Essays On Tragedy

In a word, Homer refused to treat the theme tragically. Another author who preferred to tell the Whole Truth was Fielding.“Tom Jones” is one of the very few Odyssean books written in Europe between the time of Aeschylus and the present age; Odyssean, because never tragical; never—even when painful and disastrous, even when pathetic and beautiful things are happening.We mean that the experiences he records correspond fairly closely with our own actual or potential experiences—and correspond with our experiences not on a single limited sector, but all along the line of our physical and spiritual being. Consider how almost any other of the great poets would have concluded the story of Scylla’s attack on the passing ship.

The survivors could only look on helplessly, while Scylla “at the mouth of her cave devoured them, still screaming, still stretching out their hands to me in the frightful struggle.” And Odysseus adds that it was the most dreadful and lamentable sight he ever saw in all his “explorings of the passes of the sea.” We can believe it; Homer’s brief description (the too poetical simile is a later interpolation) convinces us.

Later, the danger passed, Odysseus and his men went ashore for the night and, on the Sicilian beach, prepared their supper—prepared it, says Homer, ‘expertly.’ The Twelfth Book of the Odyssey concludes with these words. Or light travels at the rate of 187,000 miles a second?

Micawber’s papa’s favourite proverb would lead us to suppose.

Artists are eminently teachable and also eminently teachers.

He knew that when the belly is full (and only when the belly is full) men can afford to grieve and that sorrow after supper is almost a luxury.

And finally he knew that, even as hunger takes precedence of grief, so fatigue, supervening, cuts short its career and drowns it in a sleep all the sweeter for bringing forgetfulness of bereavement.There were six of them, the best and bravest of the hero’s companions.Turning back from his post in the bows, Odysseus was in time to see them lifted, struggling, into the air, to hear their screams, the desperate repetition of his own name.Fielding, it is obvious, adored her; (she is said to have been created in the image of his first, much-loved wife).But in spite of his adoration, he refused to turn her into one of those chemically pure and, as it were, focussed beings who do and suffer in the world of tragedy.“When they had satisfied their thirst and hunger, they thought of their dear companions and wept, and in the midst of their tears sleep came gently upon them.” The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—how rarely the older literatures ever told it! ” No, obviously, you won’t find much of that sort of thing in literature.Bits of the truth, yes; every good book gives us bits of the truth, would not be a good book if it did not. Of the great writers of the past incredibly few have given us that. The ‘truth’ of which I was speaking just now is in fact no more than an acceptable verisimilitude.And after weeping, or actually while weeping, would they have dropped quietly off to sleep?No, they most certainly would not have done any of these things.Homer—the Homer of the Odyssey—is one of those few. When the experiences recorded in a piece of literature correspond fairly closely with our own actual experiences, or with what I may call our potential experiences—experiences, that is to say, which we feel (as the result of a more or less explicit process of inference from known facts) that we might have had—we say, inaccurately no doubt: “This piece of writing is true.” But this, of course, is not the whole story.The record of a case in a text-book of psychology is scientifically true, insofar as it is an accurate account of particular events, But it might also strike the reader as being ‘true’ with regard to himself—that is to say, acceptable, probable, having a correspondence with his own actual or potential experiences.


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