Enemies of Poetry

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Enemies of Poetry

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Enemies o f Poetry

By the same author (with R . B. M cD ow ell) M ahaffy: a Biography o f an Anglo-Irishman

Enemies o f Poetry

W. B. Stanford

R outledge & K egan Paul London, Boston and H enley

First published in ig 8 o by Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd 3g Store Street, London W C i E j D D , Broadway House, Newtown Road, Henley-on-Thames, Oxon R G g i E N and g Park Street, Boston, M ass. 02108, U SA Set in Monotype Baskerville and printed in Great Britain by Ebenezer Baylis & Son Ltd, The Trinity Press, Worcester, and London (c) W . B . Stanford ig 8 o No part o f this book may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except fo r the quotation o f brief passages in criticism I S B N o y 100 0460 5


Acknowledgm ents


C hapter O n e

Enemies o f Poetry


C hapter T w o


C hapter Three


Scientists, Psychologists and M athem aticians

C hapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six



Politicians and Moralists


Tw enty-six Fallacies o f Classical Criticism

Chapter Seven



T h e Freedom o f Poetry


Abbreviated References

16 3






M y thanks are due to colleagues and friends who helped with information and advice - and warnings not always heeded - in this rather temerarious book: in m ainly literary matters to A . E. Hinds, J. V . Luce, J . K . W alton and D . E. W . W ormell; in history to P. A . Gartledge; in science to D . A . W ebb ; in m athem atics to D . A . Spearm an; and in philosophy to J. V . Luce again. Others are mentioned in the notes. I am also grateful to Paulene Byrne for coping with the obscurities o f my handw riting so patiently. I am particularly indebted to m y wife who gave invaluable and untiring help in all stages o f the work. A m o n g the books in m y short-title list I gained most from those b y M . H . Abram s, Rosamond Harding, Rosemary Harriott, John Press and - ju st in time - O liver T aplin.

Chapter One Enemies o f Poetry

In a time like the present when creative literature is being used more and more as material for history or archaeology or sociology or psychology it m ay be well for those who value creative literature for its own sake to defend fiction in general and poetry in particular in terms o f their own aims and methods. There are two ways o f doing this. O n e is positive - to repeat the principles o f favourable literary criticism from Aristotle to Eliot. T h e other is negative - to identify and if possible to refute the main reasons w hy non-literary scholars and critics have so often misunderstood and misrepresented fictional writing, especially poetry. In what follows here I have m ainly followed the via negativa, though necessarily I have referred to the basic canons o f sym pathetic criticism from time to time. I have written on the whole as an advocate rather than as a jud ge. Critics such as Plato and Bentley and L e a f have said such outrageous things about poetry that I still find it hard to discuss their strictures dispassionately. I f I have overstated the case at times, I apologize. But the antipoetic forces are still so strongly entrenched in classical studies that to make an y lasting impression on them one must thrust hard. I hasten to add that I have no personal antipathy to the honourable disciplines politics -





psychology and

discussed in the following pages, so long as their

advocates do not try to convert and assimilate poetry to their own purposes. A ll I assert - following Aristotle - is the unique­ ness and autonom y o f poetry.

E nem ies o f P oetry O u r classical tradition has been strongest in the past when it was based four-square

on poetry,


history and

philosophy. But when the balance between them is upset, then the whole system suffers. M y own b elief - but it is obviously biased - is that i f the im aginative element, that is, the poetic element, in literature is disparaged and neglected - as it has sometimes been in the past - m any young students will lose interest and turn to better cultivated literary fields. For example I know o f no introduction to a great poem more likely to repel or misdirect a reader seeking to understand the Ilia d as a poem about human emotions than L e a f’s preface to his still standard edition, as I shall try to show later. Alm ost all the axioms on which I base m y replies to hostile criticism are derived from Aristotle’s Poetics. I know that in some quarters it is fashionable to decry this work as a source o f misunderstanding about classical poetry. O n e professor to m y knowledge warns his literary students to avoid it entirely. A ll I can now say is that the more I study it the more I admire its masterly commonsense and penetrating insight. T h o u gh Aristotle was essentially a scientist and logician him self — his poem to aretê w ould hardly have been preserved i f an Aristotle had not written it - yet with an unbiased scientist’s power o f observation he saw the nature and purpose o f poetry more clearly than any other literary critic in antiquity. I have chosen the rather aggressive title Enemies o f Poetry rather than something milder like Misrepresentations and Fallacies in Classical Criticism or Animadversions on Certain Questionable Attitudes to Classical Poetry, because ‘enemies o f poetry’ is exactly what several eminent scholars o f the last century have, in m y opinion, essentially been, despite their protestations o f reve­ rence for the poets whom they have traduced or dismembered. O p en enemies like Plato have often been answered, but enemies like Richard Bentley, W alter L e a f and, surprisingly, G ilbert M urray (in an early book) have not, I think, been clearly enough identified in the past. I must make a careful distinction here between hostile and neutral attitudes to poetry am ong those classical critics who

E nem ies o f P oetry arc not themselves admirers o f poetry. O bviou sly historians, scientists, philosophers, psychologists and politicians are en­ titled to study and use for their own purposes whatever a poet has published, since every poem is in a sense a historical docum ent and a legitim ate subject for scientific research. I f critics o f this kind recognize that poetry is an autonomous world o f its own w ith its own laws and customs - as different at times from the world o f science as C hin a is from Peru - they can genuinely enrich our understanding o f poetry and the poetic art. These unaggressive users o f poetry are not the concern o f the present book. T h e y do not traduce or m utilate poetry when they are handling it. N aturally they often regard poetry as being an inferior field o f study to their own - as when the historian Grote spoke o f ‘the superior d ign ity’ o f historical and scientific truth - and some o f them have little or no use for poetry as a source o f pleasure and illumination. Famous defenders o f poetry like Sidney and Shelley have tried to persuade them that poetry deserves universal recognition as a vehicle o f transcendental truth. I happen to believe that this theory o f poetry is true, but I shall not try to argue it here. In contrast w ith this scientific neutrality, hostility to poetry, whether conscious or unconscious, begins when the critics assume that poems and myths are only peculiar ways o f making factual statements. Here is how a standard handbook o f Greek m ythology presents this v ie w :1 When Spenser personifies the virtue of chastity under the lovely figure of Una, or holiness as the Red Cross Knight, he is merely putting into poetical form what he could have expressed in prose, a current theory, derived from Aristotle, of the virtues and vices, and adorning it with the flowers of his inexhaustible fancy. In other words, poetry is viewed here as philosophy in fancy dress. O n e finds a similar attitude in the suggestion by a contem porary historian that myths are ‘para-history’ . T o those who accept the uniqueness o f poetry one m ight as well say that a cat is a para-dog. In w hat follows here I call this misguided and misleading


E nem ies o f P oetry approach to poetry - as I see it — ‘factualistic’ . It differs from the neutral scientific approach in assuming that the primary purpose o f poetry is to present factual information and, further, that when poetry fails to present facts correctly it is blam e­ worthy. This prejudice lies very deep in much o f classical criticism. Essentially it is a denial o f the validity o f poetic imagination and the importance o f poetic form. T h e worst harm to poetry begins when these factualists not content with misrepresenting the aims o f poetry decide to emend it according to their own principles. Classical poetry has been cruelly lacerated by this kind o f criticism since the eighteenth century. Richard B entley’s edition o f Paradise L ost offers an extreme example o f factualistic literary revisionism, as will be illustrated later. His basic assumption was that M ilton ’s statements should

be scientifically



result is notoriously absurd. Y e t in subtler ways the same factualistic fallacy still pervades m any standard editions o f classical poetry. Delusively these factualistic revisionists often profess the highest respect for the poets whose works they m utilate. T h e nearest analogy that I can find for this hypocrisy is in those smiling fanatics who in the bad old days o f religious persecution assured the victims o f their rackings and hackings that it was all for the good o f their souls. Religious intolerance is happily out o f fashion now. Scholastic intolerance lingers on. In contrast with the enemies o f poetry who masquerade as therapists, moralistic critics have been openly and avowedly hostile since the sixth century b c . T a k in g the opposite view to the factualists, they condemned poets for being irresponsible liars or else for causing im m orality by the bad example o f the characters they portrayed. T h e assumption here is utilitarian: poets should make people into better citizens, as Plato insisted. T h e y should be teachers, not entertainers. But the fact is that the greater poets o f antiquity, with a few notable exceptions, seldom express moralistic, or didactic, or utilitarian aims though o f course their poems could be used for purposes o f that kind. T h e primary aim o f poetry, as im plied by m any Greek


E nem ies o f P oetry poets and as em phatically asserted by Aristotle in his Poetics, is to give pleasure. There is a curious reluctance among classical critics to adm it this principle, as if it were an unworthy motive for writing or reading poetry. M ore must be said about it on a later page. M oralistic enemies o f poetry have often joined in an unholy alliance w ith politicians to impose partial or total censorship on poetry. Plato and Thom as Bowdler are the chief standardbearers here, but they lead a large regiment. It m ay be that in extreme cases, as we shall see, even the most ardent defenders o f literary freedom should concede the need for such drastic measures. But only too often these repressive measures have been based on personal prejudice or political partisanship and not on the welfare o f society as a whole. Plato in the Republic claims to ban poetry for the sake o f an ideal society. But at the same time Plato as an ambitious philosopher - and a convert from poetry according to a late source - had strong personal reasons for elim inating the traditional power o f the poets. O th er less influential enemies o f poetry will emerge on later pages - notably the trivialists who, w ith Plato, dismiss poetry as ‘child’s p la y ’ or, with N ew ton, as ‘a kind o f ingenious non­ sense’,2 and the believers in prim al stupidity as witnessed in the follow ing remark b y Sir James Frazer in the introduction to his edition o f Apollodoros:3 By myths I mean mistaken explorations of phenomena, whether of human life or of eternal nature . . . Being founded on ignorance and misapprehension, they are always false, for if true they would cease to be myths. Here the common factor is an arrogant contem pt for the m ythopoeic and poetic faculties, in N ew ton’s case resulting from confidence in science, in Frazer’s from a nineteenthcentury b elief in ‘progress’ . In the present age o f disillusion w ith these optimisms such attitudes are less prevalent. But they are strongly entrenched in the tradition o f classical scholarship. In general, then, this book m ay serve as a modest reconsidera­ tion o f the long-lasting dispute between the poets and the philosophers which Plato mentions in his Republic - a variety 5

E nem ies o f P oetry o f w hat Lord Snow has called the conflict o f ‘the two cultures’ . But in the following pages we have to reckon w ith three conflicting interests rather than two. T h e scientists seek facts. T h e moralists seek virtue. T h e poets and artists seek - to use an old-fashioned term - beauty, that is the effect o f artistic excel­ lence on the senses, emotions and mind. These aims are all compatible. I f only the three contestants w ould consistently vArnfrnÍ7 P the. integrity and value o f the others’ approach, Erratum : Enemies o f Poetry

ultim ately ce o f the

Page 6, line 10

to prepare

ironical should read irenical

id m utual

respes i. Specifically in the next four chapters I shall try to reply to the main strictures o f revisionists -

historical, scientific and

philosophical - on poetry. After that I shall consider certain misleading fallacies





sym pathetic

critics to misrepresent the poetic art. In writing about these fallacies I was aware that I m ight m yself have been gu ilty o f some o f them in m y own publications. Perhaps even the present work is not free from them. Indeed one o f m y basic assumptions here m ay be fallacious - that the nature o f poets and poetry has remained m uch the same since Hom er’s time, so that what modern poets have said about themselves and their aims m ay be also applied to their classical predecessors. Classical literary criticism


recently profited




contemporary oral poetry and early Greek epic. I hope that in the same w ay what we know about the inner thoughts and feelings o f poets like Shelley and Tennyson and Yeats m ay help us to






m ental

processes o f Homer and Horace. It has been suggested to me by some who have been kind enough to read chapters o f this book in advance that criticism o f past scholars like Bentley and L e a f is rather vieux je u flogging dead horses, in fact. But L e a f’s Ilia d and some o f the other books that I cite are still standard works for students o f the classics, and Bentley’s extravagances are unparalleled as


E nem ies o f P oetry examples o f how far berserk revisionism can go. It would have been easy enough to quote cautionary illustrations from the work o f contem porary classicists. But since my aim is to persuade rather than to provoke I have avoided reference to livin g scholars. If, however, readers come to the conclusion that the hostile views o f poetry illustrated here are now obsolete, then the main theme o f this book is only an echo from a less enlightened past. For m y own part, I do not think that these misunderstandings and misrepresentations o f poetry have by any means disappeared. O n the contrary, they will always, I fear, be w ith us - perhaps in new forms, but in essence still antipoetic. I f w hat I have written helps a few students with literary interests to recognize these enemies and their fallacies more clearly than before, I shall be well satisfied.


