The Odyssey

The Odyssey

3.9 362
by Homer
     
 

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INTRODUCTION

Scepticism is as much the result of knowledge, as knowledge is of
scepticism. To be content with what we at present know, is, for the
most part, to shut our ears against conviction; since, from the very
gradual character of our education, we must continually forget, and
emancipate ourselves from, knowledge previously acquired; we… See more details below

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Scepticism is as much the result of knowledge, as knowledge is of
scepticism. To be content with what we at present know, is, for the
most part, to shut our ears against conviction; since, from the very
gradual character of our education, we must continually forget, and
emancipate ourselves from, knowledge previously acquired; we must set
aside old notions and embrace fresh ones; and, as we learn, we must
be daily unlearning something which it has cost us no small labour
and anxiety to acquire.

And this difficulty attaches itself more closely to an age in which
progress has gained a strong ascendency over prejudice, and in which
persons and things are, day by day, finding their real level, in lieu
of their conventional value. The same principles which have swept
away traditional abuses, and which are making rapid havoc among the
revenues of sinecurists, and stripping the thin, tawdry veil from
attractive superstitions, are working as actively in literature as in
society. The credulity of one writer, or the partiality of another,
finds as powerful a touchstone and as wholesome a chastisement in the
healthy scepticism of a temperate class of antagonists, as the dreams
of conservatism, or the impostures of pluralist sinecures in the
Church. History and tradition, whether of ancient or comparatively
recent times, are subjected to very different handling from that
which the indulgence or credulity of former ages could allow. Mere
statements are jealously watched, and the motives of the writer form
as important an ingredient in the analysis or his history, as the
facts he records. Probability is a powerful and troublesome test; and
it is by this troublesome standard that a large portion of historical
evidence is sifted. Consistency is no less pertinacious and exacting
in its demands. In brief, to write a history, we must know more than
mere facts. Human nature, viewed under an introduction of extended
experience, is the best help to the criticism of human history.
Historical characters can only be estimated by the standard which
human experience, whether actual or traditionary, has furnished. To
form correct views of individuals we must regard them as forming
parts of a great whole--we must measure them by their relation to the
mass of beings by whom they are surrounded; and, in contemplating the
incidents in their lives or condition which tradition has handed down
to us, we must rather consider the general bearing of the whole
narrative, than the respective probability of its details.

It is unfortunate for us, that, of some of the greatest men, we know
least, and talk most. Homer, Socrates, and Shakespere have, perhaps,
contributed more to the intellectual enlightenment of mankind than
any other three writers who could be named, and yet the history of
all three has given rise to a boundless ocean of discussion, which
has left us little save the option of choosing which theory or
theories we will follow. The personality of Shakespere is, perhaps,
the only thing in which critics will allow us to believe without
controversy; but upon everything else, even down to the authorship of
plays, there is more or less of doubt and uncertainty. Of Socrates we
know as little as the contradictions of Plato and Xenophon will allow
us to know. He was one of the dramatis personae in two dramas as
unlike in principles as in style. He appears as the enunciator of
opinions as different in their tone as those of the writers who have
handed them down. When we have read Plato or Xenophon, we think we
know something of Socrates; when we have fairly read and examined
both, we feel convinced that we are something worse than ignorant.

It has been an easy, and a popular expedient of late years, to deny
the personal or real existence of men and things whose life and
condition were too much for our belief. This system--which has often
comforted the religious sceptic, and substituted the consolations of
Strauss for those of the New Testament--has been of incalculable
value to the historical theorists of the last and present centuries.
To question the existence of Alexander the Great, would be a more
excusable act, than to believe in that of Romulus. To deny a fact
related in Herodotus, because it is inconsistent with a theory
developed from an Assyrian inscription which no two scholars read in
the same way, is more pardonable, than to believe in the good-natured
old king whom the elegant pen of Florian has idealized--Numa
Pompilius.

Scepticism has attained its culminating point with respect to Homer,
and the state of our Homeric knowledge may be described as a free
permission to believe any theory, provided we throw overboard

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
2940011954207
Publisher:
SAP
Publication date:
12/29/2010
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
0 MB

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