IN accordance with the plan proposed at the end of the preceding lecture, we have now to consider the chief features of the Homeric religion. Recent archaeological investigation has shown, of course, that Homer, instead of standing at the commencement of Greek history, belongs to a comparatively late period; but as it is the evolution of religion within the limits of Greek literature with which these lectures are to deal, I will not attempt to penetrate beyond the epoch represented for us by the Homeric poems.
The three main questions which we shall attempt to answer are these: First, what is the Homeric representation of the divine nature? Secondly, what is Homer's conception of man's duty to the Gods? And thirdly, how does Homer conceive of the future life? God, man's obligations to God, and immortality—these are the three great corner-stones of religious belief, and I will consider them in this order.
All men, says Homer, have need of Gods: πάντϵς δϵ̀ θϵω̑ν χατϵ́ουσ' ἄνθρωποι.1 In this profound and memorable sentence, on which Melanchthon among others loved to dwell,—he used to say it was the most beautiful verse in Homer,—the poet gives expression not only to the universality of the religious instinct, but also to the foundation on which religion everywhere rests, man's consciousness of dependence on a personality or personalities higher than his own. For the religion of Homer in particular, this saying should be regarded as an authoritative text or motto; for by far the most striking and characteristic feature in his faith is the extent to which both man and nature are conceived as dependent on the heavenly powers. Turn where he may, man, in Homer, finds himself in contact with the Godhead, for the Gods are everywhere; πάντα πλήρη θϵω̑ν,—“all things are full of Gods,”—as Thales said;2 and nothing appears to Homer more reasonable and obvious than that he should ascribe all the activities of human life and history, and all the phenomena of external nature, to the direct and immediate agency of the divine. “The period,” says C. O. Müller, “from which we have inherited the popular religions of antiquity, together with the poetry which grew upon the soil which they provided, a period into which we can transport ourselves only by a sudden leap of the imagination, is distinguished from the age in which we live by one conspicuous feature. It regarded every form of intellectual life, nay, life itself in all its forms, as the unintermittent operation not of individual forces and causes, but of higher supernatural powers, and viewed man for the most part as only the focus in which these active powers meet and reveal themselves to mankind.”
We may perhaps illustrate the difference between Homer's attitude and our own by comparing the effect produced upon the Homeric and the modern mind by the contemplation of the sea in storm and calm. Except in moments of deep religious feeling, prompted by gratitude for deliverance from imminent peril, or by a sense of the weakness of man in the face of the mighty forces of nature, we do not ordinarily hear the voice of God in the tempest, or see his hand in the stilling of the wave; we think of secondary and subsidiary causes; and even when the religious consciousness rises from nature to nature's God, the Deity still remains apart, rousing and assuaging the waves by his almighty will, but not, except by a poetical figure, present in his own person amid the tumult which he sways. In the view of Homer, on the other hand, the atmospheric conditions are not in any true sense the cause of storm; secondary and subsidiary causes he scarcely recognises: the one and only cause is the personal action of the deity whom winds and waves obey. “Now the lord, the shaker of the earth…saw Odysseus as he sailed over the deep; and he was yet more angered in spirit, and shaking his head he communed with his own heart…‘Methinks, that even yet I will drive him far enough in the path of suffering.’ With that he gathered the clouds and troubled the waters of the deep, grasping his trident in his hands; and he roused all storms of all manner of winds, and shrouded in clouds the land and sea: and down sped night from heaven.”3 When the Christian poet sings
“He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm,”
or, to take another instance,
“His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form!
And dark is his path on the wings of the storm,”
the language is felt to be metaphorical, not only by the reader, but even by the poet; or at all events, it is much more nearly metaphorical than any such language would be in Homer. To Homer, such a description would be true in a literal and not merely in a poetical and figurative sense; for in Homer, truth is poetry and poetry is truth. Thus Poseidon has “his famous palace in the deeps of the mere, his glistering golden mansions builded, imperishable for ever”; he is the immanent, indwelling monarch of the sea; and when he mounted his chariot, and rode upon the waves, “the sea-beasts frolicked beneath him, for well they knew their lord.”4 And what we have said of the sea is equally true of earth and air and sky. The entire framework of the universe is penetrated and quickened throughout all its parts by the multitudinous presence of the divine, revealing itself not only in the uniform and regular sequence of natural phenomena, but also from time to time in those exceptional and arbitrary suspensions of natural law which later ages pronounce to be miraculous. In a certain sense we may say that in Homer the age of miracles, so far from being past, is hardly even begun; for the distinction of natural and supernatural, which the conception of miracles appears to presuppose, is scarcely existent in a world where every natural phenomenon is a theophany. On this account the greatest miracles of Homer seem even to the modern reader altogether natural and right. When the horse of Achilles bows his head and addresses his master, we are satisfied, because it is the white-armed goddess Hera who gave him speech,5 and θϵοὶ δϵ́ τϵ πάντα δύνανται: nor does the delaying of the dawn by Athene6 fill us with more amazement: it is felt to be in perfect harmony with the Homeric point of view. We are much more sensible of the miraculous, when we read in the Old Testament that Jehovah “hearkened unto the voice of a man,” “and the sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.”7
The truth is that the ubiquity and nearness of the Godhead are hardly less conspicuous in Homer than in the Psalms of the Old Testament. As far as appertains to this doctrine, the Homeric Greek might have said, with the author of the hundred and thirty-ninth psalm, “If I ascend up into heaven, thou are there: if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there.” But Homer's conception of the divine omnipresence assumes a totally different and far less spiritual character by reason of his polytheism. Instead of a single all-embracing Deity, whom “even the heaven of heavens cannot contain,” we find a multitude of separate personalities, each with his peculiar province, attributes, and rights, and each pursuing aims and objects of his own. There is, as we shall see, a certain unity or identity of nature in these several deities; but the Homeric polytheism is otherwise frank and unrestrained.
It is true, of course, that the will of a particular God is sometimes thwarted by the inexorable decrees of Destiny or Fate, to which even Zeus himself must yield. “Ah woe is me,” cries Zeus, “for that it is fated that Sarpedon, the best-beloved of men to me, shall be subdued under Patroklos son of Menoitios!”8 And when he bows to the inevitable, “he shed bloody raindrops on the earth, honouring his dear son, that Patroklos was about to slay in the deep-soiled land of Troia, far off from his own country.”9 But the conception of Fate is so far from clear in Homer, that in other places he does not separate it from the dispensation of Zeus himself;10 and even where Destiny is a power above the Gods, it remains an implacable ordinance or law, with none of the divine attributes except omnipotence.
It is therefore inadmissible to attribute a monotheistic value to the notion of Fate in Homer. The most that we can say is that the Homeric conception of Destiny, regarded as a power to which Gods and men alike must bow, is a kind of unconscious tribute to that instinct for unification which often asserts itself in polytheistic religions. After Homer, we meet with the theistic interpretation of Destiny now and then in poetry, but it is not at all common in Greek thought before the Stoics. There is more to be said in favour of the view which finds an approximation to monotheism in the position occupied by the Homeric Zeus. The celestial kingdom is no anarchy, but a well-ordered common-wealth or state, in which, as in the terrestrial common-wealths on whose model it was framed, the king is himself supreme. The king of Heaven, like his earthly prototype, takes counsel with his peers, but is in no way bound by their opinion: the final decision is entirely his own, and the other Gods, whether they like it or not—and frequently they do not—must acquiesce. “Surely,” says Hermes, “it is in no wise possible for another god to go beyond or to make void the purpose of Zeus, lord of the aegis.”11 And even Poseidon, who claims to be equal to Zeus in honour, “left the host of the Achaians, and passed to the sea, and sank,”12 when Zeus commanded him “to cease from the battle and war, and go among the tribes of the gods, or into the bright sea.”13 It is obvious that in the sovereignty of the Homeric Zeus, based though it is in the last resort on might and not on right, we have already the germ which is capable of developing into a species of monotheism; for the conception of an organised world of Gods under a single ruler is in all religions a kind of “station on the way from polytheism to monotheism.”14 In point of fact, the Homeric conception of the “father of Gods and men” is gradually purified and elevated by poetry and philosophy until the thought of Zeus, the “most glorious of immortals, called by many names, for aye omnipotent, maker and lord of Nature, ruling all things by law,” calls forth from the lips of Cleanthes the Stoic what is perhaps the noblest tribute of religious adoration in the whole range of ancient literature. The influence of religious art tended in the same direction. It is impossible to estimate the effect of the famous statue of Zeus at Olympia—the supreme embodiment of divine beauty, benignity, and calm—in purifying the religious sentiment of ancient Greece. “He who is heavy-laden in soul,” writes Dio Chrysostom, “who has experienced many misfortunes and sorrows in his life, and from whom sweet sleep has fled, even he, I think, if he stood before this image, would forget all the calamities and troubles that befall in human life.”15 But in Homer, Zeus, although he is king of Gods and men, rarely interferes with the jurisdiction of the lesser Gods, and even within Olympus his authority is not unchallenged: so that the most which can with propriety be affirmed is that the Homeric Zeus provides a nucleus out of which something analogous to monotheism was afterwards evolved in the religious consciousness of later Greek thinkers.
