Category Archives: Crete

The Homeric Answer: Iliad

A poem is never finished, only abandoned
Paul Valéry

I am currently sat at an outside restaurant table amidst the sunswingingly sensuous delights of Star Beach, a free-to-all leisure resort on the northern shores of Crete. The family & I arrived late last night, hiring a car & eventually tracking down our residence for the next three nights; Petra Village, a cool set of apartments with a pool, a bar & a trillion cicada piping a rickety cacophony. This coming period shall see me complete my training as a Pendragon, with the essays being constructed from both my notebooks & from my experiences on the ground as we tour Megalonisi, the ‘big island’ of the Greeks. During this ‘duesettimane,’ the lava that has been my poetic studies is set to finally cool, & the volcano that has spewed forth two decades worth of poesis from my animated soul finally return to a dormant state (for now).

I shall begin my dissertation with an account of the mesmerizing energy of Homer’s mind-music, that weaver of disparate strands of ancient subject matter into the world’s earliest & most majestic epic poems. That an individual author composed them, however, is simply not the case. This ‘Homeric Question’ has tested academic minds for many an age, with Frederick Nietzsche declaring ‘the primary form of this widespread and honeycombed mountain known as the Homeric question can be most clearly observed by looking down at it from a far-off height.’ The ‘far-off height’ is the tall mountain eyrie on which the chispologist builds a weather-station & shouts into the gusting breezes that Homer was a quasi-mythological deity, to whom only the highest examples of streaming elysium would be associated, less of an individual genius & more the poetic soul of an entire people.

For ease of dictate, however, we shall call Homer by his antique identity, that of the singular author of the Iliad & Odyssey. His subject was the Trojan War & its aftermath, an event of deep history whose war-drums still beat resoundingly today. His ‘Iliad’ centers on a small series of events that took place towards the end of a ten-year siege of the city of Troy, while his ‘Odyssey’ sings of the return from that war of the Grecian hero Odysseus. The poems are, in a word, magnificent, full of comprehension for the ways of men, while at the same time possessing some of the greatest phraseology ever uttered by a human tongue. The most astonishing thing about these two epics is their sheer antiquity, & it is through the mists of deepest time that the creation of the poems, & of course their creator, have been obscured.

It was as early as the Classical period that the first doubts to the origins of the epics was raised. The oldest complete copy of the Iliad, the 10th-century manuscript ‘Venetus Marcianus Graecus 454,’ first published by De Villoison in 1788, has marginal notes which preserve substantial remnants of ancient scholarship on the poems; nuggets of studied wisdom obtained from the intense erudition of Didymus, Aristonicis, Herodian, Nicanor & Antoninian. A century later, a similar note-smitten codex was created which eventually ended up in the library of the Townleys of Townley Hall, in my hometown of Burnley. Of the scholia it contained, we encounter the thoughts of two obscure figures known as Xenon & Hellanicus, antique scholars who speculated that the Iliad & Odyssey had been composed by separate authors. Such a notion makes sound sense, for where the Iliad contains four times as many similes as the Odyssey, the language of the Odyssey is less archaic, to which we may add that words for many common items are different in each poem. Aristotle further highlights the differences between the epics when he muses, ‘the composition of the Iliad is simple & full of pathos, that of the Odyssey complex, as there are recognitions throughout & full of character.’

So far so different, & as the Aegean blows a refreshing wind into my beachside boudoir, let us acknowledge that, long before the days of word-files & photocopying, the preservation of Homer’s poetry, spread over many centuries, suggests a great number of scribes have handled the text. Along the way, each new copyist would add something of their own making, maybe respelling a word, or perhaps re-writing whole passages in order to please an ever-changing audience. As the poems evolved, two vast transchispering chains would slowly but surely fossilize themselves into the epics we whimsically attribute to a single Homer. A loose remembrance of such a transmission as this may be traced in a passage by the early Christian churchman, Tatian, whose ‘Address to the Greeks’ identifies the scattered strata of Homeric composition;

Now the poetry of Homer, his parentage, and the time in which he flourished have been investigated by the most ancient writers,—by Theagenes of Rhegium, who lived in the time of Cambyses, Stesimbrotus of Thasos and Antimachus of Colophon, Herodotus of Halicarnassus, and Dionysius the Olynthian; after them, by Ephorus of Cumæ, and Philochorus the Athenian, Megaclides and Chamæleon the Peripatetics; afterwards by the grammarians, Zenodotus, Aristophanes, Callimachus, Crates, Eratosthenes, Aristarchus, and Apollodorus. Of these, Crates says that he flourished before the return of the Heraclidæ, and within 80 years after the Trojan war; Eratosthenes says that it was after the 100th year from the taking of Ilium; Aristarchus, that it was about the time of the Ionian migration, which was 140 years after that event; but, according to Philochorus, after the Ionian migration, in the archonship of Archippus at Athens, 180 years after the Trojan war; Apollodorus says it was 100 years after the Ionian migration, which would be 240 years after the Trojan war. Some say that he lived 90 years before the Olympiads, which would be 317 years after the taking of Troy. Others carry it down to a later date, and say that Homer was a contemporary of Archilochus; but Archilochus flourished about the 23d Olympiad, in the time of Gyges the Lydian, 500 years after Troy.

It is through all these ‘Homers’ that the story of the Trojan War & its aftermath would pass, until the Iliad as we know it began to take shape in – I believe – the 9th century BC, under the auspices of the Spartan King, Lycurgus. The task was given to a certain verse-maker called Thales, whom Lycurgas had met on Crete. It is through the vita of Lycurgas, as given by Plutarch, that we gain a heady hint of just how powerful a thinker was Thales. We join the story with Lycurgas on some kind of state visit to Crete;

One of the men regarded there as wise statesmen was Thales, whom Lycurgus persuaded, out of favour and friendship, to go on a mission to Sparta. Now Thales passed as a lyric poet, and screened himself behind this art, but in reality he did the work of one of the mightiest lawgivers. For his odes were so many exhortations to obedience and harmony, and their measured rhythms were permeated with ordered tranquillity, so that those who listened to them were insensibly softened in their dispositions, insomuch that they renounced the mutual hatreds which were so rife at that time, and dwelt together in a common pursuit of what was high and noble.

This description of Thales tells us he was a poeticsal teacher, who instilled in the soft & easy words of the lyric plenty of subtle meaning in order to educate the Cretans in how to lead a good life. I have only been on the island a few hours, as if I was one of the German gliders crash-landing in advance of the German Fallschirmjäger in 1941, but so far all the Cretans we have encountered have been decent folk & the most openhearted; from the young couple on a moped who led us to the beach road in the dark last night, to our cool & friendly waiter here at Star Beach, the appropriately named ‘Adonis.’ ‘Don’t worry be happy’ is the mantra, & if these easy vibes I am experiencing emanated from the original wisdom of Thales, to have been present in his actual company would have been a tremendous sensation for Lycurgas. It is no wonder that Thales was invited to join the royal Spartan party, to leave this gorgeous rock at the edge of Europa & to return with Lycurgas to Sparta. En route, according to Plutarch, Lycurgas visited Asia Minor, where he;

Made his first acquaintance with the poems of Homer, which were preserved among the posterity of Creophylus; and when he saw that the political and disciplinary lessons contained in them were worthy of no less serious attention than the incentives to pleasure and license which they supplied, he eagerly copied and compiled them in order to take them home with him. For these epics already had a certain faint reputation among the Greeks, and a few were in possession of certain portions of them, as the poems were carried here and there by chance; but Lycurgus was the very first to make them really known.

At this point in time we have a certain Spartan king in possession of the two foundation stones of what would become the Iliad; i.e. fragments of the early Homeric materials, & a poet who could turn them into something cohesive & infinitely beautiful. Such a moment provided the perfect conditions for what can only be called a transcreation of Homer, an occasion remembered by Demeterius of Magnesia, who placed the author of the Iliad in the same ‘very ancient times’ of Lycurgus. With all the pieces in position, all that was needed was a catalyst to spark off the creative furnace that would produce the Iliad as we know it, & there are certain evidences which point towards the first Olympic Truce. We must return to Plutarch once more, who writes of Lycurgas; ‘some say that he flourished at the same time with Iphitus, and in concert with him established the Olympic truce. Among these is Aristotle the philosopher, and he alleges as proof the discus at Olympia on which an inscription preserves the name of Lycurgus.’ The truce forged by Lycurgas, Iphitus of Elis & Cleosthenes of Pisa was designed to bring peace to the Peloponnese; all three sides were bogged down in endless rounds of bloodshed, and it was mutually agreed upon that they would try to soothe their differences by staging a games at Olympia. This is where I think Thales entered the picture, for to celebrate the event, an artistic tribute to Pan-Grecian unity was needed. The 5th Century BC Athenian historian, Thucydides, backs up the necessity of a unifying model;

The weakness of the olden times is further proved to me chiefly by this circumstance, that before the Trojan War, Hellas, as it appears, engaged in no enterprise in common

The squabbling Greeks of the Olympic Truce needed reminding of when they stood shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity. If anything could convince them to settle their differences, Homeric poetry recreated by a noble-minded Thales would definitely do the job. That Thales handled the Iliad is unconsciously supported by Pausanius; where he describes the Greece of Lycurgas’ time as being grievously worn by plague, the Iliad actually begins with a plague. Pausanius tells us that Thales, ‘stayed the plague at Sparta,’ during which time, I conject, he was likely to have been composing the Iliad. The dates also fit, for where Herodotus tells us, ‘Hesiod and Homer I suppose were four hundred years before my time and not more,’ i.e. 850 BC, the Olympics of Lycurgas can be approximately dated to the same period. The Greeks counted their Olympiads from 776 BC, but the Olympic Games of Lycurgas were said to have taken place much earlier. Sources vary as to when; both Polybius (quoting Aristodemus of Elis) & Eratosthenes tell us that the 776B.C. victors were recorded 27 Olympiads from that of Iphitops & Lycurgas, whereas Callimachus differs by saying 13 Olympiads had passed. If we average these out, & say 20 Olympiads – a timespan of 80 years – we obtain a date of 856 BC for the Lycurgan Olympics.

Returning to Tatian’s Address to the Greeks, where he says, ‘some say that he lived 90 years before the Olympiads, which would be 317 years after the taking of Troy,’ we gain the following timline.

776 BC: First Olympiad begins
866 BC: Homer
1183 BC: Fall of Troy

According to calculations made by Eratosthenes, Troy fell in 1184 BC, a date backed up by archaeological evidence showing a destruction layer to Troy VIIa in that very period. Wherever Tatian got his information from, it seems certain that one layer of the Homeric material was set in stone at the heart of the 9th century BC. Delving further into the ordinance of what I shall from now on call the Thalian Iliad, its form appears to be based upon the ritualistic & theatrical mystery plays of Greece & Egypt, played out over several days like the Ring Cycle of Wagner. Plutarch places Lycurgas in Egypt at one point, where he would have encountered Egyptian theatre full of soliloquies by narrator-style priests, actors’ dialogue & dramaturgical expressions of stage-craft which are all still used in the theatres of today. Egyptian theatre of the Lycurgan period was quite sophisticated; consisiting of a prologue, three acts divided into scenes, & a concluding epilogue. Two of the plays have come down to us whole, the ‘Ramesseum Coronation’ & the ‘Myth of Horus at Edfu.’ In the latter, it must be noted, both mortals & immortals play out the action, a motif present also in the Iliad.

Over the centuries, academics have subconsciously suspected that the Iliad was originally intended for dramatic performance. The Roman writer Quintilian praises the second book of the Iliad for the greatness of its speeches, while the 17th century English poet, Alexander Pope, stated, ‘for a farther preservation of this air of simplicity, a particular care should be taken to express with all plainness those moral sentences & proverbial speeches which are so numerous in this poet. They have something venerable, & as I may so oracular, in that unadorned gravity & shortness with which they are delivered.’ In recent years we have Jenny Strauss Clay’s description of the Iliad’s, ‘extraordinarily high percentage of direct speech – much more than any other epic;’ Bernard Fenik’s, ‘direct discourse comprises 67 percent of the Iliad;’ & Laura M Slatkin’s, ‘extraordinary refinement & complexity of oral performance.’ From such erudite opinions we may not be so foolish to suggest that the Iliad was in fact played out through a series of scenes in which actors & actresses were given lengthy speeches. Interspersed are the battle scenes, which may have been acted out in the manner of the Egyptian dramas, reminiscent of gladiators in a Roman arena – beautifully choreographised physical theatre, but without the actual bloodshed.

One expects that the creation of the Thalian Iliad would have called for a written script to be shared around the actors. Indeed, Josephus in the first book of his history states the Greeks did noot have an alphabet until the time of Homer. It is interesting that before 850 BC we find no record of the Greek alphabet anywhere, but within a few decades of the Lycurgan Olympics its first relics were preserved for posterity. The earliest recognizable sample of the Greek alphabet was based upon that of the Phoenicians, who were positively active in Crete c.900 BC – when Thales would have been a boy – depositing objects at Knossos, Kommos & the Idaean cave. One can only imagine the young, studious Thales learning Phoenician & its script, realising how wonderful an entity was the recorded word, & understanding how vital such a recording would be when promulgating the script of the Iliad among the actors. In doing so, he consolidated all the dialects of Greece into a single, slightly artifical literary lingua franca, creating the unifying language of the ancient Greeks.

The original theatrical purpose of the Iliad would be slowly eroded by time, when the mega-money spectacular of Lycurgas would gradually give way to performances by individual singers called Rhapsodes, such as the Homeridae. In a modern context it would be like the script of a meg-money Holywood movie being reduced to being aired as a radio-play. Eventually, from the memories of the rhapsodes, or perhaps a well preserved piece of papyrus that contained the Thalian script, that the Iliad was transcribed into literary life by the librarians of Alexandria. So that is all for today. Some chilli olives & a soft Cretan red await me back at the Petra Village, to where I shall be idly sidling the now!

Star Beach: 5th July

One Night with Thiruvalluvar

Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts
John Keats

Today was a fine Cretan summer’s day, beginning with a climb to the summit of the hill which towers over Petra Village to the south. An interminable, skin-scratchy mix of jagged shrubbery & bouldering slopes, it was a perfectly poetical & stalwart way to begin the daylight. About half-way up my ascent a red sun rose from the Aegean, & by the time I had surmounted the steep I could already feel the heat of a day which would hit 30 degrees. After my scrambly descent, the next few hours were spent traversing the Stromboli range in order to track down Manoles, the man who kicked off my whole Princess Scota quest through a conversation a few years ago with my friend, Gregor Sloss. He was still very much alive, fortunately, & we managed to find him in in his village – Kryoneri. As he confirmed the Scota-was-a-Minoan conversation, the famous & customary Greek hospitality was shown, including portions of delicious honeyfied figs. I found nothing especially new was added to what Gregor had initialy recorded, but enjoyed both the figs & the validation of my work.

From Kryoneri we came to a delightful village, surrounded by olive groves, where an old man in a shop began a vignette of some hilarity. After choosing a bottle of Cretan red from a rack of dusty bottles, I found a nearby café whose owner attempted to open the bottle with a too-small corkscrew. Cue broken cork & some rather bizarre attempts by the stocky, bearded Greek to move the cork by banging the bottle sideways against a wall. In the end I walked into his kitchen, got a wooden spoon & forced the cork into the bottle – as I had done many times before when the cork was broken – & on doing so poured out a glass for my erstwhile new friend, who responded with alacrity & a stupendous ‘VIVA!’