Chapter Two Historicists

During the last century and a h alf m any o f the worst mis­ representations and mutilations o f classical poetry have come from those historical scholars and critics who have adopted the factualistic belief that poetry is essentially a sub-species o f history - history in fancy dress or primitive history. T o isolate these enemies o f poetry from historians who fully accept the generic distinctiveness of poetry as asserted by Aristotle, I shall call them ‘historicists’ . W hen these historicists go to extremes and proceed to re-write or re-model poetry on their factualistic principles I shall call them ‘revisionists’ . A t that stage they resemble the formidable prospectors in G iraudoux’s com edy L a F olle de Paris, who having discovered rich deposits o f oil under Paris are determined to extract it no matter w hat dam age they do to the city. H appily some resolute citizens foil them. This aggressively historicistic approach must be carefully distinguished from two other attitudes o f historians towards poetry and m yth. T h e first o f these rests on the principle that creative literature is impenetrable to historical analysis and should never be used as evidence for historical facts. A ccording to this view, as George Grote expressed it ,1 the Greek myths are ‘a special product o f the im agination and feelings, radically distinct both from history and philosophy: they cannot be broken down and decomposed into the one, nor allegorised into the other . . . W e are not warranted in applying to the m ythical world the rules either o f historical credibility or chronological sequence’ . Against this cautious approach there has always been a 8

H istoricists second school o f thought which believed that critical methods could at times distinguish fact from fiction in creative literature. Grote described this as ‘semi-historical’ and dismissed it as ‘interpretative guesswork’ , which ‘frittered aw ay the charac­ teristic beauty o f the myths into something essentially antim ythical’ . But it continues to be strongly advocated


practised by reputable scholars. It is not the concern o f the present book to consider the relative validity o f these historical and

semi-historical ap­

proaches. T h a t is a matter for historians, not for literary critics. Neither w ay o f thinking is necessarily hostile to poetry, though the semi-historians sometimes merge into semi-historicists by im plying an inferior status to their poetic material. I have heard a scholar describe his efforts to find historical evidence in Hom er as ‘sieving out nuggets o f history’ , the implication being, it seems - to adapt M arlow e’s line about Helen - ‘A ll is dross that is not history’ . Sm all regard for John K eats’s realms o f gold there ! T h e prime enemies, then, are the doctrinaire historicists. It took over two thousand years o f European literary criticism for them to establish themselves in full force. T h e early Greek historians and their successors were in little danger o f treating poetry as a sub-species o f history, having been warned in a solemn passage o f Hesiod2 that there were two kinds o f poets, those who told the truth and those who told ‘falsehoods that look like the truth’ . Subsequently Solon had repeated the same warning - ‘Poets tell m any lies’ .3 T h e Greeks also were well aware that their early poetry was ‘song’ and that singers are concerned w ith artistic effects not factual statements. O n the other hand in the absence o f non-poetical and non-m ythical descriptions o f early times they felt compelled to try to pick out firm historical facts from w hat the poets had sung. Herodotos4 accepted the historical reality o f figures like Heracles and Penelope, but he questioned details in their stories on grounds o f common sense. In dealing with Hom er’s account o f Helen o f T ro y he preferred to trust the E gyptian version which, he claimed, Hom er probably knew but altered ‘because it was not


H istoricists so suitable for his epic poetry’ . Later he again showed his distrust o f poetical sources in the phrase ‘I f one ought to say anything on the evidence o f the epic poets’ . There is a hint o f disparagement in phrases like this - understandably since at that time historians were still finding it hard to persuade their audiences that they deserved to be listened to as much as the poets. Thucydides5 also adopted

a partly sceptical and partly

speculative approach. H e rejected ‘the story-telling elem ent’ (to muthodes) in previous literature. Story-tellers, he warned, habitually wrote to please and Homer being a poet was ‘likely to adorn his material w ith exaggeration’ (the ‘cosmetic fallacy’) . W hen citing Homer he used such cautionary phrases as ‘if Homer is sufficient witness for anyone’ and ‘i f we ought to put trust in the poetry o f H om er’ . Y e t he was prepared to believe in the historicity o f Pelops, Heracles, Helen, Achilles and others, and he even accepted, w ith some reserve, H om er’s account o f the numbers o f the Greeks at Troy. But neither Herodotos nor Thucydides nor any historian since, so far as I know, could establish a valid criterion for distinguishing what looks like fact and what is fact in poetry and m yth. This, as Aristotle emphasized a century later, is particularly hard in dealing w ith a poet like Homer who excels in paralogismos,6 the art o f giving verisimilitude to fictions. U ndeniably poets sometimes use facts as poetic material, as modern archaeology has proved in the case o f a few objects described b y Homer. But, as Aristotle warns, one must not conclude that because one fact in a statement is true, any o f the rest is true. A n anecdote about Samuel Johnson7 illustrates this common-sense attitude. In a conversation about a scholar whose works ‘though full o f interesting topics’ were ‘unhappily found to be very fabulous’ , a friend suggested, ‘Suppose we believe h a lf o f what he tells.’ Johnson replied, ‘A y , but we don’ t know which h a lf to believe.’ W hen Boswell asked, ‘ M a y we not take it as amusing fiction?’, Johnson answered, ‘ Sir, the misfortune is, that you w ill insen­ sibly believe as much o f it as you incline to believe.’ Plato, being a brilliant m yth-m aker himself, thoroughly 10

H istoricists understood how perilous it is to rely on plausible myths as evidence for history. E choing the words o f Hesiod, Socrates remarks in the R ep u b lic:8 ‘In the case o f myths, too . . . since we don’ t know the truth about ancient times, we can make the falsehood (pseûdos) like the truth, and so make it useful’ . A n d when Socrates is asked in the Phaidros whether he believes in a rationalistic interpretation o f a m yth he says that such specu­ lations are a futile waste o f time : so far as he is concerned it seems best to accept the conventional w ay o f looking at myths. It was Aristotle in his Poetics who voiced the most powerful protest in an tiqu ity against treating poetry as if it were history in verse. A t the outset o f his great treatise9 he asserted that it was not the function o f poetry to state facts about individuals as history does. Poetry generalizes. It does not describe actual personages like Alcibiades, but presents a mimesis (I shall return to this word later) o f w hat people like Alcibiades might do or say. (Later on Aristotle ironically concedes that a poet m ay sometimes state facts if they suit his poetic aims.) T h en he enunciates that dictum

which has caused so much heart­

burning am ong historians - ‘Therefore poetry is more worthy o f respect and more philosophical than historia.’ (The fact that Aristotle has just referred to a historical person, Alcibiades, seems to im ply that he primarily means ‘history’ , not ‘scientific enquiry’ in its broader sense.) This is a most remarkable tribute to the intellectual value o f poetry, and all the more remarkable because it comes from a scientist. W hatever historians m ay think about the attitude im plied towards historia, undeniably it made two positive and authoritative affirmations: first that poetry, far from deserving the

contem pt former philosophers had

shown towards it,

deserved the highest respect, and secondly that its nature was entirely different from what the factualists tended to think. Paradoxically, however, in his historical writings Aristotle sometimes drew on m ythological sources for evidence. He could hardly have done otherwise if he wanted to write about the remote past at all. It is curious, all the same, that he could ignore his own warnings against the deceptive powers o f II

H istoricists poetry. ‘Hom er’ , he had provocatively asserted in the Poetics, 10 ‘has taught the other poets how to tell falsehoods as a poet should.’ Strange, then, to use poetry as historical evidence. T h e problem continued to concern historians from the fourth century onwards. Ephoros11 warned against the illusions and incantations o f the poets and observed that ‘in the case o f events long ago we hold that those who go into details are the least to be believed, since we consider it highly im probable that the actions and words o f men should be remembered for so long.’ Polybios declared that the tim e was past for quoting poets and mythographers as witnesses to disputed facts. Genuine lovers o f learning, he claimed, would find the truth in history, but only deceptions and emotions in poetry. But he also tried to rationalize the myths to make historical sense. A few, like Diodoros and Pausanias, were more w illing to accept them literally.

M eanwhile




m ythology,


Euhemeros and Palaiphatos (O n Incredible Things) worked hard to reduce m ythical marvels to factual possibilities, in the m anner o f the earlier allegorists but w ith a greater show o f scientific plausibility. Some o f their suggestions are not unlike modern sociological interpretations, as when Palaiphatos explains that the story o f how A ctaion was torn to pieces b y his own hounds really refers to an Arcadian youth who neglected his lands for love o f hunting, and so his fortune was consumed b y his hounds. O ther mythographers explained Scylla as a beautiful courtesan, Atlas as a great astronomer, the Chim aera as a fierce queen who had two brothers called Leo and Drako. Here rationalization has turned into creative fiction. T h e same variation in attitude can be observed am ong the R om an historians. L iv y was careful to distinguish between ‘uncontam inated records o f deeds actually done’ and ‘poetic tales’, though once again no clear borderline was established. W hen for w ant o f other evidence he recounted the legendary stories o f early Ita ly he cautiously qualified them w ith phrases like ‘it is generally agreed’ or ‘ they say’ . In general, the Rom ans being








considered both history and poetry as subsidiary to oratory 12

H istoricists and rhetoric - luxuries rather than necessities o f public life and rhetoricians being artists in words and concerncd with persuasion rather than information tend to find poetry more instructive than prose. Q uintilian went so far as to describe history as a kind o f poetry free from m etre.12 A m o n g later Greek writers Lucian in his essay ‘ H ow to W rite History’ insisted on the mutual independence o f poetry and history, though he also recognized their interdependence. T h e poet must be conceded absolute authority and freedom in his own domain. I f one tries to extract facts from his fictions, one must make full allowance for the poet’s absolute freedom to alter and invent. W hile historians are not permitted even the most trifling falsehood, a poet has only one law - his poetic intentions. W hen inspired by the Muses he can portray such wonders as horses able to talk or to run on water or over the ears o f a cornfield w ithout bending them. As Lucian saw the literary scene o f his own time, history was more threatened by poetry than the reverse. In fact when history was used for flattery or propaganda -

as the risk was under the Rom an

emperors - it turned into a kind o f ‘prose poetry’ . In the M id d le Ages there was even less inclination to impose factualism on poems and myths than in the later classical period.

Scientific history and

historical science yielded to

pietistic and fabulistic writings. T h e supernatural mattered more than the natural, the allegorical than the literal, the visionary than the observational, all o f which was very much in favour o f poetic freedom. D uring the renaissance the general veneration enjoyed by the great poets o f antiquity prevented efforts to treat them as anything but supreme masters o f an autonomous art. George C hapm an ’s almost idolatrous rever­ ence for the Hom eric poems as fountains o f transcendental wisdom proved how far this awestruck approach could go. A strong reaction was bound to follow, and with it came the full doctrinaire historicism. O n e can see this new m ovem ent well on its w ay in the third edition o f G iam battista V ic o ’s Scienza Nuova in 1744. V ico rejected the renaissance veneration o f the Ilia d and Odyssey as 13

H isloricisls ‘a conscious effort o f profound philosophy’ . T h e philosophers, he asserted, did not find their philosophies already embodied in Homer, they themselves inserted them there. T h en having effectively exposed one fallacy, V ico proceeded to substitute another to suit his historical interests. Homer, he proclaimed, was ‘the first historian o f the whole gentile w orld’ . T h e Homeric poems are ‘civil histories o f ancient Greek customs’ . T h e early Greek myths can be converted into sound history by allegorical interpretation. For example, the transformation o f Cadm us into a serpent could denote the origin o f the authority o f aristocratic senates. V ico also described the Homeric poems as ‘the mirror o f a simple age’ and decried some o f its episodes as having been ‘born o f the clumsiness o f the heroic minds’ . Here we see an early instance o f an assumption, common among historians, that the intellects o f the ancient poets were unquestionably inferior to their own. This self-indulgent belief in ‘prim eval stupidity’ , Urdummheit, is a modern innovation. (It is not the same as Eratosthenes’ opinion that Homer was ignorant o f much that came to be known later, for ignorance o f facts is not simplicity or clumsiness.)

I shall look at this ‘primitivistic

fallacy’ again on a later page. O ther features o f V ic o ’s approach to Hom er are curiously contradictory. O n the one hand after an erudite survey o f the internal and external evidence for the existence o f a person called Homer he concluded that, like the Trojan war, he was a fiction, just an ‘idea’ or else ‘a heroic character o f Grecian men in so far as they told their history in song’ . His reason presumably was that it suited his historicistic approach to minimize the element ofinterference b y a livin g poet in writings which V ico regarded as imperfect historical documents. (We shall see how G ilbert M urray argued the same kind o f theory in his Rise o f the Greek E p ic.) O n the other hand elsewhere in his Scienza V ico talks, like an enthusiastic renaissance man, o f Homer as ‘the father and prince o f sublime poets’. This ability to dehumanize Homer on one page and to eulogize him as a genius on another often recurs in historicistic criticism.


H istoricists In the later eighteenth and early nineteenth century the advance o f historical studies established ancient history as the salient area in classical scholarship. History in general, which had been regarded in late antiqu ity and in the M iddle Ages as an appanage o f rhetoric, now became an empire in itself. Friedrich W o lf in his Prolegomena o f 1795 asserted that the right method o f investigating the Homeric poems was strictly histori­ cal: O u r whole enquiry is historical and critical, not about the desirable thing, but about what actually happened. The arts are to be loved, but history is to be revered: “ T o ta quaestio nostra historica et critica est, non de optabile re, sed de re f acta . . . Amandae sunt artes, at reverenda est historia,>.> (The italics are W o lf’s.) No reasonable literary critic should object to a declaration o f lo yalty o f that kind so long as it is not also a declaration o f war on poetry. T h e historical approach to poems as constituting in themselves a kind o f historical docum ent is, o f course, valid and valuable. But W o lf’s proclam ation amounted to a declaration o f war on the autonom y and integrity o f the Homeric poems. Historical methods, he implied, could discover both the truth about Hom er and the truth in Homer. A n d we may note in passing how W o lf subscribed to the historicist contempt for fiction in the phrase insipientia mythica. T w o divergent results followed from this aggressive historicism. O n the one hand scholars began to treat the Homeric poems as prim itive historical documents dating from different periods -

‘ the Homeric problem ’ . O n the other, historians

became more sceptical about the use o f myths and early poems as historical evidence. In Britain at the beginning o f the nineteenth century historians such as Gillies and M itford had freely relied on such sources. But soon (under the influence of Germ an scholars) George Grote, as has already been noticed, repudiated this approach. H e expressed his view forcefully in an article written before he published his History o f Greece:13 That there is more or less of matter of fact among these ancient legends, we do not at all doubt. But if it be there, it is there by accident, because it happened to fall in with the purpose of the mythopoeic narrator, who will take


H istoricists fact, as he takes fiction, when it is suggested by the im­ pulse in his own mind, or germane to the sentiments of his hearers. T o discriminate the fact from the fiction, is a problem which we ourselves know not how to solve, in the absence of some positive evidence independent of the legend itself. We shall gratefully listen, if any one will teach us: but sure we are that some road must be dis­ covered very far removed from that hitherto trodden by historical critics. For we cannot protest too strongly against the process of picking out pretended matter of fact, by simply decomposing the legend and eliminating all that is high-coloured, or impressive, or miraculous; it condemns us to all the tameness and insipidity of prose, but we remain as far as ever from the certainty and solid nourishment of truth. T his return to the Aristotelian principle o f an essential difference between poetry and history m ight have become the dominant doctrine among classical historians if Schliem ann had not made his spectacular archaeological discoveries in the 1870s. Historicists now became more confident that Hom er was a would-be historical writer. But in fact Schliem ann, who himself fully recognized the essentially poetic nature o f the Homeric poems, did not prove this historicistic thesis that Homer’s intention was primarily to record facts. A ll Schliem ann succeeded in proving was that if you take the Ilia d as a topo­ graphical guide you m ay unearth places and objects that to some extent resemble its descriptions. (But he failed to reach his first goal - the palace o f Odysseus in Ithaca.) In m aking his equations he was in fact doing the opposite o f what the histori­ cists did:








corresponding to Hom er’s descriptions rather than Hom eric descriptions corresponding





excavated Ithaca, T ro y and M ycenae for Hom er’s sake, not Homer for T r o y ’s sake. Stimulated by Schliem ann’s triumphs, historicists reached the height o f their influence in the latter part o f the nineteenth century. A s the chief exemplar o f this phase I propose to cite L e a f’s justly celebrated com m entary on the Iliad. T h o u g h its second edition appeared over seventy years ago, it remains the