We should accordingly conceive of the Homeric world as peopled with a multitude of deities, who are not merely, as the Stoics in a later age contended, different aspects or manifestations of the one divine essence, but individuals in the fullest sense of the word, free and independent, except in so far as their liberty is circumscribed by Zeus and Fate. Let us now proceed to consider the question, “What is Homer's idea of the divine nature, regarded in itself? What does he understand by the name of ‘God’?” No better answer can be given than in the words which Lucian puts into the mouth of Heraclitus: “What are men? Mortal Gods. What are Gods? Immortal men.”16 It is a trite, but true saying, that just as man, in the Old Testament, is made in the image of God, so God, in Homer, is made in the image of man. The Homeric polytheism is pre-eminently humanistic.17 We have already seen that the political organisation of Olympus is the divine and heavenly counterpart of the human commonwealth on earth; and that which is true of the totality of Gods, is even more conspicuously true of the individual deity. The Gods are indeed immortal, with all that immortality implies of eternal youth and beauty, of ideal majesty and power; but even this immortality, from the standpoint of later thought, is open to question; for they are created in time, and it is almost an axiom of Greek philosophy from Xenophanes onwards that time will at last destroy what it creates. And in other respects the anthropomorphism of the Homeric Gods is unusually naïve and literal. When the Old Testament “speaks of the hand, arm, mouth, lips, and eyes of God; when He makes bare His holy arm, lifts up a signal to the nations, is seen at the head of the Medes mustering His hosts, and His military shout is heard, all this,” according to Professor A. B. Davidson, “is but vivid conception of His being, His intelligence, His activity and universal power over the nations whom He directs.… The language only testifies to the warmth and intensity of the religious feelings of the writers.”18 Whatever may be true of Hebrew representations of the Deity, we are not at liberty to interpret the anthropomorphism of the Iliad and Odyssey as only a fashion of speech dictated by religious or poetical enthusiasm. Even in a later age, after a more spiritual conception of the Godhead had long been taught by philosophers and poets, it was the prevailing habit to assign corporeal shape and form to God. Speaking of the popular notion of a divine being, Plato observes in the Phaedrus, “although we have neither seen him with our eyes, nor adequately conceived him with our minds, we imagine a God as an immortal animal, possessed of soul, and possessed of body, combined into an indissoluble union of these two elements throughout all time.”19 And to Homer, in particular, the anthropomorphic view of God was inevitable, owing to his peculiar conception of personality, in which, as will afterwards be seen, body played a hardly less important part than soul. The alternative—to sacrifice the personality of God—would have seemed to Homer, as it has seemed to others, only atheism.
But although there is hardly any limit to the degree in which the attributes of human nature are reproduced in the Homeric Gods, we shall do less than justice to Homer if we fail to remark that the grosser tendencies of anthropomorphism are frequently counterbalanced and counteracted throughout the Iliad and Odyssey by a powerful current of moral and religious idealism. It is the presence of this struggle between the ideal and the actual, the religious consciousness for ever striving to escape from the bondage of materialism into a freer and more spiritual atmosphere, which has occasioned the remark that “Homer's men think better of the Gods than they deserve.” There is a sense in which this saying is profoundly true: only we must beware of supposing that the higher and purer conception of the Deity to which the human heart in every age aspires, is not itself reflected in the Homeric poems, as well as the lower conception, to which it is opposed. The Zeus who sends the lying dream to Agamemnon20 was certainly not the God to whom the Homeric heroes prayed for deliverance in times of distress and danger; but along with such malevolent impersonations of the Deity, Homer sets before us the diviner figure of the son of Cronus, strong to save, who “stretches out his hand to shield in battle.”21
The interaction of these two opposing currents of naturalism and idealism, materialism and spiritualism, may be traced in the physical, the mental, and in a lesser, perhaps, but still, I think, appreciable degree, the moral characteristics of the Homeric Gods. We ought not, of course, to ascribe to Homer any conscious discrimination between these three kinds of attributes: even in the Socratic age the moral and intellectual constituents of personality were scarcely distinguished: but for the sake of clearness and convenience of exposition it is necessary for us to study the different attributes in isolation, even at the risk of obtruding a later and more critical standpoint upon Homer. With this proviso, I will review in order, as briefly as may be possible, the principal characteristics of the divine nature, physical, intellectual, and moral, as they are portrayed in the poems of Homer, distinguishing the grosser features of his theology from those loftier and purer elements which also find a place in the Homeric conception of God.
According to the less spiritual aspect of the Homeric Gods, we have to conceive of them as resembling humanity not only in outward form and features, but also in respect of those physical necessities and limitations which are inseparable from corporeal existence. Like men, they require material nourishment and sleep, and rejoice in the light of the sun, as he leaves the “lovely mere, speeding to the brazen heaven, to give light to the immortals and to mortal men on the earth.”22 Like men, too, though in a less degree, they are subject to the exigencies of space, and have a local habitation, residing in Olympus, or in the case of those deities who, like Poseidon, rule an allotted portion of the universe, dwelling in the actual element which they control. At other times they visit their temples, or meet together in solemn conclave at Olympus, the capital of the celestial commonwealth, where they have each “his fair mansion,” “his palace built with cunning device by renowned Hephaestus” in the folds of the mountain.23 In respect of authority and power, they are far superior to mortals; but Homer does not, as a rule, make them omnipotent, and they suffer at times discomfiture and pain.
On the other hand, there is an element of superhuman grandeur and sublimity—what Wordsworth calls “the presence and the power of greatness”—about the Homeric Gods, which is calculated to inspire religious veneration, and even perhaps diffuse a sense of tranquillity and peace, making us for the moment almost forget the grosser and more material parts of the conception; and sometimes the physical attributes of the Godhead retire into the background, and we are conscious only of the spiritual side of Zeus. It is not only that the invisibility of the Gods would seem to imply that their bodies are made of finer stuff, reminding us of the perlucidi perflabiles dei of Epicurean theology: it is not only that ichor and not blood flows in their veins, that they live on nectar and ambrosia, that they excel mankind in beauty and stature and strength, and are sometimes said to be omnipotent—θϵοὶ δϵ́ τϵ πάντα δύνανται24 Nor is it merely that the city in which they dwell, like the intermundia of Lucretius, who copies the Homeric picture of Olympus, is a centre of serenity and calm, the thought of which might serve to soothe and tranquillise the heart in moments of anxiety and pain.
“So spake, and forth to Olympus Grey-eyed Athene passed,
Where men say is the House of the Godfolk for ever firm and fast;
And by no wind is it shaken, nor wet by the rainy drift,
Nor the snow comes ever anigh it; but the utter cloudless lift
Is spread o'er all, and white splendour runs through it everywhere;
And therein the Gods, the Happy, all days in gladness wear.”25
“To the Homeric Greek,” says Höffding, “Olympus stood amid the pains and struggles of this life in eternal clarity, unmoving and unmoved.… In this brilliant picture the Greeks saw the expression of the eternal reality of the valuable, and in its splendour they forgot the shadow of their own life; or they accepted in sadness and resignation the contrast between the Olympian and the terrestrial as something that had to be.”26 We have here the same kind of opposition as appears in Plato between the “supra-celestial region” of Ideas and the world of generation and decay; and essentially the same religious need—the desire for an “abiding city”—finds satisfaction in both cases. It should also be remarked that if a particular God can only be in one place at a time, both space and time are almost annihilated by the rapidity of his movements. Hera lashes her horses, and “they nothing loth flew on between earth and starry heaven. As far as a man seeth with his eyes into the haze of distance as he sitteth on a place of outlook and gazeth over the wine-dark sea, so far leap the loudly neighing horses of the gods.”27 These and other passages of a similar nature are in themselves a testimony to the idealism which tends to neutralise the grosser elements of the Olympian theology, but they do not attempt to spiritualise the Deity; and in view of later theological developments in Greece, it is more important to observe that there are places in which the mind or purpose of Zeus operates at a distance without employing any corporeal instrument or vehicle whatever. The Zeus who strikes the bow from the hands of Teucer is not merely unseen, but far away;28 and in two other instances, where the God himself is equally remote, it is the “mind of aegis-bearing Zeus,” which alone produces the effect.29 In this involuntary tendency to spiritualise the conception of Zeus—for it is only the king of Gods and men who is thus depicted—we may already detect the beginnings of that loftier view of the almighty Father with which we meet in Aeschylus. “Secure it falls, not prostrate on its back, whate'er is decreed to fulfilment by the nod of Zeus. Through thicket and through shade lead the pathways of his mind: no thought can spy them out. From their high-towering hopes he hurls men to destruction, but uses no armed violence. God knows not toil: seated above upon his holy throne he worketh his will from thence by ways unknown.”30
We find a similar antagonism between the lower and higher representations of the Deity if we pass from the physical to the intellectual sphere. The attribute of omniscience is that which primarily concerns us in this connexion. Ideally, as we have seen, the Gods in Homer are all-powerful; but the poet is unable to maintain his theology at so high a level, and their omnipotence is belied by many of the incidents which he narrates. In like manner, from the ideal point of view, the Godhead is omniscient: θϵοὶ δϵ́ τϵ πάντα ἴσασιν.31 Not only past and present, but the future falls within his ken: he “knoweth utterly All things that are doomed and undoomed for men on earth that die,”32 and sometimes forewarns mankind of coming fate33 As Nägelsbach acutely observes, the prophetic faculty which Homer ascribes to the seer, bears witness to the power of the Gods to see into the future: for, according to the Homeric view, afterwards more fully developed by later Greek thinkers, and especially by the Stoics, the seer is an ϵἒνθϵος ἀνήρ, a living oracle of God, who derives his prescience from no other source than the indwelling Deity. We may be sure, I think, that it was this all-powerful and all-knowing God, and none of the maimed and deformed embodiments of the divine nature, that awakened the deepest religious feelings of the Homeric Greek; but it is none the less true that the Iliad and Odyssey abound in episodes which cannot be reconciled with the omniscience of the Godhead; and no small part of the energy of the immortals is in fact devoted to outwitting Zeus. The episode of the beguiling of Zeus by Hera, which Plato cites to illustrate the licentiousness of the Homeric Gods, tells equally against their omniscience;34 and it must certainly be allowed that the prevailing conception of the divine intelligence in Homer falls far below the level to which it afterwards attained in Pindar, when he thus sang of Apollo: “Thou that knowest the appointed end of all things, and all the paths thereto: all the leaves that Earth puts forth in spring, and the number of grains of sand in sea and rivers, tossed to and fro by waves and blasts of wind, and discernest well the future, and whence it shall come to be.”35
The preceding observations may serve perhaps to illustrate in some degree the antithetical elements in Homer's religion, as far as concerns the physical and intellectual attributes of his Gods; and we have now to witness a similar antagonism of lower and higher views in connexion with those qualities which belong to the sphere of divine morality or ethics. In this department of our subject, as I have already hinted, the vein of idealism is much less apparent.