From here we descended the rough & royal peaks to seagirt Bali, an excellent scatterdash of beach-dwellings where I dined on pork-in-wine while the ladies splashed in the warm seas. Then it was the drive home to Petra Village for our weary, but happy, late-evening siesta; from which I have recently arisen. Leaving the ladies at the ranch I have idled into the old & lazy tourist-trappy streets of Koutouloufari, ordered a pizza & got to work assembling this ‘letter’. As I said in my last outing, this series of essays shall be something of a dissertation to my status as a Pendragon, & so I need to return to a piece of prose I created some years ago when I was at the height of my sonneteering craze. Let us imagine ourselves in the company of a poet – The Silver Rose of course – as he makes his way along the Beaches of Tamil Nadu.


I met the ascetic mystic Thirruvallavar one morning in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. I was resting on a fine, empty beach, watching the white waves sweep sublimely across the Bay of Bengal. In a soft second of existence I was alerted to a flutter of birds & saw a mile or so along the coast a distant figure approaching. I couldn’t help but watch him come steadily nearer, a middle-aged man with a thick, black beard, swathed in white robes, his bare feet leaving footsteps in the sand. I expected him to pass me by, but as he came to within a few meters he suddenly veered off in my direction & tho’ he was walking slowly was at my side in a flash.
“What is your profession?” he curtly asked, his voice gravelly with wisdom, his gaze penetrating my soul.

“I am a traveler from a distant land.”

“Rider,” he replied, “Saraswathi, I see, has smil’d on you, then welcome to India. Are you wise, traveler?”

“I have studied a little, sir.”

“As the city-dwellers know most animals only from photographs, your wisdom seems second-hand. You shall be my guest, for there appears much you are yet to learn in this life.”

He invited me to dine at his home, an offer which I readily accepted. Walked together along the sands he engaged me in conversation & I could see already I was speaking to no ordinary soul.

“Are you creative?” he asked.

“I write sonnets, sir.” He suddenly froze on the spot & gazed with those magnificent eyes, burrowing into the heartlands of my mind.

“By any chance, are you carrying a silver rose?”

My startled hand suddenly went to finger the small piece of flower I had hung around my neck.

“May I see?”

“Of course,” I replied handing him the necklace. After a moment’s curious examination the mystic said, in esoteric tones, “I have been expecting you.”

“You have?”

“I once had a dream – in it I saw a young man who looked very much like yourself plucking a silver rose.” I was stunned a little by his words & prescience. “Could you tell me,” asked the mystic went on, “where you found your rose.”

“It was in Italy,” I replied, “I was twenty-one years of age & taking my first steps into the poetic art. I had been inspired to write a poem on the death of the English, poet Shelley, & my journeys had brought me to the Gulf of Le Spezia, where he spent his last days. At one end of the bay lies the charming idyll of Portovenere, the ‘Port of Venus.’ There was a castle & an old Norman church on a rocky outcrop jutting into the azure sea, & behind me the giant cliffs of the Cinque Terra stretched away into the distance. Before setting out to Italy, I too had had a dream. In it I saw myself climbing a cliff, a wonderful panorama all around, & in my dream, as the light of the sun cascaded upon the world below, I was filled with both peace & exultation of the heart. I did not know what my dream meant, but I grew determined then to climb cliffs until it came true. Indeed, by the time I reached Italy I had climbed many along the coast of my native land.”

“Go on,” said the saddhu.

“As I began my ascent of the cliffs above Portovenere the still air was suddenly filled with an elemental wind. Up her stony slopes I huff’d, puff’d & scrambl’d, all a fluster in the blustery gale that was growing all the time. As I climb’d further my clothes were torn by the claws of thorny bramble as an angry Zephyrus summon’d yet more of his strength. My head told me to turn back, but my young heart had call’d upon the soul of our being, for being conquers all. As I reach’d the clifftop, glorious realm of deity, the winds suddenly settled & I began to write a poem. It was there, as the sun was setting, that my eyes were drawn to a flash of colour, reflecting the golden light of the sun as it slipped neath the clouds on the horizon. Investigating further I found a wee silver rose, & I wonder’d how such sweet tenderment grew, like a heavenly star. I spent what seemed like an eternity gazing at its lovely shape & immersed in its fragrance & every sinew of my body, & every fibre of my mind, was at peace. During this flush of pure nature I suddenly thought perhaps my dream had come true? I wasn’t sure, but if it had, & wishing for a memento of the occasion, I pluck’d that gorgeous flower.”

“Yes, these events you recant I saw in my dream,” said the wiseman, “& you are very welcome as my guest, come, my village is still a good way yet.”

On the way to receive his unadulterated hospitality, the sage asked me if I had any examples of my work. On answering in the positive I handed him a notebook containing my scribbled notes & polished pieces, the detritus of several years of sonnets & song. He picked up the book & skimm’d thro’ them at speed, seemingly absorbing each into his psyche.

“I notice you have master’d the fourteen feelings.”

“The feelings?” I asked.

“Yes, the fourteen impulses that drive poetic thought.”

“I did not realise I had.”

“Yes, for you have written didactic sonnets, philosophical sonnets, love sonnets, sonnets for the zeitgeist, sonnets memorializing historical events, sonnets composed before splendid vistas, elegaic sonnets, pastoral sonnets, autobiographical sonnets, & so on… this is the work of the Silver Rose, my friend, for those that pluck its petall’d paradise shall become enchanted. you are, in fact, a sonneteer & the rose is its emblem.”

“Well, I do enjoy the sonnet, it is a very venerable form. Do you know much of it,” I asked the sage.

“I do, traveler, for within its scanty plot of ground, as Wordsworth noted, many forms of poetry may be contain’d. It can be seen as the great compositive form, which draws components from all the others. It can use the monoverse of blank verse & vers libre, polyphonics, the couplet, the triplets, quatrains, cinquains, sestets, septets & octets – even Spenser has weaved his novtet into a sonnet.”

“There are many forms of poetry,” I remarked, “I have identified several different forms of the sonnet itself, from the Terza Rima of Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind to the concrete sonnets of the modern surrealist; I have utilised many of these forms in creation of my own sonnets.”

The mystic held me a moment in his velvet eye, & then said, “a revered ancestor of mine also met a poet, very much like you, a troubador from Provence who composed entirely in a thirteen line form.”

“The Rondel,” I replied.

“That is right. But then the young French man added another line to his form & created a Rondel Prime.”

“The French sonnet!” I replied in astonishment.

“If that is what it is called in the West, yes,” smiled the sage, “young poet, you are here to learn of a new form of sonnet. I shall introduce you to an acquaintance of mine, who is able to help you in your quest.”

“My quest?” I asked, “I did not know I had undertaken a quest.”

“But, of course you have, for from the moment a poet plucks the Silver Rose, they can never rest until she is satisfied.”

Our discourse was all of a sudden dispersed by the spreading of a smile across the mystic’s face.

“At last,” he said, “welcome to my village.”

The first house in the village was an unassuming cottage, but inside was all a-bluster with activity. Of those present in that room one was an old woman, racked with disease, led in her bed & very ill indeed. Nearby a young woman was in the final agonizing throes of labour, about to give birth to her first child. Others were watching on attentively as before them two cycles of life were fusing as one. The old woman was desperately drawing her last mortal breaths to the sound of a far younger woman gasping through childbirth, for as one soul was leaving this world another was entering. The old woman’s health had been failing her for several years, & now, surrounded by her family, she was ready to depart from her mortal coil. Everybody was very distraught, slowly soaking the silken sheets with their tears. But the old woman was smiling. She said she knew it was time for her to leave this life, but she had had a good life. It was beautiful to be surrounded by her loved ones & they should not be sad, but happy they had the chance to dwell together. Then in a blaze of epiphany at the same instantaneous moment the old woman passed away & a new life was brought into the light of the world. It was a baby boy, red & raw with the onset of life. A fine babe, whose eyes stared back at his mother full of innocence. All around him grew & rushed the world & his gurgle was laced with a hint of expectancy. I smiled at the babe as the mystic turned to me.

“In this room today, you saw a birth & a death – so life begins & life ends, thus is the circle of life. But there is also an inbetween. If you stay with me I hope you shall learn of this. I was born here too, in a hut just like this one. Before too long I was was running around the village, bringing delight to the wise old elders with my youthful affection for everything about me. I had a very inquisitive mind & was always asking what everything was, from the trees & the rocks, to the lizards & the birds. I would then ask why the birds lived in the trees & why the lizards crawled under the rocks. One day my father placed me upon his cart & I left the village for the very first time. We were travelling to a nearby town to buy some food, & we passed by many new places. I saw the rivers & the mountains, & saw other villages where the houses were different from those in my own. At length we came to a town where I was amazed at the many people busying about. My father held my hand tightly as we walked through the market. My eyes lit up at the new fruits father bought, & the shiny new coat he put on my back.”

I watched the mystic as he told his story, seeming both close to me & very far off in another place.

“On the walk back home, I asked father many questions. I found out our village was just one of many that surrounded the town, & that town in turn was one of many that surrounded the city, & that city was not even the capital of the country where we lived. Then father told me that the world was made up of many countries & the Universe of many worlds. It was only then that I realized I wasn’t the universe, but only a part, & a very small part indeed! Then father took me to a hill that overlooked the village, where we could see the business of every villager. We sat beside a gully that by some quirk of nature carried the conversations of the villagers up the hillside. I sat by my father listening attentively to all we heard & how the villages interacted with each other. At every turn he would try & explain the good & the bad in every situation & how best to be true to oneself. Once the sun had set he led me back down to the village & I had my first epiphany as to the nature of the world. I decided at that moment to help the people of the world to understand themselves.”

Then the mystic sunk into silence & we continued on our way.

We arrived at his home a little later, a simple two-storey building of white washed stone stood within a luscious jungle of tall toddies. He was greeted by a young woman, fresh as unstirred snow.

“Gita, you shall make a bed for our guest, he shall be staying with us.”

The woman went away & the mystic led me onto the roof of his home.

“Tonight, the moon is completely dark, as it will be again in a month’s time. Between now & the morrow I hope you will become wise, illumed by the light of the moon.”

“Thank you for this opportunity,” I humbly said.

“You are very welcome, traveler, now if you do not mind, I must meditate. You will be looked after. But while I am gone, you must search for the moon.”

After he left with a gracious bow I began to scan the entire span of the starry skies, until I found the dark outline of the dark side of the moon, nestled between the Plough & the Bear. As I gazed upon that black sphere I found myself urging on its silvery light.

“Patience,” said the sage, who had silently re-appeared on the roof with Gita, “The light shall come!”

“Tis a vast universe,” I said, “so many stars.”

“Yes, so many stars… & so many worlds. Every action on every planet is governed by a mysterious, invisible force called ‘Divinity,’ existing everywhere at once & gives life, form & substance to all things in its sway.”

I pondered on what he had said in silence.

The sage broke the silence once more, saying, “thoughts & ideas are pure & simple, & when a series of these are placed together arranged in power-punching brevity, the assemblage is the nearest thing to God we can get on this Earth. As one candle burns, it shall only light a portion of the room, but when many are burning together, the room is cast in a blaze of light. To the poets who utilize the Kural, the world is a room, & their thoughts are its candles.”

“Mystic,” said I, “What are the Kural?”

“A Kural is a form of arranging words in simple combination. It consists of seven words divided into two breaths, each forming a line. With the first breath four words are spoken & with the second, three. These Kural shall contain the best ideas using the best of words in their best order & it is the orator’s purpose to condense as much depth, meaning & subtleties into each of them as possible. A kural could be in the most simple words, or pregnant with complicated scientific terms, but at all times should they be perfumed with poetica absolute, for it is thro’ the music, rhythm & rhyme of speech that ideas are easily absorbed by the memory.”

At that moment a scribe entered the roof carrying a gold-tinted scroll, a bowl of sparkling ink & a mighty swan’s quill, which was placed upon a table near to where the mystic was sat. Upon examining his writing tools he whispered in the servant’s ear, who left the room & soon returned with another scroll, ink bowl & quill. To my astonishment they were placed in front of me.

“Traveler,” he called across the room, “can you make Kural?”

“I have never tried, sir!”

“Are you willing?”


“All our words are nothing without understanding. Will you make kural?”

“I shall try.”

“Good, then let us begin. Listen to my speech & then condense… I shall begin?” The thinker-philosopher squatted in the yoga position, cross-legged, & began to speak with a ghostly air,

“It is with god that everything begins. God is everywhere at once, from the beginning of time to the end. He is without bounds & infinite, & beyond the range of mortal comprehension. All we know is that he is here & this force pulses thro’ all it has created, uniting humanity with its energy, giving us life. The greatest manifestation of divinity being that of the rain that falls from the skies. This is the vital life juice of creation, without which everything would wither away & only a lifeless desert would remain.”

“Life is a precious gift, created by the natural laws of the universe & improved upon by the movement of the aeons. The planet, our planet, is home to millions of different organisms of which we are only a small, yet significant number. Every one of these organisms is bound together intrinsically by the natural laws defined by the entity of creation.”

“Why does our planet teem with such a multitudinous variety of species, you may ask yourself? This is evolution; all life began the same, but environment & chance allied together to alter the offspring of the original organisms, & upon their offspring in turn, until over billions of years we have reached the state we are in today. Indeed, give another billion years the organisms of our world will be very different again.”

“Like the years are divided by four seasons & the world divided into four elements, each person on the planet exists upon four planes. Everyone of us possesses a soul, a heart to feel the passion of the world, a mind to think thoughts & a body in which to live.”

As the day began to dawn, the sage began to wrap up his elucidations of the human condition.

“Traveler, how did you find the night?”

“It was inspirational sir.”

“Excellent, & have you made any Kural?”
“A small amount, sir.”

“Well, I shall leave you in tranquility to finish… Gita!” he shouted, his call soon answered by her soft smile, “get some candles for our guest, & a little wine I think.”

She returned a few moments later with several candles, which she placed upon the roof & lit. A charaff of wine & a golden goblet were placed before me & with a smile & a bow she left.

“Happy voyaging,” said the sage & with a bow he also left, leaving me alone. As my mind could still hear the profound statements spoken thro’ the night, I became heady with ideas, their words fueling my imagination until I was pregnant with creation & I began to write.

As the red orb rose in glory & the pinkening sky transmorphed to cyan; when the last pearls of wisdom had been written down & the sun was casting ethereal shadows across the wax-warped candles, the sage return’d.

“So traveler, have you made your kural?”

“I have tried sir!”

“Good, may I read them?”

I was a little tentative as I passed over the ink-wet scrolls & held my breath as he began to read them.

Rain’s continuance preserves existence
Speaketh celestial ambrosia

Stances, glances, chances, dances
Epitomise youthful romances
As ant-holes collapse embankments
Civilians topple governments

Exquisite fortresses become rubble
Without excellent inmates

Her chrysoberyls perplex me –
Celestial? Peahen? Woman?

Promises, poetry, flowers, flattery
Produce sensuous pleasure-rooms

Hatred, sin, fear, disgrace –
Stain bedswervers imeperishably

Candles of knowledgable beings
Light many millions

Ancyent civilisations indecipherable pages
Futurity’s erudite manna

Splashing thro’ Parnassian streams
Mankind’s glorious attainment
He read in relative silence, broken only by the sporadic, ‘hmmm,’ laced with an occasional, ‘interesting!’ Outside, commanding the morning sky, there was the thin sliver of a new moon, shining silvery against the divine canvas.

At last Thiruvalluvar had finished reading thro my meagre lines & I waited tentatively for his reaction. It was a moment of awesome proportion as I felt & saw everything around me. I admired my host, his handsome beard & endless eyes, his gleaming robes & noble stance & smile, twinkling in the sun.

Looking up from the pages the sage eventually & quite neatly said, “you have the thread.” His voice was sweet, like the warbling of birds greeting the sun after a storm. “You are now ready to create a Tamil Sonnet, that is the placing of seven connecting Kural together into one poem. Seven sets of couplets come to fourteen lines, yes, & that is how many lines are in a sonnet, correct?”

“That is right,” I replied.