H istoricists standard edition in English for students and scholars -


regrettable state o f affairs for those who value Hom er’s poetry as poetry. Y e t all o f us must be grateful to L e a f for much sound scholarship and, at times, perceptive literary insight. It is the general historicistic tone that, to m y mind, is to be deeply deplored. L e a f states on the second page o f his introduction that the Hom eric poems ‘profess a close acquaintance with the topo­ graphy o f Greece’ , and that they are also to be taken as ‘professing to depict the prae-Dorian age’ , with ‘ traces o f apparent anachronism’ . I f b y ‘profess’ L e a f had meant only that Hom er pretends to depict a world that existed in the past, no one who believes in the essentially poetic nature o f the Ilia d and Odyssey has any reason to demur. Such a view gives no basis for historicistic revisionism. But it is clear from what L e a f says later that he means m uch more than that : H om er’s aim is to give a factual record o f a specific period o f past history. This, as I hope now to show, is a travesty o f Homer’s poetic intentions as im plied in the poems themselves. Hom er being a particularly unself-assertive poet, we cannot expect any plain statements about his artistic aims. But we can, I believe, make reasonable deductions about them from three parts o f his work -

the opening words o f each poem, his

invocations o f the Muses, and, rather more speculatively, from his descriptions o f other professional bards.14 T h e first words o f the Ilia d state its subject plainly - ‘the destructive wrath o f Achilles’ . T his is a psychological and




historical. H om er’s concern here, like that o f all the greater classical poets, is w ith hum an nature not w ith recording the events o f the past or future. T h e scenes, actions and events described in the T ro ad are subservient to the psychological theme. M a n - idealized man - is the measure o f all things here as m uch as in the philosophy o f Protagoras. Above all, as the last phrase in the exordium o f the Ilia d states, ‘T h e w ill o f Zeus was accom plished’ . O n e m ay call that a theological theme, but it certainly is not historical. T h e beginning o f the Odyssey professes a similarly ethical and


H istoricists psychological subject - a versatile man who battled his w ay home through m any hardships and perils. T h e emphasis here is more biographical than in the Ilia d . But once again the whole tenor o f the poem is humanistic with touches o f theology. Perhaps in the background here as well as in the I lia d there are glimpses o f ‘ the prae-Dorian age’ . But so far as the crucial first words o f each poem testify they are certainly not the poet’s prim ary concern. Hom er’s invocations o f the Muses are more ambiguous, but their im plication is, I believe, similar. In the first line o f the Ilia d Homer asks the M use to ‘sing the destructive wrath o f Achilles’ . This implies that what the M use provides is to some extent prefabricated - not just a plain information but material that is already in poetic form. In other invocations in the Ilia d and Odyssey the poet asks to be ‘told ’ about various themes. Here the emphasis is on the need for poetic material w ithout any suggestion that it should first be poetically processed. These two attitudes correspond, as will be seen later, to what modern poets have said about inspiration. Sometimes it takes the form o f poetic phrases round which the rest o f the poem is built. Sometimes it comes as ideas, scenes and images which have to be worded to fit the requirements o f poetic form. T h e invocation to the M uses that comes before the so-called ‘ C atalogue’ in Ilia d II has often been quoted in support o f the historicistic view. (We m ay note in passing how historicists have reduced this finely written interlude to the status o f a mere ‘ army list’ or ‘muster-roll’ . As I read it, it is a finely resonant litan y o f place-names and choice descriptive epithets together with personal details about various Achaeans, such as the memorable glimpse o f Nireus, most beautiful o f the Greeks after Achilles, ‘but a weakling’ .) This is the invocation: Tell me now Muses who dwell in Olympos - for you are omnipresent and omniscient, while we only hear rumour and know nothing at all, tell me, who were the leaders and lords of the Greeks. For even if I had ten tongues and ten mouths and an unbreakable voice and a heart of bronze, I could not tell or name the mass of them, unless 18

H istoricists the Olympian Muses, daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus made mention [mnesaiath3, not ‘remind’ here, as Leaf agrees] of as many as went to Troy. L e a f in com m enting on this passage does not refer to the poet’s clear confession o f ignorance -

a confession which is

fatal to any theory that Homer claim ed personal knowledge o f the M ycen aean period. Instead he asserts that the Muses are ‘goddesses o f M em ory’ , quoting in support a highly improbable derivation o f their name from the root o f the Greek words for memory. H e also notes that they were called ‘daughters o f M em ory’ in an early source (that is, in Hesiod but not in H om er: other early Greek poets make them daughters o f H eaven




he implies,



invokes the Muses in that w ay he is using a picturesque expression for ‘W ell, let me try to remember what actually happened.’ T h e M use ‘ tells the poet the history which he has to relate’ , is how L e a f phrases it in his note on the invocation o f the M use at the beginning o f the Ilia d. In modern terms the Muses serve as a kind o f information-bank on which poets can draw at will. This seems to me to be as m uch a travesty o f H om er’s attitude to poetry as the statement that he professes to describe a specific historical period. L e t us look at the surviving descriptions o f the Muses in early epic. T h e y are presented b y Homer and Hesiod15 as being prim arily performers and entertainers. O n O lym pus they sing and dance to delight the gods. Their songs, according to Hesiod, are about ‘ things that are and shall be and were’ , and about gods, men and giants. In the last book o f the Odyssey they come to earth to chant a threnody at the funeral o f Achilles. A t the beginning o f Hesiod’s Theogony they appear in a vision to ‘breathe’ a divine voice into the poet so that he m ay celebrate ‘past and future things and the race o f the everliving gods’ . W h at is the m ain effect o f this inspiration? T o provide the poet w ith accurate information about ‘things that were’ ? N ot according to Homer or, to some extent, Hesiod. Hesiod in a passage that rem arkably contradicts the mnemonic function o f 19

H istoricists the Muses says that they bring ‘a forgetting o f evil things and a rest from anxieties’ : Even if a man has sorrow in his heart and grief to bring new trouble to his soul and is in heart-felt dread from them, yet when the bard, as servant of the Muses, sings about the glories (or famous deeds, kle'ea) of men and about the blessed gods . . . he at once forgets his illness of spirit and remembers his troubles no more . . . Similarly when Achilles is portrayed in Ilia d I X as p layin g on the lyre and singing about glorious reputations (or famous deeds, kléa), the purpose and effect is to soothe his angry heart, not to record historical events. T h e element o f memory no doubt is there, but it is subordinate to artistic and ethical intentions. W e can see this strictly professional poetic attitude to events in the past expressed in the remarks by H elen in Odyssey I I I and Agam em non in Odyssey X X I V : the sufferings o f heroes provide subjects for song. History is for poetry, not poetry for history. H om er’s descriptions o f what the Muses do for the profes­ sional bards o f Phaeacia


Ith aca indicate

a similarly

unhistoristic attitude. T h e Muses bestow the gift o f ‘sweet song’ , and at the right moment they give the poet the impetus to begin his performance. In the case o f the Phaeacian bard they have ‘taught’ him to sing effectively. For the Ithacan bard -

who describes himself as ‘self-taught’ -

they have

‘im planted all kinds o f lays in his heart’ . M ost significantly, the Muses, we are told, can give the power to describe past events ‘as i f ’ one had been present oneself or had heard about them from someone else. Here in a passing reference we have an early insight into what Aristotle, as we have seen, singled out as a salient charac­ teristic o f poetry. T h e primary aim o f poets is verisimilitude, not verity. Poetry is a world o f ‘make believe’ , not a world o f factuality. A n d , as Homer implies, the effect o f creating such a world is to give supreme pleasure, to ‘enchant’ and ‘to charm ’ , not to instruct and inform. T h e patronym ic o f the Ithacan bard is Terpiades, ‘ Son o f J o y ’ . so

H istoricists Hesiod clearly recognized this conflict between verisimilitude and verity when at the opening o f his Theogony he distinguished between poets who sing about things that look like the truth and those who sing the truth. H e implies that his poem will be o f the second kind. Here, at last, it m ight seem, wc have authentic grounds for factualistic interpretation o f poetry. Ironically, however, w hat Hesiod proceeds to recount is m ainly an



o f monstrous




fantastic events. Readers familiar w ith the plausible intro­ ductions to modern fantasies will not be surprised at this. T h e more an author insists on the factu ality o f his story, the more we m ay expect sheer fiction. I f w hat has been said in the previous paragraphs gives a fair picture o f the early attitudes to poetic inspiration, L e a f’s assertion that the Muses are essentially goddesses o f M em ory can hardly be sustained. O n the other hand no defender o f poetry need object to Hesiod’s description o f them as ‘daughters o f M em ory’ . There is always likely to be some element o f m emory in the process o f poetic composition. But daughters are not expected to be identical w ith or even closely similar to their mothers either in life or literature. Hesiod was using a w ell-thought-out personification. T h e Muses owe their mother the material for their songs and dances so far as past events are concerned. But they are not content to pass it on to gods and men like children repeating lessons by rote. Their role is to transform memory into art and entertainment and to enable poets to perform a similar role. A t the highest level the Muses personified the mysterious power o f what in modern times we call the creative im agination. A t a lower level they offered an explanation as to how poets could claim to possess detailed information about events that had happened long ago (or, when their poetry was prophetic, about future events). In short they provided both originality and credibility. I do not, and cannot, claim that this interpretation o f the function o f the Muses is irrefutably established by the scanty evidence. I offer it only as a more probable view than that o f L e a f and other historicists. U nfortunately the classical poets


H istoricists have left us no revealing descriptions o f what they experienced when inspiration came to them. O n the other hand the Greek critics from the fifth century onwards took an interest in the extraordinary phenomenon, as they saw it, o f poetic inspiration. T h e y refused to regard it as a product o f memory. Instead, Dem ocritos’ theory that it was a form o f madness, a divine ‘possession’ , was w idely adopted.16 Plato accepted it in his Io n ,11 and Aristotle repeated it both in the Poetics and the Rhetoric. According to this view, poets in the state o f inspiration were like the Corybantie dancers and the ecstatic votaries o f Dionysos and the women who received the oracles o f A pollo at Delphi - under the control o f a supernatural power which deprived them temporarily o f their normal m entality. O ther critics minimized this irrational element in poetry and em pha­ sized the post-inspirational stages o f ‘polishing’ , ars, that is, rather than ingenium, technê rather than mania. But none denied the belief that genuine poetry depended on something more than an ability to collect material and put it into poetic form. Modern poets have generally concurred with their view, as will be illustrated in a later chapter. Inspiration, as they describe it, is an irrational and uncontrollable experience, though it








processes18 - Housm an’s glass o f beer at luncheon followed b y a solitary w alk in the country, or Schiller’s smelling rotten apples, or Addison’s promenade up and down a long gallery w ith a glass o f wine at each end. In our own time the Muses have entirely left the poetic scene, giving w ay to an equally inscru­ table entity, the Unconscious. As E. M . Forster has expressed it,19 ‘In the creative state a man is taken out o f himself. H e lets down as it were a bucket into his unconscious and draws up something which is normally beyond his reach. He mixes this thing w ith his normal experiences, and out o f the mixture makes his work o f art . . .’ T h a t something is clearly not a temporarily forgotten fact. W hatever it is, it is the product o f mysterious blendings and fusions w ith the other contents o f the unconscious, like the dreams o f ordinary people or feverish 22

H istoricists hallucinations. (But dreams and hallucinations arc only like the material o f a poem, not its final form, unless we are poets and dream poetry like Coleridge in his K ubla K han.) Im agination is, o f course, the other word for this creative process — im agination which, in the words o f Shakespeare’s Theseus in A M idsum m er-N ight’ s Dream , ‘ bodies forth/The forms o f things unknow n’ (from which, in turn, the poet’s pen ‘gives to airy noth ing/A local habitation and a nam e’).20 But the classical critics almost entirely neglected the concept o f the creative im agination. A s long as their doctrines o f the Muses or poetic madness prevailed there was no great need for it. T h e ideas, images, feelings and sensations which came to the poets in moments o f inspiration could be satisfactorily explained as com ing from a divine source, externally if it was the Muses, internally if it was a kind o f madness. Just as historicists are strongly inclined to reduce the function o f the Muses to a matter o f memory so they generally feel it necessary to minimize the power o f poetic im agination when they are trying to treat poems as evidence for history. Their hope is that at least some nuggets o f history will not have been transformed by the alchem y o f the poetic process. W e can see this attitude clearly exemplified in L e a f’s preface. As a scholar livin g within a generation o f Coleridge’s epoch-making theory o f im agination he could hardly have ignored it com pletely as an element in poetry. So he mentions it incidentally: ‘There can be no question that, at least in great part, they [the Hom eric poems] merely bring back in im agination the “ good old days” w hich have passed aw ay’ . (We m ay note in passing the typical ‘there can be no question’ and ‘m erely’ here.) But from w hat L e a f goes on to say it is clear that what he means by im agination is the power to bring vivid pictures to the mind, the low -level phantasia o f the classical critics, not a free creative power. H om er’s only choice, he thinks, was between reproduc­ ing

‘the real circumstances o f the old tim e’ or else ‘only’

clothing the old tales ‘w ith the garb’ o f his own days. H e makes no allow ance for the power o f the creative im agination to transform historical facts into pure fiction. 23

H istoricists A later passage shows ju st how closely H om er’s liberty to invent and innovate was restricted as L e a f saw it: The whole scenery of the poems, the details of armour, palaces, decorations, must have been so long the subjects of song before the Dorian invasion that they had become stereotyped and formed a foundation which the Epic poet dared not intentionally sap, easily though he slipped from time to time into involuntary anachronism. ‘ Stereotyped . . . a foundation which the E pic poet dared not intentionally sap’ . Could any assertion be more alien to the essence o f poetic genius and poetic art - genius whose charac­ teristic is to produce entirely new concepts, and art whose function is to transform material into a finer and more pleasing form? T o L e a f Homer is the slave o f a purely hypothetical set o f fixed historical traditions, except when, poor incom petent story-teller, he slips into involuntary anachronism. O n e m ay contrast w hat Homer makes Odysseus say at the end o f his long narrative in Odyssey X I I , ‘H ateful it is to me to re-tell things that have already been clearly told’ . W h at poet ever won lasting fame by dealing in stereotypes? But obviously b elief in the prevalence o f such fossilized facts is basic for historicistic interpretations. Since Hom er’s poems are the product o f what is still largely a dark age in Greek history, we cannot test L e a f’s theory about their unsappable historical foundations on any m atter o f major im portance - as for example whether A gam em non was any more historical than K in g Arthur or the W izard o f O z . But against L e a f’s theory o f poetic ‘dared n o t’ , we can set the plain lesson o f what poets have dared to do w ith established tradition in better attested times. Aeschylus and Pindar felt free to place the death o f Agam em non in two different cities, both in contradiction to H om er’s location at M ycenae. Schiller pre­ sented Joan o f A rc as dying heroically on the field instead o f being burnt at the stake; he also created an entirely unhistorical m eeting between Elizabeth I and M a ry Q ueen o f Scots in his M a ria Stuart. Lucan, an epic poet like Homer, offers some choice non-stereotypes, though his poem was written within a 24