If we have regard in the first instance to the more degrading vices connected with the lower appetites of human nature, we must confess that the Homeric poems are justly exposed to the censure of those who, like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and many other critics of Olympian theology in the early Christian era, demanded that the conception of God should be such as to furnish a moral standard to mankind. It is worthy of notice that Homer hardly ever betrays any consciousness of the paradigmatic aspect of the Deity. There is, I think, only one passage, to be quoted hereafter, in which a particular course of conduct is recommended because it is exemplified by the Gods. It was apparently Xenophanes who first laid stress on this idea in Greek thought. The kind of criticism to which Homer exposes himself on this account may be illustrated from Tertullian's violent attack on Pagan theology. “It is Homer, I imagine, who has represented the divine majesty as subject to the conditions of human nature, attributing to Gods the misfortunes and passions of humanity: they take sides according to their several sympathies, and be pits them against one another like gladiators in the arena: Venus he wounds with an arrow from the hand of a mortal: Mars he keeps in chains for thirteen months, with the fear of death before his eyes: Jupiter he parades as having all but suffered the same indignity from the celestial proletariat, or draws tears from his eyes at Sarpedon's fate; or he represents him in shameful dalliance with Juno after advocating his passion by an enumeration of his mistresses.” “Is it a case for laughter or indignation,” asks Tertullian, “tales deos credi, quales homines esse non debeant?”36 The fact is that the lower as well as the higher instincts of humanity not only reappear in the Gods of Homer, but actually seem to be intensified and strengthened before they are transferred to the divine nature; nor is there apparently any trace in Homer of those attributes of holiness and purity which are features so prominent in the Hebrew conception of God. In respect of their lower as well as of their higher qualities, the Homeric Gods are magnified men.
A scarcely less inadequate apprehension of the divine character sometimes reveals itself in Homer's account of the dealings of God with man. Can God be good, and nevertheless the cause of physical suffering and evil to mankind? The question is for the first time explicitly raised by Plato,37 whose treatment of the origin of evil will be touched upon in a later lecture. In the meantime, accepting the Platonic axiom that nothing which is altogether good can be the cause of that which is in itself and absolutely evil, we must allow that, tried by this standard, the Homeric Gods fall short of ideal goodness and beneficence: for the Iliad and Odyssey abound in episodes where misfortune and calamity are due to the immediate agency of Gods, without, so far as we can see, any moral justification or any prospect of redress either now or in the world to come. “Father Zeus,” says Philoetius in the Odyssey, “none other god is more baneful than thou: thou hast no compassion on men, that are of thine own begetting, but makest them to have fellowship with evil and with bitter pains.”38 In Homer's view, Zeus is the “steward of things evil as well as of things good”:39 for “two urns stand upon the floor of Zeus filled with his evil gifts, and one with blessings. To whomsoever Zeus whose joy is in the lightning dealeth a mingled lot, that man chanceth now upon ill and now again on good, but to whom he giveth but of the bad kind him he bringeth to scorn, and evil famine chaseth him over the goodly earth, and he is a wanderer honoured of neither gods nor men.”40 The ordinary solutions by which philosophers and theologians, both in Greece and in Christendom, have attempted to reconcile the existence of pain and sorrow in the world with the moral goodness and omnipotence of God, are alien to the simple realism of the Homeric age; and on the whole it may fairly be said that in their dealings both with one another and with mankind the Olympian Gods are true to the golden rule of Paganism, “Love your friends, and hate your enemies.”
The lower ingredients in Homer's conception of God, so far as his activity affects the happiness and virtue of human beings, may be illustrated from two sister doctrines which begin with Homer, although their full development belongs to a later period of Greek literature. I refer in the first place to the widely-spread belief in “the envy of the Gods,” a belief which is characteristic of a certain stratum of religious development, and still survives in some popular interpretations even of Christianity itself; and, secondly, to the idea expressed by Aeschylus when he wrote, “God engenders guilt in mortal men, when he is minded utterly to destroy their house.”41 A parallel to the former belief may perhaps be found in the story of the Tower of Babel, and in the punishment inflicted on the unoffending Israelites when David was moved by Satan, or according to the other account, by God himself, to number the hosts of Israel.42 It is obvious that neither of these two doctrines, at least in their crudest and most primitive form, can easily be harmonised with the belief in a supremely good and beneficent God; and on this account, as we shall afterwards see, they were finally rejected by Plato along with other “poetic lies.” In Homer the “envy of the Gods” is apt to be aroused by anything which tends to disturb the balance of power between Gods and men, such as the alliance between a Goddess and a mortal, or when a man enjoys a long and unbroken course of prosperity; and how is the balance restored? Simply by casting down the mighty from their seats, without any suggestion, such as we afterwards meet with in Aeschylus, that the victim is punished for his sins, and not for his success. “Hard are ye gods and jealous exceeding,” says Calypso, “who ever grudge goddesses openly to mate with men.… Even so when rosy-fingered Dawn took Orion for her lover, ye Gods that live at ease were jealous thereof, till chaste Artemis, of the golden throne, slew him in Ortygia with the visitation of her gentle shafts.”43 When Bellerophon incurred the hatred of the Gods, and was driven to wander “alone in the Aleian plain, devouring his soul, and avoiding the pathways of men,”44 there is no implication that he had sinned, unless prosperity itself be sinful; and the reason why Poseidon is jealous of the Phaeacians is because they invariably “give safe escort to all men”—οὕνϵκα πομποὶ ἀπήμονϵ́ς ϵἰμϵν ἁπά́ντων45
In later Greek literature, more especially the drama, the doctrine of the “envy of the Gods” is sometimes brought into connexion with the still more tragic idea that the sins of erring mortals are directly due to the inspiration of the Gods—quem deus vult perdere prius dementat; and the germs of this idea, as I have already stated, are also to be found in Homer. It is true that in one remarkable passage the Homeric Zeus protests against so injurious an imputation. “Lo you now,” says Zeus, revolving in his mind the fate of Aegisthus, “how vainly mortal men do blame the gods! For of us they say comes evil, whereas they even of themselves, through the blindness of their own hearts, have sorrows beyond that which is ordained.”46 But there are many instances in which the responsibility for sin is laid at the door of the Gods, and one of Homer's regular formulae for that principle of Atê or Infatuation from which, according to Greek tragedy, sin takes its rise, is ϕρϵ́νας ϵ̓ξϵ́λϵτοΖϵύς: “blinded was I, and Zeus deprived me of my wits.”47 “What could I do?” cries Agamemnon, when he is at last made conscious of his criminal folly; “it is God who accomplisheth all. Eldest daughter of Zeus is Atê who blindeth all, a power of bane: delicate are her feet, for not upon earth she goeth, but walketh over the heads of men, making men to fall; and entangleth this one or that.”48 We are not at liberty to regard such passages as merely a dramatic expression of the innate tendency of man to blame the Gods or Fate for sins of his own choosing, in spite of the language which Homer puts into the mouth of Zeus; for the violation of the treaty between Trojans and Greeks in the fourth book of the Iliad is ascribed by the poet himself to the immediate instigation of the almighty Father. “Forthwith he spake to Athene winged words: ‘Betake thee with all speed to the host, to the midst of Trojans and Achaians, and essay that the Trojans may first take upon them to do violence to the Achaians in their triumph, despite the oaths.’”49 We should remember that man, in Homer, is only a παίγνιον θϵω̑ν—a plaything or puppet in the hands of the Gods; “he dwells but in their sight, and works but what their will is.” On this account it is, and must be, the Gods who are in the last analysis responsible for the sins as well as for the sufferings of mankind. In other words, we may say that the moral dualism of the Homeric Gods is a necessary and inevitable consequence of their all but unlimited control of human character and fate. In Homer there is no devil to bear the blame.