“There are seven words in a Kural,” said the mystic, “thus making a Kural sonnet a grand Kural in itself – do you understand?”

As he said those words a moment of epiphany lit up my soul.

“Do you understand?” repeated the poet.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Then you are ready,” said the mystic.

“Ready for what?” I asked inquisitively.

“The next stage of your quest,” said the poet, “I undertook it myself many years ago.” to my astonishment he opened a shirt & reveled a wee, silver rose hung round his neck on a chain. “I am a barer of the rose & a master of the sonnet. Many moons ago I plucked my own flower & she led me on a literary quest. I see, tho you have not realised, you have also set your feet upon the path.”
The mystic sighed woosily, “you must return to the path now, traveler, & follow the will of the rose, for she shall guide your thought thro’ the fertile fields of creative experience. Keep writing & exercising in the sonnet form & continue a dedicated spirit, like those of the East who engage in the martial arts. The higher echelons of sonnetry are marked by discipline, focus of thought & dedication to the craft. Do you have these mental properties?”

“In a small degree. I hope they will be sufficient, for after hearing your words I wish to embark on this quest.”

“To attain the title of master sonneteer you must attain two more levels of proficiency, each marked by the composition of a polished sequenza. The first shall be a set of 14 sonnets – play with them how you will, blending feelings & forms into a pretty constellation of sonnets. The next level of proficiency will see you compose a set of 14 sequenzas… a total of 196 sonnets. This is the Sequenza Grande, or a sonnet ‘Galaxy.’ Again, blend them how you wish. One sequenza you may wish to compose entirely in the Alexandrine metre, in couplets, espousing unrequited love. In another you may wish to utilize the Sanskrit measure, in the Petrachian mould, singing of pastoral scenes. In yet another you may wish your staves to be heterometic, in free verse, upon choice matters of the zeitgeist. Anything goes, my boy, but remember at all times you are the godlike creator of the suite of sonnets that is your sonneverse!

“That seems an awful amount of experience & thought to pour into a single form?” I opined nervously.

“You are young & youth is marked by impetuousness & restlessness. This restlessness is the mystical energy which will drive you to the mastery of the sonnet.”

“How?” I asked.
“Your restlessness has brought you here, yes. Well only through travel can the sonneteer generate enough poesis to fill the major sequanzas. Before attempting the higher levels, I suggest you record your voyages; the emotions invoked, scenery, the history, the very essence of a country, in the same way you poeticized your own. These new sonnets may be of any form or feeling, even of an experimental nature, but the primal essence is exploration. When learning how to turn your experiences into sonnets, & on reaching the next stages of the art, your thought will be focused upon increasing discipline & you will be able to summon the poesis of your experiences at will. On completing this apprenticeship, as the acolyte will one day become a wise old sensei able to defend himself from attack, so shall the master sonneteer be able to produce exquisite sequanzas when they themselves are attack’d – not by an enemy but by the desire to compose poetry! You should commence your apprenticeship in Italy; for it is there that both the sonnet & the rose originated, for as nature is a constant wheel, & all things once commenced will come full circle, then you should return them both to their places of birth.”

“Yes,” I said, “the sonnet was born in Sicily, out of the Canzone, those sweet & moving songs the shepherds sang as they tended their flocks on the pastures of that wonderful island. I sometimes feel very much like them, wandering the earth & singing my own little songs.”

“Well spoken,” said the mystic, “the Rose is truly with you. Even when her powers fade, the petals shall always remain a part of you, including the occasional flight of psychic fancy. You should expect many moments of verbal lucidity like these when you are treading the bloom d’argent. Please continue with your description of the canzone.”

“Ah yes, the ancyent songs of the Sicilian shepherds. Over the course of many centuries these songs evolved into a fourteen-lined piece, with a turn, or volta – to a modern mind this would be where the chorus begins after the verse of a song.”

“Like the turn in an Italian sonnet,” offered the sage.

“Precisely, for indeed it was from the spirit of these canzone that the first sonnets found expression at the Magnia Curia, the court of the Sicilian King eight hundred years ago. Shortly afterwards it was brought to an early perfection by Dante & the school of Tuscan poets blessed with their “Sweet New Style.”

“Well explained,” said Thiruvalluvar, “& it is only natural you should travel to that country, where nature, weather, culture, history, architecture & society combine to such a pleasant degree that she has no comparison on earth.”

“I shall,” I replied, “& thank you. The time I have spent in your immaculate house has enriched me like the mountains of Parnassus.”

A silence passed between us & the wind made noises I had never heard before. They sounded like the voice of a familiar song, summoning me to its native land. From the warmth of the melody & strength in the words I knew it to be that of the Tuscan sun & the song of the Arno.

“Then I am for Italy,” I told them, “The music of the sea-breeze bids me there return.”

“Saraswathi go with you,” spoke Thiruvallavar, & bowing my head I left his house, & returned to the shore where we first met.

July 6th

Finding Menaleus

I am currently sat on the patio of an air B&B in Karemas, southern Crete, overlooking the Libyan Sea. It is morning. In the foreview to my left are the double rocks of the pretty Paximadian Islands, upon which the Cretans say Apollo was born. To my right is Gavdos, the most southerly point of Europe. There is a high wind blowing fiercely, as it has been for four days now, we are told. We drove here yesterday, first calling in at the many-peopled ‘funfair’ that the Knossos site has become; then entering & crossing the Cretan hinterland, a mixture of beautiful hills dotted with olive trees as if they were woven into some starlet’s hair, roughed up here & there by rather desolate villages. After stopping in at the oasis watering hole that are the Goanesque beaches of Agia Galini, we took a serendipitous wrong turn which snaked us out through the heart of the quite breathtaking Kedros range, via the villages of Apodolou, Nithavris, Agios Ioannis & Agia Pareskevi. Another wrong turn later & we were high up in the idyllic hilltop village of Vrisses, where, finally swapping our tourist map for a more detailed & accurate one contained in my portable library’s 1995 book on Crete, we finally came to Kerames.

On arrival we were met at the mini-market by stylish Kleopatra, a teacher of ancient Greek & Latin in Athens, who returns to her home village to rent out the house to erstwhile travelers. Built in the 16th century, it has been the home of two saints & a Cretan governor, & has also played host to many a village dance. An excuisitely beautiful building, made from a mixture of searocks & quarried stone, it is a geologist’s dream, & is ours for last night & the next two to come. Kleopatra delighted in showing us around the house, its history, & also walking us through the village so the locals knew we were with her. The encounter with her plump mother was amusing to say the least; with the mother mocking Kleopatra’s slight build & saying she was far too thin, that she was like a little girl, & that she needs to eat more… much to the agreement of the other plump women of a certain age sat on chairs in the vicinity.

Roll on three days & I am finishing this off in the pinkening sunrise on the lazy morning on the 10th of July. On tour first full day, upon a visit to the amazing Preveli Beach, via a rough & twisting Himalayanesque mountain road & reached only by footpath as in Gokarna; after swimming in a lagoon I suddenly found my foot pierced by a palmleaf spine &, well, ouch. The next dawn, me & Emily left the girls sleeping & drove to nearby Spili & its free health centre. Cue two female doctors writhing at my poor wound, trying to drag the thorn out. At one point one of the nurses turned her to mine & looking at me with a most solemn stare, said quite plainly, ‘pain?’ Through my acute grimacing I could only nod. The thorn, alas, was buried too deep & so with prescription in hand we returned to Agia Galini for another day at the beach & to buy some antibiotics. During that sunkissed day I collated my notes for this essay, which I am polishing off the now. Last night was very special, with us all getting dressed up & hitting the village square for a wonderful meal of native meat & salads which cost only 22 euros – our hostess refusing a tip & also joining us in the complimentary ouzo shots!


Kerames village is a white-washed, narrow-streeted affair in the Italian style, & rather the perfect place to work upon one of my thornier essays – that of the character of Menaleus, appearing in the Homeric epics. In summary, I believe he was not actually around in the thirteenth century BC to fight the traditionally dated Trojan War, but was instead active three centuries earlier, & that his deeds were later superimposed upon the story of the Trojan War by Thales. I believe his story was one of the ‘Homeric fragments’ discovered by Lycurgus & that the Trojan War in which Achilles fought was a different fragment altogether, with Thales splicing them together into a single story. I also believe that the War which Menaleus fought – in order to retrieve Helen – was not in NW Turkey, but in Egypt.

We shall anchor our investigation upon a figure in Greek mythology called Phineus, son of Bellus, the brother of Aegyptus & Danaus. Analyzing the contextus of Phineus, we discover a certain tale – as given by Ovid – in which he brandishes a spear against Perseus while squabbling over the daughter of Casseiopeia, who had been declared by her mother to be more beautiful than the Nereids. The names & situation massively reflect a Biblical figure called Phinehas, in whose tales we see an incident with remarkable echoes to that of Phineus. For Casseiopia we have a certain idolatrous Cozbi, & we may observe the Biblical Phinehas also brandishes a spear. The ‘most beautiful woman’ motif contained in Ovid finds its Biblical reflection in Flavius Josephus, who asserts that the enemies of the Israelites sent their most beautiful women to seduce the Jews into idolatry. Josephus explains the result was the slaying of Cozbi by Phinehas, after which God rewarded him & his posterity with the covenant of an everlasting hereditary priesthood.

The Biblical priestly Phinehas is said to have assisted Moses throughout the Exodus, even being master of the sacred Ark of the Covenant. Also active in those ‘days of Moses’ was a certain Gaythelos, or Goidal Glas, whose name seems to contain part of the Hebrew moniker for High Priest – the ‘Kohen Godal.’ According to Irish sources, the grandfather of Goidal Glas was a certain Fenius Farsaid. Thus Fenius, the grandfather of a Hebrew High Priest, can be matched on ethnological & phonetical grounds with Phinehas, one of the holiest men in the entourage of Moses.

The crux of the matter comes with the observance that between Fenius Farsaid & Gaythelos comes, according to John of Fordun, a ‘certain king of the countries of Greece, Neolus.’ Variant names given in other medieval sources include Nel (Lebor Gabala Erenn), while Geoffrey Keating gives Fenius two sons, Nenual & Niul, which seem to be a genflation of the same person. It is time for a wee babel-chain.


At the heart of this babel chain we see the name of Menaleus, whose eloping wife Helen initiated the Homeric Trojan War. In support of the Menaleus-Neolus connection, three ancient sources state that Menaleus had a son called Aithiolas, being the Scholion to Homer’s Iliad 3 (175th); Eustathius of Thessalonica & the Byzantine Suda (alphaiota 124). It is by no stretch of the imagination to see how the name Aithiolas transchispers into Gaythelos, or better still Gaithelos, as given by other records.

In my book, The Chisper Effect, I showed how Gaythelos was a prince with connections to Minoan Crete, & by studying the lineage of Menaleus, we can see why. The old tales have it that a certain Cretan king called Catreus begat a daughter called Aerope, who became the mother of Agamemnon and Menelaus, either by Plisthenes or by Atreus, in Mycynae. This means that Gaythelos was Minoan on his mother’s side, explaining why the treasures found at Mycynae contain, according to Martin Bernal, ‘an increase of the Minoan influences.’

The ancient city of Mycenae was sited in the northwest corner of the Plain of Argos, on the Peloponnese, in which place Pausanius, the Greek travel writer of the 2nd century AD, recorded, ‘the underground chambers of Atreus & his children, in which were stored their treasure. There is the grave of Atreus, along with the graves of such as returned with Agamemnon from Troy.’ In the late 19th century, a renegade amateur archeologist from Germany called Albert Schliemann excavated the site, discovering fabulous grave treasures which included the ‘Mask of Agamemnon,’ proving that the Homeric epithet, ‘Mycenae, rich in gold,’ was no exaggeration. Dated to 1550 BC, scholars have suggested that the treasures cannot be connected to the Mycynean leadership fighting a Trojan War in the 13th Century BC. But unraveling the factochisp & moving Menaleus & Agamemnon back three centuries, when Schilemann telegraphed the King of Greece that he had, ‘gazed on the face of Agamenon,’ his proud & swoony statement may bear out to be true, although not in the way standard Homeric scholarship has imagined.

When examining the other Homeric epic, the Odyssey, we encounter certain adventures of Menaleus which may be dated to the 16th Century BC. ‘It was nearly eight years,’ he says, ‘before I could get home with my fleet. I went to Cyprus, Phoenicia and the Egyptians; I went also to the Ethiopians, the Sidonians, and the Erembians, and to Libya.’ Each of these regions saw military activity during the reign of Amenhotep I (1546 -1526 BC); where the tomb biography of Ahmose Pen-Nekhebet says Amenhotep fought in Kush (Ethiopia) so Menaleus places himself in that same land; where Pen-Nekhebet states Amenhotep campaigned in Kehek – ie against the Qeheq tribe – so Menaleus places himself in Libya; where, in the tomb of Amenhotep I, we find a hostile reference made against the Transjordanian Qedmi, so Menaleus places himself among the Erembians, or the Arameans, the nomadic Bedouin tribes of the Syrian Desert.

It seems that the Mycyenean leadership of the 16th Century BC has been poetically superimposed onto the basic narrative infrastructure of the Trojan War. On investigating the matter deeper, it seems that there was a siege of Troy in order to reunite Menaleus with his errant wife, but this was not the citadel in NW Turkey, but was a site near Memphis in Egypt. In the Bronze Age, the city we now know as Troy was in fact Illium, or Wilusa, hence the Iliad. The earliest time the name ‘Troy’ is applied to Ilium was Homer’s poetry, i.e. the 9th century BC. As we are slowly discerning, the poet appears to have blended several strands of material from different periods & places in order to create his poems. That the Trojan siege occurred in Egypt fits well with the question mark that has hung since antiquity over the war’s causus belli. Stesichorus, for example, stated that Helen never went to the Turkish Troy & that the war was fought for a phantom. Euripides elaborated further, saying that Hermes took Helen to Egypt where she would spend the entire war. The grand old donjon of history himself, Herodotus, also raised serious doubts as to a Turkish Troy, making a serious study of the matter, from which we may read;

When I inquired of the priests, they told me that this was the story of Helen. After carrying off Helen from Sparta, Alexandrus sailed away for his own country; violent winds caught him in the Aegean and drove him into the Egyptian sea; and from there (as the wind did not let up) he came to Egypt, to the mouth of the Nile called the Canopic mouth, and to the Salters’. Now there was (and still is) on the coast a temple of Heracles; if a servant of any man takes refuge there and is branded with certain sacred marks, delivering himself to the god, he may not be touched. This law continues today the same as it has always been from the first. Hearing of the temple law, some of Alexandrus’ servants ran away from him, threw themselves on the mercy of the god, and brought an accusation against Alexandrus meaning to injure him, telling the whole story of Helen and the wrong done Menelaus. They laid this accusation before the priests and the warden of the Nile mouth, whose name was Thonis.

This mention of Thonis is interesting, as a remembrance of Helen in Egypt slipp’d into the Odyssey, where she is said to have had, ‘such ingenious drugs, Good ones, which she had from Thon’s wife, Polydamna, an Egyptian.’ Homer continues;

When Thonis heard it, he sent this message the quickest way to Proteus at Memphis: “A stranger has come, a Trojan, who has committed an impiety in Hellas. After defrauding his guest-friend, he has come bringing the man’s wife and a very great deal of wealth, driven to your country by the wind. Are we to let him sail away untouched, or are we to take away what he has come with?” Proteus sent back this message: “Whoever this is who has acted impiously against his guest-friend, seize him and bring him to me, that I may know what he will say.”

