Homer and Classical Philology

By Friedrich Nietzsche

Page 11

tells of the contest between Homer and Hesiod,
which proves that when these two names were mentioned people
instinctively thought of two epic tendencies, the heroic and the
didactic; and that the signification of the name "Homer" was included in
the material category and not in the formal. This imaginary contest with
Hesiod did not even yet show the faintest presentiment of individuality.
From the time of Pisistratus onwards, however, with the surprisingly
rapid development of the Greek feeling for beauty, the differences in
the aesthetic value of those epics continued to be felt more and more:
the _Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_ arose from the depths of the flood and
have remained on the surface ever since. With this process of aesthetic
separation, the conception of Homer gradually became narrower: the old
material meaning of the name "Homer" as the father of the heroic epic
poem, was changed into the aesthetic meaning of Homer, the father of
poetry in general, and likewise its original prototype. This
transformation was contemporary with the rationalistic criticism which
made Homer the magician out to be a possible poet, which vindicated the
material and formal traditions of those numerous epics as against the
unity of the poet, and gradually removed that heavy load of cyclical
epics from Homer's shoulders.

So Homer, the poet of the _Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_, is an aesthetic
judgment. It is, however, by no means affirmed against the poet of these
epics that he was merely the imaginary being of an aesthetic
impossibility, which can be the opinion of only very few philologists
indeed. The majority contend that a single individual was responsible
for the general design of a poem such as the _Iliad_, and further that
this individual was Homer. The first part of this contention may be
admitted; but, in accordance with what I have said, the latter part must
be denied. And I very much doubt whether the majority of those who adopt
the first part of the contention have taken the following considerations
into account.

The design of an epic such as the _Iliad_ is not an entire _whole_, not
an organism; but a number of pieces strung together, a collection of
reflections arranged in accordance with aesthetic rules. It is certainly
the standard of an artist's greatness to note what he can take in with a
single glance and set out in rhythmical form. The infinite profusion of
images and incidents in the Homeric epic must force us to admit that
such a wide range of vision is next to impossible. Where, however, a
poet is unable to observe artistically with a single glance,

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