It remains to say something of another and not less unfavourable feature in Homer's conception of the Deity, I mean the way in which he represents the Gods as beguiling mankind by false appearances and lies. As with the doctrine of the “envy of the Gods,” so also here, we can find numerous parallels in other early races whose ideas of God have not as yet been transformed and spiritualised by a nobler and profounder estimate of man: and it is easy to detect survivals of this crude belief in theologies of a purer and more elevated type, such as, for example, the “lying spirit” which Jehovah put in the mouth of the prophets who prophesied to Ahab.50 But in Homer the instances in which the Deity deceives men to their hurt are not, as in the Old Testament, sporadic and exceptional; nor will the Homeric critic be disposed to borrow the weapons of some modern theologians and vainly try to reconcile such passages with those in which the more developed religious consciousness of Greece, as it is exemplified in Pindar, for example, and in Plato, attributes perfect truthfulness to God. The classic example of malevolent falsehood on the part of the Homeric Gods is the lying dream which Zeus despatches to Agamemnon;51 but there are other not less diabolical episodes, where by their unlimited power of self-transformation the Gods mislead men to their doom. Perhaps the most pathetic instance is where Athene, in the crisis of Hector's fate, takes her stand by the side of the hero, in the guise of his brother Deiphobus, in order to lure him by the hope of fraternal succour to destruction, and vanishes as soon as he is at the mercy of his foe. “Then Hector knew the truth in his heart, and spake and said: ‘Ay me, now verily the gods have summoned me to death. I deemed the warrior Deiphobos was by my side, but he is within the wall, and it was Athene who played me false.’”52 We make a grave mistake if we regard these and similar delineations of the divine nature in the Homeric poems as having only a poetic or dramatic value. It is part of the tragedy of Homeric life that they were believed to be true. Homer's theology in this respect lags far behind the teaching of Plato, to whom, as to St. James, God is the “Father of lights, with whom is no variation, neither shadow of turning.”
We must admit, I think, that Tertullian's unqualified condemnation of Homer's theology would be justified, if we had no other passages to rely upon except those which I have just quoted. But here, as elsewhere in Homer, there are not wanting traces of higher and purer conceptions of the Godhead, and these should also be regarded in any impartial appreciation of Homer's religious standpoint. If the Homeric Gods are givers of evil, they are also givers of good. “It is Olympian Zeus himself that dispenses happiness to men, to the good and to the evil, to each according to his will.”53 Everything that makes life desirable is in Homer's way of thinking a revelation of the divine beneficence: it is the Gods to whom we owe not only the goods of body and external goods, beauty and health, prosperity and fame and wealth, but also the goods of soul, courage and wisdom and righteousness; there is, in short, no blessing of which they are not the cause. If they violate the moral law themselves, and sometimes lead mortals into sin, Homer nevertheless regards them as the appointed guardians of morality in general and of justice in particular: “ill deeds do not prosper ”; for the Gods “honour justice and the righteous acts of men.”54 From this point of view the entire Odyssey may be regarded as one great drama by the first of tragic poets55 intended “to justify the ways of God to man” by showing how Justice is in the end triumphant over Sin—δίκη δ' ὑπϵ̀ρ ὕβριοςἴσχϵιϵ̓ ς τϵ́λος ϵ̓ξϵλθου̂σα παθὼ ν δϵ́ τϵ νήπιος ϵ祖γνω.56 That Homer himself was not insensible of the profoundly moral aspect of the final catastrophe in the Odyssey is clearly shown by the words of Odysseus as he stands among the bodies of the dead, stained with blood and soil of battle: “These hath the destiny of the gods overcome, and their own cruel deeds, for they honoured none of earthly men, neither the good nor yet the bad, that came among them. Wherefore they have met a shameful death through their own infatuate deeds.”57 In these lines of Homer the keynote of Aeschylean drama is already sounded; “the doer must suffer: so speaks the immemorial tale.”58
We have now finished our necessarily rapid and imperfect survey of Homer's representation of the Deity and his attributes. In his conception of the divine nature the two conspicuous features are polytheism and anthropomorphism; and in connexion with the divine attributes, that which is chiefly deserving of notice is the extraordinary union of naturalism and idealism, revealing itself not only in the physical, but also in the moral and intellectual qualities attributed by Homer to his Gods. In whatever way this dualism should be explained, whether an originally purer conception of the divine nature has become contaminated by later accretions, or whether, as is more generally believed, the higher view has been engrafted on a stock of primeval superstition, Homer leaves the two opposing factors side by side, without any attempt to reconcile them.
That Homer was wholly unconscious of a contradiction which obtrudes itself upon the most casual and unintelligent reader of the Iliad and Odyssey is an assertion which no one will make who has adequately realised the intellectual as well as the poetical endowments necessary to the composition of so great masterpieces; and here and there positive indications show that he was not altogether unaware of the antagonism. Like Euripides, and other writers of a more reflective age, the Homeric heroes frequently upbraid the father of Gods and men for cruelty, treachery, and deceit; and in one passage of the Iliad, Menelaus indignantly points the contrast between the ideal conception of Zeus as the all-wise ruler, and his actual administration of human affairs. “O father Zeus, verily they say that thou dost excel in wisdom all others, both gods and men, and all these things are from thee. How wondrously dost thou rejoice in men of violence, even the Trojans, whose might is ever iniquitous, nor can they have their fill of the din of equal war.”59 The attitude adopted by later Greek poets and thinkers in view of this inherent dualism of Homeric theology, will claim our attention in due course; but at present we must turn to the second division of our subject, and endeavour to explain, as briefly as may be possible, what is Homer's view of the duty of man to the higher powers by which he is on every side encompassed.
It may be said, in general terms, that the duty which man, in Homer, owes to God, is that he should recognise and acknowledge his dependence on the divine authority in every circumstance of life. This recognition is expressed chiefly in two ways, by means of religious observances or cult, and by adherence to certain divinely-appointed principles of conduct. The religious observances by which the Homeric heroes testify to their dependence on the Gods are chiefly sacrifice and prayer; and in this connexion it is worthy of note that the Platonic Euthyphro, who is represented by Plato as the incarnation of Homeric orthodoxy, defines piety itself as the knowledge of how to sacrifice and how to pray.60
In Homer it is the sign of a God-fearing spirit to offer many hecatombs to Zeus.61 From the standpoint of the Gods, the Homeric sacrifice is a kind of tribute which the givers of all good demand as their right: τὀ γὰρ λάχομϵν γϵ́ρας ἡμϵι̑ς:62 and any intermission of the payment is severely visited. “Artemis of the golden throne had brought a plague upon them, in wrath that Oineus offered her not the harvest first-fruits on the fat of his garden land; for all the other gods had their feast of hecatombs, and only to the daughter of great Zeus offered he not, whether he forgat or marked it not; and therein sinned he sore in his heart.”63 From the standpoint of humanity, sacrifice is intended to express not so much a sentiment of gratitude for past favours, as the hope of favours to come; and hence it is a common formula in Homeric prayers to remind the God of former gifts and oblations. Thus Chryses prays to Apollo: “Hearken to me, Lord of the silver bow;…if ever I built a temple acceptable unto thee, or if ever I burnt to thee fat flesh of thighs of bulls or goats, do thou accomplish this my desire.”64 The Homeric view of sacrifice and similar oblations is deeply engrained in Greek thought; “gifts,” says Hesiod, “prevail over Gods and reverend kings,”65 and there was an ancient proverb to the same effect—πϵίθϵι δω̑ρα καὶ θϵούς.66 Plato unreservedly condemns the doctrine, holding that it reduces worship to a sort of ϵ̓μπορικὴ τϵχνη or art of merchandise between Gods and men, and emphatically protesting that God cannot be “seduced by presents like a villainous money-lender.”67 He will have nothing to do with the man “who declares that the Gods are always lenient to the doers of unjust acts, if they divide the spoil with them. As if wolves were to toss a portion of their prey to the dogs, and they, mollified by the gift, suffered them to tear the flocks.”68 But Homer's conception of sacrifice is susceptible of a somewhat higher interpretation than this, and ought not to be at once dismissed as irreligious. It rests upon the familiar Greek idea that Gods and men form a single organised society, with mutual rights and obligations; there must be pietas in heaven if there is to be pietas on earth. We must admit, however, that there is little or no hint of the importance of true devotion on the part of the worshipper, such as Socrates afterwards inculcates; still less does Homer rise to the higher religious level, from which it is seen that “to do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”69
Homer's conception of prayer, although in some respects more spiritual and refined than his view of sacrifice, involves a somewhat similar theory of the relation between Gods and men. The suppliant does not bow the knee or veil the head, but stands erect, raising his hands frankly and fearlessly to heaven. Unconscious of unworthiness and sin, he claims an answer, not so much as an act of grace, but as a return for services which he has rendered or will hereafter render to the God. “And lifting their hands to all the gods did each man pray vehemently, and chiefly prayed Gerenian Nestor, the Warden of the Achaians, stretching his hand towards the starry heaven: ‘O father Zeus, if ever any one of us in wheat-bearing Argos did burn to thee fat thighs of bull or sheep, and prayed that he might return, and thou didst promise and assent thereto, of these things be thou mindful, and avert, Olympian, the pitiless day, nor suffer the Trojans thus to overcome the Achaians.’”70 This is the usual type of a Homeric prayer; but there are not wanting instances in which a higher note is struck, and God is appealed to not as the recipient, but as the giver of benefits and blessings in the past. “Hearken to me, god of the silver bow…even as erst thou heardest my prayer, and didst me honour…even so now fulfil me this my desire.”71 Sometimes the basis of the appeal is
“God of our Fathers, be the God
Of their succeeding race.”
