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A Brief Appraisal Of The Greek Literature In Its Foremost Pretensions
by [?]

From this preface it is already abundantly clear what side we take in this dispute about modern literature and the antique.[2] And we now propose to justify our leaning by a general review of the Pagan authors, in their elder section–that is, the Grecians. These will be enough in all conscience, for one essay; and even for them we meditate a very cursory inquest; not such as would suffice in a grand ceremonial day of battle–a justum proelium, as a Roman would call it–but in a mere perfunctory skirmish, or (if the reader objects to that word as pedantic, though, really, it is a highly-favoured word amongst ancient divines, and with many a

Who has read Alexander Ross over,’)

why, in that case, let us indulge his fastidious taste by calling it an autoschediastic combat, to which, surely, there can be no such objection. And as the manner of the combat is autoschediastic or extemporaneous, and to meet a hurried occasion, so is the reader to understand that the object of our disputation is not the learned, but the unlearned student; and our purpose, not so much to discontent the one with his painful acquisitions, as to console the other under what, upon the old principle of omne ignotum pro magnifico, he is too apt to imagine his irreparable disadvantages. We set before us, as our especial auditor, the reasonable man of plain sense but strong feeling, who wishes to know how much he has lost, and what injury the gods did him, when, though making him, perhaps, poetical, they cut short his allowance of Latin, and, as to Greek, gave him not a jot more than a cow has in her side pocket.

[Footnote 2:
In general usage, ‘The antique‘ is a phrase limited to the expression of art; but improperly so. It is quite as legitimately used to denote the literature of ancient times, in contradistinction to the modern. As to the term classical, though generally employed as equivalent to Greek and Roman, the reader must not forget this is quite a false limitation, contradicting the very reason for applying the word in any sense to literature. For the application arose thus: The social body of Rome being divided into six classes, of which the lowest was the sixth, it followed that the highest was the first. Thence, by a natural process common to most languages, those who belonged to this highest had no number at all assigned to them. The very absence of a number, the calling them classici, implied that they belonged to the class emphatically, or par excellence. The classics meant, therefore, the grandees in social consideration; and thence by analogy in literature. But if this analogy be transferred from Rome to Greece, where it had no corresponding root in civic arrangement–then, by parity of reason, to all nations. ]

Let us begin at the beginning–and that, as everybody knows, is Homer. He is, indeed, so much at the beginning that, for that very reason (if even there were no other), he is, and will be ever more, supremely interesting. Is the unlearned reader aware of his age? Upon that point there are more hypotheses than one or even two. Some there are among the chronologers who make him eleven hundred years anterior to Christ. But those who allow him least, place him more than nine–that is, about two centuries before the establishment of the Grecian Olympiads, and (which is pretty nearly the same thing as regards time) before Romulus and Remus. Such an antiquity as this, even on its own account, is a reasonable object of interest. A poet to whom the great-grandfather of old Ancus Martius (his grandfather, did we say–that is, avus?–nay, his abavus, his atavus, his tritavus) looked back as to one in a line with his remote ancestor–a poet who, if he travelled about as extensively as some have supposed him to do, or even as his own countryman Herodotus most certainly did five or six hundred years afterwards, might have conversed with the very workmen who laid the foundations of the first temple at Jerusalem–might have bent the knee before Solomon in all his glory:–Such a poet, were he no better than the worst of our own old metrical romancers, would–merely for his antiquity, merely for the sublime fact of having been coeval with the eldest of those whom the eldest of histories presents to our knowledge; coeval with the earliest kings of Judah, older than the greatest of the Judean prophets, older than the separation of the two Jewish crowns and the revolt of Israel, and, even with regard to Moses and to Joshua, not in any larger sense junior than as we ourselves are junior to Chaucer–purely and exclusively with regard to these pretensions, backed and supported by an antique form of an antique language–the most comprehensive and the most melodious in the world, would–could–should–ought to merit a filial attention; and, perhaps with those who had waggon-loads of time to spare, might plead the benefit, beyond most of those in whose favour it was enacted, of that Horatian rule–