The Age of Fable eBook

Thomas Bulfinch
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 1,207 pages of information about The Age of Fable.

   “Seven wealthy towns contend for Homer dead,
    Through which the living Homer begged his bread.”

These seven were Smyrna, Scio, Rhodes, Colophon, Salamis, Argos, and Athens.

Modern scholars have doubted whether the Homeric poems are the work of any single mind.  This arises from the difficulty of believing that poems of such length could have been committed to writing at so early an age as that usually assigned to these, an age earlier than the date of any remaining inscriptions or coins, and when no materials capable of containing such long productions were yet introduced into use.  On the other hand it is asked how poems of such length could have been handed down from age to age by means of the memory alone.  This is answered by the statement that there was a professional body of men, called Rhapsodists, who recited the poems of others, and whose business it was to commit to memory and rehearse for pay the national and patriotic legends.

The prevailing opinion of the learned, at this time, seems to be that the framework and much of the structure of the poems belong to Homer, but that there are numerous interpolations and additions by other hands.

The date assigned to Homer, on the authority of Herodotus, is 850 B.C.


Virgil, called also by his surname, Maro, from whose poem of the “Aeneid” we have taken the story of Aeneas, was one of the great poets who made the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus so celebrated, under the name of the Augustan age.  Virgil was born in Mantua in the year 70 B.C.  His great poem is ranked next to those of Homer, in the highest class of poetical composition, the Epic.  Virgil is far inferior to Homer in originality and invention, but superior to him in correctness and elegance.  To critics of English lineage Milton alone of modern poets seems worthy to be classed with these illustrious ancients.  His poem of “Paradise Lost,” from which we have borrowed so many illustrations, is in many respects equal, in some superior, to either of the great works of antiquity.  The following epigram of Dryden characterizes the three poets with as much truth as it is usual to find in such pointed criticism: 

   “On Milton

   “Three poets in three different ages born,
    Greece, Italy, and England did adorn
    The first in loftiness of soul surpassed,
    The next in majesty, in both the last. 
    The force of nature could no further go;
    To make a third she joined the other two.”

From Cowper’s “Table Talk”: 

   “Ages elapsed ere Homer’s lamp appeared,
    And ages ere the Mantuan swan was heard. 
    To carry nature lengths unknown before,
    To give a Milton birth, asked ages more. 
    Thus genius rose and set at ordered times,
    And shot a dayspring into distant climes,
    Ennobling every region that

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The Age of Fable from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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