H istoricists century o f the events involved. T o suit his poetical and rhetori­ cal purposes he brings Cicero to Pharsalos and invents an eloquent speech for him there. H e makes Brutus try to assassi­ nate Caesar before the battle. H e asserts that Pom pey’s second consulate was his first. Topographically he does not hesitate to give grandeur to the R ubicon by placing its source in the Alps. H e puts Pelion north o f Ossa, the R ed Sea in the Persian Gulf, and Pharsalos beside Philippi. Where were the unsappablc foundations o f history and geography there? A n d where are the unsappable foundations o f fact in other epics like the Song o f R oland?*1 O n e could fill m any pages w ith further examples o f indis­ putable alterations o f facts to suit an author’s artistic aims and ideals. I add only one more to show how even what seems like a plain and trustworthy statement o f fact b y a creative writer speaking as a personal eye-witness m ay be a total fiction. T h e novelist Graham Greene once described how he had observed ‘a look o f savage stu pidity’ on the face o f Field-M arshal Earl H a ig when H aig was acting as a pall-bearer at K ip lin g ’s funeral. H a ig died in 1928, K ip lin g in 1936. Somehow Greene’s im agination had invented this vivid dram atic aperçu, and then he had come to believe it to be a fact. In Aristotle’s terms he was presenting things as they should be artistically, not as they were. L e a f uses another historicistic figure o f speech which also, to m y m ind, misrepresents the poetic process. H e talks, as many Hom eric analysts still do, o f various ‘strata’ in the Iliad. This was not a new metaphor. Grote had used it cautiously before him. B ut it gained special potency in the age o f spectacular archaeological discovery (though archaeologists have generally followed Schliem ann in rejecting the factualistic fallacy and respecting the autonom y o f poetry). Its suggestion that poetry, even if worked over and amplified by a series o f authors, re­ sembles a stratified site w ith discrete layers is misleading. A n y intelligent adapter -

whether one calls him editor, expan­

sionist, interpolator, diasceuast or rhapsode - is bound to blend his new m aterial into the existing poem as imperceptibly as B


H istoricists possible if he wants his version to be accepted as authentic. This is quite a different process from the laying down o f successive layers by accidental accretion. Poetry is m ade by fusion and fluxion not by simple addition. I f one wants an archaeological analogy for interpolations in the Homeric poems as the analysts see them, the nearest I can think o f is the deliberate disturbance o f a site in order to provide bogus archaeological evidence. Those assumptions - that Homer ‘professes’ a quasi-historical purpose, that he is bound b y stereotypes, and that a poem, even when frequently re-edited, resembles a stratified site - are the fundamental axioms o f L e a f’s Ilia d as I read it. T h o u gh at times, like other historicists, he pays tribute to flashes o f poetic genius, in general he shows the


de haut en bas

attitude o f the convinced historicist. T o take one example. V ico, as we have seen, took the view that the early poets were simple-minded and naive. L e a f in his note on a magnificent scene in Ilia d X I X

readily assumes the same. T h e poet is

describing how the women in Achilles’ tent while ostensibly mourning for Patroclos were in fact m ourning for their own sorrows. L e a f quotes with evident approval H eyn e’s remark, Acumen a poeta nostro alienum, ‘Too subtle for our poet’ . In other words we must assume that ‘our poet’ - whether he was a man called Homer or a T hird Expansionist or whoever - could not have had the understanding o f the hum an heart that nine­ teenth-century scholars had, sunk as he was in Urdummheit. A gain one must ask what evidence is there that any poet in Greece, whether pre-Dorian or Ionian or Athenian or anything else, was necessarily less intelligent about matters o f that kind than modern scholars? Com bined with such disparagements o f the poets o f the Ilia d as psychologists, all through L e a f’s com m entary there are scathing strictures on the parts which he wishes to condemn as late additions. Passages and phrases are described as ‘ch aotic’, ‘awkward’, ‘untim ely’, ‘inappropriate’ , ‘curiously infelicitous’ , ‘entirely lacking in real artistic u n ity’ . H e calls the Battle o f the Gods in Book X X I ‘ a ridiculous harlequinade’ and tries 26

H istoricisis to seal that as a final and irrevocable judgm ent b y adding: Xo attribute such work to an y o f the older poets o f the Epos is to deny the possibility o f any rational criticism in the field’ . (This kind o f scholastic intim idation - if you don’ t agree with our strictures on Homer yo u ’re a crass idiot - is a regular feature o f historicism. Lachm ann had set a high standard in his remark that anyone who failed to feel a difference in spirit between four parts o f Ilia d X I - X V ‘will do well not to trouble himself any more either with poetry’ .)

m y criticisms or with epic

Enough, I hope, has now been quoted from L e a f’s Ilia d to indicate how the historicistic position can misrepresent the aims and ideals o f poetry. Its general effect on any young student prim arily interested in literature as literature and eager to understand and enjoy the Ilia d as a work o f art can only be confusing and discouraging. Plato defined the worst possible psychological condition o f any human being as ‘division in the psyché’ (stásis psuchês). I can conceive o f no more potent instru­ ment for causing such a division as a presentation o f such a literary masterpiece in terms o f an alien genre. Students who hope to hear the song o f the Muses are told to concern themselves w ith stereotypes and strata. T o pass on from Leaf: towards the end o f the nineteenth century a new ly developed field o f investigation began to influence classical studies - anthropology. W ith it came further misrepresentations o f the function o f fiction and poetry, as already exemplified in Sir James Frazer’s dismissal o f myths as ‘mistaken explorations o f phenomena . . . founded on ignorance and misapprehension’ . In face o f such an attitude it is ironical to observe how some o f these anthropologists invented a new

m ythology

o f their own for ancient



matriarchs, totems, taboos and a figure entirely unrecorded in Greek literature, the Eniautos Daim on. A m o n g the youn g scholars who were temporarily swept off their feet by the new anthropology was G ilbert M urray. We can see the regrettable results in the first edition o f his widely read Rise o f the Greek E p ic .22 T h o u gh M urray was by nature a 27

H istoricists sensitive and sympathetic interpreter o f Greek poetry, yet in this early work he readily accepted the historicistic and revisionistic principles o f Leaf, com bining them with some o f the more extreme views o f the classical anthropologists. H e also introduced a new criterion into Homeric criticism - the concept o f ‘progress’ which was so popular in Britain before the First W orld W ar. But he defined progress in a highly unmaterialistic w ay as ‘some movement towards the attainm ent o f that “ chief end o f m an” which is, according to the definition o f the Scottish “ Shorter Catechism ” , “ to glorify G od and enjoy him for ever” .’ T his kind o f progress, M urray claimed, could be seen in the development o f the Homeric poems. H e insisted that the func­ tion o f poetry was moralistic. T h e ‘test o f its valu e’ was ‘Does it help to make better m en?’ Partly as a result o f these melioristic and pietistic theories and partly under anthropological influences M urray advanced his theory o f extensive expurgations in the Homeric poems. ‘T h e

reforming Homeric spirit’ , we

are told,


avoided mentioning ‘prim itive’ elements like taboos, fertility rituals, human sacrifice and so on, and also ‘certain forms o f sexual irregularity’, in the interests o f progress and morality. There is obviously some truth in this. Poets usually select their material - in so far as their material does not select them, as will be suggested later - to suit their poetic intentions. B ut is there any evidence whatever that Hom er’s intentions were so pious and progressive? Besides, it is misleading to talk o f ‘expurgation’ except from an established literary corpus, and nothing o f the kind is available previous to the Homeric poems themselves. T h e picture o f a succession o f Bowdleridai gradually cleaning up successive versions o f the T ro y T ale is neither attractive nor convincing. Despite the expurgatory progress, M urray claims to have detected some ‘prim itive’ elements in the Ilia d. Thersites, we are told, was a pharmakos-figure -

‘a purgative sacrifice to

cleanse the com m unity’ . (H ow m any far-fetched theories have been devised to explain the uniqueness o f that vivid character - so unepic, so unheroic, so rude, so dem agogic, and so worthy 28

H istoricists o f Hom er’s inventive genius !) Achilles is ‘ typically and almost w ithout qualification a pure tribal hero’ ; Agam em non ‘is a tribal hero or d ivin ity’ ; Diomedes ‘seems to be a tribal god or hero’ - and so on. Here we have stereotypes in another form, and Hom er is strained and stretched by procrustean methods to fit them. M u rray


him self to





historicist when he began to write this influential book. ‘The first business o f all these ancient poets was to record history’ : ‘T h e Ilia d was m eant for history or what then stood for history’ . As a historicist he is com m itted to denigration o f the Homeric poems. H e must prove that acute critics cannot accept them as well-composed

unified structures.

So if any readers more

interested in poetry than in history or anthropology have their hopes raised b y the title o f one chapter, ‘T h e Iliad as a Great Poem ’, they will have a saddening experience. M urray asks, ‘W h y is it that the I lia d is a good poem when it has so m any o f the characteristics o f a bad one?’ (Note that he asks ‘w h y’ and not ‘how ’ , and ‘great’ has now become ‘good’ .) He gives his reasons for its badness: its subject is second-rate; its language is loose ; its descriptions are ‘ready-m ade’ and they ‘show a lack o f originality and even o f sincerity’ ; several similes are out o f place ; the battle scenes will ‘not bear thinking out’ ; the phrasing is often obscure, ambiguous, or inept. A ll this helps to prove that the Ilia d is ‘a traditional book’ , M urray believes. In the later part o f his book M urray moves aw ay from this kind o f historicism towards literary appreciation. Im m ediately after his list o f faults - and after an unconvincing effort to argue that a poet can be ‘original’ without offering much that is ‘novel’, an im portant point for historicists - he asserts: Intensity of imagination is the important thing. It is intensity of imagination that makes a poet’s work ‘real’, as we say . . . And I suspect that ultimately the greatness of a poem or work of imaginative art depends mostly on two questions : how strongly we feel ourselves transported to this new world, and what sort of a world it is when we get there, how great or interesting or beautiful.


H istoricists Transported to this new world! H ow can such a concept be reconciled with all the preceding historicism? ‘T h e whole poem ’ , M urray adds, ‘is shot through’ w ith symbols o f fire, which are emblems o f ‘a fiery intensity o f im agination’ . O n the last page Hom er’s name is at last released from sceptical inverted commas, and even the most ardent lover o f poetry m ay be inclined to forgive all when they read about ‘that splendid and careless gleam by means o f w hich Hom er was accustomed to set all themes in the world aglow ’ , and how ‘Hom er’s poetry was so easy, the sym pathy was so clear, the im agination was roused so instinctively, that we must leave it w ith a sigh’ . But then they will remember that Plato used equally affectionate language about Homer when he banished him from his ideal State. A ll in all, M u rray’s gen tly and beautifully phrased book offers a fascinating

docum ent for the


o f academ ic

ambivalence. M ost o f it expounds the pure doctrine ofrevisionistic historicism. T h e rest speaks w ith the voice o f a sensitively perceptive and sympathetic lover o f poetry. Y e t there is so much tortuous self-contradiction involved in this alternation between the two attitudes that the book contributes more to critical confusion





M u rray’s more

mature work was unam biguously on the side o f poetry. Historicism in an even more extreme form is exemplified in

a book b y

another young


by anthropological theories - J. A . K .



Thom son.

Am ong

Thom son’s conclusions are:23 Odysseus is ‘an Eniautos Daim on who has become a H ero’ ; he is also ‘ a double o f Autolykos, who again is a double o f Hermes’ ; ‘ the story o f the O dyssey is the history, not o f a man, but o f a d ivin ity’ ; ‘Analysis makes it reasonably certain that Penelope originally was a W ater-fowl d ivin ity’ (the main argum ent for this absurdity is an alleged identity between the name Penelopeia and penélops, ‘a parti­ coloured duck’ -

an egregious example o f the ‘etym ological

fallacy’). Further, ‘ the human relation in which Penelope stands to Telemachos undoubtedly represents the relation o f the M other Goddess o f the A natolian type to the subordinate 30

H istoricists male d ivin ity constantly appearing at her side as son or consort or lover - Telem achos or Adonis or H ippolytos’ . V iew ed in the light o f the long history o f Homeric exegesis this kind o f fantasy most resembles the excesses o f the allegorists. It relies on the same mixture o f improbable etymologies and o f even less probable linkings o f fragm entary evidence. Thomson himself involuntarily provided a comment on all such fanciful theories: ‘ T h e simple audacity o f the Greek imagination has something lovable in it, and it has certain obvious advantages for the student as w ell.’ M ost o f this chapter so far has been negative - necessarily so, I believe, when such an oppressive superstructure o f historicism has been built over the Homeric poems. In compensation I shall end by referring to one o f the best books o f constructive Hom eric criticism in the present century,




Tradition and D esign in the Ilia d , published in 1930. By that time the climate o f Homeric criticism had changed enough to encourage a young scholar - Bowra was then thirty-two - to produce a work that challenged the fundam ental axioms o f the historicists. As the title implied, Bowra was primarily con­ cerned w ith the question o f how m uch was new and how much derivative in the Ilia d. W h at matters first o f all, he held, is the poem not the poet and his historical background. H e could even dare to say on his first page, ‘ It seems probable that there was a single poet called Homer, who gave the Ilia d its final shape and artistic unity, but who worked in a traditional style on traditional m atter’ - a balanced and temperate statement o f all that can justifiably be conjectured from the existing evidence. Bowra m ade it clear at the outset where his loyalties la y :24 ‘ T h e Ilia d is a poem and must be treated as such’ ; O u t o f the traditional material a whole was made, and it can only have been the work o f a single creating poet’ ; ‘Homer wrote to please’ . T h e Ilia d, he accepted, has faults, but they are faults permissible in a long epic poem and can be paralleled from other epic poems. W hen he came to the question o f historicity 31

H istoricists Bowra





em ploy



wherever it was firmly established or reasonably probable. There m ight indeed, he believed, have been a ‘central fact’ round which Homer composed his poem. But the historical existence o f personages like Agam em non, and the historicity o f the Trojan W ar, could be established only b y independent records. N othing entirely conclusive o f that kind had been found. Various historical hypotheses ‘are only guesses, and the appearance o f any new evidence m ay overthrow them entirely’ . ‘Poetry is not history, and it is absurd to expect an epic poet to write a chronicle or even to take trouble with his names and details.’ In his final pages Bowra gave good reasons for accepting the authenticity o f a single poet o f genius named Homer, and for ranking him

w ith

D ante,



M ilton.

