetic seriousness which Milton has embodied
in his “ll Penseroso”—“Her rapt soul shining in
her eyes ”—is one which is indigenous to hu
manity. Whether fortunate or afflicted, we alike
discover a certain under-current of sadness in the
soul, which is as distinct from the torrent of
anguish, and the tide of disappointment, as the
sheen of starlight differs from the baleful glare
of a falling meteor; which interpenetrates the
festive gladness of prosperity like the monotone
of discord running through a peal of bells.
Wherever the spiritual faculties of man are
accurately pourtrayed, the artist’s pencil must
be dipped freely in the “gloom of earthquake
and eclipse.” There is a dark tragic side to our
nature, like the night-hemisphere of our globe,
* and it is within its solemn shade that the
130 NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

celestial glories which surround us become


evident. We may recognise its effect in the
meditative soliloquies of a Hamlet, or in the
erudite disquisitions of a Burton’s “ Anatomy; ”
but when, in silence and solitude, we venture
to explore the recesses of our own hearts, we
there meet, face to face, this apparition of a
latent trouble, which looks upon us with tearful
eyes that never weep, gazing, as it were, through
a veil that is never raised.
“ Simplicity and purity,” says Thomas a
Kempis, “ are the two wings with which man
soars above the earth and all temporary nature.”
Childhood, through these virtues, unquestionably
rises towards the primal state of innocence; so
much so, that our Saviour, when he laid his
hands upon the little children brought unto
him, expressly declared that of such is the
kingdom of heaven. But even childhood, in
its guilelessness and undoubting dependence—
childhood, from whose innocence we may
learn to measure the strength of angels—
is not exempt from this shadow of a fallen
estate; and, from the cradle to the bier,
man’s tendency is towards trouble, “as the
sparks fly upward.” This, probably, was the
meaning of those grave secrets which figured
NEW READINGS 0F HOMER. 131

in the sacred orgies of Bacchus—those mysteries


which, concealed in baskets of ivy leaves, were
reverently carried in procession, whilst frantic
menads danced around to the din of Berecyn
thian cymbals. This, probably, was the meaning
of the skeleton which the ancient Egyptians
were accustomed to place at table, even at their
gayest festivals: a nation whose antiquity ex
tended far into the night of tradition, they were
not ignorant of the catastrophe of our first
parents’ fall; and the hierophants of Thebes and
Memphis introduced this symbol of death into
their banqueting-halls to typify that shadow of
doom which accompanies humanity. As the
guests tasted the lotos to the music of harps and
tabrets, or partook of fragrant golden apples,
while the dancers swam before them, it was as
though a still small voice for ever reiterated the
slighted warning—“ In the day that thou eatest
thereof thou shalt surely die.”
It is, I believe, the remembrance of original
sin which perpetually weighs upon the soul,
giving a tinge of sadness to its complexion.
Nor is this pensive sorrow to be accounted a low
and unworthy attribute of our nature; on the
contrary, we find it is developed most freely in
the highest spiritual order; and it is in the poet,
132 NEW READINGS 0F HOMER.

the philosopher, and the saint, that the medita


tive portion of the human soul becomes most
elevated and purest.
Homer consequently had reason for exhibiting
Penelope especially under this aspect. A type
of the soul, she appears arightly before us, her
mild eyes wet with tears, her countenance de
jected, her voice the voice of lamentation and
regret; we see her constantly mourning the ab
sence of her lord, vexed by a crowd of unworthy
suitors, embarrassed with a thousand difiiculties
and trials. Her first appearance is as significant
as the opening of Hamlet’s soliloquy—“ Oh that
this too, too solid flesh would melt!” &c., in
which that contest between spiritual and animal
nature, which is the germ and substance of the
drama, is delivered as a prophetic text or over
ture. No more beautiful embodiment of melan
choly can be conceived than the person of the
queen standing veiled in lucid gauze at the por
tals of the hall wherein her suitors are revelling,
and, with sorrowful gesture, imploring the bard
to desist singing of the Fall of Troy, which so
keenly sharpens her ever-present loss. When
Telemachus begs his mother to suffer the song,
(whose woe is not merely the fiction of an active
brain, but the work of Deity, which ever speaks
NEW READINGS OF HOMER. 133