“Hear me,” cries Diomede, “hear me, daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus, unwearied maiden! If ever in kindly mood thou stoodest by my father in the heat of battle, even so now be thou likewise kind to me, Athene.”72 And there is at least one passage in which it is suggested that obedience to the will of God ensures the readiest answer to prayer: “whosoever obeyeth the Gods, to him they gladly hearken.”73 “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” For the rest, Nägelsbach74 has observed that prayers, in Homer, seldom express the language of praise or thanksgiving: they are nearly always petitions rising to the lips spontaneously at seasons of stress and danger, “for it is good to uplift the hands to Zeus, if so be he may have pity.”75 We are told by Plato that at the commencement of every undertaking, “be it small or great, all who participate in virtue, to the least degree, invariably invoke a God.”76 This statement is conspicuously true of the Homeric heroes, with whom prayer is a necessary prelude to successful endeavour, as we may see from the remark of Antilochus on his defeated rival, “He ought to have prayed to the immortals, and then he would not have come in last in the race.”77 At a later stage of Greek religious development, the object prayed for by the worshipper was sometimes a particular attitude of mind or state of soul—resignation, let us say, or virtue. Thus Xenophanes, for example, bids men “pray for power to do that which is right,”78 and the whole Socratic ideal of life and conduct is comprised in the prayer with which Plato ends the Phaedrus:79 “O beloved Pan and other gods here present, grant me to become fair within. Let my outward possessions be such as are favourable to my inward life. May I think the wise man rich. Give me so much gold as only the temperate man can bear or carry.” It is hardly necessary to say that for parallels to such a prayer as this we should look to the New Testament and not to Homer. The objects for which a Homeric suppliant entreats the Gods are generally such as we should expect in the society of the Homeric age, the pleasures of revenge and victory, or deliverance from toil and danger, not yet purity of heart and life.
We may conclude this part of our subject by quoting the famous allegory, unique in Homer, where in spite of an implicit attribution of men's sinfulness to the agency of Zeus, the poet sets before us a more truly religious view of prayer than in any other passage of his poems. “Prayers of penitence are daughters of great Zeus, halting and wrinkled and of eyes askance, that have their task withal to go in the steps of Sin” (Atê). “For Sin is strong and fleet of foot, wherefore she far outrunneth all prayers, and goeth before them over all the earth making men fall, and Prayers follow behind to heal the harm. Now whosoever reverenceth Zeus' daughters when they draw near, him they greatly bless and hear his petitions; but when one denieth them and stiffly refuseth, then depart they and make prayer unto Zeus the son of Kronos that sin may come upon such an one, that he may fall and pay the price.”80 Here, no doubt, the reference primarily is to the supplications addressed by one man to another; but if we read the allegory in connexion with what precedes,81 we are equally at liberty to understand it of prayers made to the Gods.
So much, then, by way of explaining the spirit which seems to animate all those religious observances through which, in Homer, man expresses his sense of dependence on the Gods. From what I have said you will see that piety, at this period of Greek religious development, is chiefly, though not perhaps exclusively, concerned with externals. In spite of the fatherhood of Zeus, on which Homer dwells so frequently and fondly—“Father Zeus, thou that rulest from Ida, most glorious and most great”82—there is little suggestion in the Homeric poems of any spiritual relationship between God and man, such as finds expression in Lactantius' definition of true piety: pietas nihil aliud est quam Dei parentis agnitio.83
We have already seen that the Homeric Gods are the official guardians of justice, and in their ex cathedra capacity take cognisance of good and evil deeds among mankind. In a famous passage of the Odyssey we are told that “the gods, in the likeness of strangers from far countries, put on all manner of shapes, and wander through the cities, beholding the violence and the righteousness of men.”84 It is therefore necessary for man to express his recognition of the divine authority and government, not merely by the services of sacrifice and prayer, but through his life and conduct. Perhaps we shall most readily comprehend this aspect of man's duty towards the Gods, if we approach the question on its negative side, and endeavour to understand the Homeric view of sin. At first sight it may seem, perhaps, an anachronism to use the term “sin” in connexion with Greek literature. We are frequently told that “sin” is a peculiarly Christian, or Jewish and Christian idea; and it is an oft-repeated statement that the notion was altogether foreign to the ancient Greek world. But when such an assertion is made, the unprejudiced inquirer will pause and discriminate. The conception of sin, he will say, appears to have two aspects, a subjective and an objective. On its subjective side, our idea of sin involves an element of self-consciousness, a haunting sense of moral imperfection and alienation from God; on its objective side, it consists in a breach of morality or law, or in the state of mind from which such transgression takes its rise. It may be admitted that what we call the sense of sin is comparatively seldom found in Greek literature, although something analogous to it may be detected in the dramas of Aeschylus, and also, perhaps, in the moral and religious doctrine of the Phaedo of Plato. To the half-exotic religious fraternities of the Orphic and Pythagorean type the consciousness of sin was probably familiar enough; and Stoicism, at least in some of its later developments, was no stranger to the feeling. But neither the reflections nor the actions of the Homeric heroes warrant us in attributing to them any such affection as may fairly be called by this name: they all belong to the class of souls which Professor James has christened “healthy-minded” or “once-born.” If we have regard, however, to the objective usage of the word, we are quite at liberty to speak of sin as having a place in the moral universe of Homer; and a brief examination of its origin and nature will throw light on the poet's attitude to some of the greatest questions of human life and destiny. In what, then, according to the view of Homer, does sin consist? We may reply, perhaps, that the sphere of ambition open to the individual is strictly limited in Homer by the rights of his fellow-men and of the Gods; and sin consists in the attempt to overstep the limits thus prescribed. The essence of sin is πλϵονϵξία self-seeking, or self-assertion: it is accompanied by overweening arrogance and pride, and recks not either “of the Gods that hold the wide heaven, or of men's indignation in after days.”85 The last stage is reached when the sinner in his blind self-confidence becomes, like Mezentius in the Aeneid of Virgil, a contemptor divum. “And so would he have fled his doom, albeit hated by Athene, had he not let a proud word fall in the fatal darkening of his heart. He said that in the gods' despite he had escaped the great gulf of the sea; and Poseidon heard his loud boasting…and smote the rock Gyraean and cleft it in twain.…And the rock bore him down into the vast and heaving deep ; so there he perished when he had drunk of the salt sea water.”86 Here, as elsewhere, we can recognise in Homer the germs of moral and religious ideas which are afterwards more fully developed by elegiac and dramatic poetry, in particular the doctrine which bids us remember our mortality and cherish only mortal aspirations; but they are only the germs, and it is vain, of course, to look for anything further in the Homeric poems.
In its essential nature, therefore, according to the Homeric view, sin would appear to be a breach of the golden law of moderation. What are we to suppose to be its immediate cause? And with whom does the ultimate responsibility rest? It is characteristic of the prevailingly intellectual character of Greek morality that Homer, in common with later Greek thinkers, should attribute the origin of sin to infatuation rather than to a depraved condition of the will. The sinner is a fool or a madman, rather than a knave: his intellect is darkened, and he falls. Nor, as a rule, is the sinner himself considered to be primarily responsible for his destruction: he is merely the involuntary victim of circumstance, or Atê, or Zeus. The influence of outward environment upon morality is a favourite topic of Greek writers, who frequently show an inclination to regard affliction as demoralising, and prosperity as tending to improve the character, in contrast with the Christian view that out of suffering we are made strong. By way of illustration, we may refer to the history of words like πονηρός and μοχθηρός, the original meaning of which would seem to have been “toilworn,” “afflicted,” whereas in classical Greek they more commonly mean “depraved” and conversely, the double signification of ϵ ὐ̑ πράττϵιν, “do well” and “fare well,” was thought by some of the Greeks to be significant of the intimate connexion between prosperity and virtue.87 According to Simonides, who in this as in other respects is a trustworthy exponent of popular Greek morality, “a man cannot but prove evil, if hopeless calamity overthrow him. Every man if he has fared well is good; evil, if ill: and for the most part, best are they whom the Gods love.”88 The principle that underlies this view is as old as Homer, who expresses it in words which are often echoed in later Greek literature: “the mind of men upon the earth is even as the day, that is brought upon them by the father of Gods and men.”89 We find a pathetic illustration of the sentiment in another passage of the Odyssey, where it is said that Zeus takes away the half of a man's virtue, when the day of slavery lays hold on him.90 Elsewhere, as we have already seen, Homer is in the habit of laying the responsibility for the sin of erring mortals at the door of Atê, eldest daughter of Zeus, or Zeus himself. “I could not be unmindful of Atê,” says Agamemnon, “who blinded me at the first.… Blinded was I, and Zeus bereft me of my wit.”91 But in Homer, not less than in Aeschylus, although it is the Gods or Fate who are the fons et origo mali, it is the sinner who pays the penalty; and the tragic irony of his doom is all the greater that it comes from the very Gods who are ultimately responsible for his transgression. When, for example, Pandarus shoots the arrow at Menelaus, in defiance of the solemn treaty lately sworn between the rival armies, he obeys the suggestion of Zeus, who is himself the guardian of oaths and treaties; but Agamemnon is assured that the selfsame God will hereafter take vengeance on the Trojans. “Zeus, the son of Kronos enthroned on high, that dwelleth in the heaven, himself shall brandish over them all his lowring aegis, in indignation at this deceit.”92 Homer is not less profoundly convinced than Aeschylus that sin, whatever its originating cause may be, disturbs the moral equilibrium of the universe; and the business of the Gods, as upholders of justice, is to restore the balance by punishing the sinner. It matters not that the Gods demand a higher standard from men than they impose upon themselves: their duty is to punish mortals for excesses of which they are always setting the example.93
In so far as we can speak of a Homeric doctrine of punishment at all, it is the retributory theory which meets us in his poems: his favourite phrase for the divine vengeance upon sin is ἂντιτα 祖ργα, “deeds of requital,” “acts of recompense.” We do not expect to find so early as Homer any hint of the Platonic view, that punishment is a remedial agency intended to cure the sinner of his vice, although the vengeance of the God is occasionally represented by the poet as remedial, or rather deterrent, in respect of its influence upon others; for example, in the prayer of Menelaus before the duel with Paris: “King Zeus, grant me revenge on him that was first to do me wrong …so that many an one of men that shall be hereafter may shudder to wrong his host that hath shown him kindness:”94
I have already said that the action of the Iliad and Odyssey, regarded as a whole, fulfils the law that “the doer must suffer”; but the possibility of atonement for sin is not excluded. The Homeric Gods are not implacable: “their hearts by incense and reverent vows and drink-offering and burnt-offering men turn with prayer, so oft as any transgresseth and doeth sin.”95 If the sinner makes good what he has done amiss, and offers sacrifice to the offended Gods, he may perchance regain their favour and escape the graver consequences of his transgression. In such a piacular offering there is no suggestion of a transference of guilt from the sinner to the victim, no hint that the animal is a vicarious sufferer: all such conceptions imply a degree of consciousness of sin which is alien from the religious sentiment of the Homeric age. In Homer the sin-offering, like other forms of sacrifice, is conceived as a gift—Plato would call it a bribe—to the Gods in the shape of a meal or banquet designed to change their hostility into a friendlier attitude: “the fragrant fire-distilled essence” or κνι̑σα ascends to heaven and the “sweet savour” turns away their wrath. But although the sinner pleads, there is no assurance that his sacrifice will be accepted; and of the many features which cast a shade of melancholy over Homeric life, this is not the least significant. In the words of Nägelsbach, “Sin is certain, and certain it is that the Gods will punish sin; but forgiveness depends upon the passing mood, the fleeting temper of the gods, and is uncertain. Human life in Homer is a life without the certainty of grace.”96
So much for the leading features of Homer's theology, and the obligations which it imposes upon man. It remains for us to consider the attitude of the poet in regard to the question of immortality.