O n ly

Shakespeare, he believed, equalled him in range o f tone and in the ability to present com edy as well as tragedy. (W hat a contrast with L e a f’s talk o f harlequinades and parodies and an acumen a poeta nostro alienum !) U ltim ately ‘the miracle is that out o f a perished world, out o f old songs and stories, he created something which is entirely true and convincing . . . real men and women, more real indeed than any o f those about him, simplified and sublimated by his creative im agination’ . Fortunate were the undergraduates o f h a lf a century ago who found healing in Bowra’s book for the wounds inflicted on the Homeric poems by the historicists! T h e present writer is grateful for having been am ong them.


Chapter Three Scientists} Psychologists and Mathematicians

In the last chapter I used the term ‘historicists’ to differentiate between historians who treat poetry as ‘para-history’ and historians who recognize its unique qualities. A similar distinc­ tion can clearly be made am ong scientists, though I do not like to use so cacophonous a term as ‘scientificists’ to describe scientific revisionists. These are the critics who believe that poets should be scientifically accurate and are prepared to emend poems to achieve that ideal. O n the other hand, as everyone knows, there has often been a friendly and fruitful relationship between scientists and poets. T h e frontiers between the socalled ‘ two cultures’ have never been entirely closed to peaceful commerce. Master-poets have found inspiring ideas and images in scientific inventions like the telescope and the microscope, and scientists have found delight and solace in poetry. But since the fourth century B C when Zoilos, the ‘ Scourge o f H om er’ , assailed the Homeric poems on scientific grounds, there have been critics who have refused to grant poetry its autonomous status as defined b y that magnanimous scientist Aristotle. I t is a strange paradox, in a way, that Aristotle the prosaic empiricist - his one attem pt at poetry was hardly a success - should have treated poetry so sym pathetically while Plato, the prose-poet and idealist, should have condemned it so totally in his Republic. B ut if the story is true that Plato was suddenly converted from w anting to be a p oet,1 then perhaps we can recognize the proverbial zeal o f a convert against his former faith.


Scientists, P sych ologists and M athem aticians In w hat follows I shall cite extreme cases as the best w ay o f illustrating the worst effects o f the factualistic fallacy in the scientific field. I do not wish to im ply that poets never make ridiculous mistakes in their references to natural phenomena, or that they should not be criticized for doing so. But I do wish to emphasize Aristotle’s judgm ent that w hat matters in poetry and art is verisimilitude rather than verity, persuasiveness rather than accuracy, pleasure rather than instruction, and that statements in poetry that are contrary to scientific fact, whether through choice or ignorance, are reprehensible only when they harm the effect o f the poem. T h e



medieval romance and Achilles’ talking horse in the Ilia d became acceptable to readers if the poet has the power to charm us into the willing suspension o f disbelief which all art needs for its success. T he scientist who reads poetry from the factualistic point o f view finds two elements objectionable. O n e is easily exem p­ lified - the objection to statements contrary to verifiable facts such as Coleridge’s crescent moon w ith


bright star,

W ithin the nether tip ’ in his Ancient M ariner, or Rider H a gg ard ’s description o f an eclipse at the time of the new moon. T h e second source o f distrust goes deeper. It results from the pro­ found difference in perception between the scientist and the poet. This can be illustrated by two incidents in the lives o f the poets Yeats and Blake. Yeats one evening was taking part in a crystal-gazing séance with a friend who was a scientist.2 After gazing into the crystal for a while, Yeats said: ‘I see a majestic, shining figure w aving over an abyss ; I see other shapes - scarlet, green, purple, fluttering around’ . His scientific friend interrupted him : ‘M r Yeats, you see no such things. W h at you are looking at is a reflection from the apothecary’s shop across the street. I f you look out o f the window you will see a row o f jars filled w ith coloured water - scarlet, green, purple - and the shining brass fixtures supply the shining figures’ . W illiam Blake expressed a similar disregard o f normal perception :3 ‘W hat’, it will be Question’d, ‘When the Sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?’ O no,


S cientists, P sych olo gists and M athem aticians no, I sec an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty’ . . . Faced by a contrast between these im aginative reactions to sensations on the one hand and the observations o f a scientific observer on the other, the average person will tend to support the scientists. T h e scientists’ statements are verifiable. The poets’ could be merely personal delusions or possibly even deliberate impostures - or, in the terms used by the ancient critics, poets m ay be regarded as liars or madmen. Com m on sense seems to rule these visionaries out o f court so far as actuality and factu ality is concerned. But to judge from the testimonies

o f m any



w ith



abnormal perceptions are as actual and factual to them as normal sensations are to others. It is true that such a degree o f visionary power as Yeats and Blake claimed to have is unusual. But all genuinely poetic inspiration has, I believe, something in common w ith it. C ertainly the visions and inspirations of the poets are as im portant for literature as the observations o f scientists for science. In the examples o f scientific factualism and revisionism which follow here it will be evident that arguments from science and arguments from common sense merge into each other -

naturally, since observational science has been well

defined as organized common sense. But in most cases science is called in - often by non-scientists - to administer the killing blow to the poetical statement. T h en readers are inclined to say, ‘T h a t settles it: the oracles o f science have spoken’ , even when they were inclined to grant the poet some poetic licence beforehand, just as in the medieval period the verdict o f religious dogm a was accepted as conclusive against anything that science m ight allege. Besides this difference between the visionary m entality o f poets and the factual m ind o f scientists, there is another cause o f misunderstanding. T h e poet often looks for an aesthetic ideal where the scientist seeks knowledge. Yeats spoke for the poet in his Celtic T w ilig h t :4 ‘I f beauty is not a gatew ay out o f the net we were taken in at our birth, it will not long be beauty,


S cien tists, P sych o lo gists and. M athem atician s and we will find it better to sit at home by the fire and fatten a lazy body or to run hither and thither in some foolish sport than to look at the finest show that light and shadow ever m ade am ong green leaves.’ W e m ay contrast this w ith the sterner scientific attitude as expressed b y a contemporary scientist. H aving described the spectacular colour effects that light can produce in certain conditions, he commented :5 These beauties of form and colour, so constantly recur­ ring in the vivid phenomena of refraction, diffraction and interference, are, however, only incidentals ; and, though a never-failing source of aesthetic delight, must be reso­ lutely ignored if we would perceive the still higher beauties which appeal to the mind, not directly through the senses, but through the reasoning faculty. The







scientific attitudes marks the extremes between w hich m any intermediate grades o f literature lie. A t one end o f this spectrum are the genuine poets who try to be scientists, like Lucretius. A t the other end are genuine scientists who try to be poets, such as, perhaps, Erasmus D arw in. As in N ew ton ’s colourspectrum - which delighted so m any poets - one cannot mark a clear division here at the point where creative poetry yields to empirical science. T h e ideal, o f course, is to com bine superb poetry w ith im peccable scientific accuracy. B ut the two are ultim ately incom patible, I believe. T h e poet must alter and re-shape his data to suit the exigencies o f poetic art, and at the same time must listen to the promptings o f inspira­ tion or madness or whatever one calls the essence o f poetic genius.


scientist must




o f creative

literature and the intrusion o f irrational feelings if he wants to achieve lucid

precision. W hen the

m athem atician-fantasist

Lewis Carroll sent his illustrator, the eminent artist Tenniel, a photograph o f A lice Liddell as a model for the pictures o f A lice in A lice in Wonderland, Ten n iel in reply asked Carroll how he would feel if he were sent a copy o f the m ultiplication tables.6 (O n the other hand T enniel did not think it artistically inept to give his picture o f the lion in the episode o f the Lion and the 36

S cien tists, P sych ologists and M athem aticians Unicorn the face o f Gladstone the politician. Such are the intricacies o f fact and fiction in art!) A glance at the early history o f scientific criticism o f poetry m ay be useful here. T h e scanty surviving records o f the early Ionian philosophers and scientists do not show a special interest in questioning specifically scientific statements in the poets. Hecataios dismissed poetical fictions as ‘m any and ridiculous’ . X enophanes and others were content to dismiss epic poets as unreliable witnesses and dem oralizing falsifiers. In the latter part o f the fifth century criticisms in detail began to appear. A certain Hippias, probably the Hippias o f Thasos who died under the T h irty, was cited b y Aristotle in his Poetics as having suggested a slight change in the pronunciation o f a Homeric line to avoid a suggestion that oakwood and pinewood rotted easily.7 Another pre-Aristotelian critic condemned Homer for ‘unscientifically’ (anistóreton is the word used in the scholia8) describing the constellation o f the Great Bear as being ‘alone uncondem ned to bathe in the baths o f the O cea n ’, on the grounds that several other northern constellations also in fact are deprived o f that kind o f bath.

(Aristotle resolved the

contradiction between poetry and science here by saying that the word for ‘alone’ is used ‘m etaphorically’ for ‘outstandingly, distinctively’ .) In the Hellenistic period Eratosthenes repu­ diated Hom er as a reliable witness to scientific facts, but Strabo accepted him as such. Tow ards the end o f the fifth century poets began to hit back against scientific critics. Aristophanes9 in T he Clouds presented the first extant version o f a caricature which still recurs in crude com edy, that o f the m yopic eccentric scientist fiddling w ith futile experiments. Aristophanes chose Socrates to embody this travesty, quite unjustifiably since Socrates on the whole was hostile to natural science. Socrates and his assistants are ludicrously portrayed as being engaged in grotesque observa­ tions and experiments to determine the length o f a flea’s hop and whether a gnat hums in front or behind. E ven tu ally their T h in k in g Shop is burnt down to the delight o f the populace as the Luddites in their day tried to destroy the products


Scientists, P sych ologists and M athem atician s o f nineteenth-century technology. In T he B ird s Aristophanes turned his mockery against M eton the astronomer. In a later play, The Frogs, Aristophanes burlesqued an aspect o f literary criticism that specially concerns our present theme. T o help in deciding whether the poetry o f Aeschylus is better or worse than the poetry o f Euripides a pair o f weighing-scales is carried in, and the disputant dramatists are asked to speak lines from their plays into the opposite scale-pans - a process described as ‘w eighing poetry like butcher’s m eat’ . Here the objects o f ridicule are not scientists but literary critics and readers who fondly believe that artistic qu ality can be m echani­ cally quantified. In its cruder forms no sensible person could be deceived b y this fallacy. But disguised in the elaborate language o f computers it is not unknown in classical criticism. Also in The Frogs Aristophanes briefly pillories another kind o f quantitative fallacy, the possibility o f measuring poetry with geometrical instruments. Swift exploited a similar idea in Gulliver’s voyage to Laputa. Referring to the Lapu tan scientists, Gulliver remarks: ‘ I f they would . . . praise the beauty o f a wom an they describe it b y rhombs, circles, parallelograms, ellipses and other geometrical figures.’ T h e modern equivalent o f this in classical criticism is to be found in exaggerated claims by scholars o f finding close analogies between early Greek poetry







groupings. ‘Structure’ and ‘structuralism’ are words o f power in contemporary literary criticism, insistence




and Aristotle with

o f plot-construction


w ould

probably have welcomed them. N o one is likely to contend that structural analysis when used w ith due regard to the fluidity o f poetry cannot help towards a better understanding. Nor must one forget how profoundly Greek thought and Greek aesthetics were influenced by mathematics. But at times the elaborate visual schemata proposed as constructional elements in classical poetry go far beyond probability. T h e fallacy that poetry is speaking painting is involved here. It will be illustrated further on a later page. In the next generation after Aristophanes the scientific attack


Scientists, Psychologists and Mathematicians on poetry was led b y the notorious Zoilos o f Amphipolis, nicknamed ‘the Scourge o f H om er’ .10 H e is credited -


discredited - w ith nine books o f criticism o f the Homeric poems. T h e text o f this w eighty onslaught has not survived, but some o f his strictures can be extracted from later sources. H e ccnsurcd H om er for

errors in





common sense, objecting, for example, to a simile in Ilia d X X III,

ioo, because it seemed to im ply that smoke could

descend into the earth. Like Bentley in his edition o f M ilto n ’s Paradise Lost, Zoilos, it seems, adopted a tone o f puerile ridicule at times, as when

he scornfully asked whether when the

Fates o f H ector and Achilles were weighed in the scales o f Zeus (Ilia d X X I I , 209 if.) they sat down or stood up in the scale-pans. Aristotle in his Poetics spent a good deal o f time in refuting the kind o f stricture on poetry that Zoilos produced. In his highly im portant twenty-fifth chapter he begins by stating the general principle that the subjects o f the poetic mimesis are not confined to observable phenomena. T h e poet m ay present his m aterial in any o f three forms - things as they are or were, things as people say or think they are or were, or things as they ought to be. In other words poets m ay be verists or conventionalists or idealists in presenting their subject-matter. (Aristotle goes on from there to state the all-im portant principles o f poetic autonom y and poetic licence.) Second, poets are entitled to use words either w ith unusual meanings or else m etaphorically.







justified in protesting when Shelley says to his skylark ‘Bird thou never w ert’ or when K eats tells his nightingale ‘Th ou wast not born for death, immortal bird’ . This is poets’ language, and if one is going to read poetry one should accept it as readily as one accepts the necessity to speak French in France. Aristotle recognizes a third reason for failing to understand poetic phrases - language-changes in the m eaning o f words in the course o f time, as in M ilto n ’s ‘Every shepherd in the vale/U nder the hawthorn tells his tale [counts his flock]’, and H am let’s ‘I ’ll make a ghost o f him that lets me [prevents m e]’ ,


Scientists, Psychologists and Mathematicians and in the traditional collect ‘ Prevent us O Lord in all our doings [Go before us . .

