Can we contemplate that ancient monument, on which the “Apotheosis of Homer” is depictured, and not feel how much of pleasing association, how much that appeals most forcibly and most distinctly to our minds, is lost by the admittance of any theory but our old tradition? The more we read, and the more we think—think as becomes the readers of Homer,—the more rooted becomes the conviction that the Father of Poetry gave us this rich inheritance, whole and entire. Whatever were the means of its preservation, let us rather be thankful for the treasury of taste and eloquence thus laid open to our use, than seek to make it a mere centre around which to drive a series of theories, whose wildness is only equalled by their inconsistency with each other.
As the hymns, and some other poems usually ascribed to Homer, are not included in Pope’s translation, I will content myself with a brief account of the Battle of the Frogs and Mice, from the pen of a writer who has done it full justice:—
“This poem,” says Coleridge, “is a short mock-heroic of ancient date. The text varies in different editions, and is obviously disturbed and corrupt to a great degree; it is commonly said to have been a juvenile essay of Homer’s genius; others have attributed it to the same Pigrees mentioned above, and whose reputation for humour seems to have invited the appropriation of any piece of ancient wit, the author of which was uncertain; so little did the Greeks, before the age of the Ptolemies, know or care about that department of criticism employed in determining the genuineness of ancient writings. As to this little poem being a youthful prolusion of Homer, it seems sufficient to say that from the beginning to the end, it is a plain and palpable parody, not only of the general spirit, but of numerous passages of the Iliad itself; and, even if no such intention to parody were discernible in it, the objection would still remain, that to suppose a work of mere burlesque to be the primary effort of poetry in a simple age, seems to reverse that order in the development of national taste, which the history of every other people in Europe, and of many in Asia, has almost ascertained to be a law of the human mind; it is in a state of society much more refined and permanent than that described in the Iliad, that any popularity would attend such a ridicule of war and the gods as is contained in this poem; and the fact of there having existed three other poems of the same kind attributed, for aught we can see, with as much reason to Homer, is a strong inducement to believe that none of them were of the Homeric age. Knight infers from the usage of the word deltoz, ‘writing tablet,’ instead of diphthera, ‘skin,’ which, according to Herod 5, 58, was the material employed by the Asiatic Greeks for that purpose, that this poem was another offspring of Attic ingenuity; and generally that the familiar mention of the cock (v. 191) is a strong argument against so ancient a date for its composition.”