In its third period, therefore, epic poetry shows two divergent tendencies. In Ionia and the islands the epic poets followed the Homeric tradition, singing of romantic subjects in the now stereotyped heroic style, and showing originality only in their choice of legends hitherto neglected or summarily and imperfectly treated. In continental Greece (1), on the other hand, but especially in Boeotia, a new form of epic sprang up, which for the romance and pathos of the Ionian School substituted the practical and matter-of-fact. It dealt in moral and practical maxims, in information on technical subjects which are of service in daily life — agriculture, astronomy, augury, and the calendar — in matters of religion and in tracing the genealogies of men. Its attitude is summed up in the words of the Muses to the writer of the “Theogony”: `We can tell many a feigned tale to look like truth, but we can, when we will, utter the truth’ ("Theogony” 26-27). Such a poetry could not be permanently successful, because the subjects of which it treats — if susceptible of poetic treatment at all — were certainly not suited for epic treatment, where unity of action which will sustain interest, and to which each part should contribute, is absolutely necessary. While, therefore, an epic like the “Odyssey” is an organism and dramatic in structure, a work such as the “Theogony” is a merely artificial collocation of facts, and, at best, a pageant. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that from the first the Boeotian school is forced to season its matter with romantic episodes, and that later it tends more and more to revert (as in the “Shield of Heracles”) to the Homeric tradition.
How did the continental school of epic poetry arise? There is little definite material for an answer to this question, but the probability is that there were at least three contributory causes. First, it is likely that before the rise of the Ionian epos there existed in Boeotia a purely popular and indigenous poetry of a crude form: it comprised, we may suppose, versified proverbs and precepts relating to life in general, agricultural maxims, weather-lore, and the like. In this sense the Boeotian poetry may be taken to have its germ in maxims similar to our English