T o ignore the possibility o f such

changes is as fallacious as to ignore changes in manners and morals, as will be illustrated later. A t times, however, errors o f fact in poetry cannot be ex­ plained linguistically. In that case, Aristotle observes, the poet m ay have made a deliberate change in order to suit his poetic purpose, or he m ay unconsciously have made a mistake. For example when a poem describes a horse as m oving in an unrealistic w ay or a female deer as having horns, the poet is not blam eworthy if the alteration or error does not spoil the general artistic effect. In fact, as Aristotle saw it, it is better for a poet to be scientifically inaccurate and poetically effective than scientifically accurate and poetically ineffective. Aristotle did not mention another possible defence against allegations o f palpable misstatement in poetry. But the geo­ grapher Strabo did, some three centuries later. (He, in contrast with Eratosthenes, considered Homer to be a sound geographer.) N oting that Hom er’s description o f a landm ark near Ithaca did not correspond with w hat could currently be observed, he suggested that a natural cataclysm m ight have changed the conformation o f the land since H om er’s tim e.11 M odern scholars have made the similar suggestion that H om er’s hot and cold springs near T ro y, which have never been satisfactorily located, m ay have been destroyed in a local earthquake. Such changes are certainly possible in volcanic Greece. I f a description o f T hera before the great eruption had survived, few m ight have believed it until modern science established the fact. But such explanations and defences while they m ay satisfy factualists like Strabo are irrelevant to the poetic art. I f the ghost o f Hom er were censured in Hades for topographical inexactitude he m ight well reply as A . E. Housm an replied to a similar criticism, when he became aware o f a scenic error in his lines : The vane on Hughley steeple Veers bright, a far-known sign . . .


Scientists, Psychologists and. Mathematicians Housman decided not to correct it. H e explained his reason:12 I ascertained by looking down from W enlock Edge that H ughley Church could not have m uch o f a steeple. But as I had already composed the poem and could not invent another name that sounded so nice, I could only deplore that the church at H ughley should follow the bad example of the church at Brou, which persists in standing on a plain after M atthew Arnold said [in his poem ‘The Church at Brou’] that it stands among mountains. I thought o f putting a note that H ughley was only a name, but then I thought that would merely disturb the reader. I did not apprehend that the faithful would be making pilgrimages to these holy places.

Aristotle’s magisterial reply to the Zoilan kind o f criticism discouraged further efforts to depreciate poetry on scientifically factualistic grounds. T h e Alexandrian editors for the most part confined their criticisms and emendations to contradictions and anomalies within the poems

themselves. As Porphyry

phrased it ,13 the Aristar chan method was to clarify Homer from Homer -

a sound Aristotelian principle. T h ey did at

times allow current fashions to affect their judgm ent in matters o f decorum, as w ill be exemplified later. But they consistently treated the poems that they edited as poems, not as would-be factual documents. O ccasionally, common sense -




or some

m ay


kept breaking in from outside the poetic

context. O n e ancient commentator on Theocritos took excep­ tion to a statement that lions mourned in Sicily at the death o f D aphnis.14 Pointing out that there was no evidence for the existence o f lions there, he neatly emended the line to mean ‘ I f there had been lions in Sicily they would have mourned for D aphnis’ . T h e critical fault here was failure to recognize that the whole atmosphere o f the death o f Daphnis as described by Theocritos was m ythological not realistic, unlike the earlier part o f the idyll. T h e same fault is to be found in one o f the few instances o f em endation by a royal patron o f scholarship. Ptolem y I I o f E gypt, being interested in botany, objected to H om er’s mention o f violets and wild celery as growing together 41

Scientists, Psychologists atid Mathematicians in

Calypso’s island.






emended ‘o f violet’ (iou) to ‘o f marshwort’ (siou).15 But goddesses’ islands, like the sea-coast o f Bohemia, can transcend nature and who would want marshwort round their home when they could have violets? During the M iddle Ages and the Renaissance science and scientific criticism slumbered while allegory and allegorical interpretation ran wild. A change came in the seventeenth century, primarily as the result o f the empirical philosophy o f Bacon. T h e foundation o f the R o yal Society o f London in 1662 and o f the R o yal A cadem y o f Science in Paris four years later marked the growing influence o f the new w ay o f thinking. T h e new scientists’ strictures were not only against the content o f poetry - we remember how New ton viewed poetry as ‘a kind o f ingenious nonsense’ -

they also objected to its language.

Bishop Thom as Sprat in his History o f the R oyal Society (16 6 7)16 argued that ‘eloquence ought to be banish’d out o f all civil Societies, as a thing fatal to Peace and good M anners’, and with eloquence should go ‘specious Tropes and Figures'. Members o f the R oyal Society and other persons o f scientific bent should, he said, ‘reject all the amplifications, digressions, and swellings o f style’ and should ‘return back to the primitive purity, and shortness, when men deliver’d so m any things, almost in an equal number o f words'. Later he asserts that ‘ The W it o f the Fables and Religions o f the Ancient W orld is well-nigh consum’d ; T h e y have already serv’d the Poets long enough; and it is now high time to dismiss them ’ . (But ‘the W it which is rais’d from C iv il H istories, and the Customs o f Countries, is solid and lasting’ .) It would be well, Sprat believed, if an English A cad em y were established as ‘a fixt, and Im partial Court o f Eloquence', according to whose Censure, all Books, or Authors, should either stand or fall’ . O ther reformers o f the time suggested similar measures. Bishop Samuel Parker wanted an A c t o f Parliament to curtail the use o f ‘fulsom and luscious M etaphors’ in sermons.17 H appily these episcopal scientists were no more successful in their advocacy o f literary control then Plato was in his - partly, no doubt, because when the Society set up a committee for 42

Scientists, Psychologists and Mathematicians im proving English it contained John D ryden and John Evelyn. T h e effects o f the scientific revolution on literary criticism are p lain ly exemplified in the work o f Richard Bentley, perhaps the greatest o f English classical scholars. Born in the year o f the foundation o f the R o yal Society, Bentley was strongly influenced b y the pervading scientific spirit. His earliest publication to win wide recognition was the initial contribution to a series o f lectures endowed b y a bequest o f R obert Boyle, ‘the Father o f Chem istry and Brother o f the Earl o f C ork’, which were founded to prove the truths o f the Christian religion. In composing them Bentley made extensive use o f recent scientific theory and research to support Christian theism, and he discussed some o f his arguments w ith Isaac New ton. W hen he became M aster o f T rin ity College Cam bridge he did much to encourage scientific research in the University. B entley’s gigan tic stature as a scholar needs 110 emphasis here. His boldness and ingenuity in conjectural emendation have never been surpassed, and in several cases his conjectures have been confirmed b y subsequently discovered papyri. Y et, quite astonishingly, he produced an edition o f Paradise Lost (1732) that is infamous for the crass insensitivity ofits ‘scientific’ alterations in the received text. It rivals the worst excesses o f the historicists as an exhibition o f anti-poetics. Its faults have often





This is wrong.


produced a fine edition o f M anilius (himself a poetic critic o f poetry) seven years later and subsequently began work on editions o f both Hom er and the N ew Testam ent. It seems more as if his previous triumphs as an exposer o f frauds and an emender o f textual corruptions w ent to his head for a while w ith tragi-com ic results. Housman ju d ged that as early as 1722 Bentley, when writing his notes on Lucan, ‘had acquired the worst habits o f d eity’ .18 Showing Bentley in


perversity for

his preface invented

a scientific


an intermediary between

M ilton and his printer as a convenient w ay o f explaining the huge number o f errors, as he saw them, in the text - or, in B entley’s more vigorous terms, o f accounting for ‘such miserable


Scientists, Psychologists and Mathematicians deform ity’ and ‘flat nonsense’ in it. Bentley added one o f those arrogant remarks that we have already m et am ong dogm atic scholars who w ant to terrorize others from defending poetry: ‘W hoever . . . will contend that they are the Poet’s own, betrays his


Judgm ent as well as his


N atu re’ . In fact there

is as little evidence for the existence o f his supposed inter­ mediary as there is for centaurs and chimaeras. T h e worst o f Bentley’s m any bad emendations in Paradise Lost are notorious. I shall quote only three egregious examples o f misplaced reliance on science, logic and prosaic common sense.19 T h e first foists on M ilton the kind o f improvement that Housman as a poet categorically rejected. Com m enting on the phrase in the exordium o f Paradise L ost, ‘the secret top o f Horeb or o f Sinai’ , Bentley mocks the notion that the peak o f a mountain ‘visible several leagues o ff’ could be ‘secret’ . In case the reader should argue that clouds and mist could make a m ountain-top secret, he adds, ‘ I have in m y Y o u th read several Itineraries where the Travellers went up to the T o p o f Horeb; and I remember not, that they take notice o f its Cloudiness’ . Besides, Bentley knows ‘from N atural H istory’ that ‘a mountain whose H ead is cloudy, has always running Springs at its F oot’ , while holy scripture makes it clear that Horeb had none. Further, ‘the best Poets have adjudg’d ’ that ‘a Proper Epithet is always preferable to a General one’ . So it seems that science and the Bible and the best poets concur w ith Bentley in deleting ‘secret’ and inserting ‘sacred’ . Are we overwhelmed? No. First, as Bentley knew better than most, secretus in Latin often meant ‘lonely, solitary, set apart’ , and M ilton revelled in Latinisms. Second, on the factualistic level, it is obvious that a remote and lonely mountain peak would be an excellent place for conveying esoteric illumination. T hird and fourth, ‘sacred’ spoils the assonance w ith ‘seed’ in the next line, and reduces the phrase to a platitude (as w ith so m any o f Bentley’s emendations, such as ‘adventurous w in g’ for ‘adventurous song’). Fifth, Bentley’s reliance on the dis­ tinction between proper and general epithets begs the question. A t times B entley’s mad logic was reminiscent o f Lewis



Scientists Psychologists and Mathematicians Carroll’s characters in the A lice





elsewhere that Carroll m ight have had Bentley in mind when portraying H u m pty D u m p ty with his knock-down argum enta­ tion.) For example, B entley’s note on the line Thither came U riel gliding through the Eeven

is: I never heard but here, that the Evening was a Place or Space to glide through. Evening implies Tim e, and he might with equal propriety say, Came gliding through six a clock. But it’s the Printers’ language: the author gave it, Thither came Uriel, gliding through the H eav’n.

So sensible, so logical, so scientific, and so wrong in terms o f high poetry, or indeed, o f textual criticism ! In other examples the reliance on contemporary science as an instrument for lacerating M ilto n ’s poetry is more strongly im plied. Bentley appeals directly to chemistry, the special subject o f his former patron, R obert Boyle, in the note on M ilto n ’s opulent list o f gems in Book I I I : These nine Lines m ay be well spar’d, and restor’d to the Editor : who had a m ind to shew, he knew the Terms at least o f Chym istry. But when among the Gems he reckons the Philosopher’ s Stone, as i f the Chymists describ’d it literally a Stone, his Pedantry and Affectation became insufferable. ’T is well if he [Satan] can escape with his Gold and Silver and Gems there [near the sun] : the Body o f the Sun being justly computed a M illion o f times hotter than glow ing iron, and his R ays at this distance, collected b y a Burning Glass, melting every thing in an instant.

T h e whole nine lines, Bentley decides, should be deleted insufferable pedantry and affectation indeed! Altogether he deleted over a thousand lines and offered about eight hundred emendations. Subsequent editors have accepted about six o f his corrections. Bentley applied the same standards o f scientific matter-offactness to some o f his emendations o f Horace, though there, as in other ancient authors, the likelihood o f textual corruption gave his talent for detecting real errors greater scope than in


Scientists, Psychologists and Mathematicians Paradise Lost. T w o o f his best-known emendations were based on a scientific approach. Horace in his E p istles20 tells a fable about a little fox (vulpecula) which slipped in through a chink in a grain-bin, ate the grain, and then found itself too fat to get out. Bentley in his famous edition appeals to the reader to reject the absurdity o f a fox here, because a fox does not have the broad, flat teeth necessary to masticate grain. So we must read



dormouse’ ,



M any


scholars accepted this factualistic emendation. It is generally rejected now. There is one good and sufficient Aristotelian reason for rejecting it despite the further arguments adduced in the fifteen hundred words or so o f Bentley’s formidable footnote. Aristotle cautioned critics that poets m ay portray conventional ideas and not factual things. Horace was most likely para­ phrasing a fable by Aesop (mentioned cursorily b y Bentley) in which a fox is undeniably the victim o f its own folly in eating too much, the moral being that even so clever an anim al can be betrayed b y greed. Aesop and Horace are not describing fauna as zoologists know them but are writing about an im aginary world where animals can speak to each other and eat whatever suits the fabulist. Here Bentley’s dormouse (did Lewis Carroll find another idea there?) had no support in the manuscripts. But in another famous crux Bentley had the best manuscripts on his side. Horace in one o f his Odes21 is describing a rural scene in Ita ly during a holiday: Festus in pratis vacat otioso cum bove pagus [variant reading, pardus\ : (The festive village [leopard] idles with the ox L a zy in the meadows . . .)

A gainst those misguided editors who preferred the leopard to the village Bentley thunders: ‘Look here, how did a leopard get into Italy? T heir habitat is confined to A frica and A sia . . .’ T h e answer to that is : if, as is arguable, Horace is describing a supernatural





Isaiah in

his messianic

Scientists, Psychologists and Mathematicians prophecy and Theocritos in his Daphnis idyll, a leopard as an emblem o f Dionysos is poetically as much entitled to be in Ita ly as CarrolPs Jabberw ocky in Looking-glass -1 and. Bentley, however,

adds other linguistic

arguments which probably

establish pagus as the right reading. Horace him self in the opening lines o f his A rs Poetica gave his view o f poetic licence. T h e poet’s descriptions must not, he says, violate probability. But at the same time, ‘Painters and poets have always had an equal licence to dare anything’ . In his pragm atic R om an w ay he then

comes down more

strongly on the side o f verisimilitude. As he said later on, ‘L et fictions m ade for the sake o f giving pleasure be very close to actuality’ . But his problem is how far can a poet go in his im aginary


w ithout


credibility among


readers, not whether facts must be adhered to for the sake o f factuality. In the present era o f classical criticism scientific factualism is less in fashion. But like influenza and the common cold, it could always break out again in a new form resistant to existing poetic



safest prophylactic

is to keep the

Aristotelian canons o f poetic autonom y always in mind. A t the same time scholars should constantly listen to what the poets themselves say about the relationship between poetry and actuality. already




m entioned,









possible feature in his Ancient M ariner to an astronomically impossible one. In his earlier version he wrote T ill clomb above the Eastern bar T h e hom ed M oon, with one bright Star Alm ost atween the tips.

His final version read . . . W ithin its nether tip.