through the poet,) Penelope retires to occupy


herself at “the roaring loom of Time,” and to
ponder the sorrows of her destiny. We next
meet Penelope, in an agony of distress, when
she learns of her son’s departure from Ithaca,
and of the suitors’ project to destroy him. On
the return of Telemachus her very joy is dashed
with tears, and her first inquiry is concerning
the absent one. Farther on, she is present at
the blow given by Antinous to Ulysses, and is
there pained by the suitors’ insolence and cruelty.
Even when she descends, transfigured by the
art of Pallas, to dazzle and deceive thc suitors
by her transcendental charms, it is amidst tears
and weariness of life; praying of Diana to send
to her the sleep of death, or some respite to
her woes; asking for “ rest or death, dark death
or dreamfnl ease,” as Tennyson has sung in a
new reading of Homer—so exquisite, so perfect,
that its remembrance makes me blush for these
my weak defective efforts. We afterwards find
the queen sadly declaring, that her beauty fled
when much-loved Ulysses left her, and that it
could only be restored by his return. When
she communes with her disguised lord. she is
moved with strange forebodings, until, “dissolved
in woe,” she retires to mourn alone.. Nor, at
134 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

the celebrated “bending of the how,” when


Penelope takes the fatal weapon from the ar
moury, does it fail to awaken in her breast a
pang of recollection, and, for a while, she sits
pensive and overcome. Nay, even in her final
meeting with Ulysses, the disposition of melan
choly is still her prominent characteristic.
Thus, everywhere, Penelope appears as “ the
suffering consort of the suffering man; ”‘ and
it would be absurd to suppose that Homer would
have so described her without special reason.
For a Greek matron (who, be it remembered, is
not to be judged by the feelings and customs
of the present day) to be perpetually over
whelmed with hysteria, and to maintain per
ennial lamentations after twenty years of
widowhood, would have been as ridiculous as
unaccountable. She must have been bred up
to know that the chances of war might at any
moment transfer her from her husband’s palace
to be the spouse or slave of another man. The
habits of society at that period appear to have
permitted, if not compelled, every Woman to re

*It may be observed that the name of Ulysses, ’051'Mdzug,


signifying, as Chapman remarks, “dolorem proprie corporis,
nam ira ex dolore oritur,” points to this prominent characteristic
of the human soul.
NEw READINGS 0F HOMER. 135

marry directly after the demise of a husband,


even although a prior husband were living, as
in the instance of Helen and Deiphobus, upon
the death of Paris. Here, as elsewhere in the
Odyssey, if we take things literally, we shall
find them hard to reconcile; but regarding them
from another point of view, we shall perceive
their apparent difficulties subside, and what
seemed most puzzling and inexplicable will turn
out to be most necessary and apposite portion of
the fable.
This is especially the case in the description
of the couch of olive by which Ulysses proves
his identity to the satisfaction of the queen. The
whole passage is so peculiar and obscure that
I shall perhaps be pardoned for treating the
subject with even greater freedom than else
where. As the account itself is vague, and in
the narration “more is meant than meets the
ear,” I have introduced it, in the following
verses, as if prefigured in a dream. This has
allowed me greater latitude in working out my
interpretation, and will serve as an excuse if, in
this instance, my exposition be deemed extrava
gant and false.
The hero of the Odyssey returns to Ithaca
in the disguise of a medicant; and, even after
136 NEW nnxnmos or HOMER.

he has slain the suitors, and established his


claims, Penelope remains awhile dissatisfied and
doubtful. This seems to me very beautifully to
represent the tenacity and natural pride of the
human soul, together with that humiliation of
spirit, in which aspiration for knowledge of good
and evil returns most nearly to that blameless
condition in which we must presume unfallen
man to have stood when‘yet in the image of God.
The result of all the experience and labours of
worldly wisdom is to learn, that of ourselves
we know nothing)‘k It is very remarkable how
this tendency may be traced in every system of
philosophy. The road of science conducts us
forth into a world wherein our petty self
importance is overpowered and extinguished
amid the marvels of divine wisdom: we are
there taught that the talents we employ are of
the wealth of our good Master, to whom we
shall ultimately have to render an account;
that our feeble light is the distant reflection of
that ineffable glory in which eventually we be
come absorbed.
This is the true restoration of philosophy to

* “ The knowledge of nothing,” says Sir W. Hamilton, “is the


principle or result of all true philosophy.”— HAMILTON’S “DIs
cosslons.” '
NEW READINGS 0F HOMER. 137

the human soul—this is the meeting of Ulysses


and his spouse through the intercession of
Minerva. Along the cycles of history, a yearn
ing for Wisdom has continually made itself felt:
now springing up in the schools of Athens; then
interpenetrating the turmoil of modern Europe:
now speaking through the lips of Solomon;
then breaking from an obscure Rosicrucian
aspirant: now arming itself in the vigour of
scientific research; then dwelling in the tents of
contemplation: now speechless in solitude; then
eloquent in the senate or the church. In all, in
each, the same truth is revealed. The industry,‘
“the agony of endeavour,” which has been said
to characterise the present age, expresses it as
clearly as the studious calm of mediaaval cloister
life, or the stately discipline of Eleusinian
mysteries.
The beginning and the end of human nature
is superior to Time; therefore, all men of com
prehensive intelligence, all men in whom both
heart and head are equally developed, who unite
in themselves masculine reason with feminine
imagination, feel themselves to be in positive rela
tion with metaphysical and eternal life; and are

" “Memoirs of Perthes.”


