Homer And The Higher Critics -- By: William Wallace Everts
BSac 65:259 (July 1908) p. 531
Homer And The Higher Critics
The higher criticism of Homer and the “Iliad “forms a startling and perfect parallel to the course of the higher criticism of Moses and the Pentateuch. The reader is asked to think of Wellhausen whenever Wolf is mentioned, and to think of fragments and documents when lays are referred to. With this parallel in mind this article should have a double interest.
The unity of the Iliad, the consecutiveness of the story, its climaxes, its ancient dialect, its stately meter, and its grand style, all alike point to one master mind as its creator. Plato called Homer the author of the Iliad and said that he was the educator of Greece; Aristotle spoke of him as the only poet who knew his business. Herodotus told when he lived, and Thucydides quoted him as the chief authority on early Greek History. The grammarians of Alexandria made painstaking commentaries on his language. The dramatists, the artists, the Greek race, drew their inspiration from his great epics. The common belief that Homer wrote the Iliad is hardly called in question until the year 1795, when Frederick A. Wolf, a professor at Halle, opposed the almost unanimous verdict of the past, and set up his opinion that Homer could not have written the Iliad.
There were three currents of European thought at that time that helped to carry forward his paradox. One was the
BSac 65:259 (July 1908) p. 532
new interest in classical studies, awakened partly by the discovery of ancient frescos and statuary at Pompeii, and advanced especially by Winckelmann in art, and by Lessing in letters. When Lessing’s “Laocoön” appeared in 1766, the young poet Herder read it through three times in succession. Schiller and Goethe took themes for their poems from the classics. It was a second renaissance in Germany. With this revived interest in classical studies, Wolf’s elaborate Prolegomena to the Iliad, at whatever conclusions the writer may have arrived, was sure of an enthusiastic welcome.
Another strong current of thought at that time appeared in the critical philosophy of Kant and the skeptical theology of Semler. Kant denied the validity of the commonly accepted proofs of the existence of God and of immortality. His keen criticism examined the foundations of all institutions. It became the fashion to call in question traditions of every kind. The consensus gentium was disregarded, nothing was so sacred as to escape investigation. An effort was made to reconstruct history. Schleiermacher concluded, when a youth, that all ancient authors were supposititious. Hume declared that the first page of Thucydides was the beginning of history. De Beaufort called in question the trustworthiness of t...
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