It has been suggested that here Coleridge was influenced b y a publication in the Philosophical Transactions o f the Royal Society for 1794 entitled ‘A n A ccount o f an Appearance o f Light, like a Star, seen in the dark Part o f the M oon . . .’ But even i f that


Scientists, Psychologists and Mathematicians were so, it is significant that he changed a scientifically possible phenomenon into

the entirely

obvious impossibility o f an

actual star nearer to earth than the moon. His main motives, I believe, were poetic: to avoid the awkward ‘atw een’ and to give a more eerie and supernatural air to his spectral seascape. M y second example shows a thoroughbred scientist in co n ­ frontation with a master-poet. Charles Babbage, who for ten years was Lucasian Professor o f M athem atics at Cam bridge, having read or heard Tennyson’s lines Every minute dies a man, Every minute one is born,

observed that on those terms the population o f the world would remain static. So he told Tennyson ‘ I would therefore take the liberty o f suggesting that in the next edition o f your excellent poem the erroneous calculations to which I refer should be corrected as follows: “ Every m om ent dies a mari/And one and a sixteenth is born” .’ 22 H e added that this phrasing was a concession to the exigencies o f metre, as the increase was not exactly a sixteenth. In reply to this accom m odating proposal Tennyson, who valued accuracy when consonant with poetry, accepted the vague term ‘m oment’ for ‘m inute’ and altered his lines to Every moment dies a man, Every moment one is born,

leaving it to further statisticians to argue about what he m eant by ‘mom ent’ . V ery likely w hat helped him to make the change was the richer euphony embodied in ‘m om ent’ rather than ‘m inute’, for as we have seen, the reason w hy Housman refused to make a similar change for the sake o f factual accuracy was that he could think o f no equally euphonic alternative. O n another occasion Tennyson made a similar change. W hen someone told him that Mars had moons o f its own he altered She saw the snowy poles o f moonless Mars

to She saw the snowy poles and moons o f Mars. 48

Scientists, Psychologists and Mathematicians W hen one turns to consider the views o f psychologists on poetry one finds a m uch smaller am ount o f hostile criticism than the school o f Bentley offers. T h e reason is plain. Natural scientists, physicists and chemists can observe and describe visible events, and state w ith confidence that leopards were not indigenous in H orace’s Ita ly and that no star can come between the moon and the earth. Psychologists have to deal with unobservable and often unpredictable forces in the human psyche. T h e y can study the products o f m otivation and im agi­ nation and conation and inspiration, but they cannot measure and quantify them as a chemist can quantify the ingredients o f an explosive mixture. O n the other hand psychologists, unlike other scientists, are bound to have a professional interest in literature, and literary critics are bound to have an interest in psychology. Both study the same objects - the workings o f the mind, heart and senses, and o f hum an nature in general - though their methods and values differ in m any ways. As we have seen, Democritos and Plato discussed psychological aspects o f poetry. Since that time all critics who concern themselves w ith problems o f poetic inspiration or o f characterization within poems have been psychologists to some degree. But psychologists become enemies o f poetry when they make poetic characters and incidents seem nauseating or ridiculous to everyone except dedicated psychologists. Here are a few examples.23 T h e Cyclops, we are told, is the ‘prenatal nucleus’ o f the Odyssey, his cave being a symbol o f the womb. Odysseus is ‘the





anxiety’ . T h e


represent a mother’s invitation to incest, the mast to which Odysseus is bound being a phallic symbol. Scylla and Charybdis symbolize a choice between succum bing to a breast com plex or to an O edipus complex. T h e Aeolus incident records failure to adapt to toilet training. T h e m yth o f Prometheus shows that ‘in order to gain control over fire men had to renounce the hom osexually-tinged desire to put it out w ith a stream o f urine’ . Caves, groves, arrows, columns, swords, snakes, all take on a Freudian life o f their own.


Scientists, Psychologists and Mathematicians T h e ingenuity o f such interpretations equals that o f the early Greek allegorists. But there is an essential difference. T h e allegorists, with a few lewd exceptions, tried to give poetry higher meanings. M ore than a few modern psychologists have tried to lower it to the most sordid levels o f human behaviour. It w ould be foolhardy for a non-m athem atician to try to compare the more esoteric features o f m athem atical thinking with the poetic process. But some o f the more remarkable analogies between poetry and pure mathematics must be briefly mentioned here. O n the whole mathematicians, in so far as they have adopted any attitudes at all to poetry, have generally been friends rather than enemies, and they have sometimes understood the thought-processes o f poets better than most other external observers except musicians.



mathematicians have recognized the autonom y o f the poets within their own sphere o f action. T h e first notable similarity between the pure m athem atician and the pure poet - by ‘pure’ here I mean composing formulae and poems which are not subject to what Aristotle called ‘ things as they are’ - is that neither the poet nor the m athem a­ tician refrains from



composing in



im aginary concepts - winged horses, minotaurs, the square root o f minus I. In E u clid’s beautifully satisfying system o f geom etry we are asked to think in terms o f physical impossibilities like points that have position but no m agnitude and lines which have extension but no thickness. Such conditions are as foreign to the world o f actuality as those in Lewis C arroll’s Through the Looking Glass. It is true that when mathematicians use terms like ‘im aginary’ and ‘irrational’ they have not the same denota­ tions as in literary criticism. (One difference, as a m athem atical colleague pointed out to me, is that though the square root o f minus i is im aginary and the square root o f 3 irrational they can be trusted to behave consistently, unlike centaurs and satyrs.) But in essence the terms have a good deal in common. Second, both poets and mathematicians contrive their com ­ positions on the basis o f pattern and symmetry, the m athem a­ 50

Scientists, Psychologists and Mathematicians ticians m aking their patterns from symbols for ideas, the poet m aking them out o f elements o f sound

(rhythm, phonetic

quality, voicc melody) as well as from words for ideas. (The fact that both sounds and ideas are significantly combined in the m edium used b y the poets makes a poem more complicated in material than a m athem atical formula.) G uided and inspired by the instinct for pattern

and symmetry both poet and

m athem atician, when they arc original and creative, advance in thought far beyond existing models. Aristotle’s insistence on the im portance o f structure, ‘plot’ , as he called it, in the arrangement o f events in drama is applicable to the m athe­ m atician’s development o f his formulae as well as to the poet’s arrangement o f his ideas. Third, the aesthetic criterion is active in both disciplines. M athem aticians frequently talk o f beauty and elegance as qualities o f their formulations. This is because the constituents o f these qualities in mathematics are m uch the same as in poetry and art - symmetry, proportion, balance, economy, all high ideals o f the classical aesthetic tradition. Some quotations from mathematicians will illustrate their attitude to these affinities. In a lecture on astronomy delivered in 1832 Sir W illiam R ow an H am ilton observed:24 Be not surprised that there should exist an analogy, and that not faint nor distant, between the workings of the poetical and o f the scientific imagination . . . W ith all the real differences between Poetry and Science, there exists, notwithstanding, a strong resemblance between them; in the power which both possess to lift the mind beyond the stir o f earth, and win it from low-thoughted care ; in the enthusiasm which both can inspire, and the fond aspirations after fame which both have a tendency to enkindle ; in the m agic by which each can transport her votaries into a world of her own creating . . .

H am ilton said m uch the same in a letter in 1829: I believe m yself to find in mathematics . . . a formable matter out of which to create Beauty also . . . to m y particular constitution of mind, a mathematic theory presents even more o f ‘the intense unity and energy o f a

Scientists, Psychologists and Mathematicians living spirit’ than the work o f a poet or o f an artist. Even the Principia o f Newton, which is ordinarily perused as a model o f inductive philosophy, I consider as being rather a work, a fabric, an architectural edifice, the external results o f which have been and will be changed by the progress o f experimental science, but which will always be interesting to mathematicians as a structure o f beautiful thoughts.

Ham ilton tried hard to become a good poet as well as a m athematician, but unsuccessfully. His friend W ordsworth’s replies to H am ilton’s requests for comments on poems were models o f gentle tactfulness. But though H am ilton never showed proof o f genuine inspiration by the Muses he once fully experi­ enced the thrilling effect o f sudden inspiration in his m athe­ m atical thought. For a long while he had been trying to find the key formula for his theory o f quaternions. His fam ily were aware o f his efforts to such a degree that his sons used to ask him anxiously at breakfast whether he had found it yet. T h en one day, as he him self described, he was w alking w ith his wife and half-listening to her conversation while ‘ an under-current o f thought’ was going on in his mind. Suddenly ‘an electric current seemed to close; and a spark flashed forth’ , and at once he was able to write down the elusive formula. O th er mathematicians and scientists have testified to this kind o f sudden and involuntary revelation in terms very like those used to describe poetic inspiration. M ore recently the Cam bridge m athem atician G . H . H a rd y 25 has also described the similarity between mathematics and poetry, though here one finds a depreciatory tone not to be found in H am ilton’s remarks : A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker o f patterns. I f his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas. A painter makes patterns with shapes and colours, a poet with words. A painting m ay embody an ‘idea’, but the idea is usually commonplace and unimportant. In poetry ideas count for a good deal more; but, as Housman insisted, the impor­ tance of ideas in poetry is habitually exaggerated: Ί cannot satisfy m yself that there are any such things as


Scientists, Psychologists and Mathematicians poetical ideas . . . Poetry is not the thing said but a w ay o f saying it . . T h e m athem atician’s patterns, like the painter’s or the poet’s, must be beautiful·, the ideas, like the colours or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no place in the world for ugly mathematics . . . It m ay be very hard to define mathe­ m atical beauty, but that is just as true o f beauty of any kind - we m ay not know what we mean by a beautiful poem, but that does not prevent us from recognizing one when we read it.

H ardy supports his opinion that the ideas o f poetry are on a lower level than those o f mathematics by the lines from Shakespeare’s R ichard I I N ot all the water in the rough rude sea C an wash the Balme from an anoynted K ing.

H e com m ents: Could lines be better, and could ideas be at once more trite and more false? T h e poverty o f the ideas seems hardly to affect the beauty o f the verbal pattern. A mathematician, on the other hand, has no material to work with but ideas, and so his patterns are likely to last longer, since ideas wear less with time than words.

Here one can catch an echo from B entley’s knock-me-down style o f criticism. It is not demonstrably true that the patterns and ideas o f the Ilia d or the Odyssey or M acbeth or Richard I I have been less durable, less influential and less original than those o f any m athem atician. W hen H ardy picks out only two lines from the enormously com plex pattern o f Richard I I for intellectual depreciation, he falls, if I understand him correctly, into the fallacy o f quoting a short phrase, and one voiced by a dram atic character, out o f context and taking it as expressing the whole o f the poet’s m eaning. Besides, the ‘idea’ in Shakes­ peare’s lines is not ‘salt water w on’ t wash away anointing u ngu en t’, nor is it simply ‘ the divine right o f kings is indelible’ : it is also a new association o f thought between the sea with all its physical sym bolic qualities and kingship with all its social and m ystical resonances. Y et, apart from professional bias,


Scientists, Psychologists and Mathematicians H ard y’s insight into the essence o f poetry is authentic and acute. His emphasis - overemphasis, perhaps - on poetry as a w ay o f saying things rather than a provider o f information is valuable. But again one must insist that one cannot divide the substance from the attributes, the word-pattern from the idea, as he does. T h e resemblance between mathematics and literary fiction has been emphasized b y another scientific writer. Describing how pure mathematics works by

a structural process, he

observes that this process is26 not quite that of inventing a game, but rather that of the continued invention of a game in the course of playing the game. This kind o f gam e-inventing is akin to the writing of a novel, and the parallel is indeed quite close up to a point. There never was a person called Sherlock Holmes, nor even a person like Sherlock Holmes. Y et his character was well defined by the description of his consistent behaviour in a series of fictitious situations. Once Conan Doyle had composed a few good stories with Sherlock Holmes as their hero, the image o f the detective - however absurd in itself - was clearly fixed for the purposes o f any further such stories. T h e main difference between a fictitious mathematical entity . . . and a fantastic character like Sherlock Holmes, lies in the greater hold which the latter has on our imagination. It is due to the far richer sensuous elements entering into the conception of Sherlock Holmes. T h a t is w hy we acquire an image and not merely a conception o f the detective.

This writer shows no inclination to depreciate the fictional image - on the contrary. As it happens, however, his remark that Sherlock Holmes had no prototype in nature is incorrect. Conan D oyle himself stated that his model was a surgeon in Edinburgh, D r Joseph Bell, who excelled in making deductions about the private lives o f his patients example o f Aristotle’s m axim :

which is a perfect

the poet does not describe

characters as they are in life, he generalizes their characteristics in new fictional charactcrs. T h e reference to the gam e-elem ent in mathematics recalls, but contrasts with, P lato’s depreciation o f poetry and art as


PP· i627 394 Lewis, Surprised by Joy (London, 1957), p. 109. Other testimonies to what Wordsworth called the lost ‘living voice’ of classical literature (Prelude, vi, 94 ff.) are given in my Sound o f Greek, pp. 134-5. See also Frost, Letters, p. 107. 95 Taplin, p. 165. But I cannot fully agree with his ‘ritual fallacy’ (pp. 161-2) - ‘that Greek tragedy is in one way or another a ritual event’. Despite his arguments it seems to me that the setting of tragedy in the precinct of Dionysos at his greatest festival in the presence of all the greater priests and with an altar in the centre of the orchestra was bound to give it some ritualistic atmosphere, though the content of the plays was independent of it.



1 J. F. Auerbach, Mimesis (Princeton, 1953), p. 13. 2 Taken from Gods and Fighting M en by Lady Gregory (London, 1904)» pp· 442-4· . 3 In the October section of his Shepheards Calendar. 4 Ars Poetica, 102-3. 5 Poetics, 1455a 30-2. 6 Letters, p. 199. 7 Graves, p. 1. 8 Letter to Thomas Butts, 25 April 1803. Cf. Abrams, p. 215 and Harding, p. 15. 9 See Abrams, p. 214, and pp. 189-93 f ° r modern theories of inspiration. 10 Spender, p. 60. 11 Sir Robert Ball. Professor Patrick Wayman kindly confirmed the astronomical fact for me. 12 ‘The Decay of Lying’, Intentions, 12th ed. (London, 1918), p. 29.





