Earliest Studies in Greek Epic

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship, Vol. I, Chapter 2:

The Study of Epic Poetry

Homer and the Rhapsodes – Solon

“The earliest poems of Greece supplied the Greeks with their earliest themes for study, for exegesis, and for Homer and literary criticism. From about 600 B.C. we have definite proof of the recitation of the Homeric poems by rhapsodes in many parts of the Greek world, — at Chios, at Delos, at Cyprus, at Syracuse, at Sicyon, and in Attica. The recitations in Attica were probably connected with the festivals of Dionysus at Athens and with a similar festival at Brauron; and, by an ordinance of Solon, the date of whose archonship is 594 B.C., the rhapsodes were required to recite consecutive portions of the Homeric poems, instead of selecting isolated passages. The effect of this ordinance would be not merely to cause the competition to be more severe, but also to promote on the part of the audience, no less than on that of the reciters, a more consecutive and more complete knowledge of the contents of the poems themselves. Moreover, the competitions between rhapsode and rhapsode, like the contests between poet and poet in an earlier time, would excite in the audience a faculty for discriminating not only between the competing reciters but also between their competing recitations, and would thus give an early impulse to a widely diffused and popular form of literary criticism.

Peisistratus – Hipparchus

The above tradition regarding the Athenian legislator Solon has its counterpart in a legend relating to the Spartan legislator Lycurgus. The date of Lycurgus is uncertain, one account placing him in 776 B.C., at the beginning of the Olympic era, and another a century earlier. According to Plutarch, Lycurgus met with the Homeric poems in Crete, and brought a copy back with him to Greece. Plutarch’s authority for this may possibly have been Ephorus, a historian of the fourth century B.C. Even on Attic soil, Solon has a rival in Peisistratus, whose rule at Athens began m 560 and ended in 527 B.C. According to the well-known story, he is said to have been the first to collect the scattered poems of Homer and to arrange them in order. The story is not found in any earlier author than Cicero, or in any extant Greek writer earlier than Pausanias (fl. 174 A.D.); but the question whether it was Solon or Peisistratus who did a signal service to the Homeric poems was apparently familiar to a Megarian historian of the fourth century B.C. The story about Peisistratus, it need hardly be added, has been much discussed. Accepted unreservedly by some eminent scholars and rejected entirely by others, it has sometimes been accepted in a limited sense by those who hold that the story need only imply the restoration of a unity which in process of time had been gradually ignored. The festival of the Panathenaea, at which the Homeric poems were in after times usually recited was celebrated with special splendour by Peisistratus, who is even sometimes called the founder of the festival; and, according to a dialogue attributed to Plato, it was one of the sons of Peisistratus, namely Hipparchus (527 – 514 B.C.), who ‘was the first to brmg into this land the poems of Homer, and who compelled the rhapsodes to recite them successively, in regular order, at the Panathenaea, as they still do at the present day. The story is inconsistent with the statement that the poems of Homer were recited at Athens in the time of Solon, but it is possibly true that the recitations at the Panathenaea in particular were introduced by Hipparchus. It was on the invitation of Hipparchus that Simonides of Ceos lived at Athens from about 522 to 514 B.C., and it is interesting to notice that it is in Simonides that we find the earliest extant quotation from Homer in a line which he ascribes to ‘the man of Chios’, — οἵη περ φύλλων γενεὴ τοίη δὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν. [As the generations of leaves, so too the generations of humans.]”

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