restricted access VI: The Transmission of the Neoplatonists' Homer to the Latin Middle Ages
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The Transmission of the Neoplatonists' Homer to the Latin Middle Ages A. THE PATHS OFTRANSMISSION Up to this point, with the exception of a brief discussion of Prudentius, this study has been concerned exclusively with Greek literature and thought. In fact, much of what has been discussed has been of Italian origin, from the archaic Pythagoreanism of southern Italy to the teachings of Plotinus and Porphyry in Rome. Virtually all the material examined , however, has been Greek in language and tradition. Traces of the Platonized Homer can be found in Latin authors as early as Apuleius,1 a contemporary of Numenius, but there is no single work in Latin that explores at length the conception of Homer we have been tracing. The history of the mystical allegorical interpretation of Homer from Proclus to Eustathius, as well as ofits place in Byzantinetradition, would require a special study of its own. Up to the present, little work has been done in this area.2 The Iliad and Odyssey were found by the Byzantines to be Christian allegories, or at least to communicate allegorically truths compatible with Christian doctrine,3 much as Virgil had been mustered 1. Cf. Apuleius Met. 9.13, where Homer is referred to as priscae poeticae divinus auctor, and the discussion of Odysseus and Athena (the latter taken as a representation of prudentia) at the end of De deo Socratis (24). Augustine mentions Apuleius as an interpreter of myth (Civ. Dei9.7). 2. The most recent contributions are Agni Basilikopoulou-Ioannidou, 'H 6tvayevvT]iTi.V ypa^^ctTiov Kara rov i/3' otiuiva ets TO 'Bv^avriov KO.I 6 "O/u-Tjpo ?, esp. pp. 66-70, and a valuable survey in Robert Browning, "Homer in Byzantium." 3. Browning, "Homer in Byzantium," pp. 25-29. VI 234 HOMER THE THEOLOGIAN to the Christian cause since the time of Constantine.4 It is a premise of the present study, however, that the mysticalallegorical interpretation of Homer has importance for the development not only of Byzantine culture but also, and from our perspective more significantly, for the development of Western European literature. Thus the Byzantine tradition of Christianizing Homeric allegory will interest us only in its earliest phases, those susceptible of transmission to the LatinWest. Traces of awareness of the mystical allegorical interpretation of Homer can be found in Western European literature from Dante to Blake. This study has proposed a model for the early development ofallegorical literature in late antiquity that, if sound, extends the influence of this interpretive tradition far beyond those who had any knowledge of the ancient interpretive texts themselves.5 Those influenced would include the writers of the Middle Ages and Renaissancewho worked in a mode that owed its origin to the demands upon literature generated by the interpretive tradition. This, however, is a distant influence and difficult to trace. Scholars have demonstrated links between the tradition ofallegorical interpretation and the understanding of the Homeric poems in the English Renaissance under the influence of Chapman's Odyssey.6 That influence was discontinuous, and one finds little trace of it during the eighteenth century,7 but by the end of that century Thomas Taylor's translations were making available to the poets and intellectuals who were creating the Romanticmovement in England not only the whole of Plato—translated into English for the first time—but a vast amount of Neoplatonic commentary, including Porphyry's essay on the cave of the 4. A Christian interpretation of Eclogue 4 appears in an oration of Constantine appended to Eusebius's Life of Constantine, along with a Greek translation of the eclogue. 5. See Preface and ch. 4 above. 6. See Lord, Homeric Renaissance. Lord describes the allegorical interpretation of Homer in Renaissance England as part of an "unbroken tradition extending 2,000 years back to classicaltimes," (p. 35)and emphasizes Chapman's "'almost religious attitude'" (p. 39—the words are Donald Smalley's) toward Homer and his belief that "his highest duty as a translator [was] the revelation of Homer's concealed mysteries" (p. 40). 7. Even eighteenth-century critics "were intrigued by the fact that the tradition of antiquity, which was theirs as well, had seen Homer as a divinely inspired , omniscient poet" (K. Simonsuuri, Homer's Original Genius, p. 152). Nevertheless, after (and in spite of) Joshua Barnes's edition of 1711, the major eighteenth-century critics seem to have taken the sort of anti-allegorical, Enlightenment stance one might have expected with regard to the meaning of the...