The details of Homeric psychology and eschatology have been often discussed in recent years, but there is much that still remains uncertain and obscure; and it is a priori improbable, I might even say incredible, that the authors of the Iliad and Odyssey formed a lucid or consistent theory either of the soul itself or of the existence which awaits it in the other world. In its broader outlines, however, the eschatological belief of the Homeric poems is clear enough; and it is the more necessary for us to apprehend its general character, because there is archæological as well as literary evidence to show that in spite of the prevalence of Orphic and Pythagorean views, the orthodox Greek conception of the underworld even in the fourth century B.C. was still in the main derived from Homer.97
In the Homeric poems, and indeed in Greek literature generally, the living man is regarded not as a single indivisible substance, but rather as a union of two distinct and separable entities, one of which is the body, and the other the soul. To the question, which of these two component factors, soul and body, constitutes what may be called the personality or ego, it is not altogether easy to give a satisfactory or conclusive answer. According to one group of passages, it would seem that the actual self, the αὐτός, descends into Hades at death; and as it is usually the soul or ψυχή which is said by Homer to pass into the unseen world, we are tempted to identify the ego with the soul.98 In other and more remarkable instances, where the body is expressly contrasted with the soul, the epithet “self” is definitely applied to the body: the deadly wrath of the son of Peleus despatched to Hades many stalwart souls of heroes, and gave themselves, that is, their bodies, “to be a prey to dogs”;99 and again, “all night long the soul of hapless Patroclus stood over me, wailing and lamenting, and wondrous like it was unto himself.”100 Relying on these two diverse modes of expression, as well as on other evidence, supplied in part from comparative folk-lore, Rohde has attributed to Homer the belief in a double personality, the ψυχή being a kind of “alter ego,” “ein anderes ich,” present like an invisible guest in the living and visible body, which constitutes another and companion “ego.” During life, so long as we are awake and conscious, the “alter ego” is quiescent; but when the body is laid to sleep, the soul awakes and often reveals to us in visions of the night that which is denied to us in our waking moments, This interesting theory lies at the root of ancient views of divination, and we shall have to recur to it again in later lectures. We shall find reason for connecting it with Orphic and Pythagorean ways of thought, rather than with indigenous Greek culture; but in the meantime it must be said that, although such a view was certainly familiar to Pindar, Aeschylus, and Plato, not to speak of Aristotle and the Stoics, the evidence for ascribing it to Homer is very slight. If we desire to arrive at Homer's conception of the respective shares of body and soul in producing what we may call the true self or personality of the individual, we ought to assign most weight to those places in which the body and soul are contrasted with one another; and in these, as we have seen, it is the body, and not the soul, which is designated “self.” That Homer is sometimes inconsistent in his phraseology, merely shows that he was after all a poet and not a psychologist.
We may take it, then, and the fact is of great importance for the intelligent appreciation of the Homeric eschatology, that in the union of soul and body which we call life, the body, rather than the soul, supplies the element of personality or “self.” Or, if this conclusion appears somewhat too definite and precise, as perhaps it is, for the psychological standpoint of so primitive an age, we may, I think, at least affirm that Homer regards the body as more essential to the personality than the soul. With the development of self-consciousness and the progress of reflective thought in Greece, it was only natural that the conception of personality should be modified; and in the philosophy of Plato, as will afterwards appear, it is always the soul—or rather, let us say, the mind (νου̑ς)—and not the body, which constitutes the man.
But to return to Homer. If that which we call life is the union of soul and body, that which we call death is their separation. The soul may leave the body for a time, as in fainting, for which the later Greek word is λιποψυχϵι̑ν, linqui animo;101 but at death the partnership is finally dissolved. The ψυχή, which is a material substance of the nature of breath or air, issues out of the mouth or the wound: man's soul, says Homer, returneth not again, “when once it hath passed the barrier of his teeth,”102 and elsewhere, “the soul through the stricken wound sped hastily away, and darkness enveloped his eyes.”103 In shape, it is an eidolon or phantom of the living man; as it were a shadow, a vision in a dream, a vapour of smoke. The soul of Patroclus appeared to Achilles in a vision of the night “in all things like the man himself, in stature and fair eyes and voice, and the raiment on his body was the same.”104 Achilles “reached forth his hands, but grasped him not; for like a vapour the soul was gone beneath the earth with a faint shriek.”105 According to Homer, it is only this phantom, this image, that survives: what kind of existence does it lead, and where? In the answer to these questions we have Homer's whole conception of immortality.
As soon as the last rites are fulfilled, the soul crosses once for all the river, Oceanus, it may be, or Styx, which separates the land of the living from that of the dead.106 Till then, it retains, apparently, some shred of substantial semi-corporeal existence, hovering uneasily between the gate of the nether world and the body it has left. The realm of shades, known to Homer as Erebus, lies in the depths of the earth; and the entrance thereto is far in the west, beyond the Ocean stream and the city of the Cimmerians, on which the sun never shines, but a pall of deadly night broods evermore.107 Hard by the entrance is “a waste shore and the groves of Persephone, even tall poplar trees and willows that shed their fruit before the season,”108 features indicative to the Greeks of barrenness and gloom. The kingdom of the dead itself is ruled over by Hades, “most loathly of all the Gods,” and “dread” Persephone.109 In it we read of dwellings dank and gruesome, the abomination of the very gods,—σμϵρδαλ祖, ϵὐρωϵ́ντα, τά τϵ στυγϵĭουσι θϵοί πϵρ,—and meadows of asphodel, the dreariest of plants, together with the rivers that play so large a part in later Greek pictures of the underworld, Acheron, Pyriphlegethon, Cocytus, and Styx, names which, as Plato testifies in his censure of Homer's eschatology, “no Greek could hear without a thrill of horror.”110 Above all, and to the ancient Greek this was perhaps the most appalling feature, the kingdom of Hades was a land of perpetual night: “a land of thick darkness, as darkness itself; a land of the shadow of death, where the light is as darkness.”
The existence which Homer assigns to the disembodied shades is if possible still more terrible than the land in which they dwell; or at least it must have appeared so to a nation endowed with so abounding a sense of vitality as the Greeks. Rohde puts the case well when he observes that we do wrong to speak of a future life in Homer: it is only a little more life than that of our image in a glass.111 Themselves only shadows or images of the living, breathing man, the departed spirits lead not life, but only a pale and ineffectual shadow of life. Their very utterance is but the shadow or ghost of that which we call voice: it is a shrill attenuated shriek (τρίζϵιν), a timorous inarticulate cry, compared by Homer, when it issues from many ghostly throats at once, to the squeaking of a flock of bats when it is disturbed, and to the clamour of fowls flying terrified in all directions.112 The souls of the dead are ἀμϵνηνὰκάρηνα, “strengthless heads,” wholly intangible and elusive, without bones and flesh, without diaphragm or ϕρϵ́νϵς, and therefore destitute of intelligence or sense, ἀϕραδϵ́ϵς, as Homer says; for it is the diaphragm which is the physical seat of intelligence in the living man.113 In the Nekyia of the Odyssey, which, though doubtless later than the bulk of the poem, represents at least a very early stage of Greek belief about the future life, the ghost of the seer Teiresias alone retains something of the substantiality of actual physical existence: “the other souls flit to and fro like shadows.”114 In order to recall them for a moment to consciousness, the poet avails himself of a device that puts their unhappy situation in a singularly vivid light. Odysseus, he tells us, “took the sheep and cut their throats over the trench, and the dark blood flowed forth, and lo, the spirits of the dead that be departed gathered them from out of Erebos. Brides and youths unwed, and old men of many and evil days, and tender maidens with grief yet fresh at heart; and many there were, wounded with bronze-shod spears, men slain in fight with their bloody mail about them. And these many ghosts flocked together from every side about the trench with a wondrous cry.”115 The eagerness with which they flock to drink the life-giving draught is a pathetic indication of the source of all their woe. They are both alive and dead: but though alive enough to feel that they are dead, they are hardly dead enough to forget they are alive.
