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'Εν Δήλο τότε πρώτος εγώ “Όμηρος 'Αοιδοί
Of this hymn to Apollo, an elegant version has been given to the public by the late poet laureat, Mr. Pye; and the passage in question, together with the immediately subsequent lines, which speak of the poet's extensive wanderings, and of the celebrity of his muse, it would be doing injustice to the subject not to insert.
Hail, Phoebus and Latona! Dian, hail !
Ne'er shall my votive lay forget to sing
To a character and profession, such as were those which we are taught to attribute to Homer, the loss of sight must have been, at first, felt as one of the most distressing of privations; for he was accustomed, as we are told by all who have written on the early ages of Greece, to travel to the courts of kings and chieftains, as one of the Aoidoi or Rhapsodists; a class of men which, as uniting in their persons the arts of poetry and music, was held in the highest esteem.
During what has been termed, indeed, the heroic ages of Grecian history, the Aoidos or Bard formed one of the principal pillars of society. He was equally necessary at the festival and at the altar; beneath the tent of the warrior, and at the domestic hearth; and his office was, in fact, no less than, as the poet himself has told us, to delight both gods and men.
Θεοισι και ανθρωποισι αειδειν.
* Sharpe's edition of the Minor poems of Homer, translated by Parnell, Hole, and Pye, p. 72.
To fulfil these high and important duties; to add zest to the banquet by the recitation of soothing and interesting tales *; to sing the generations of the gods, and to hymn their praises during the celebration of their respective rites ; to chaunt the glories of past military atchievments, and to stimulate to like exertion; to assist the labours of the legislator, and to direct the acquisitions of the youthful mind; to do all these, and such were the varied functions of the elder bards of Greece, it was necessary, at a period, too, when the art of writing was nearly, if not altogether unknown, that they should visit distant lands; should learn their various institutions, manners, and customs; should mingle with their heroes, sages, and bards; and thence acquire that fund of knowledge which was requisite for the skilful exercise of a profession so multiform and arduous.
It was fortunately not until the decline of life that our poet had to sustain this heavy affliction; at a time when he had visited nearly every civilized country of any celebrity, and when his harp had repeatedly resounded throughout every state in Greece. That it was in his estimation, however, a misfortune of the deepest and most deplorable nature, is evident from the punishment which he has described the Muses as inflicting, in their utmost vengeance, on his great but unhappy predecessor Thamyris, whom they not only doomed to an oblivion of his art, but deprived of the use of his eyes; a poet too,
* Πολλα θελκτηρια, Homer,
Superior once of all the tuneful race,
* That Thamyris was deprived of his mental faculties as well as of his sight, is evident from the original, in which he is described as having lost, not only his memory as a poet, but the very recollection of his art as a performer on the lyre or harp :
Αι δε χολωσάμεναι περόν θέσαν αυτάρ αοιδών
ΙΛΙΑΔΟΣ. Β'. 1, 599.
More happy than his precurser, though with talents approximating, it is probable, still nearer to the imaginary perfection ascribed to the Muses, the intellect, though not the sight, of Homer was spared; and the latter calamity occurring to him at a period when he had accumulated more knowledge than had ever before fallen to the lot of man, and when his head was silvered o'er with age, his blindness served but to render him the subject of still greater love and honour.
We cannot, indeed, picture to ourselves an object of more just and profound veneration than was Homer, at this era of society, blind and in years, the oracle of Greece, and conducted to the courts of admiring monarchs by the affection and gratitude of thousands. He approached their gates, in fact, under the twofold character of Prophet and of Bard, and he might say in the language of his own Phemius,
“ We have cause to regret,” says Cowper, “ that all his works bave perished ; such honourable testimony given to his talents by this Chief of Poets, sufficiently proves his excellence as a bard, whatever might be his vanity.