Hearing this, Thonis seized Alexandrus and detained his ships there, and then brought him with Helen and all the wealth, and the suppliants too, to Memphis. When all had arrived, Proteus asked Alexandrus who he was and whence he sailed; Alexandrus told him his lineage and the name of his country, and about his voyage, whence he sailed. Then Proteus asked him where he had got Helen; when Alexandrus was evasive in his story and did not tell the truth, the men who had taken refuge with the temple confuted him, and related the whole story of the wrong. Finally, Proteus declared the following judgment to them, saying, “If I did not make it a point never to kill a stranger who has been caught by the wind and driven to my coasts, I would have punished you on behalf of the Greek, you most vile man. You committed the gravest impiety after you had had your guest-friend’s hospitality: you had your guest-friend’s wife. And as if this were not enough, you got her to fly with you and went off with her. And not just with her, either, but you plundered your guest-friend’s wealth and brought it, too. Now, then, since I make it a point not to kill strangers, I shall not let you take away this woman and the wealth, but I shall watch them for the Greek stranger, until he come and take them away; but as for you and your sailors, I warn you to leave my country for another within three days, and if you do not, I will declare war on you.”

This, the priests said, was how Helen came to Proteus. And, in my opinion, Homer knew this story, too; but seeing that it was not so well suited to epic poetry as the tale of which he made use, he rejected it, showing that he knew it. This is apparent from the passage in the Iliad (and nowhere else does he return to the story) where he relates the wanderings of Alexander, and shows how he and Helen were carried off course, and wandered to, among other places, Sidon in Phoenicia.

In the 16th century BC, there was an Egyptian city called Troy, of which Diodorus Siculus recorded (in the first century BC); ‘even to this day exists on the bank of the Nile.’ Strabo gives us more gloss on the Egyptian Troy;

In the neighbourhood of the quarry of the stones from which the pyramids are built, which is in sight of the pyramids, on the far side of the river in Arabia, there is a very rocky mountain which is called “Trojan,” and that there are caves at the foot of it, and a village near both these and the river which is called Troy.

Diodorus describes Menaleus crossing into Egypt where facing the Trojans of the Egyptian Troy he, ‘maintained a warfare until he granted them safety and freedom.’ The actual story behind the original Trojan siege may be embedded in an account of Herodotus, who places both Menaleus & Helen in Egypt;

When I asked the priests whether the Greek account of what happened at Troy were idle or not, they gave me the following answer, saying that they had inquired and knew from Menelaus himself. When these were let inside the city walls, they demanded the restitution of Helen and of the property which Alexandrus had stolen from Menelaus and carried off, and they demanded reparation for the wrongs; but the Trojans gave the same testimony then and later, sworn and unsworn: that they did not have Helen or the property claimed, but all of that was in Egypt, and they could not justly make reparation for what Proteus the Egyptian had. But the Greeks, thinking that the Trojans were mocking them, laid siege to the city, until they took it; but there was no Helen there when they breached the wall, but they heard the same account as before; so, crediting the original testimony, they sent Menelaus himself to Proteus.

Menelaus then went to Egypt and up the river to Memphis; there, relating the truth of the matter, he met with great hospitality and got back Helen, who had not been harmed, and also all his wealth, besides. An idea is arising here that Menaleus thought Helen was at a city by the ‘Trojan’ mountain, known today as the Hill of Toorah near Memphis. After raising its citadel he discovered that Helen was in fact at Memphis, perhaps whisked there by the Pharaoh on discovering Menaleus was attacking the Egyptian Troy. That is all a great big ‘perhaps’ of course, but there are too many factors & facts pointing to an Egyptian locality for denoument of the kidnapping of Helen. Other memories of Menaleus in Egypt can be found at Canopus, an ancient coastal town, located in the Nile Delta & named after Menealeus’ pilot. Legend describes how Menelaus built a monument to his memory on the shore, around which the town later grew up. This leads us to a passage in the Odyssey, one of the ‘Cretan Lies’ told by Odysseus which distinctly remembers a military campaign in Egypt;

We came to fair-flowing Aegyptus, and in the river Aegyptus I moored my curved ships. Then verily I bade my trusty comrades to remain there by the ships, and to guard the ships, and I sent out scouts to go to places of outlook. But my comrades, yielding to wantonness, and led on by their own might, straightway set about wasting the fair fields of the men of Egypt; and they carried off the women and little children, and slew the men; and the cry came quickly to the city. Then, hearing the shouting, the people came forth at break of day, and the whole plain was filled with footmen, and chariots and the flashing of bronze. But Zeus who hurls the thunderbolt cast an evil panic upon my comrades, and none had the courage to hold his ground and face the foe; for evil surrounded us on every side. So then they slew many of us with the sharp bronze, and others they led up to their city alive, to work for them perforce. But in my heart Zeus himself put this thought—I would that I had rather died and met my fate there in Egypt, for still was sorrow to give me welcome. Straightway I put off from my head my well-wrought helmet, and the shield from off my shoulders, and let the spear fall from my hand, and went toward the chariot horses of the king. I clasped, and kissed his knees, and he delivered me, and took pity on me, and, setting me in his chariot, took me weeping to his home. Verily full many rushed upon me with their ashen spears, eager to slay me, for they were exceeding angry. But he warded them off, and had regard for the wrath of Zeus, the stranger’s god, who above all others hath indignation at evil deeds. “There then I stayed seven years, and much wealth did I gather among the Egyptians, for all men gave me gifts.

Further support for a 16th century BC date for the Menaleus-Helen story turned up in finds excavated at the 16th century BC palace near Xirokambi, just to the south of the Menalean kingdom of Sparta. Cups excavated at the site are both Minoan & Mycynean in origin, while Xirokambi’s bull motifs are evocative of images found at Knossos & Avaris. The latter connects with Menaleus’s Minoan son, Gaythelos. Furthermore, tablets found at Xirokambi indicate that the palace there was a center of two productions – perfume & fabric – which have strong echoes in the Odyssey. The following passage sees Helen at home in her native Sparta;

While he was thus in two minds Helen came down from her high vaulted and perfumed room, looking as lovely as Diana herself. Adraste brought her a seat, Alcippe a soft woollen rug while Phylo fetched her the silver work-box which Alcandra wife of Polybus had given her. Polybus lived in Egyptian Thebes, which is the richest city in the whole world; he gave Menelaus two baths, both of pure silver, two tripods, and ten talents of gold; besides all this, his wife gave Helen some beautiful presents, to wit, a golden distaff, and a silver work-box that ran on wheels, with a gold band round the top of it. Phylo now placed this by her side, full of fine spun yarn, and a distaff charged with violet coloured wool was laid upon the top of it. Then Helen took her seat, put her feet upon the footstool, and began to question her husband.

One final piece of evidence I shall include in my lecture are a couple of references to a Bronze Age Libyan peoples called the Meshwesh. Their first historical mention occurs during the 18th Dynasty during the reign of Amenhompet III (1386-1349 BC), being cited as a source of cattle provided to the palace at Malkata. The actual origin of the Meshwesh is defined by Herodotus himself;

West of the Triton river and next to the Aseans begins the country of Libyans who cultivate the soil and possess houses; they are called Maxyes; they wear their hair long on the right side of their heads and shave the left, and they paint their bodies with vermilion. These claim descent from the men who came from Troy.

This definitively places the Meshwesh after the ‘Trojan War’, which means that, as they existed during the reign of Amenhomet III, the Trojan War must have occurred before his floruit in the the 14th century BC. That the name of the tribe, Maxyes or Meshwesh, can be transchispered into Mycynae with relative ease suggests that the tribe was indeed founded by the soldiers of Menaleus. To conclude, it appears that Homer discarded true story of Helen’s kidnapping & instead wanted to resituate his epic during the siege of Ilium in the 13th century BC, rather than in Egypt in the 16th century BC. In my next lecture I shall attempt to understand why.

10th July

The Trojan War

I am writing this overlooking the Libyan Sea, high up in the mountain village of Agios Ioanis. We reached here three days ago, calling in at Gortys along the way – the ancient capital of Crete – in 39 degree heat, & far too hot to explore very much. I did pick up a copy of the oldest Law Code in Europe however, & have a mind to mixing it in with some classical poetry Emily gifted me as translated by Robin Skelton. All in the relatively near future of course. From Gortys, we took a wrong turn & ended up back at busy Heraklion, which was perhaps serendipitous as it allowed the girls to have another blast at Star Beach.

At 5 in the evening we set off for our next residence, crossing the island again from sea-to-sea as far as Ireapetra. As we drove south I was delighted to see the stone boat sunk by Poseidon near Pseria, the island I presume to be that of the Phaecaens of the Odyssey. I had searched for the stone boat in vain on Google Earth, thinking it would be hard at the Pseria’s twin Minoan harbours – but is instead closer to the mainland & the Minoan city of Gournia, which may be of some significance.

Agios Ioannis is a 9K drive to the head of a wonderful olive-smitten U-shaped mountain recess. Stacked white against the mountains, it is half dilapidated & half regenerated in the Calcata fashion. Once a bustling town, in the 70s & 80s the inhabitants drifted to easier lives in the city & by the coast, leaving an insanely beautiful ghost-town. Even today, in the winter, there are only six full-time residents. Our house is large… two wings behind an excellent garden tended by the grey-bearded Adonis. Five cats, three dogs & a timid goat contribute to the safari-like nature of our domicile, along with all those grievously nasty mosquitos that are ravaging the girls. There are no shops & only two places to eat; the modernistic, uniquely-detailed Route 55 Café Bar & Kristina’s tavern, where we can take away genuine Greek food to eat at varius places at our homestead & garden. It is over one of these meals, with wine to hand, in the gentle evening light, sat at the table on our porch, that I shall now ruminate on the true Trojan War.

As I have stated in previous essays, the Homeric epics are a grand jumble of creochisps; a wooly ball of well-woven threads of numerous origins. Having extracted the Menalean string at Karames, let us now examine the orgins of the war which Homer clearly sets in NW Turkey. We begin with the supposed date, deduced by examining The Life of Homer – said to have been penned by Herodotus (scholars prefer to call him Pseudo-Herodotus) – which tells us that the poet was born 168 years after the Trojan War & 622 years before the Persian invasion of Greece by Xerxes I. With the Xerxean battle of Thermopyles taking place in 480BC, if we wind back another (622+168=) 790 years, we may assume the Trojan War ended in 1270 BC. This year also fits information supplied by Herodotus’, ‘Pan who was born of Penelope… came into being later than the wars of Troy, about eight hundred years before my time.’

To Herodotus the Trojan War was fought before 1250 BC. To this period, we may also pin the Locrian Curse, which gives us the exact year of the fall of Troy, 1264 BC. The story goes that the Locrian hero Ajax was shipwrecked by Poseidon for raping Cassandra in the temple of Athena just after the fall of Troy. Swimming for his life, when he reached the coast of Eobea he was struck by a bolt of lightning & slain. Lycophron, in his ‘Alexandria,’ describes the Locrians as being subsequently cursed for a thousand years, & were forced to send two unmarried maidens to the temple of Athena at Ilion of Athens each year, where they would spend the remainder of their lives. It was only in 264 BC that the Locrians finally satisfied the curse’s conditions.

Another route comes via combining the date given by ‘Timaeus the Sicilian,’ for the foundation of Rome, who says it was founded at the same time as Carthage, in the thirty-eighth year before the first Olympiad. This year would be 814 or 813. Anchoring our investigation on this date, when we examine the writings of the celebrated 2nd century BC orator Porcius Cato – Cato the Elder – we learn that the Trojan War occurred 432 years before the foundation of Rome. This gives a date of 1246/45.

As for where this war was fought, up until the end of the nineteenth century the enlightened opinion of academia considered the Trojan War to be a battle non gratia, on the basis that nobody could actually find a city called Troy. It took the financial fortune & dogged persistance of Heinrik Schliemann to uncover the long-lost capital citadel of Ilium. As a boy he had been entertained upon his father’s knee by the tales of Achilles, Helen, Paris & Menaleus. Growing into manhood, these stories gripped his imagination more & more, until he decided to plunge his business fortune into a search for the city of Troy. Choosing a site where the Roman ‘New Troy’ had been built – & very much to the scoffs of the scholars – Schliemann began to excavate a certain Hisalrik Hill in NW Turkey. The results were simply astonishing as he & his team of Turkish workers, toiling daily in the sun, slowly unearthed the massive cyclopean walls of a great citadel; the long-lost ‘high-towered Troy.’ Schliemann also discovered a great entranceway, which he dubbed the Homeric ‘Scaean Gate,’ leading him to declare to the planet, ‘I have proved that in a remote antiquity there was in the plain of Troy a large city, destroyed of old by a fearful catastrophe, which had on the hill of Hisalrik only its Acropolis with its temples and a few other large edifices, southerly, and westerly direction on the site of the later Ilium; and that, consequently, this city answers perfectly to the Homeric description of the sacred site of Ilios.’

Scholars were unsurprisingly skeptical as to the size of the city; such a palace, though undoubtedly large, could never have housed the massy legions which swarmed on the Trojan side. Schliemann would eventually die dissapointed that he had not discovered the true Troy. But, to please his ghost, since his passing, layer by layer, like the skins of a field-fresh onion, archeologists have uncovered a series of Troys dating back thousands of years, including parts of a long wall which would have encircled Hisalrik hill, vastly enlarging the city’s size. In total, there are seven ‘layers’ to Troy, ranging from 3000 BC to the aforementioned ‘New Troy,’ built by the Romans c.100 AD. These seven cities are divided into sub-stratific layers, of which Troy VIh & VIIa are the most interesting. Troy VI was initially built on massive scale c.1400 BC, a solid edifice of carefully fitted ashlar blocks, with two of its towers erected not long before the destruction of VIh by an earthquake, about the year 1300 BC.

It is possible to match these events to a creochisping mythomeme of a demigod called Herakles, & his own destruction of Troy. According to Herodotus (c.450 BC), Herakles was born ‘about nine hundred years,’ before his own time, ie c.1350. The legend of the demi-god’s destruction of Troy, as found in the Iliad & the Bibliotheke of Apollodorus, shows Poseidon, The Earthshaker, attacking Troy with the help of a sea-beast, a probable euhemeristic account of an earthquake & tsunami striking the shores of Asia Minor. The Roman historian Strabo tells us;

Poseidon, as the story runs, became angry with Laomedon the king of Troy in connection with the building of its walls, and sent forth from the sea a monster to ravage the land. By this monster those who made their living by the seashore and the farmers who tilled the land contiguous to the sea were being surprised and carried off. Furthermore, a pestilence fell upon the people and a total destruction of their crops, so that all the inhabitants were at their wits’ end because of the magnitude of what had befallen them. Consequently, the common crowd gathered together into an assembly and sought for a deliverance from their misfortunes, and the king, it is said, dispatched a mission to Apollo to inquire of the god regarding what had befallen them. When the oracle, then, became known, which told that the cause was the anger of Poseidon and that only then would it cease when the Trojans should of their own free will select by lot one of their children and deliver him to the monster for his food, although all the children submitted to the lot, it fell upon the king’s daughter Hesionê.

Luckily for Hesione, Herakles turns up just in time & offers to slay the monster in return for some of Laomedon’s quality horses. After Herakles upheld his side of the bargain & slew the beast, Laodemon then went back on his word, resulting in a very angry demigod sacking Troy. Another Roman historian, Diodorus Siculus, writes;

Aye, what a man, they say, was Heracles in might, my father he, steadfast, with heart of lion, who once came here to carry of the mares of King Laomedon, with but six ships and scantier men, yet sacked he then the city of proud Ilium, and made her streets bereft.