In other respects the life of the departed spirit is for the most part only a spectral copy of its life on earth. The ghostly Minos, seated on a throne, gives judgment as of yore, and Orion pursues along the meadows of asphodel the very beasts he had slain upon the lonely hills.116 Of retribution in the lower world for sins committed upon earth there is but little trace in Homer. The only evidence which might be supposed to point to a penitentiary hell for mortals is in the Iliad, where we read of certain Powers, called in one place the Erinyes, who take vengeance on the souls of the forsworn.117 It has been plausibly conjectured by Rohde118 that the reason why perjury seemed to necessitate punishment after death is on account of the penalties invoked by the perjurer upon himself in the event of proving false to his oath; and if this is so, we must regard the doom of perjury as exceptional. The punishments of Tityos, Tantalus, and Sisyphus are familar from the Odyssey;119 but these are half-heroic figures, whose crimes against the Gods deserve and meet with everlasting torment; and we are certainly not justified in regarding them as typical examples of the fate in store for desire and avarice and pride in the mass of human kind. As for Tartarus, the prototype of the Miltonic hell, with its iron gates and brazen threshold, lying as far beneath the earth as the earth is beneath the heaven, that is appropriated to the generation of Gods whom Zeus dethroned.120 Among the ghostly dwellers in the realm of Hades, the distinctions of rank and honour prevailing in the upper world are indeed maintained; but it cannot be said that the lot of the majority is in any way affected by the good or evil of their life on earth. The same monotonous shadowy spectre of unsubstantial life is reserved for all.
It is manifest that the Homeric picture of the destiny awaiting men hereafter is one of totally unrelieved gloom. An apparent exception has sometimes been found in the single passage of the Odyssey where Homer supplies the germ of the later Greek belief in “islands of the blest.” The old man of the seas reveals to Menelaus that he shall escape the common doom of mortals:
“To thee it shall not come
In the horse-kind land of Argos to meet thy death and doom.
But unto the fields Elysian and the wide world's utmost end,
Where dwells tawny Rhadamanthus, the Deathless thee shall send,
Wherein are the softest life-days that men nay ever gain;
No snow and no ill weather, nor any drift of rain;
But Ocean ever wafteth the wind of the shrilly west,
On menfolk ever breathing, to give then might and rest.”121
Beautiful as this picture is, and important for its influence on the eschatology of Pindar, there are two considerations which show that it ought not to affect our general conception of the Homeric view of immortality. In the first place, the life of which the poet here speaks is a life on earth; and those to whom it is vouchsafed are still alive in the ordinary Homeric meaning of the word, being possessed of body as well as of soul. The Elysian plain, in short, is an earthly paradise, peopled by some few happy individuals who are exempt from that which we call death. And, in the second place, admission to this blissful region is not, so far as we can see, obtained by merit, but only by grace of the immortals. Like Enoch, the dwellers in Elysium are not, because God takes them. The reason why Menelaus is translated, according to the poet, is that, as the husband of Helen, he was the son-in-law of Zeus:122 and although the proverbial justice of Rhadamanthus may have counted for something, he had Zeus for his father. The resemblance between Homer's description of Elysium and his description of Olympus, the home of the Gods, untroubled by wind or rain or snow, and bathed in everlasting sunlight, is by no means accidental, but seems to show that the poet conceived of Elysium as a kind of inferior heaven, whose denizens are raised to the rank of Gods by the spontaneous and unearned gift of immortality and everlasting youth. Inasmuch as the gates of this happy kingdom are unlocked by favour and not by merit, there is no more religious import in the Homeric Elysium than can justly be attributed to the Epicurean heaven.
I have now placed before you what I take to be the most characteristic and important religious ideas contained in the Homeric poems. My object has been to recreate, as far as possible, the kind of religious atmosphere which the authority of Homer tended to diffuse among the Greeks, in order that we may be the better able to understand and appreciate the nature and extent of the philosophic revolt, as well as the progress effected by later Greek poetry. With this object in view, I have abstained from touching on what is known as the Homeric question. Whether the Iliad and the Odyssey are by the same author or not, and if not, by what processes or in what different hands the poems assumed their present shape—these and similar questions do not concern us here, since it is generally agreed that the Greeks of the age of Thucydides, and probably still earlier, read their Homer in essentially the shape in which we read him now, and assigned both poems to the same hand. For a similar reason I have ignored the points of difference between the religion of the Iliad and that of the Odyssey. There is little or no indication that they were noticed by readers of Homer in the fifth and fourth centuries before Christ; and in point of fact, although we find divergencies of detail, and the distance between Gods and men grows somewhat greater in the Odyssey, leading in the later poem to a somewhat more spiritual conception of the Godhead, the general religious standpoint is not changed.
There remains, however, a further question as to the relation between the Homeric religion and the Homeric view of life. The strain of melancholy running through the Iliad and Odyssey has often been remarked upon. A note of sadness is heard in nearly all the reflective passages. “Surely there is nothing more pitiable than a man among all things that breathe and creep upon the earth.”123 “Of all the creatures that breathe and creep upon the earth, man is the feeblest that earth nourishes.”124 A multitude of passages might be quoted in illustration of such sentiments as these. In Homer, of course, unlike the poets of the Greek anthology, the pathetic vein is free from every element of self-analysis or affectation. To what extent is Homer's melancholy a natural or necessary consequence of the Homeric faith? It is impossible, of course, to distinguish between cause and effect in any inquiry of this kind; but no one who realises how entirely man, in Homer, is dependent on the Gods, will deny that Homer's ideas of the Godhead and of immortality are closely connected with his general conception of human life and destiny. The actual services of religion, indeed, in the Homeric poems, are for the most part associated with sentiments of joy and gladness. Perhaps there is no more beautiful and characteristic expression of this phase of Greek feeling than in the hymn to Apollo, where the poet tells how “the long-robed Ionians gather” in honour of the God of Delos, “with children and shame-fast wives.… Who so then encountered them at the gathering of the Ionians, would say that they are exempt from eld and death, beholding these so gracious, and would be glad at heart, looking on the men and fair-girdled women, and their much wealth, and their swift galleys.”125 And in the Iliad we read that “the livelong day they propitiated the God with song, chanting the beautiful paean, the sons of the Achaeans, singing to the Far-darter; and his heart rejoiced to hear.”126 Even in such passages as these, however, an ominous note is sometimes struck. “Thus she spake praying; but Pallas Athene averted her face.”127 “I offered him up to Zeus, even to the son of Cronos, who dwells in the dark clouds, and is lord of all.… But he heeded not the sacrifice, but was devising how my decked ships and my dear company might perish utterly.”128
And if we consider the theoretical side of Homer's religion, we shall find no lack of reasons for the undercurrent of sadness in his poems. The existence of physical evil and suffering is accepted by Homer as a fact from which there is no escape, and ascribed, as we have already seen, to the immediate agency of the Gods. “This is the lot the gods have spun for miserable men, that they should live in pain; yet themselves are sorrowless.”129 It gives additional bitterness to the cup of human misery that the sufferer is uniformly represented as one who is hated by the very Gods who are responsible for his calamities;130 nor can he who has incurred the hatred of Heaven expect the sympathy of man. It is true that the Gods are givers of good as well as of evil; but on the floor of Zeus there are two urns of evil to one of good. They control the destinies of individuals and nations, and even, it would seem, of humanity in general; but whatever the principle of their administration may be, and it often varies with the mood or passion of the moment, their primary concern is not the good or happiness of those whom they direct. Sometimes, indeed, they speak as if it were unworthy of the blessed Gods to vex themselves about the creatures of a day. “Shaker of the earth,” says Apollo to Poseidon, “of no sound mind wouldst thou repute me if I should fight against thee for the sake of pitiful mortals, who like unto leaves now live in glowing life, consuming the fruit of the earth, and now again pine into death. Let us with all speed cease from combat, and let them do battle by themselves.”131 At other times there is nothing to which they will not stoop on behalf of their favourites; but their sympathies are usually determined by motives of self-interest and self-regard, and even where his religious idealism soars highest, Homer is far removed from the Socratic belief in a providence overruling all things for the good of man; nor indeed was such a conception possible for him without an entire transformation of his idea of God.
