Homeric Oratory -- By: Lorenzo Sears
BSac 55:219 (July 1898) p. 496
No reader of the Homeric poems can fail to observe the prominence which is given to the speech of one and another of the principal actors in these stories of war and adventure. The narrative, to be sure, is the main purpose of the writer, but in its movement, and contributing to that movement, the element of spoken sentiment, opinion, conviction, and emotion is a large and important factor. It is safe to say that nearly one-half of the verses are declarations of this hero or that deity about other heroes and other deities; about events and plottings, about the conduct of war and the issue of battles, and about adventures by sea and land.
The presumption is that these speeches are mainly the creation of a single poet, or in any case compiled and revised by him. But for such composition there must have been examples and types approximating as nearly to his version as the ships and chariots, the shields and spears, he describes, resembled those in actual use, or as the heroes he calls by name resembled those of his own or a former age. Such being the case, the complacent mind of this century is surprised that twenty-seven hundred years ago so good examples of public speech were possible as realities or creations of literature, and the conceit of a generation which calls itself the inheritor of the arts and sciences of all time is lowered by reflections upon the attainment of
BSac 55:219 (July 1898) p. 497
at least one pristine people. Then it will be remembered that the Epics of Homer are the surviving monuments of a literary age unsurpassed in vigor and beauty, standing apart in the grandeur of isolation—a Mount St. Elias amid low foot-hills and surrounding levels.
Discussion of Homeric questions suggested by any allusion to the poems must be waived for once. The probable date of the Trojan war, of the wanderings of Ulysses, the time of Homer, the material upon which he worked, his relation to predecessors and successors, the very personality of the poet himself,—all these and similar questions must be left to whom they may most concern. For the present purpose it is enough that a literature called by the name of Homer exists, and that in it a certain form of composition abounds, corresponding to the reputed character of the speakers, and consistent with their varying moods and the differing occasions which inspired their speech. In these respects the epic poet surpassed later writers in the dramatic virtue of losing himself in the individual peculiarities of his characters, much more, for example, than the great historians Herodotus and Thucydides, whose reputed or imputed orations of generals and ambassadors are a prominent feature of their narrations, but betray considerabl...
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