During the slaughter, Herakles killed Laodemon & all of his sons except a young Priam, the Homeric king of Troy. Hesione also survived, marrying Herakles’ companion Telamon & settling in Greece. According to the myths, Herakles placed the young Priam on the throne of Troy. The actual foundations of this story can be discerned through certain letters discovered at Hattusa, the capital of a Near Eastern empire ruled by the Hittites. In them we may read how, in about the year 1290BC, a certain Tawagawala, the brother of the King of Ahhiyawa (Grecian Achaea), supports a certain Piyamaradu in southern Turkey. It is time to assemble a couple of babel-chains;



That Herakles is Tawagalawa is supported by the Hattusa letter placing him in Lycia, a region on the southern Turkish coast. ‘When the men of the city Lukka transferred their allegience to Mr. Tawagalawa, he came into these lands. They transferred their allegience to me in the same way, and I came down into these lands.’ These events are also mentioned by Panyassis of Helicarnassus – a student of Herodotus – whose epic poem on Herakles, the Heracleia, has the hero rescuing certain Cretan colonists in Lyica. ‘It is certain,’ states Christoper Prestige Jones, ‘that Panyassis’ epic brought Heracles to Lycia, & here too the poet may well have followed local tradition.’

The Hittite letters describe Piyamaradu as a renegade ‘adventurer,’ who at one point tries to reassert his dynastic claim to the throne of Troy, called Wilusa in the letters. We also learn how he married his daughter off to Ata, the ruler of Millawanda, or Miletus, the very same city where Hesione is said by the Greeks to have sought refuge from her unwanted marriage to Telamon. From Miletus, Piyaramadu launched his quest to regain the throne of Troy, at which time was occupied by a certain Alaksandru. This name is the Hittite philochisp of Alexandros, a confusing alternate name given to Paris in the Iliad. According to the Hattusa letters, Alaksandu wrote to Muwatalli II asking for assistance against Piyaramadu, which resulted in a treaty between Troy & the Hittites, concluded about 1280 BC. Troy was now a vassal state of its neighbouring superpower, & the treaty was guaranteed by a god named Apaliunas, ie Apollo, a diety of the Iliad who stands firmly on the side of the Trojans. Just after the treaty was signed, the ancient world was witnessing an epic conflict being played out between the Hittites & the other near-eastern superpower, Egypt.

It very much seems that the battles of Troy were less the greatest conflict of the heroic age, more a side-show in a much larger conglagaration in which was fought the famous Battle of Kadesh on the Orontes River near the border between Syria & Lebanon. The gargantuan struggle would last for two decades, between 1278BC & 1258BC, into which time-frame fits the historically dated Trojan War. That the Trojans were involved in a larger war can actually be seen in the Iliad, where Hittites are listed as among the allies of Troy. The city’s location as the watchtower over the vital Dardanellian gateway to the Mediterranean, would have been motive enough for either side to want its control.

There is a problem, however, & that is the date given for the fall of Troy by the normally reliable & accurate 3rd Century Greek geographer, Eratosthenes; 1184BC. This date. However, falls extremely close to the destruction layer of the next Troy. After the destruction of Troy VIh the builders of its successor, Troy VIIa, patched up the fortification walls & created a city which would last until 1190 BC – the date of its destruction layer being supported by pottery styles discovered in that strata. This layer seems to record the city being razed during the invasions of the so-called Sea Peoples. King Ammurapi of Ugarit, writing about 1185, describes the onslaught;

My father, behold, the enemy’s ships came (here); my cities were burned, and they did evil things in my country. Does not my father know that all my troops and chariots are in the Land of Hatti, and all my ships are in the Land of Lukka…Thus, the country is abandoned to itself. May my father know it: the seven ships of the enemy that came here inflicted much damage upon us.

What exactly went on up there in turbulent, windy Troy is uncertain. The Sea-Peoples attack may even be remembered in the Iliad as the army of ships beached on the sands of Ilium, forming another ingredient in the Homeric soup. Mixing all the names & dates together suggests that Priam was replaced on the throne of Troy by a man – Alexandros – who could not have been his son as stated by Homer. A chispological embellishment seems evident, with Homer understanding Priam & Alaksandu were both in Troy at the right time, but got things muddled up whether purposefully or not. As for Alexandros being also called Paris, this supports my theory that the Helen abduction motif was played out in Egypt three centuries before the battles in NW Turkey. Paris was perhaps the name of the 16th Century BC abductor of Helen, while Alexandros was the chieftan of the 13th century BC citadel at Ilium. In the same way, the Egyptian Troy was conflated with the Turkish Ilium by Homer, the fusion of which created something more-than-real, something majestic enough to become the subject of his superhuman poetry.

Agios Ioanniss
13th July

Framing the Sonneverse

While lazing in the Cretan hills these past few days I have been chiefly editing my sonnet sequence, The Silver Rose, which has led me to finally finalize the contents of this essay. The Sonneverse has been running around my head since about 2008, when I used to muse on its essence on the long walk from Heather Lodge to Dunbar. One occasion is especially memorable, as I sat on Spott Dod overlooking East Lothian, with the universe surging from my mind. The general thesis is that there is a corpus of human works known as the Sonneverse, an ever-expanding collection of poetry in the sonnet form. Imagine the very first sonnet ever written to be the Big Bang, kinda thing. I have written a sonnet, of course, elucidating its properties;

Every stanza is a planet
Every sonnet is a star
Fourteen sonnets constellations make
But brighter skies by far
Are galaxies of constellations
Fourteen in each one
Stretching epic metaverses,
& when one’s works are done
A host of sonnets ye shall choose
Full seven score & fourteen gems
Most lucious whisp’rings of thy muse
Set in those precious diadems
Crowning the sonnetteer who sings
From Ceasars to our petty kings

When the opening couplet reads, ‘Every stanza is a planet, Every sonnet is a star,’ the meaning is simple. A sonnet is powered by the same energy which emanates from a star; i.e. the fiery light-giving force which giving life to its planetary system. In terms of the sonnet, this energy will then bring to life the poem’s planets – the stanzas – & whether the star’s energy is powerful or weak will depend upon the quality of the sonnet. William Blake once said that the genius & creative spirit of mankind was poetry & it is in the sonneverse that we gain our most natural reflection of the Untold Universe at large.

In one of my Pendragon Lectures of two years ago, I formulated the theory that poems stood upon four pillars – Music, Mood, Mould & Measure. Let us now apply this theory to the exploration of the sonnet form, retaining the ‘quatordicci’ element that seems natural in soneteering, ie the omniprevalent usage of the number 14. The MOULD of every sonnet is bound by a 14-line restriction. Each sonnet, however, may be divided into staves, or stanzettas as I like to call them. These are the planets in orbit around the sonnet’s star. The Petrarchean, for example, contains two stanzettas, of 8 & 6 lines respectively. During my time as an explorer of the Sonneverse, I have mapped out a number of typical planetary systems.
X X X X X X X X – X X X X X X

X X X X – X X X X – X X X X – X X

X X – X X – X X – X X – X X – X X – X X

X X X X X – X X X X X – X X X X

Each planet of a starsystem can be mapped out via its MEASURE. There may be seven Archilochian Couplets, for example, or the 3/3/3/3/2 Oriental system, i.e. four stanzettas of 5-7-5 Haiku, follow’d by the concluding 7-7 couplet. If one had decided upon a structure of 5/5/4, then for your pentet staves you could use a Limerick, perhaps, or the South American Wayra, whose syllable counts are 5-7-7-6-8. There are vastly numbered variants; including irregular sonnets which look & feel like Free Verse, hefty Alexandrines in solid blank verse blocks, & so on, into infinity, one expects.

Every planet also possesses an atmosphere, or MOOD. These could be a Prosodion to Apollo perhaps, or a precious Paean to a new-found paramour. A bubbling Barzelletta; a sensuous Ghazel; a Senryu to a silly friend, a weeping Epicedium; a Protreptic plea to passion; or a soul-stirring Aubade. For the budding sonneteer there are many, many possible ways in which to create one’s words. These are instilled with a poem’s MUSIC, the animated life of both line & the stave, where the poets weave their symphonies utilising elements such as cynghanned & rhymes both internal & line-ending.

The planetary systems creayed by the sonetteers oscillate between barren anisometric rocks of sterile worlds, or are occupied by single & gigantic fertile planets, buzzing with the operatic voices of man, beast, bird & insect, just as is heard in this fabulous land of Creta. In one corner of the sonneverse, for example, the hardy explorer may encounter the Onegin giant devised by Alexander Sergevich Pushkin for his Eugene Onegin, a novel in verse. Stanzas have 14 lines of iambic tetrameter rhyming ababccddeffegg, & the rhymes may be feminine & masculine.
Returning to my sonnet given earlier, where we read ‘fourteen sonnets constellations make,’ in the purest sense of the physics, fourteen sonnets make a traditional sequenza, ie 14 star-systems closely linked in time, in space & by them, the aforemention ‘constellation’ of sonnets. ‘The Fourteen Sonnets, Elegiac and Descriptive. Written During a Tour. Bath and London, 1789,’ by William Lisle Bowles are a perfect example. Each sonnets is Petrarchian in mould, iambic pentameter in measure, & are unified by the observatory mood of a travelling poet. In my own experimental periods with the constellation, I tried diversifying the measures, sometimes utilizing the same one for 14 stanzas, sometimes using 14 different ones. I also did the same with the Moods, such as;

Vista : Composed from a high viewpoint
Odes : A tribute to people or places
Pastoral : Poetry describing rural scenes
Amoebean : A conversation between 2 speakers
Ensenhamen : A didactic poem
Epistle : A poem addressed to a friend
Barzelletta : A funny story
History : A poem about a past event
Ghazel : A poem concerning lovemaking
Quasida : A place which recalls lamented lost love
Sutra : A treatise
Tantra : A religious treatise/sermon
Fable : A moral narrative
Geste : An account of deeds / adventures

Of the next step up in the Sonneverse, I wrote there are, ‘galaxies of constellations, fourteen in each one.’ i.e. 196 sonnets again unified by a grand theme we shall call the Gestalt. I have composed several of galaxies; a tour of the far North of Scotland, a tour of Edinburgh, & a tour of India. Of these, the Ediniad galaxy was the most technical, for each of the 14 constellations were unified by a singular measure, such as 14 alexandrines, 14 ottosyllabics, etc. As for the mould, the first sonnet of each constellation would be a dense block of fourteen lines, the next would be seven couplets, the next would be 3/3/3/3/2, the next would be 4/4/4/2 & so on. A incredibly complex, but quite satisfying essay into the possible architectronics of sonnetry. For me, a royal suite of sonnets would be a galaxy in which every sonnet would have a different mould of fourteen varieties, a different metre of fourteen varieties & a differnt mood of fourteen varieties. I have never attempted to create one, but on those lofty walks in the foothills of the Lammermuirs I definitely ruminated upon such… a glimpse through my psychic telescope into the far-flung reaches of the Sonneverse.

Agios Ioanniss
13th July

Formal Free Verse

The time is 3.30 AM Cretan o’Clock. I am currently having a mild asthma attack on account, no doubt, of a series of cats which hover about our Agios Ioannis home waiting for scraps. Making love to m’lady on the outside bed & thus releasing a snowstorm of dander didn’t help things, while the altitude hangs like a Sword of Damocles over my lungs. Another bone of contention is the massive battle I’ve been having with the native mosquitos, & after two hours of carnage I’ve decided to just go out onto the verandah & type an essay through the night. There is a fresh-laid coffee by my side. The goat’s bell is tinkling.

The subject shall be my recent endeavouring with Free Verse. A Parnasssian at heart, formal versification has been my mantra for many years, but I am not completely ignorant to realise that Free Verse has enjoyed, & is still enjoying, a sustained period as the standard. In recent times I have been deliberating that a Pendragon of this particular epoch should formalize & codify the nuances within Free Verse. There was once a time when the highways had hardly any traffic regulation, when Ford Model Ts career’d all over the place with motorized abandon. Such a lawless state is similar to the one in which Free Versifying finds itself today.

Ever since Whitman elongated his lines, voyeurs of fashion began to look upon the form-poem as a faded, rattling jurassic, & turned to the new, to the fresh, to the exciting vogue of vers libre. ‘I would as soon write free verse as play tennis with the net down,’ piped Robert Frost whimsacally in 1935, by which time the political tide had turned, so to speak, & Free Verse poets were more & more taking up seats in the Senate.

I have personally had the odd dabble with Free Verse since my inception as a poet, including one huge vomiting of material in 2003, a piece entitled Bohemia, which contains one my favorite pieces.



I wrote a poem once,
At Hatfield, not far from the scene of disaster
My friend was driving there one sunny day
Smoking reefers & talking about life’s changes

We ended up in a funky metal scrapyard
One of those places you never thought existed
Like when you were younger & joked
About where all the lost odd socks went
But this place was the real deal,
Full of Volkswagon carcasses,
Camper vans & Beetle hulks
& a couple of greasy mechanics,
chilling with the sun

While my friend looked at a ninety-nicker bumper
I was suddenly inspired to write a few desolate lines
About the decaying Earth & the dwindling fuel reserves
& finished it off with an arty kind of twist
About discovering an old photograph of myself
Holding a pretty young lady, she was wearing beads
Sat upon the beach of, perhaps, San Remo
It never happened like that, but all poems need an end

While my friend looked at a ninety-nicker bumper
I was suddenly inspired to write a few desolate lines
About the decaying Earth & the dwindling fuel reserves
& finished it off with an arty kind of twist
About discovering an old photograph of myself
Holding a pretty young lady, she was wearing beads
Sat upon the beach of, perhaps, San Remo
It never happened like that, but all poems need an end

So I stashed it away,
A single sheet of paper folded several times
Constantly forgetting to type the blighter up
Until it turned up in a book I was reading
Livy’s remarkable Early History of Rome
I’d packed it to study on my mission round the Baltic
Where trawling about the soft streets of Stockholm

Wondering what the hell the plastic cows were for
Every time I picked it up the sheet fell out the pages
Constantly reminding me that I should make it safe
It would only take a second, but I never took the time…
I found myself having one of those moments
The sun setting sublimely as I ate my evening meal
Upon the forecastle of the hotel boat I was staying on
The splish-splosh of the waves & a gust of sea breeze
Blew out the sheet as I turned a page
To float on the air like a falling feather
Time was standing still but the paper started F
To slip thro the narrowest of cracks tween the L boards
To be found one day in the distant future I
By somebody breaking up the hold for scrap N
I was gutted at first,
Like the time my girlfriend ran off with a German
But as I ponder’d home to my cabin empty handed,
Past painted memorials of the age of sail
I had a remarkable epiphany
At last my poem had a proper end!


The Lost Poem is pure free verse. No rhyme, no rhythm to speak of, with a piece of aesthetic ‘concrete’ wordplay to boot. Thirteen years after penning the piece, I feel obliged to consider Free Verse now in a formal way, to record its invented ‘species’ just as the Welsh Bards recorded their native forms. In recent weeks I have completed my first survey into the possibility of formalizing 24 Free Verse Forms (FVF), a number identical to the official Welsh metres as codified by Einion Offeiriad & Dafydd Ddu Athro. As exercise is always superior to theory, I utilized these FVF throughout the composition of my ‘Sylvermane: The Last Wolf of Scotland.’ The majority of the FVF were taken from poets of the last few decades, which like stars in the sky I have named after their ‘discoverer,’ or in some cases the actual poem itself. On analysis of my efforts, I have come to the conclusion that although most are quite satisfactory, certain FVF didn’t quite hit the mark, & should be replaced by others at a future reassessment. A dozen, however, have passed my own critical standards, which I would definitively like to offer to the senate of posterity. The poetry they contain is from Sylvermane.


I The Hugo: After the poem ‘April in Cerignola’ by Richard Hugo.

This is Norway, esteemed. The sun is mean
all summer, but underneath the Watchers
gaze on trollskin forests, trunks support
Valhalla on columns of adamantine granite,
misty mountains stitched with river silver,
lynxes prowl by wolverines, brown bears
& tremendous gangs of wolves, among
whom prospers, exhausted, Sylvermane.

II The Respiro: After the collection ‘Journey Across Breath’ by Stephen Watts, translated as ‘Tragitto nel respiro,’ by Cristina Viti.