K
138 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

drawn, by the very law of their being, to seek


that source from which they sprang, and towards
which the current of existence carries them.
Happy, thrice happy, the philosopher, who, like
Ulysses in the Odyssey, early discovers his proper
strength and proper weakness, and, bowing to
the decrees of providence, willingly accepts the
adversities and denials of life; who, being tried
like gold in the furnace of afliiction, nobly
“ finds in loss a gain to match;” and who, having
given up all things for the love of the divine
wisdom, “ shall receive a thousand fold in this
world, and in the world to come life ever
lasting.”
NEW READINGS or HOMER. 139

Q“ firmness.

“ Hail, divincst melancholy ! ”—MIL'roN.

“ So Adam receiveth again into his arms hys most pretious and en
deared bride which was taken from him in his sleep; and is not any
longer man or woman, but a branch on Christ’s Pearl-tree which
standeth in the Paradise of God.
J. Bcsrmnu’s “MYs'rEsIun MAGNUM."

VVITBIN the circuit of a marble court,


Clothed in the blinding glare of summer noon,
Arose a grand pavilion wide and deep;
And there, in cool shade, like a snow-white moon
Set in the gray vault of a midnight sky,
Beclined the gracious queen Penelope,
Lovely but sorrowful, and lost in reverie.

And past her maidens, singing at their work,


And past the still‘ gold-woven tapestry,
That, fringed with flame, screened half the glowing door,
Over her loom, she gazed out on the sea,
Whose blue line cut athwart the mazy air
Above the fronting sand-slope salt and bare,
Flashing in silver sunshine burst the surges there.
140 NEW READINGS OF HOMER.

Vaguely she saw the ever onward wave;


vaguely she heard the murmur of the same;
Her wide and stately eyes were gemmed with tears;
The voice of one who loved to call her name
In other days whereon her grief did dwell,
Breathed in her ear, which, like a pearly shell,
Echoed the echoed music that it loved so well.

Long while hath she been parted from her lord.


Fate drove him from her when he wrought the fall
Of mystic Troy ; nor may he ever more
Tread this most gorgeous tesselated hall,
Tread this, his own hereditary strand,
\Vhcre now usurpers claim her heart and hand,
And falsely plot against the hero of the land.

Her son is gone, and now she sighs alone:


He, too, would dare the fickle ocean-way ;
Nor can she hope that either may return,
Rounding with welcome ship his native bay—
Gods are themselves subdued by Destiny !-—
And, in the strength of desolation, she
Prays to the conscious gods to solve the mystery.

Then, in the night, there came a sound of wings


Above the marble-columned palace-square;
And something calmed the slumber of the queen,
Lulling the anguish of her sharp despair:
So that she moaned no more. nor turned in pain,
While words from heaven stole into her brain,
As on the eager herbage falls sweet April rain.
NEW READINGS or HoMER. 141

“Wise is Ulysses; but he must fulfil


The constant fate he brought into the world.
Philosophy can never win his home,
But still on wand’ring waters shall be hurled,
Mounting the billows of a shoreless sea,
Until, allowed by Destiny's decree,
\Visdom divine shall lead him back again to then.”

And, in a vision, to the lonely queen,


There came a faded and a woe-worn man :
And much she started, for she knew the king—
How changed !—And, with a cry, she thus began :—
“ Oh my beloved! What do I behold‘?
The morning sun in awful glory rolled—
Is this the eclipséd noon of that dear time of old “Z”

Returned the voice, “A vagrant cloud may hide


The golden visage of the lofty sun;
And secret terrors of an alien grave
May mar with care thy own beloved one:
But faith, beneath the mask, the god discerns ;
And brighter far than morning Phoebus burns,
Garbcd in divine humility, thy spouse returns.”

Yet she—“ The proof 1 oh, give me but the proof


That this indeed is he who went away
To work the fated fall of mystic Troy!
Give back the secret of our wedding day.”
Then, on an amaranth-enamelled field,
Arose the tree of life, all unconcealed,
And there the mystery of Eden lay revealed.
142 NEW READINGS or HOMER.

And, o’er the vision of the woe-worn king,


A pure transforming light fell from above :—
The lonely‘soul, within the glow, beheld
Wisdom divine regarding him with love.
Then knew she how these two were one, in truth,
Wisdom whose dwelling is with God, forsooth,
Her own beloved Ulysses in the bloom of youth.

1 D1360

H'COIZQUODALE AND 00., PRINTERS. GLASGOW AND LONDON.


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