The Homeric Question -- By: William S. Tyler

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 014:56 (Oct 1857)
Article: The Homeric Question
Author: William S. Tyler


The Homeric Question1

William S. Tyler

The works, whose titles we have placed below, mark a new era in classical scholarship; an era signalized by the union of German learning with English common sense and practical wisdom. Germany is the land of scholars, but it is also the land of skeptics, theorizers, and dreamers. If German learning has passed into a proverb, German want of faith and ignorance of affairs, has become a byword. German scholars are the world’s teachers in philology; but they need, themselves, to be taught the first principles of theology and anthropolgy. Prodigies in the knowledge of books, they are no less prodigies in that ignorance of themselves and of things around them, which necessarily involves a practical misunderstanding of past ages, and in that unbelief which is often connected with the excess of credulity.

They have almost revived the dead languages. They have almost reproduced the private life of the old Greeks and Romans. But they cannot understand the civil and political institutions of antiquity, because they have little or nothing to do with the government of their own country. And they have spread the mists and fogs of the dream-land, in which they live, over the ancient world, superseding its myths by more incredible fables of their own, substituting for its possible facts their own impossible fictions, turning history into poetry, and reducing poets to non-entities, and thus virtually annihilating both.

English scholars, on the other hand, have eschewed the wild speculations of their German cousins, but have been equally innocent of their comprehensive and profound scholarship. They have either confined their studies to mere words and metres; or, if they have launched out into the real life of antiquity, they have set out with too little capital to bring back a very valuable return-cargo; too often have gone out and returned with those strong social and political prejudices, which could not but mislead their explorations and blind their eyes to the true character of the people and their institutions.

But German scholarship is at length beginning to pervade the English mind; the minds of English merchants, gentlemen, and statesmen, as well as clergymen and scholars by profession. And the legitimate offspring of a union so auspicious is seen in such works as those of Bishop Thirlwall, Dr. Arnold, Mr. Grote, and Col. Mure.

Grote’s History of Greece, though not entirely free from paradoxes and perhaps prejudices of its own, has exploded the monstrous misconceptions and misrepresentations of Mitford; and, rescuing the constitution and history of...

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