Upon ancient Cruachan,
Long-lost hill-fort, mossy
gums, rings of gorse, Hipp
olytes’ spear, amber-heade
d, shaft thrust in cavern so
il : Millennia before; in thi
s den tonight a she-wolf e
mpties slowly her womb f
or Old White, these pricele
ss births AT LAST! AT L
AST! & manifesting the di
vine, four wonderful pups;

III The Tomlinson: A staccato stanza From Charles Tomlinson’s ‘Ode to San Francisco.’

The Red Dawn spreads
& did suffuse
sufficient pinks
horizon turns
milky white
a splodge of paint
hits holy canvas
from Culbin’s rooves
early birds
gawp in awe
bauble orchards
ivy creeps gladly
up sunlit walls

IV The Thorpe: After the poem ‘Putting the Boot In’ by Adam Thorpe.

Malcolm waits
for full-faced moon

he loved hearing tales
of Cruachan’s Carlin

he comb’d the locks
of Morag, by rivers

he heard the thunder
stun green-robed Watchers

‘Fetch me, my love,
my bier & my bow

rough-clefted arrows
& strings so supple’

V The Aygi: After the poem ‘Playing Finger Games’ by Gennady Aygi.

Malcolm welcom’d heartily – the Hunter Poet, whose fresh-spirited lines, in these very halls, have been repeated by lesser-breathing bards – they had stood proudly before the Campbells of Glenorchy – of these, Sir John of Bredalbane had made Kilchurn a barracks – it stands, knifepoint sharp, at the bare throat of cattle-tracks

VI The Wheatley: After the poem ‘A Skimming Stone, Lough Bray’ by David Wheatley

Unseen forces
lift the lid of sleep
twitching limbs, raising heads
lick her mouth
belly’s filling
blood-flow growing thicker.

Months pass by
happy playtimes
burgeoning hierarchies settle
ears flatten
tails between legs
pointing straight at Sylvermane.

VII The Barnstone: After the poem, Family, by Willis Barnstone.

Two years fly by & the pack
Is changing fast, Sylvermane
his brother
& his sister
after the season of snows
tension rises with the sun
day of fangs & claws
broke oer Cruachan
it was a mighty match-up ‘til the last
when Sylvermane saw sense & slinked
away, alone
a refugee

VIII The Tempest: A wild, stormy, random & meandering form used by Kate Tempest in her ‘Let Them Eat Chaos.’

Angry winds batter land

Climate change


Sun dimmer than memory remembers




Intermingles melodical
Conducting feebly bleating sheep

IX The Gaer: From the poem ‘The Hill Fort (Y Gaer) by Owen Shears.

Since the day she was taken
fuscous darkness stains the mountains
despite gloriously daybreaking worlds

Sylvermane ensared by sadnesses
torturous sensations of stagnancy
of life forfoughten – he paws loosely

Raven swoops by, depress’d by
His doomdrunk dolour, pitying
His gait’s subsidence… a fly drifts by

X The Insom: After the poem ‘Insomonia; By Sydney Lea.

The pack has grown perilously small;
Beside the alpha mates,
in perfect genuflection,
only her parent & brother for protection
& Goldenfang’s nulliparous womb,
‘Let us try again for the Spring’
She nuzzles her beloved
The famous Old White whose thunder-howls pierce

the Trossachs’ sculptured stillness, since him born
his Fur always grey, but his name
was given under noble circumstances –
His mother watched him as a pup
sat stone-still on stones below peaktops hidden
by tottering cumuli, where flashes of cyan sky
erupted in the whiteness of the whitest cloud,
jaws gape open… an old, old soul

XI The Concrete: The universal term for poetry that has both meaning & ashthetic qualities.

XII The Kazantzis: From the collection, ‘The Rabbit Magician Plate’ by Judith Kazantzis

Flipping in her iron-forged talons
she brings back fish for the feasting
Sylvermane coughs up bones

Days pass, stength increases,
cunning accumulates & speed
accelerates as teeth gnaw sharper

Night falls, as was the custom
wolves set off in single file
silently treading, & softly

The scent is caught upon the tracks
red deer, hot blood throbs thro’ veins
churning with bestial intent

From chaos, then, comes order, or at least a semblance of order. Times & tides & of course tastes will change again, that is certain, & new modes of poetic creation will come into play & Free Verse will become confined to fringes along with all the other forms that had been invented, utilized & then put out of fashion by newly-forged forms. The old forms do not go to a graveyard, however, but to a library of mechanisms able to be accessed by the student poet, or the practitioner who feels their soul connected to a particular form. Where we have our Sonnetteers, let us also have our Freeverseers. For the latter, the directorial words of Ezra Pound, one of the leading exponents & standard bearers of free verse, should suffice;

I think one should write vers libre only when one ‘must,’ that is to say, only when the thing builds up a rhythm more beautiful than that of set metres, or more real, more of a part of the emotion of the ‘thing’, more germane, intimate, interpretative than the measure of regular accentual verse; a rhythm which discontents one with set iambic or set anapaestic

In this essay I have made the first tentative steps into organising free verse & bringing the mould into the accepted family of forms. Of course, Free Verse by its nature has needed tidying up a bit, given a close shave, & supplied with the proper lessons of decorum as given to any dilettante, but as with all young rebels, the form must bow to the inevitable & realise it is just a minor prince in a wider nation of princes. The Risorgimento has come.

Agios Ioannis

The Homeric Answer: Odyssey

Yesterday morning my dear Emily drove me & my still-worsening asthma to the hospital at Ireapetra. At the very foot of the mountain we saw Adonis beginning his ascent. His car wasn’t working & it was easier for him to come along with us via Ireapetra by car, than hike up the steep mountain road to Agios Ioannis. I also think he wanted to help as well, being the nice fella that he is. Once at the hospital, & after the formalities of introductions were helped by Adonis, I was left to coalese with an oxygen pump while Emily went back to pack. Slowly but surely my lungs were coaxed back to normality by this hissy, gas-splurgling thing, & I was picked up a couple of hours later by Emily & the girls at the resumption of some semblance of normality.


It was time to drive to Elounda for our final few-day stint in Crete, arriving yesterday. The rooms are slightly less than OK, but they do have A/C AND mosquito nets – a veritable godsend. I slept most of yesterday & well into this morning, on account of my asthmatic lack of sleep at Ioannis. it had all been rather like that film, A Nightmare on Elm Street; I was afraid to nod off in case I never woke up again. Also, & quite startingly, that bloody palmthorn decided to eject itself from my body. I had just immersed myself in a lovely hot bath, when the water must have disturbed my puncture wound’s scab & suddenly, like a cork from a bottle, the black thorn emerged slowly out of my foot. I had no idea it had been that bloody big & I have just witnessed at first hand a miraculous testament to the human body’s ability to expel alien bodies.


Today we’ve pottered about Elounda, something of an ex-pats colony, taking lunch on a floating restaurant – including a freshly caught, 60 euro fish – while gazing at the dusky old leper colony on Spinalonga island. It was then off to a nearby waterpark where a mixture of chlorine & seawater is making all my bodycuts scream in pain. It is under such stingy conditions that I shall now begin my further investigations into the Homeric Question. In an earlier Letter, I showed how the Iliad was in fact a construction, or rather reconstruction, of earlier Homeric materials by a Cretan poet under the patronage of a Spartan King. The Odyssey, I believe, came to light under quite similar circumstances, which occurred at Athens in the 6th century BC. The noble catylyst was a tyrant called Pisistratus, whose influence on the Homeric poems has already been observed by many classical writers;

Pisistratus brought together & published the Iliad & the Odyssey (Aelian)

We praise Pisistratus for his gathering together the poems of Homer (Libanius)

Pisistratus brought them together, as this epigram, inscribed by the Athenians on Pisistratus’ tomb, makes clear: Pisistratus, great in councils, I who gathered together Homer, who had formerly been sung here & there (Anonymous Life of Homer)

Who was more learned in that same period, or whose eloquence is said to have had a higher literary culture than that of Pisistratus? He is said to have been the first to have arranged the books of Homer, which were previously confused, in the way we now have them (Cicero)

The general gist is that during Pisistratus’ time as the Athenian leader, both of the Homeric epics were ‘arranged’ into their 24 books, then scribally copied, i.e. ‘published,’ for public consumption. Of the two epics, the Iliad seems far too much of a composite to have been ‘previously confused,’ as Cicero says, & one expects Pisistratus did little other than arrange the Iliad into its 24 books. Indeed, he seems to have had some influence upon book 10, for Eusthatius has stated, ‘the ancients say that this book was put seperately by Homer & was not counted among the part of the Iliad, but was put into the poem by Pisistratus.’ Other Iliadic tweaks made by the Athenian demagogue are said to have included his fudging of the ‘Catalogue of Ships,’ an account of the Greek forces who sailed to Troy. Pisistratus could well have interpolated Ajax’s bringing of 12 ships from Salamis in order to prove that it was once an ancient possession of Athens. Turning our attention on the Odyssey, however, screams out with immediate rancour that it was ‘previously confused,’ & believe me it is still confusing to this day; a jumbled mass of plots & stories which leap about through the narrative like quantum literary atoms.

The need to show off personal power with monumental exhibitions is an ever-present trait of the human condition. In recent centuries, the Great Exhibition of the British Empire in 1851 & the neoclassical buildings of Adolf Hitler at Nuremburg are perfect examples of the grand ego’s demonstrance. Pisistratus understood how, & more importantly why, Lycurgas had moulded his own version of Homer. Wishing to demonstate his own cultural splendour, the Athenian lawgiver emulated the modus operandi of his Spartan predecessor. He even gets a namedrop in the Odyssey, where a ‘Pisistratus’ appears as Nestor’s noble son. There is something also of the tyrant’s return from exile to Athens & resumation of its leadership reflected in the epic; which is altogether a perfect metaphorical match for the return of Odysseus to Ithica. Furthermore, when we observe Odysseus being praised with, ‘in the world of men you have no rival as a statesman & an orator,’ it is east to make out a veiled tribute to Pisistratus.

The platform for the first oral performance of the Odyssey would have been a festival known as the Greater Dionysia in Athens. Inaugarated by Pisistratus himself, this festival celebration to Dionysis, the god of wine, lasted six days, mirroring the six equal parts into which the Odyssey is divided. The central stage of the festival was a theatre to Dionysis on the Acropolis – also built at the instigation of Pisistratrus – which would in succeeding centuries play host to the works of the best playwrights of ancient Greece. We may permit ourselves a moment to imagine that the very first recital of the Odyssey was sung from the stage of this theatre; when, for six consecutive night throughout the festival, the best Athenian bards would remember & retell the adventures of Odysseus.

In contrast to the testosterone-fueled Iliad, the Odyssey has a lighter, feminine touch, leading certain scholars to believe the poem was composed by a woman. This new feminine direction would have pleas’d the women of Athens, who held high social standing in the democracy. Among the many strong female characters, the true star & heroine has to be the goddess Athena, who dominates the action from beginning to end. As the ‘patron saint’ of Athens, her presence in the poem strengthens the idea that the Odyssey was created in the city.

Strabo discusses how Pisistratus ordered an official recension, entrusting the task to four leading scholars. Such a split in pensmanship explains the stylistic differnces & textual inconsistancies in context which run rife throughout the Odyssey. An example can be found with the spear-holder used by Telemachus; which moves from inside the megaron building in Book 1, to merely being leant against a column in Book 17. Modern scholars have identified an earlier ‘A’ poet, & one or more later hands they designated as the ‘B’ poet. Of these hands, the ‘B’ poet is reckoned to have modernised & lengthened the nucleus of the poem as given by ‘A.’ Let us then assume that the ‘B’ poets are four leading scholars employed by Pisistratus to work on the orginal Odyssean material.

The version we now possess presents us with the recognition scene in xxiii 1-296, a fine passage in which the only discordant notes are the late interpolations in 96-165, & perhaps in the last lines; in this account, Penelope is portrayed as finally learning the truth at the end of a story in which she has played, up to that moment, only a marginal part. But in the hypothetical second version, of later date than xxiii, the recognition scene would have taken place earlier, during the bathing of the wound in xix 53ff, at the point in the text of our MSS where Odysseus asks for an old woman such as Eurycleia to attend him (xix 343-8); & this would have been followed by husband & wife together hatching the plot for vengeance. A Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey (v3) – Russo, Joseph / Fernandez-Galiano, Manuel / Huebeck, Alfred (1992)

They four scholars are never given names, but one of these ancient erudites could have been the literary-minded Onomacritus, of whom Heredotus states had collected the oracles of a poet called Museaus, into which he inserted forgeries of his own making. For numerous reasons, another of these scholar-poets might have been Stesichorus (632-555 BC). Only fragments of his poetry survive, but he was widely celebrated in classical times for his epic tayles in lyric metre; such a talent was perfectly suited for the job of assembling the Odyssey. The massive 10th century Byzantine collection of biographies known as the Suda actually attributes to Stesichorus a poem known as the Nostoi, which deals with the return of the Greeks from Troy. Is it in fact recording the work of Stesichorus upon the Odyssey? ‘The greatness of Stesichorus’ genius,’ praises Quintillian, ‘is shown among other things by his subject-matter: he sings of the most important wars and the most famous commanders and sustains on his lyre the weight of epic poetry. In both their actions and their speeches he gives due dignity to his characters, and if only he had shown restraint he could possibly have been regarded as a close rival of Homer.’ In a similar vein, Dionysius of Halicarnassus commends Stesichorus for ‘the magnificence of the settings of his subject matter; in them he has preserved the traits and reputations of his characters,’ while Longinus puts him in select company with Herodotus, Archilochus and Plato as the ‘most Homeric’ of authors. According to Plato, Stesichorus created a palinode which read, ‘that story is not true / You {Helen} never sailed in the benched ships. You never went to Troy,’ which is consistent with the ‘Egyptian’ Helen as hinted at in various places throughout the Odyssey. Plato adds that because of these slanderous verses, Stesichrous was rendered blind, a legend which may have transchisper’d into Homer’s own legendary blindness.

In the wake of the Athenian recensions, Alexander the Great would always sleep with a copy of the Iliad under his pillow, even paying homage to Achilles at Troy on his march into Asia. Alexander’s favorite line in the Iliad, Plutarch tells us, was ‘great in the war, great in the arts of sway,’ an apt epitaph for that mighty conqueror of the ancient world. Since the Athenian edit, the two Homeric poems have been copied out & copied out & copied out again until they became the stone-set poems which appear in our modern texts. Layer upon layer of composition. recomposition & editing has created the Odyssey & The Iliad, & holding them in one’s hand today is akin to the moment when Schliemann first set his eyes on Hisalrik Hill. He knew the truth about the Trojan War was in there somewhere, & all he had to do was start digging.

15th July

The Real Phaecia

I am currently back sitting at my favorite table in Star Beach, a few hours before my return flight to Britain as, I hope, a Pendragon. Yesterday we drove around the coast of Mirrabello to Mochlos, a startlingly mellow village-cluster reminscent of an Indian getaway. A few dope-smoking travelers were chilling out, idling the months away, I imagined, until they could return to the East. My attempts to procure a boat & sailor to take me to the island of Pseira soon fail’d, & we were directed instead to Tholos, a lovely sandy beach full of locals, perched beside an immense olive grove which carpeted the valley between tall mountains. Leaving the girls to frolick in the waves, I availed myself of a local sailor to take me to my long-thought-of destination. A handsome, tann’d feloow, we soone established that on arrival at the island I would have an hour or so to potter about its Minoan town. I have strong reasons to believe Pseira was once Scheria, the capital city of the Phaecians, among whom Odysseus spent a little time before his final return to Ithica.