With regard to moral evil, which Homer similarly accepts as an indisputable reality, the case is still worse; for though the Gods are the appointed guardians of justice, the ex officio champions of the moral order of the universe, they deliberately lead men into sin, are themselves the slaves of sensuality, envious, lying, and revengeful: in one word, as I have already said, guilty of all the excesses which they punish in their inferiors. That it is a function of the Godhead to serve as a moral ideal to mankind, is a belief of which there is only, I think, one solitary indication in the Homeric poems. Phœnix implores Achilles to relent on the ground that even the Gods are moved by prayer: στρϵπτοὶ δϵ́ τϵ κα ὶ θϵο ὶ αὐτοί.132 In point of fact, any one who practised the Pythagorean maxim “Follow God,” taking Homer's Gods for his example, would have been scouted both by Gods and men in the Homeric age. The mainspring of Homeric morality is not the imitatio Dei, but that which Homer calls αἰδώς, a word which combines the meanings of “noble shame” or pudor with regard for the opinion of one's fellow-men, and possibly also fear of the divine vengeance. It is the voice of αἰδώς speaking in the heart of man that tells him what is right and what is wrong. A further point to be noticed is that although in their official capacity the Gods rarely leave wickedness unpunished, we seldom hear of their rewarding virtue. There is, indeed, one well-known passage of the Odyssey where the poet tells of “the blameless king who feareth the Gods and upholdeth justice; and the black earth yields him wheat and barley, and the trees are heavy with fruit, and his flocks and herds grow and multiply, and the sea provides fish, by reason of his good guidance; and the people prosper under him.”133 But this passage is nearly, if not quite, unique in Homer; and it is characteristic of the whole stratum of religious ideas which he represents that the punishment of sin is considered far more necessary than the recompense of virtue. For the most part, virtue, in Homer, is its own reward. Nor is there any prospect that the inequalities and evils of this present life will be redressed hereafter. On the contrary, of all the visions of futurity which the imagination of man has conjured up, none, perhaps, is more utterly and hopelessly sad than that of Homer. There is a world of pathos in the lament of the dead Achilles: “Speak not consolingly of death to me, O great Odysseus! Sooner would I be the slave of another, in the house of a penniless wight who had no great livelihood, than king of all the dead.”134 And thus, as it is said by Gruppe, “behind the woe, in which he deems himself to live, the Homeric Greek beholds a greater, never-ending woe to come.”135
If I have dwelt, perhaps at disproportionate length, on the darker features of the Homeric religion, it is in order that we may the more readily understand and appreciate the motives which prompted the philosophic revolt. But there is another aspect of the picture, to which I have hardly yet referred at all; and that is the moral grandeur of the Homeric man. In this respect Homer to a large extent deserved to be, what we have already seen that he was, the teacher of Greece. His poems abound in lessons of piety, moderation, and truth; the virtues of family, social, and political life, friendship and charity, consideration for the rights of others, chivalry and courage, are embodied in many imperishable examples. Nor does the so-called melancholy of Homer ever degenerate into the inert and hopeless pessimism that bewails with folded hands the miseries of human life. Nothing in his poems can fairly be compared with the pessimistic cry that is often heard in Greek poetry from Theognis onwards: “Best it is not to be born; and next best, being born, to die as soon as possible.”136 On the contrary, it is just the consideration of the weakness and frailty of man, the brevity and uncertainty of human life, which rouses Homer's heroes to their greatest efforts. “Ah friend,” Sarpedon makes appeal to Glaucus, “if once escaped from this battle, we were for ever to be ageless and immortal, neither would I fight myself in the foremost ranks, nor would I send thee into the war that giveth men renown, but now—for assuredly ten thousand fates of death do every way beset us, and these no mortal may escape nor avoid—now let us go forward, whether we shall give glory to other men, or others to us.”137 “Here,” as Professor Butcher has said, “the dark destiny of man is the very motive which prompts to heroism.”138 Down to the latest times, Achilles was the ideal of Greek chivalry; and it is just this motive that determined Achilles to choose a brief and strenuous life in preference to unlaborious length of days at home. And everywhere there is the same upward impulse, the same indomitable desire to climb the rough and steep ascent of the hill of excellence—αἰϵ̀ν ἀριστϵύϵιν καὶ ὑπϵίροχον 祖μμϵναιἄλλων. That Greek philosophy had reason to fall foul of the Homeric Gods, is only too true; but it may be doubted whether Plato, when he condemns the educator of Greece, allows sufficient weight to the great and abiding influence of Homer's idealisation of man.
Od. 3. 48.
Arist. de An. i. 5. 411a 8.
Od. 5. 282 ff, tr. Butcher and Lang.
Il. 13. 21 ff. Lang.
Il. 19. 404 ff.
Od. 23. 243 ff.
Josh. x. 13, 14.
Il. 16. 438 f. Lang.
Il. 16. 459 ff. Lang.
Διὸς αἰ̑σα, Διὸς μοι̑ρα, etc.
Od. 5. 103 ff. B. and L.
Il. 15. 218 f. Lang.
Il. 15. 160 f. Lang.
Höffding, Philos. of Religion p. 156.
Or. xii. 51 (von Arnim).
Vitarum auctio 14.
See on this subject E. Caird, The Evolution of Religion i. p. 264 ff.
Article “God” in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible ii. p. 198.
Il. 2. 1 ff.
Od. 14. 184.
Od. 3. 1 ff. B. and L.
Il. 11. 76 f., 1. 607.
od. 10. 306; cf. 4. 237 and 14. 445.
od. 6. 41–46 Morris.
Philosophy of Religion p. 230.
Il. 5. 768 ff. Leaf; cf. 15. 80 ff.
Il. 15. 461 ff.
Il. 15. 242; Od. 24. 164.
Od. 4. 379, 468.
Od. 20. 75 f. Morris.
Od. 1. 37 ff.
Il. 14. 294 ff., and Plato, Rep. iii. 390 B.
Pyth. 9. 43 ff.
Ad Nationes i. 10, ii. 7.
Rep. ii. 379 B ff.
20. 201 ff. B. and L.
ap. Plato, Rep. ii. 379 E.
Il. 24. 527–532 Myers.
ap. Plato, Rep. ii. 380 A.
1 Chron. xxi. 1 ff.; 2 Sam. xxiv. 1.
Od. 5. 118 ff. B. and L.
Il. 6. 200 ff.
Od. 8. 566: cf. also 23. 209 ff.
Od. 1. 32 ff. B. and L.
e.g. Il. 19. 137.
Il. 19. 90 ff. Myers.
Il. 4. 69 ff. Leaf.
Kings xxii. 22 ff.
Il. 2. 1 ff.
Il. 22. 296 ff. Myers.
Od. 6. 188 f.
Od. 8. 329, 14. 84.
Plato, Rep. x. 607 A.
Hesiod, O. D. 217 f.
Od. 22. 413 ff. B. and L.
Choeph. 312 f.
Il. 13. 631 ff. Lang.
Euth. 14 B ff.
Od. 19. 365 f.
Il. 4. 49 al.
Il. 9. 533 ff. Leaf.
Il. 1. 37 ff.
fr. 180 Goettling.
Cf. Eur. Med. 964.
Euth. 14 E; Alc. ii. 149 E.
Laws 906 D Jowett.
Prov, xxi. 3.
Il. 15. 368. ff. Lang.
Il. 1. 451 ff. Leaf.
Il. 5. 115 ff. Leaf.
Il. 1. 218.
Homerische Theologie, p. 212 f.
Il. 24. 301.
Tim. 27 C.
Tim. 27 C.
Il. 23. 546.
fr. 1. 15 f.
Il. 9. 502 ff. Leaf.
Il. 24. 308.
Div. Inst. iii. 9 ad fin.
od. 17. 485 B. and L.
Od. 22. 39 f.
Od. 4. 502 ff. B. and L.
I have dealt with this subject in notes on Plato Crito 47 E, Euthyphr. 3 A, Prot. 333 D.
ap. Pl. Prot. 344 C, E, 345 C.
Od. 18. 136 f.
Od. 17. 322.
Il. 19. 136 ff. Myers
Cf. A. Lang, Hom. Hymns p. 29.
Il. 3. 351 ff. Leaf.
Il. 9. 499 ff. Leaf.
Homerische Theologie. P. 355.
P. Gardner, New Chapters in Greek History p. 331.
See Rohde, Psyche2 i. p. 5.
Il. 1. 1 ff.
Il. 23. 106 ff.
So in Homer, τὸν δ̕ ἔλιπϵ ψυχή, Il. 5. 696.
Il. 9. 409.
Il. 14. 518.
Il. 23. 66 ff.
Il. 23. 99 ff.
Il. 23. 73.
Od. 11. 13 ff.
Od. 10. 508 ff. B. and L.
Il. 9. 159, 457.
Il. 20. 65; Od. 24. 13, 10. 513 ff.: Pl. Rep. iii. 387 C.
Psyche2 i. p. 10.
Od. 24. 6 ff., 11. 605 f.
Od. 11. 29, 476; Il. 23. 104.
Od. 10. 493 ff.
Od. 11. 35 ff. B. and L.
Od. 11. 569 ff.
Il. 3. 278 ff., 19. 259 ff.
Psyche2 i. p. 65.
11. 576 ff.
Il. 8. 13 ff., 478 ff.
Od. 4. 559 ff. Morris.
Od. 4. 569.
Il. 17. 446 f.
Od. 18. 130 f.
147 ff. tr. Lang.
1. 472 ff.
Il. 6. 311.
Od. 9. 551 ff. B. and L.
Il. 24. 525 f. Myers.
e.g. Od. 10. 74.
Il. 21. 462 ff. Myers.
Il. 9. 497.
19. 109 ff.
Od. 11. 488 ff.
Griech. Myth. p. 1010.
Theog. 425 ff.
Il. 12. 322 ff. Lang.
Aspects of the Greek Genius p. 176.