Achilles, io, 20, 26, 29, 39, 79, ιο ί, 113, 1 4 8 - 9 , i 5 2, I 5 8 Addison, Joseph, 22, 149 Aeschylus, 24, 38, 67, 74-5, 86, 109, n o , 129, 131-2, 134, ϊ4 ϊ, 143, 146-7, 157 aestheticism, 81 affective fallacy, 142 Agamemnon, 20, 24, 32, 72,

Aristarchos, 41, 83, 93 Aristophanes, 37-8, 55, 73-4, 96, 104-5, 1Φ , !5! Aristotle, 1, 2, 4, 10, 11, 20, 25,

33. 34, 37, 38, 4°> 5°> 57~7o, 76-8, 89-91, 97, 103, 105/ 109, n o , 122, 128, 130, 133,

l 35> Ϊ37, 142, 148, 149, 157,

i 5 9 -6 1 Arnold, Matthew, 81, 85-8 ars, 22, 67, 98 Arthur, King, 24, 115 Ascham, Roger, 125-6 assonance, see audial elements Athena, 93, 108 audial elements in poetry, 51,

l l 3> 133-5 Agelaos, 108 Agesilas, King, 61 Aischrion, i n aischrologia, 83 Ajax, 86, 107, 135 Alcibiades, 11, 60, 61, 120, 122 Alcidamas, 63 Alexander the Great, 172 Alexandrian scholars, 41, 83, 92-3, n o allegorists, 49, 50, 58-9, 79,

76, 96, 102-3, I07-9> !23> 126-9, 137-40, 149-56, 161 Augustine, Saint, 150 Autolykos, 30 autopsy, fallacy of, 136

“ 5. r55 . alliteration, see audial elements ambiguity, 114-16 Ambrose, Saint, 150 anachronisms, 24, n o -1 2 anthropology, 27-30, 55 Antiphanes, 132 Antisthenes, 77 archaeology, 10, 16 Archilochos, 57, 67 Arion, 55

Babbage, Charles, 48 Bacon, Sir Francis, 42 bards, 20 bathing, in Homer, 93-6 Baudelaire, Charles Pierre, 81, !4 9

Beckett, Samuel, 88 Bentley, Richard, 1, 2, 4, 6, 39,

43-7 '7 5

Index Delphic oracle, 22, 65-6 Democritos, 22, 49, 65-6, 69,

Bentham, Jeremy, 57 Bevan, Aneurin, 120 Blake, William, 34-5, 153, 158, 160 blùzein, 152 Bowdler, Thomas, 5, 83, 94 Bowra, Sir Maurice, 31-2 Brooke, Rupert, 123 Bywater, Ingram, 66

Carlyle, Thomas, 97 Carroll, Lewis, 36, 45, 46-7, 50, 55, 102, 1 16-17, 157 Catalogue of Ships, 18-19, 122­ 123 _ Catharsis, 85-8 Catullus, 79, 84 censorship, 5, 41, 73, 83-8 Chapman, George, 13, 96, 114 character-as-author fallacy, 76, 103-5 Chimaera, 12 Christian doctrines, 66, 79-80, 86, 109, 134, 140, 159 Circe, 94 Cicero, 62, 66, 99 clearly intended meaning, fallacy of, 114-16 Clesithenes of Sicyon, 73, 84 Coleridge, Hartley, 144 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 23, 34, 47-8, 66-9, 90, 125, 146 Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur, 54 Corybantie dancers, 22 cosmetic fallacy, 10, 97-9 Coué, Emile, 116 Cratinos, 67 cummings, e. e., 102 Cyclops, 49, 63, 113, 124 Cynics, 63, 77

116, 155 Demosthenes, 120 Dickens, Charles, 104 didacticism, 73-6, 150 Diodorus Siculus, 12 Dionysios of Halicarnassos, 98, 127-8 Dionysos, 22, 74, 83, 146, 172 Dissoi Logoi, 99 documentary fallacy, 142-6 Donne, John, 146 dreams, 68, 99, n o Dryden, John, 137, 144

egoistic fallacy, g7, 118-19 Eliot, T . S., i, 114, 149, 153 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 67 emotional elements in poetry, 82-8, 152-3, 159-60 Empedocles, 72, 75 Eniautos Daimon, 27 enthousiasmós, 65-6, 159 Ephoros, 12 Epictetos, 87 Epicurus, 77-8 Epimenides, 103-4 Eratosthenes, 14, 37, 40, 80 etymological fallacy, 105-9 Euclid, 50, 61 Euhemeros, 12 euphony, see audial elements Euripides, 38, 74-5, 86, 104-5,

” 3» Il8 > !34> H6

Eustathios, 93, 95 exclamations, 151 expurgation, 28, 119; see also Bowdler

Dante, 32, 86, 101, 115-16, 131 Darwin, Erasmus, 36

factualists, 4, 8-32, 34-48, 92, h i , 121, 158-9, 161-2


Index Fathers o f the Church, see Christian doctrines Fénelon, Archbishop, 71 films, influence of, 84 Forster, E. M ., 22 France, Anatole, 140-1 Frazer, Sir James, 5, 27 Frost, Robert, 160, 172 Freud, Sigmund, 49, 80-1

Holmes, Sherlock, 54 Homer, 2, 6, 8-32, 38-40, 57, 58-9> 63, 66, 71, 72, 75, 77-80, 82, 87, 88, 89-91, 97, 104, 105-9, !2 i, 124, 129, 131, 132, 133, 134, 137, 140, 146, 155, 157-8 Horace, 6, 45-7, 66, 80, 98,

io3> !39> l 59 Housman, A. E., 22, 40-1, 43, 48, 5 2, 9 8 , 123-4, ! 3 2 , 1 4 7 ? l 53~4> 166 hyperbole, fallacy of, 121-2,

Gildersleeve, Basil, 126 Gillies, John, 15 Giraudoux, Jean, 8 Gladstone, William Ewart, 37,

!2 5

9 3 - 4 , 96 Goethe, 72, 74, 117, 149 Gogarty, Oliver St John, 67 Goldsmith, Oliver, 118, 141 Gorgias, 97 Graves, Robert, 128-9, 160 Greene, Graham, 25, 144 Grote, George, 3, 8, 9, 15, 25

Haggard, Sir Henry Rider, 34 Hamilton, Sir William Rowan, 51-2 Hardy, G. H., 52-4 Hecataios, 37 Hector, 39, 101, 148-9 hedonism, 5, 20, 61-2, 76-9, 80-2, 153, 155 Helen of Troy, 9, 20, 134 Heracleitos, 57, 112 Herodotos, 9, 10, 73, 83 Hesiod, 9, 19, 20, 34, 57, 58, 66, 72, 75, 104, 116, 133 Heyne, C. G., 26 Hippias, 37 Hippolytos, 31, 86, 104-5, ^ 3 historia, 11 historians, 3, 8-16, 145 historicists, 90

ideal conditions, fallacy of, 1 19-21 imagination, 8, 23, 29-30, 34-5, 55-6, 68-9, 137; see also phantasia imitation, 59-65, 67; see also mimesis impropriety, fallacy of, 83, 92-7, 132 ingenium, 22, 67, 98, 157 inspiration, 18-23, 5 1-2 , 98-9, io 7 > 15976 1 intentionalism, fallacy of, 140 irony, fallacy of, 156 Isocrates, 99 Ithaca, 20, 40, 91, 108

James, Henry, 69 Jebb, Sir Richard, 126 Jesus Christ, 109, 121-2, 134, 145 John, Saint, 144-5 Johnson, Samuel, 10, 64, 80, 1 18, 141 Joyce, James, 98, 109, 131, 137, 144 Juvenal, 58 /77

Index Kazantzakis, Nikos, Il6 Keats, John, 9, 39, 61, 62, 123, i 3 7 - 9 > 1 5 4 , 160 kléa, 20

Lachmann, Karl, 27 Leaf, Walter, 1, 2, 6, 16-27, 9 3 j 97, 116 -17, 129, 134 Lessing, Gotthold, g g -io o Lévi-Strauss, Claude, 116 -17 Lewis, C. S., 155 lies of poetry, 71-88, 158, 162; see also paralogismos and pseúdea Littledale, R. F. L., 106 Livy, 12 ‘Longinus’, 99, 117, 142, 152-3 Louis X IV , 112 Lucretius, 36, 72, 97 Lucan, 24 Lucian, 13, 55

MacNeice, Louis, g8 madness, poetic, 22-3, 64-8, 1 16, 160 Mallarmé, Stephane, 14g Manilius, 43, 72 Marlowe, Christopher, g, 114 Martial, g6, 13g Marxism, 80 mathematics and mathemati­ cians, 38, 50-5, 122-6, 127, 141 Maurice, Paul, 101 Megakleides, 148 memory, 19-21, 68 Menander, 143 Menelaos, 76, 108 Mercutio, 144 Meredith, George, 61 meton, 38 Middle Ages, 13, 42

Milton, John, 4, 32, 39, 43-7, 84, 113, 121, 140, 153 mimesis, 39, 59-65, 75, 85-8, 103 mirrors as emblems of poetry, ï 4, 63-5, 155 Mitford, William, 15 mixed metaphors, 147-8 moralistic criticism, 4, 5, 71-88, 103; see also improprietry Mousaios, 74-5 Murray, Gilbert, 2, 14, 27-30, 97, 116, 118 Muses, 5, 13, 17-21, 23, 52,

65 , 75> 160


music of poetry, see audial elements Musset, Alfred de, 101 Mycenaean elements, 16, 19, 24, 76, 90, 93 myths, 8-16, 55-6

Nash, Thomas, 151 Nausicaa, 7g, 132 Neoplatonists, 5g, 62, 65, 6g never-once-only fallacy, 12g Newton, Sir Isaac, 5, 36, 52 Nicander, 72 numbers, fallacy of, 122-6

O ’Brien, George, 111 obscenity, see aischrologia Odysseus, 24, 30, 4g, 77-9, 85-6, 88, 90-1, 93-6, 105-8, 1 15—16> 130 Oedipus, 49, 85, 133-5 Oisin, 158-g O ld Testament references, n o , 114, 119-20 once-is-typical fallacy, 129-30 Oppian, 72 originality, 24, 29, 129, 131-2 178

Index Orpheus, 74-5 over-audialization, fallacy of, i4 9 7 5 6 over-visualizai ion, fallacy of, 146-9 Ovid, 131

painting and poetry, 47, 79, 99­ 103 Palaiphatos, 12 paralogismos, 10, 64, 89-92, 130, *5 7

Parker, Samuel, 42 Parmenides, 72, 97 paronomasia, see puns Parry, Milman, 131 pathos, 133-5 Patrick, Saint, 158-9 Paul, Saint, 63, 81, 103 Pausanias, 12 Penelope, 30, 90, 106, 107, 130 Peter, Saint, 109 phantasia, 23, 68-g; see also imagination Pheidias, 62 Pherecydes, 58 Philodemos, 78 philosophical critics, 3, 57-70 Philostratos, 69 Phoenix, 152 phrénes, 160 Phrynichos, 73, 82 Pindar, 24, 63, 68, 99, 126, 137, 140, 146 Plato, i, 2, 4-5, 10, 22, 33, 49,

Polybios, 12 Polycaste, 93-6 Polycleitos, 121 Polyphemos, see Cyclops Pope, Alexander, 67, 95-6, 140, /46, 153 primitive stupidity, fallacy of, 14, 15, 26, 116-17 Prometheus, 49, 86 pronunciation, 126, 154-5 propaganda fallacy, 155 Protagoras, 17 pseúdos, pseúdea, 11, 57-8, 72; see also lies of poetry psuchagogia, 80, 135, 142, 153, !5 9

psyché, 59, 82, 90 psychoanalytical and psycho­ logical interpretations, 49-50, 85, 110 Ptolemy II, 41 puns, 102, 107-9 Puttenham, George, 102 Pythagoras and Pythagoreans, 57» 61, 77

quantification, 38, 122-4, 126-7 quantities, false, 126-7 Quintilian, 13

Rabelais, 96 Racine, Jean, 143 restrictive form, fallacy of, 136-40 ritual fallacy, 172 Roland, Song of, 25 Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, 125 Rouse, W. H. D., 132

- 7 °> 7 3 > 7 5 “ 8> 82- 6>9 8> 106-7, II0> H 1» *4 2 , *4 9 >

5 7

!5 9


pleasure, see hedonism Plotinos, 62 Plutarch, 78-80, 99 Poe, Edgar Allan, 146 political critics,. 3, 4, 71-88

Sade, Count Donatien de, 84 Sappho, 137 i 79

Index Schiller, Johann G. F., 22, 24, 1 4 9



Schliemann, Heinrich, 16, 25, I 55

science and poetry, 3, 141 Scylla, 12 Shakespeare, 23, 32, 39, 53, 63-6, 80, 104, 109-10, 113— 114, 117, 120, 129, 131, 141, 143-4, 146-7, 157 Shaw, George Bernard, 119 Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 6, 39, 62, 65, 81, 146, 161 Sidney, Sir Philip, 62, 81 silent reading, fallacy of, 130-6 Simmias, 102 Simonides, 79, 99, 134, 141 Snow, Lord, 6 sociologists, 104 Socrates, 37, 114, 134; see also Plato Solon, 9, 57, 72-3 Sophocles, 67, 85-7, 107, n o , 114, 126, 134, 141-4 Spender, Stephen, 108, 136, 138, 161 Spenser, Edmund, 97, 157, 159 Sprat, Thomas, 42, 116 stereotypes, fallacy of, 24, 130-6 Stevenson, Robert Louis, 61 Stocker, Rev. G. W., 83 Stoics, 59, 63 Strabo, 37, 40, 80, 97 strata,in poetry, 25-6 structure, 38, 51, 137 Swift, Jonathan, 38, 55, 96, 124 Swinburne, Algernon Charles, I 4 6,

!5 3

têchne, 22, 157 technopaignia, 102 Teiresias, 115

Telegony, 116 Telemachos, 30, 71, 93-6 Tenniel, Sir John, 36 Tennyson, Alfred Lord, 6, 48, 85-6, 114-16, 124-5, !48> I 5 1-2 Theagenes of Rhegium, 58 Theocritos, 41, 47, 91-2, 102 Thersites, 29 Thespis, 72-3 Thomas à Kempis, 86 Thompson, J. A. Κ ., 30-1 Thucydides, 10 time, fallacies of, 109-12 Trollope, Anthony, 136 Troy and the Trojan War, 10, 16, 17, 32, 97, n o , 155

Ulysses, see Odysseus unconscious, the, 22, 67 Urdummheit, see primitive stupidity utilitarians, 57, 71-88

Valéry, Paul, 98-9, 128, 137, 1 5 4 - 5

verisimilitude, 20-1 Verne, Jules, 55-6 Vico, Giambattista, 13-14, 26 Virgil, 67, 72, 98, 131, 159 visual elements in poetry, 101-3

Wakefield, Gilbert, 94 Walpole, Sir Hugh, 144 Whately, Archbishop, 106 Whistler, James A. M ., 103 Wilamowitz-MoellendorfF, U . von, 129 Wilde, Oscar, 81-162 Wolf, Friedrich, 15 Wolfe, Charles, 161

Index Wordsworth, William, 62, 72, 81, 97-8, 155, 159, 172

Yeats, W. B., 6, 34-5, 67, 111, 114, 120-1, 123, 131, 158

Xenophanes, 37 Xenophon, 59

Zeus, 39, 62, 91, 96, n o Zoilos, 35, 39