The Phaecians were said to have originally dwelt at the city of Hyperia, near Kalaureia, on the Greek mainland. Abandoning the Plains of Troezen en masse, they relocated to a new home somewhere on the edge of the known Grecian world, ‘far from men that live by toil.’ That the name Kalaureia is also given by Pausanius to ‘a small island near Crete’, I began ruminating on the hyperfact of the Phaecians having settle’d in the area on, & around Pseira. It was time to search for topographicalo matches between the Odysseyean account of the Phaecian homeland. Many people associate this realm of deep antiquity with the island of Corfu, on account of a rock in its chief harbor matching a description of a sunken-ship as given by Homer.

Now when Poseidon, the earth-shaker, heard this he went his way to Scheria, where the Phaeacians dwell, and there he waited. And she drew close to shore, the seafaring ship, speeding swiftly on her way. Then near her came the Earth-shaker and turned her to stone, and rooted her fast beneath by a blow of the flat of his hand, and then he was gone

The Corfu link is unlikely, for the Phaecians call Odysseus a ‘stranger.’ With Kephalonia lying just down the coast from Corfu, why would Odysseus say ‘…if I outlive this time of sorrow, I may be counted as your friend, though I live so far away from all of you.’ Scheria must lie elsewhere, so let us cast our net wider to catch the Phaecian fish. Several clues in particular have pointed me to the Gulf of Mirrabello, the ‘Lovely Bay’ of the Venetians, in which wave-soothed Pseira serenely sits.

1: The Phaecians are said to have transported a Cretan Prince called Rhadamanthys to Euboea.

2: The name Scheria, the chief Phaecian city in the Odyssey, seems a philochisp of Pseira.

3: Pseira lies in a gulf, the Gulf of Mirrabello, which leads us to the Odyssey’s, ‘for seventeen days I sailed over the sea, and on the eighteenth appeared the shadowy mountains of your land; and my heart was glad, ill-starred that I was; for verily I was yet to have fellowship with great woe, which Poseidon, the earth-shaker, sent upon me. For he stirred up the winds against me and stayed my course, and wondrously roused the sea, nor would the wave suffer me to be borne upon my raft, as I groaned ceaselessly. My raft indeed the storm shattered, but by swimming I clove my way through yon gulf of the sea, until the wind and the waves, as they bore me, brought me to your shores.’

4: Pseira lies across the Aegean Sea from Athens, which connects well with the Odyssey’s ‘flashing-eyed Athena departed over the unresting sea, and left lovely Scheria. She came to Marathon and broad-wayed Athens.’

The descriptions of the Phaecians heavily invoke the Minoans of Crete; both of whom, for instance, were praised for their high seamanship. In 1991, archeologists found a Minoan serpentinite seal stone at Pseira, upon which can be seen a ship with a beak-shaped prow, high stern, and single mast connected to the vessel by ropes. Significantly, the ship does not have any oars, which embsosoms the concept of Phaecian ships being ‘steered by thought,’ i.e. by sailing’s intellectual use of wind. Indeed, the greatest Minoan shipwreck ever discovered was found just off Pseira by the Greek archaeologist Elpida Hadjidaki in 2003. We must also acknowledge the story-telling of the Phaecian bard Demodocus in the Odyssey. During his recital, he involved in the telling nine singer-dancers, holding up a perfect mirror to the nine all-drumming, all-dancing ‘Curetes’ of Bronze Age Cretan tradition.

If the Phaecians were Minoan, they must have spoken the same language as inscribed in the Linear A tablets found across Crete & beyond. This long-lost tongue should then be able to be traced back to the original Phaecian homelands in the Troezen, which had been established by a Lydian called Pelops. Lydia is essentially western Turkey, in which region Mount Ida towers over the Trojan Plain, & thus the Mount Ida of Crete gives us our first clear lingual connection. That ancient Minoan tongue was an offshoot of Lydian makes sound sense, for it can be readily observed how the seventeen symbols of the classical Lydian alphabet have indentical, or near identical, correspondents among the Linear A glyphs. Phonetical similarities also abound between Lydian & Linear A, such as;


Atr / Atros (dead) —A-Du / A-Du-Re-Za

Kopai (abundant)— Ka-Pa

Kue (collect) — Ku-pa / Ku-ra / Ku-ro
(appears to mean ‘total’)

Ovie (sheep) —Ovis


If we assimilate Lydian words into the Egyptian name for Crete, Kaftiu/Kapthor, we gain a most agreeable translation of Kaf (cavity) Tiuae (divine), as in the sacred cave of Zeus as placed by the ancients on Crete. We may also combine the Lydian words FUE (flee) & KIN (clan) to create something like, ‘the clan which fled to safety.’ This is an apt desciption of the Troezen-based Phaecians, who fled their homelands in the wake of the rampaging Cyclops tribe. Such a conjecture opens up a basketful of potential answers to academic conundrums such as, ‘why does Linear A contain elements of the Anatolian languages?’ Answer: Because the Minoans were Phaecians whose original home was in Lydia. ‘Why is Linear A found in certain places on the Peloponnese?’ Answer:’ Because it was introduced there by Pelops. ‘Why is the Lydian word for the votive double-axe, ‘Labrys’ the phonetical base-root of the Cretan labyrinth, & why is the labrys itself found all over Minoan art?’’ Answer: Because the labrys was introduced to Crete by the Lydians. ‘Why does King Manes, son of Zeus, the first monarch of Lydia, sound so much like ‘Minos,’ son of Zeus, the great king of Crete?’ Answer: Because their name means king in Lydian. ‘Why did the genius Michael Ventris, the cracker of Linear B, instinctively feel that Linear A was connected to the Etruscan language?’ Answer: According to Herodotus, the Etruscans came from Lydia, a statement recently supported by recent DNA analysis & also an Etruscan-like language found on the Lemnos stele.

The barren, rocky island of Pseira rises from the sea, two miles from the coast by the Kavousian plain. Sailing there was sheer joy, skimming over a perfect sea under the gigantic slopes of those hearty mainland peaks. I was delighted to discover my ship’s pilot actually knew what I was babbling on about. ‘Scheria?’ he said, with an understanding eye. ‘Yes, yes,’ I replied, sweeping my hands in a broad circle about me, ‘it was here?’ As we approached, I noticed the western side of the island is a sheer surface of unclimbable, unlandable cliffs, fitting perfectly with the Odyssey’s description of Odysseus approaching Scheria;

There were neither harbors where ships might ride, nor road-steads, but projecting headlands, and reefs, and cliffs… without are sharp crags, and around them the wave roars foaming, and the rock runs up sheer, and the water is deep close in shore, so that in no wise is it possible to plant both feet firmly and escape ruin.

Arriving at Pseira in 2017, my boatman sat down in a spot of shade while I set off to explore the foundations & streets of the ruined town. It was so, so peaceful as with notes in hand I began to make my correlations;
A Walled City: Remnants of a wall can still be found at the top of the ‘city,’ which was a quite substantial settlement of 60 houses.
About the city he had drawn a wall, he had built houses and made temples for the gods, and divided the ploughlands…. when we are about to enter the city, around which runs a lofty wall
Two Harbours: A very impressive, tall, steep flight of steps known as the Grand Staircase leads up from the beach to the town. On either side of the Peninsular was a Minoan harbour.

A fair harbor lies on either side of the city and the entrance is narrow, and curved ships are drawn up along the road, for they all have stations for their ships, each man one for himself

Palace of Alcinous: To the north of the town square, on the west side of the peninsula, lie the remains of ‘House of the Pillar Partitions.’ The house appears to have been a smaller version of the Minoan Hall, which connects with the Palace of Alcinus as described in the Odyssey. Fragments of loom weights were found at the house, which suggest the weaving Phaecian maidens. In addition to these corellations, just as Homer describes Phaecian women sitting & weaving, so at Pseira a relief was found which shows the very same thing.

The houses of the Phaeacians are no wise built of such sort as is the palace of the lord Alcinous. But when the house and the court enclose thee, pass quickly through the great hall, till thou comest to my mother, who sits at the hearth in the light of the fire, spinning the purple yarn, a wonder to behold, leaning against a pillar, and her handmaids sit behind her. There, too, leaning against the selfsame pillar, is set the throne of my father, whereon he sits and quaffs his wine, like unto an immortal. Of bronze were the walls that stretched this way and that from the threshold to the innermost chamber, and around was a cornice of cyanus… golden were the doors that shut in the well-built house, and doorposts of silver were set in a threshold of bronze. Of silver was the lintel above, and of gold the handle. On either side of the door there stood gold and silver dogs… Filled were the porticoes and courts and rooms with the men that gathered… within, seats were fixed along the wall on either hand, from the threshold to the innermost chamber, and on them were thrown robes of soft fabric, cunningly woven, the handiwork of women. On these the leaders of the Phaeacians were wont to sit drinking and eating, for they had unfailing store. And golden youths stood on well-built pedestals, holding lighted torches in their hands to give light by night to the banqueters in the hall.

The House of Rhyta: There is a great deal evidence that ritualistic entertainment ceremonies took place at the so-called ‘House of Rhyta,’ named after a drinking vessel known as the rhyton. Many cups & goblets were found, some of which contain’d hints of barley, beer, and wine. There was a very large, almost communal kitchen space, in the building, suggesting it was used for feasting purposes. It is in this very place I believe the following occurred as given in Book 10 of the Odyssey.

The herald returned, leading their skilful bard, whom the Muse loved more than other men, though she gave him both good and evil: she robbed him of his sight, but gifted him the power of sweet song. Pontonous, the herald, placed a silver-embossed chair in the midst of them all, with its back against a high pillar, and hung the ringing lyre on a peg above his head, and showed him how to find it with his hands. And he set a handsome table by his side, with a basket of bread, and a cup of wine to drink if he was so minded. Then they all stretched out their hands to the fine feast spread before them. When they had satisfied their need for food and drink, the Muse inspired her bard to sing of the heroes’ glorious deeds… This was the bard’s song, and Odysseus clutched at his long purple cloak with his great hands, and dragged it over his head to hide his handsome face, ashamed lest the Phaeacians see the tears pouring from his eyes. Whenever the divine bard stopped singing, Odysseus wiped the tears away, drew the cloak from his head, and reaching for his two-handled cup made libations to the gods. But when the bard began again, prompted by the Phaeacian lords who enjoyed his song, Odysseus covered his head once more and groaned.
Meeting Place: While wandering the town ruins, I paused in the sun at a large & level spot near the harbor which is evidently identical to the Odysseyean, ‘place of assembly of the Phaeacians, which was builded for them hard by their ships.’ It was upon this very place, I felt, that Odysseus had been led to after listening to the recitation of Demodocus;

The herald hung the ringing lyre on the peg, and led Demodocus by the hand from the hall along the same path the Phaeacian nobles had taken to see the games. They headed for the gathering place, and a countless throng went with them… The first trial was a foot race… then they tested each other in painful bouts of wrestling, where Euryalus beat the best

While imagining the famous & sportive games of Odysseus & the Phaecians, with a toot of the boatman’s horn my hour was too-soon completed. My disappointment soon turned to joy, however, for as we sped off back to Tholos, over the perfect waters, I began to make out the small offshore island which looked rather like the stony hull of an upturned boat. During my investigative trawls through Google Earth, I had searched in vain for the following sunken boat, but this rocklet called Konida I began reckoning was the stone-ship island. It lies just offshore by the well-preserved Minoan town of Gourni, the ‘Minoan Pompeii,’ whose houses’ foundations remain intact, with only the mud-brick upper storeys fading into millennial dust. A casual walk around the ruins with the ladies reveal’d many similarities with Pseira, suggesting that they were both part of a wider realm which would have included Kavousi, Tholos, Vronda, Kastro, Azoria, Mochlos & Chrysokamino. This would have been the land of the Phaecians, & the leaders of those named places would have been among the princes described by Alcinous;

Our folk have for their chiefs & rulers twelve eminent princes, or thirteen if you count myself

A Cretan Phaecia also helps us to understand how the Odyssey contains quite bizarre elements known as the Cretan Lies, that despite popping up as outsiders to the narrative could well in fact be the original strata of the Odyssean tale. An excellent example has Odysseus say;

From broad Crete I declare that I am come by lineage, the son of a wealthy man. And many other sons too were born and bred in his halls, true sons of a lawful wife; but the mother that bore me was bought, a concubine. Yet Castor, son of Hylax, of whom I declare that I am sprung, honored me even as his true-born sons. He was at that time honored as a god among the Cretans in the land for his good estate, and his wealth, and his glorious sons. But the fates of death bore him away to the house of Hades, and his proud sons divided among them his substance.

To complete today’s letter, & the last one I shall be writing on Crete itself, I would like to look at the tradition of Minos as given by two classical era historians.

Minos is the first to whom tradition ascribes the possession of a navy. He made himself master of a great part of what is now termed the Hellenic sea; he conquered the Cyclades, and was the first coloniser of most of them, expelling the Carians and appointing his own sons to govern in them. Lastly, it was he who, from a natural desire to protect his growing revenues, sought, as far as he was able, to clear the sea of pirates Thucydides

Minos, according to tradition, went to Sicania, or Sicily, as it is now called, in search of Daidolos, and there perished by a violent death… Men of various nations now flocked to Crete, which was stripped of its inhabitants; but none came in such numbers as the Hellenes. Three generations after the death of Minos the Trojan war took place; and the Cretans were not the least distinguished among the helpers of Menelaos. But on this account, when they came back from Troy, famine and pestilence fell upon them, and destroyed both the men and the cattle. Crete was a second time stripped of its inhabitants, a remnant only being left; who form, together with fresh settlers, the third Cretan people by whom the island has been inhabited Herodotus

Interweaving these two accounts into my own researches, I would like to now assemble a timeline from the findings I have made so far in these ‘Letters from Crete.’

c.1700 BC: Crete is conquered by a Lydian king called Manes. He is also known as Minos. Neopalatial buildings spring up across Crete. Lydian is introduced into the island alongside an alphabet to write it (Linear A): ‘Minos… made himself master of a great part of what is now termed the Hellenic sea; he conquered the Cyclades, and was the first coloniser of most of them, expelling the Carians and appointing his own sons to govern in them.’ An Anatolian invasion of Crete c.1700 is suggested in World History: Patterns of Interaction (2005).

c.1600: Pseira island settled by the Phaecians, i.e. the Minoans who have left the Troezen: Men of various nations now flocked to Crete, which was stripped of its inhabitants; but none came in such numbers as the Hellenes.

c.1550: Events surrounding Menaleus (& possibly Odysseus) occur which will be later incorporated into the Homeric narratives: Three generations after the death of Minos the Trojan war took place

c.1450: The Cretan civil war in which the house of Mycenae is triumphant. Greek becomes the native language of the island, but retains the Linear A alphabet: When they came back from Troy, famine and pestilence fell upon them, and destroyed both the men and the cattle. Crete was a second time stripped of its inhabitants, a remnant only being left; who form, together with fresh settler, the third Cretan people by whom the island has been inhabited

Star Beach
17th July

Classical Poetics

It reflects on our abilities if we cannot reach the heights attained to by our predecessors, & on our judgement if we do not wish to

I am currently sat in a bar at the Athenian International airport. Before me lies two & a half hours transit between my flight from Crete & the final haul to Edinburgh. After dropping the hirecar off at Heraklion airport, the family & I were soon winging north on the less-than-an-hour flight to Athens. Sitting on the left hand side of the plane, I aspired to get a look at some islands & stuff, but was rather disappointed & it was only as we approached & landed on the Athenian plains that I was finally rewarded for claiming the window seat from the kids. ‘You’ve got all your life to see this, girls,’ I said, ‘mine’s about half over already.’

It is all rather apt that it is in the classical home of western culture that I shall conclude my own entrance into the cultural landscape as a fully trained Pendragon. This final essay (of sorts) shall be my concluding piece of dissertation-level writing, & the next time my feet meet the sacred soil of Mother Britain I hope to have been fully accepted as one of her chosen bards. But what to write about today?

Both my instincts & my locale deem it more than suitable to conduct a whistle-stop gallumph thro’ the very, very best of classical thought appertaining to the poetic arts. For this effect I have digested Plato’s Republic (10); Aristotle’s Poetics; The Art of Poetry & the Letter to Augustus by Horace; the Dialogue on Orators by Tacitus, Plutarch’s On the Study of Poetry & finally the excellent essay made upon Sublimity by Longinus. From this orchard I have taken the choicest fruits, with an eye upon the application of classical principles to modern poetics. As I have only a little time, I shall simply let the passages speak for themselves. What I shall also be doing taking away the scaffold, ie. the names of the classical writers, leaving a single & untrammeled stream of thought, with each individual dialect pouring its own diction into the classical poetical, analytical voice.


The soul of the poet has no room for avarice; he loves his verse and this alone ; over the loss of goods by fire or the flight of his slave, he laughs. He meditates no wrong against his friend or pupil; he lives on salad and dry bread. Though slow and unfit for war yet he is useful to the state, if you admit this, that great things can be helped by the small. He moulds the tender, lisping speech of the boy and turns away his ear from vulgar words; later he trains his mind with kindly precepts; a corrector of envy and anger, he instructs the rising age with great examples ; he solaces the poor and sick. By his eloquent prayers he implores rain from heaven, averts disease, wards off impending dangers, procures peace and a year rich with harvests. By song the high gods, and by song the shades below are appeased.


The early and happiest period of the world, or, as we poets call it, the golden age, was the æra of true eloquence. Crimes and orators were then unknown. Poetry spoke in harmonious numbers, not to varnish evil deeds, but to praise the virtuous, and celebrate the friends of human kind. This was the poet’s office. The inspired train enjoyed the highest honours; they held commerce with the gods; they partook of the ambrosial feast: they were at once the messengers and interpreters of the supreme command. They ranked on earth with legislators, heroes, and demigods.


The poet and the historian differ not by writing in verse or in prose. The work of Herodotus might be put into verse, and it would still be a species of history, with metre no less than without it. The true difference is that one relates what has happened, the other what may happen. Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular. By the universal, I mean how a person of a certain type will on occasion speak or act, according to the law of probability or necessity; and it is this universality at which poetry aims in the names she attaches to the personages. It clearly follows that the poet or ‘maker’ should be the maker of plots rather than of verses; since he is a poet because he imitates, and what he imitates are actions. And even if he chances to take an historical subject, he is none the less a poet; for there is no reason why some events that have actually happened should not conform to the law of the probable and possible, and in virtue of that quality in them he is their poet or maker.


Poets and orators both employ images, but with a very different object, as you are well aware. The poetical image is designed to astound; the oratorical image to give perspicuity. Both, however, seek to work on the emotions.


It is not enough that poems be beautiful; let them be tender and affecting, and bear away the soul of the auditor whithersoever they please. As the human countenance smiles on those that smile, so does it sympathize with those that weep.


If the words be discordant to the station of the speaker, the Roman knights and plebeians will raise an immoderate laugh. As leaves in the woods are changed with the fleeting years; the earliest fall off first: in this manner words perish with old age, and those lately invented flourish and thrive, like men in the time of youth. Mortal works must perish: much less can the honor and elegance of language be long-lived. Many words shall revive, which now have fallen off; and many which are now in esteem shall fall off, if it be the will of custom, in whose power is the decision and right and standard of language.


It must not be forgotten, that the poet, who would produce any thing truly excellent in the kind, must bid farewell to the conversation of his friends; he must renounce, not only the pleasures of Rome, but also the duties of social life; he must retire from the world; as the poets say, “to groves and grottos every muse’s son.” In other words, he must condemn himself to a sequestered life in the gloom of solitude.


Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, each of them lying deep in our nature. First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated. We have evidence of this in the facts of experience. Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies. The cause of this again is, that to learn gives the liveliest pleasure, not only to philosophers but to men in general; whose capacity, however, of learning is more limited. Thus the reason why men enjoy seeing a likeness is, that in contemplating it they find themselves learning or inferring, and saying perhaps, ‘Ah, that is he.’


Therefore it is good for us also, when we are labouring on some subject which demands a lofty and majestic style, to imagine to ourselves how Homer might have expressed this or that, or how Plato or Demosthenes would have clothed it with sublimity, or, in history, Thucydides. For by our fixing an eye of rivalry on those high examples they will become like beacons to guide us, and will perhaps lift up our souls to the fulness of the stature we conceive. And it would be still better should we try to realise this further thought, How would Homer, had he been here, or how would Demosthenes, have listened to what I have written, or how would they have been affected by it? For what higher incentive to exertion could a writer have than to imagine such judges or such an audience of his works, and to give an account of his writings with heroes like these to criticise and look on?


The Sublime, wherever it occurs, consists in a certain loftiness and excellence of language, and that it is by this, and this only, that the greatest poets and prose-writers have gained eminence, and won themselves a lasting place in the Temple of Fame. A lofty passage does not convince the reason of the reader, but takes him out of himself. That which is admirable ever confounds our judgment, and eclipses that which is merely reasonable or agreeable. To believe or not is usually in our own power; but the Sublime, acting with an imperious and irresistible force, sways every reader whether he will or no. Skill in invention, lucid arrangement and disposition of facts, are appreciated not by one passage, or by two, but gradually manifest themselves in the general structure of a work; but a sublime thought, if happily timed, illumines an entire subject with the vividness of a lightning-flash, and exhibits the whole power of the orator in a moment of time.


I shall now proceed to enumerate the five principal sources, as we may call them, from which almost all sublimity is derived, assuming, of course, the preliminary gift on which all these five sources depend, namely, command of language. The first and the most important is grandeur of thought, as I have pointed out elsewhere in my work on Xenophon. The second is a vigorous and spirited treatment of the passions. These two conditions of sublimity depend mainly on natural endowments, whereas those which follow derive assistance from Art. The third is a certain artifice in the employment of figures, which are of two kinds, figures of thought and figures of speech. The fourth is dignified expression, which is sub-divided into (a) the proper choice of words, and (b) the use of metaphors and other ornaments of diction. The fifth cause of sublimity, which embraces all those preceding, is majesty and elevation of structure. Let us consider what is involved in each of these five forms separately.


The clearest style is that which uses only current or proper words; at the same time it is mean:—witness the poetry of Cleophon and of Sthenelus. That diction, on the other hand, is lofty and raised above the commonplace which employs unusual words. By unusual, I mean strange (or rare) words, metaphorical, lengthened,—anything, in short, that differs from the normal idiom… A diction that is made up of strange (or rare) terms is a jargon. A certain infusion, therefore, of these elements is necessary to style; for the strange (or rare) word, the metaphorical, the ornamental, and the other kinds above mentioned, will raise it above the commonplace and mean, while the use of proper words will make it perspicuous. But nothing contributes more to produce a clearness of diction that is remote from commonness than the lengthening, contraction, and alteration of words. For by deviating in exceptional cases from the normal idiom, the language will gain distinction; while, at the same time, the partial conformity with usage will give perspicuity.


The greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances. Metaphor is the application of an alien name by transference either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from species to species, or by analogy, that is, proportion. Thus from genus to species, as: ‘There lies my ship’; for lying at anchor is a species of lying. From species to genus, as: ‘Verily ten thousand noble deeds hath Odysseus wrought’; for ten thousand is a species of large number, and is here used for a large number generally. From species to species, as: ‘With blade of bronze drew away the life,’ and ‘Cleft the water with the vessel of unyielding bronze.’ Here {alpha rho upsilon rho alpha iota}, ‘to draw away,’ is used for {tau alpha mu epsilon iota nu}, ‘to cleave,’ and {tau alpha mu epsilon iota nu} again for {alpha rho upsilon alpha iota},—each being a species of taking away. Analogy or proportion is when the second term is to the first as the fourth to the third. We may then use the fourth for the second, or the second for the fourth. Sometimes too we qualify the metaphor by adding the term to which the proper word is relative. Thus the cup is to Dionysus as the shield to Ares. The cup may, therefore, be called ‘the shield of Dionysus,’ and the shield ‘the cup of Ares.’ Or, again, as old age is to life, so is evening to day. Evening may therefore be called ‘the old age of the day,’ and old age, ‘the evening of life,’ or, in the phrase of Empedocles, ‘life’s setting sun.’ For some of the terms of the proportion there is at times no word in existence; still the metaphor may be used. For instance, to scatter seed is called sowing: but the action of the sun in scattering his rays is nameless. Still this process bears to the sun the same relation as sowing to the seed. Hence the expression of the poet ‘sowing the god-created light.’


As for the metre, the heroic measure has proved its fitness by the test of experience. If a narrative poem in any other metre or in many metres were now composed, it would be found incongruous. For of all measures the heroic is the stateliest and the most massive; and hence it most readily admits rare words and metaphors, which is another point in which the narrative form of imitation stands alone. On the other hand, the iambic and the trochaic tetrameter are stirring measures, the latter being akin to dancing, the former expressive of action. Still more absurd would it be to mix together different metres, as was done by Chaeremon. Hence no one has ever composed a poem on a great scale in any other than heroic verse. Nature herself, as we have said, teaches the choice of the proper measure.


Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions… If you string together a set of speeches expressive of character, and well finished in point of diction and thought, you will not produce the essential tragic effect nearly so well as with a play which, however deficient in these respects, yet has a plot and artistically constructed incidents. The Plot, then, is the first principle, and, as it were, the soul of a tragedy: Character holds the second place. Third in order is Thought,—that is, the faculty of saying what is possible and pertinent in given circumstances. In the case of oratory, this is the function of the Political art and of the art of rhetoric: and so indeed the older poets make their characters speak the language of civic life; the poets of our time, the language of the rhetoricians. Character is that which reveals moral purpose, showing what kind of things a man chooses or avoids. Speeches, therefore, which do not make this manifest, or in which the speaker does not choose or avoid anything whatever, are not expressive of character. Thought, on the other hand, is found where something is proved to be, or not to be, or a general maxim is enunciated.

A perfect tragedy should, as we have seen, be arranged not on the simple but on the complex plan. It should, moreover, imitate actions which excite pity and fear, this being the distinctive mark of tragic imitation. It follows plainly, in the first place, that the change, of fortune presented must not be the spectacle of a virtuous man brought from prosperity to adversity: for this moves neither pity nor fear; it merely shocks us. Nor, again, that of a bad man passing from adversity to prosperity: for nothing can be more alien to the spirit of Tragedy; it possesses no single tragic quality; it neither satisfies the moral sense nor calls forth pity or fear. Nor, again, should the downfall of the utter villain be exhibited. A plot of this kind would, doubtless, satisfy the moral sense, but it would inspire neither pity nor fear; for pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves. Such an event, therefore, will be neither pitiful nor terrible. There remains, then, the character between these two extremes,—that of a man who is not eminently good and just,-yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty. He must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous,—a personage like Oedipus, Thyestes, or other illustrious men of such families.

A well constructed plot should, therefore, be single in its issue, rather than double as some maintain. The change of fortune should be not from bad to good, but, reversely, from good to bad. It should come about as the result not of vice, but of some great error or frailty, in a character either such as we have described, or better rather than worse. The practice of the stage bears out our view. Fear and pity may be aroused by spectacular means; but they may also result from the inner structure of the piece, which is the better way, and indicates a superior poet. For the plot ought to be so constructed that, even without the aid of the eye, he who hears the tale told will thrill with horror and melt to pity at what takes place. This is the impression we should receive from hearing the story of the Oedipus. But to produce this effect by the mere spectacle is a less artistic method, and dependent on extraneous aids. Those who employ spectacular means to create a sense not of the terrible but only of the monstrous, are strangers to the purpose of Tragedy; for we must not demand of Tragedy any and every kind of pleasure, but only that which is proper to it.

Actions capable of this effect must happen between persons who are either friends or enemies or indifferent to one another. If an enemy kills an enemy, there is nothing to excite pity either in the act or the intention,—except so far as the suffering in itself is pitiful. So again with indifferent persons. But when the tragic incident occurs between those who are near or dear to one another—if, for example, a brother kills, or intends to kill, a brother, a son his father, a mother her son, a son his mother, or any other deed of the kind is done—these are the situations to be looked for by the poet.


In constructing the plot and working it out with the proper diction, the poet should place the scene, as far as possible, before his eyes. In this way, seeing everything with the utmost vividness, as if he were a spectator of the action, he will discover what is in keeping with it, and be most unlikely to overlook inconsistencies. As for the story, whether the poet takes it ready made or constructs it for himself, he should first sketch its general outline, and then fill in the episodes and amplify in detail. Every tragedy falls into two parts,—Complication and Unravelling or Denouement. Incidents extraneous to the action are frequently combined with a portion of the action proper, to form the Complication; the rest is the Unravelling. By the Complication I mean all that extends from the beginning of the action to the part which marks the turning-point to good or bad fortune. The Unravelling is that which extends from the beginning of the change to the end.


Epic poetry agrees with Tragedy in so far as it is an imitation in verse of characters of a higher type. They differ, in that Epic poetry admits but one kind of metre, and is narrative in form. They differ, again, in their length: for Tragedy endeavours, as far as possible, to confine itself to a single revolution of the sun, or but slightly to exceed this limit; whereas the Epic action has no limits of time. This, then, is a second point of difference; though at first the same freedom was admitted in Tragedy as in Epic poetry. Of their constituent parts some are common to both, some peculiar to Tragedy, whoever, therefore, knows what is good or bad Tragedy, knows also about Epic poetry. All the elements of an Epic poem are found in Tragedy, but the elements of a Tragedy are not all found in the Epic poem. The poet should remember what has been often said, and not make an Epic structure into a Tragedy—by an Epic structure I mean one with a multiplicity of plots—as if, for instance, you were to make a tragedy out of the entire story of the Iliad. In the Epic poem, owing to its length, each part assumes its proper magnitude. In the drama the result is far from answering to the poet’s expectation. The proof is that the poets who have dramatised the whole story of the Fall of Troy, instead of selecting portions, like Euripides; or who have taken the whole tale of Niobe, and not a part of her story, like Aeschylus, either fail utterly or meet with poor success on the stage.


Epic poetry must have as many kinds as Tragedy: it must be simple, or complex, or ‘ethical,’ or ‘pathetic.’ The parts also, with the exception of song and spectacle, are the same; for it requires Reversals of the Situation, Recognitions, and Scenes of Suffering. Moreover, the thoughts and the diction must be artistic. In all these respects Homer is our earliest and sufficient model. Indeed each of his poems has a twofold character. The Iliad is at once simple and ‘pathetic,’ and the Odyssey complex (for Recognition scenes run through it), and at the same time ‘ethical.’ Moreover, in diction and thought they are supreme. Epic poetry has, however, a great—a special—capacity for enlarging its dimensions, and we can see the reason. In Tragedy we cannot imitate several lines of actions carried on at one and the same time; we must confine ourselves to the action on the stage and the part taken by the players. But in Epic poetry, owing to the narrative form, many events simultaneously transacted can be presented; and these, if relevant to the subject, add mass and dignity to the poem. The Epic has here an advantage, and one that conduces to grandeur of effect, to diverting the mind of the hearer, and relieving the story with varying episodes. For sameness of incident soon produces satiety, and makes tragedies fail on the stage.


As is painting, so is poetry: some pieces will strike you more if you stand near, and some, if you are at a greater distance: one loves the dark; another, which is not afraid of the critic’s subtle judgment, chooses to be seen in the light; the one has pleased once the other will give pleasure if ten times repeated. As at an agreeable entertainment discordant music, and muddy perfume, and poppies mixed with Sardinian honey give offense, because the supper might have passed without them; so poetry, created and invented for the delight of our souls, if it comes short ever so little of the summit, sinks to the bottom.

17th July