Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

Omitted Passages And Variations
by [?]

1.–THE RHAPSODOI.

The following on the ‘Rhapsodoi’ is a variation on that which appeared in ‘Homer and the Homeridae,’ with some quite additional and new thoughts on the subject.

About these people, who they were, what relation they bore to Homer, and why they were called ‘Rhapsodoi,’ we have seen debated in Germany through the last half century with as much rabid ferocity as was ever applied to the books of a fraudulent bankrupt. Such is the natural impertinence of man. If he suspects any secret, or any base attempt to hide and conceal things from himself, he is miserable until he finds out the mystery, and especially where all the parties to it have been defunct for 2,500 years. Great indignation seems reasonably to have been felt by all German scholars that any man should presume to have called himself a rhapsodos at any period of Grecian history without sending down a sealed letter to posterity stating all the reasons which induced him to take so unaccountable a step. No possible solution, given to any conceivable question bearing upon the ‘Rhapsodoi,’ seems by any tendency to affect any question outstanding about Homer. And we do not therefore understand the propriety of intermingling this dispute with the general Homeric litigation. However, to comply with the practice of Germany, we shall throw away a few sentences upon this, as a pure ad libitum digression.

The courteous reader, whom we beg also to suppose the most ignorant of readers, by way of thus founding a necessity and a case of philosophic reasonableness for the circumstantiality of our own explanations, will be pleased to understand that by ancient traditionary usage the word rhapsodia is the designation technically applied to the several books or cantos of the ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey.’ So the word fytte has gained a technical appropriation to our narrative poetry when it takes the ballad form. Now, the Greek word rhapsody is derived from a tense of the verb rhapto, to sew as with a needle, to connect, and ode, a song, chant, or course of singing. If, therefore, you conceive of a rhapsodia, not as the opera, but as the opus of a singer, not as the form, but as the result of his official ministration, viz., as that section of a narrative poem which forms an intelligible whole in itself, whilst in a subordinate relation it is one part of a larger whole–this idea represents accurately enough the use of the word rhapsodia in the latter periods of Greek literature. Suppose the word canto to be taken in its literal etymological sense, it would indicate a metrical composition meant to be sung or chanted. But what constitutes the complexity of the idea in the word rhapsodia is that both its separate elements, the poetry and the musical delivery, are equally essential; neither is a casual, neither a subordinate, element.

Now, the ‘Rhapsodoi,’ as may be supposed, are the personal correlates of the rhapsodia. This being the poem adapted to chanting, those were the chanters. And the only important question which we can imagine to arise is, How far in any given age we may presume the functions of the poetical composer and the musical deliverer to have been united. We cannot perceive that any possible relation between a rhapsody considered as a section of a poem and the whole of that poem, or any possible relation which this same rhapsody considered as a thing to be sung or accompanied instrumentally could bear to the naked-speaking rehearsal of the same poem or to the original text of that poem, ever can affect the main question of Homer’s integrity. The ‘Rhapsodoi’ come to be mentioned at all simply as being one link in the transmission of the Homeric poems. They are found existing before Pisistratus, they are found existing after Pisistratus. And they declined exactly as the art of reading became general. We can approximate pretty closely to the time when the ‘Rhapsodoi’ ceased; but at what time they began we defy any man to say. Plato (Rep. x.) represents them as going back into the days of Homer; nay, according to Plato, Homer himself was a rhapsodos, and itinerated in that character. So was Hesiod. And two remarkable lines, ascribed to Hesiod by one of the Scholiasts upon Pindar, if we could be sure that they were genuine, settle that question: