by Edward Everett Hale
[This essay was first published in the Monthly Religious
Boston, for October, 1851. One or another professor of
has since taken pains to tell me that it is impossible. But
they satisfy themselves whether Homer ever lived at all, I
hold to the note which I wrote to Miss Dryasdust's cousin,
printed originally at the end of the article, and which will
found there in this collection. The difficulties in the
are perhaps worse than those of chronology.]
A summer bivouac had collected together a little troop of soldiers
from Joppa, under the shelter of a grove, where they had spread their
sheep-skins, tethered their horses, and pitched a single tent. With the
carelessness of soldiers, they were chatting away the time till sleep
might come, and help them to to-morrow with its chances; perhaps of
fight, perhaps of another day of this camp indolence. Below the garden
slope where they were lounging, the rapid torrent of Kishon ran
brawling along. A full moon was rising above the rough edge of the
Eastern hills, and the whole scene was alive with the loveliness of an
As they talked together, the strains of a harp came borne down the
stream by the wind, mingling with the rippling of the brook.
The boys were right, said the captain of the little company. They
asked leave to go up the stream to spend their evening with the
Carmel-men; and said that they had there a harper, who would sing and
play for them.
Singing at night, and fighting in the morning! It is the true
soldier's life, said another.
Who have they there? asked a third.
One of those Ziklag-men, replied the chief. He came into camp a
few days ago, seems to be an old favorite of the king's, and is posted
with his men, by the old tomb on the edge of the hill. If you cross the
brook, he is not far from the Carmel post; and some of his young men
have made acquaintance there.
One is not a soldier for nothing. If we make enemies at sight, we
make friends at sight too.
Echish here says that the harper is a Jew.
I do not know that; that is the king's lookout. Their company came
up a week ago, were reviewed the day I was on guard at the outposts,
and they had this post I tell you of assigned to them. So the king is
satisfied; and, if he is, I am.
Jew or Gentile, Jehovah's man or Dagon's man, said one of the
younger soldiers, with a half-irreverent tone, I wish we had him here
to sing to us.
And to keep us awake, yawned another.
Or to keep us from thinking of to-morrow, said a third.
Can nobody sing here, or play, or tell an old-time story?
There was nobody. The only two soldiers of the post, who affected
musical skill, were the two who had gone up to the Carmelites' bivouac;
and the little company of Joppacatching louder notes and louder, as
the bard's inspiration carried him farther and farther awaycrept as
far up the stream as the limits of their station would permit; and lay,
without noise, to catch, as they best could, the rich tones of the
music as it swept down the valley.
Soothed by the sound, and by the moonlight, and by the summer
breeze, they were just in mood to welcome the first interruption which
broke the quiet of the night. It was the approach of one of their
company, who had been detached to Accho a day or two before; and who
came hurrying in to announce the speedy arrival of companions, for whom
he bespoke a welcome. Just as they were to leave Accho, he said, that
day, on their return to camp, an Ionian trading-vessel had entered
port. He and his fellow-soldiers had waited to help her moor, and had
been chatting with her seamen. They had told them of the chance of
battle to which they were returning; and two or three of the younger
Ionians, enchanted at the relief from the sea's imprisonment, had
begged them to let them volunteer in company with them. These men had
come up into the country with the soldiers, therefore; and he who had
broken the silence of the listeners to the distant serenade had hurried
on to tell his comrades that such visitors were on their way.
They soon appeared on foot, but hardly burdened by the light packs
A soldier's welcome soon made the Ionian sailors as much at home
with the men of the bivouac, as they had been through the day with the
detachment from the sea-board. A few minutes were enough to draw out
sheep-skins for them to lie upon, a skin of wine for their thirst, a
bunch of raisins and some oat-cakes for their hunger; a few minutes
more had told the news which each party asked from the other; and then
these sons of the sea and these war-bronzed Philistines were as much at
ease with each other as if they had served under the same sky for
We were listening to music, said the old chief, when you came up.
Some of our young men have gone up, indeed, to the picket yonder, to
hear the harper sing, whose voice you catch sometimes, when we are not
You find the Muses in the midst of arms, then, said one of the
Muses? said the old Philistine, laughing. That sounds like you
Greeks. Ah! sir, in our rocks here we have few enough Muses, but those
who carry these lances, or teach us how to trade with the islands for
That's not quite fair, cried another. The youngsters who are gone
sing well; and one of them has a harp I should be glad you should see.
He made it himself from a gnarled olive-root. And he turned to look
You'll not find it in the tent: the boy took it with him. They
hoped the Ziklag minstrel might ask them to sing, I suppose.
A harp of olive-wood, said the Ionian, seems Muse-born and
And, as he spoke, one of the new-comers of the Philistines leaned
over, and whispered to the chief: He is a bard himself, and we made
him promise to sing to us. I brought his harp with me that he might
cheer up our bivouac. Pray, do you ask him.
The old chief needed no persuasion; and the eyes of the whole force
brightened as they found they had a minstrel of their own now, when
the old man pressed the young Ionian courteously to let them hear him:
I told you, sir, that we had no Muses of our own; but we welcome all
the more those who come to us from over seas.
Homer smiled; for it was Homer whom he spoke to,Homer still in the
freshness of his unblinded youth. He took the harp which the young
Philistine handed to him, thrummed upon its chords, and as he tuned
them said: I have no harp of olive-wood; we cut this out, it was years
ago, from an old oleander in the marshes behind Colophon. What will you
The poet chooses for himself, said the courtly old captain.
Let me sing you, then, of the Olive Harp; and he struck the
chords in a gentle, quieting harmony, which attuned itself to his own
spirit, pleased as he was to find music and harmony and the olive of
peace in the midst of the rough bivouac, where he had come up to look
for war. But he was destined to be disappointed. Just as his prelude
closed, one of the young soldiers turned upon his elbow, and whispered
contemptuously to his neighbor: Always olives, always peace
: that's all your music's good for!
The boy spoke too loud, and Homer caught the discontented tone and
words with an ear quicker than the speaker had given him credit for. He
ended the prelude with a sudden crash on the strings, and said shortly,
And what is better to sing of than the olive?
The more courteous Philistines looked sternly on the young soldier;
but he had gone too far to be frightened, and he flashed back: War is
better. My broadsword is better. If I could sing, I would sing to your
Ares; we call him Mars!
Homer smiled gravely. Let it be so, said he; and, in a lower tone,
to the captain, who was troubled at the breach of courtesy, he added,
Let the boy see what war and Mars are for.
He struck another prelude and began. Then was it that Homer composed
his Hymn to Mars. In wild measure, and impetuous, he swept along
through the list of Mars's titles and attributes; then his key changed,
and his hearers listened more intently, more solemnly, as in a graver
strain, with slower music, and an almost awed dignity of voice, the
bard went on:
Helper of mortals, hear!
As thy fires give
The present boldnesses that strive
In youth for honor;
So would I likewise wish to have the power
To keep off from my head thy bitter hour,
And quench the false fire of my soul's low kind,
By the fit ruling of my highest mind!
Control that sting of wealth
That stirs me on still to the horrid scath
Of hideous battle!
Do thou, O ever blessed! give me still
Presence of mind to put in act my will,
Whate'er the occasion be;
And so to live, unforced by any fear,
Beneath those laws of peace, that never are
Affected with pollutions popular
Of unjust injury,
As to bear safe the burden of hard fates,
Of foes inflexive, and inhuman hates!
The tones died away; the company was hushed for a moment; and the
old chief then said gravely to his petulant follower, That is what
men fight for, boy. But the boy did not need the counsel. Homer's
manner, his voice, the music itself, the spirit of the song, as much as
the words, had overcome him; and the boasting soldier was covering his
tears with his hands.
Homer felt at once (the prince of gentlemen he) that the little
outbreak, and the rebuke of it, had jarred the ease of their unexpected
meeting. How blessed is the presence of mind with which the musician of
real genius passes from song to song, whate'er the occasion be! With
the ease of genius he changed the tone of his melody again, and sang
his own hymn, To Earth, the Mother of all.
The triumphant strain is one which harmonizes with every sentiment;
and he commanded instantly the rapt attention of the circle. So
engrossed was he, that he did not seem to observe, as he sang, an
addition to their company of some soldiers from above in the valley,
just as he entered on the passage:
Happy, then, are they
Whom thou, O great in reverence!
Are bent to honor. They shall all things find
In all abundance! All their pastures yield
Herds in all plenty. All their roofs are filled
With rich possessions.
High happiness and wealth attend them,
While, with laws well-ordered, they
Cities of happy households sway;
And their sons exult in the pleasure of youth,
And their daughters dance with the flower-decked girls,
Who play among the flowers of summer!
Such are the honors thy full hands divide;
Mother of Gods and starry Heaven's bride!
A buzz of pleasure and a smile ran round the circle, in which the
new-comers joined. They were the soldiers who had been to hear and join
the music at the Carmel-men's post. The tones of Homer's harp had
tempted them to return; and they had brought with them the Hebrew
minstrel, to whom they had been listening. It was the outlaw David, of
David had listened to Homer more intently than any one; and, as the
pleased applause subsided, the eyes of the circle gathered upon him,
and the manner of all showed that they expected him, in
minstrel-fashion, to take up the same strain.
He accepted the implied invitation, played a short prelude, and
taking Homer's suggestion of topic, sang in parallel with it:
I will sing a new song unto thee, O God!
Upon psaltery and harp will I sing praise to thee.
Thou art He that giveth salvation to kings,
That delivereth David, thy servant, from the sword.
Rid me and save me from those who speak vanity,
Whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood,
That our sons may be as plants in fresh youth;
That our daughters may be as corner-stones,
The polished stones of our palaces;
That our garners may be full with all manner of store;
That our sheep may bring forth thousands and ten thousands in
That there may be no cry nor complaint in our streets.
Happy is the people that is in such a case;
Yea, happy is the people whose God is the Lord!
The melody was triumphant; and the enthusiastic manner yet more so.
The Philistines listened delighted,too careless of religion, they,
indeed not to be catholic in presence of religious enthusiasm; and
Homer wore the exalted expression which his face seldom wore. For the
first time since his childhood, Homer felt that he was not alone in the
Who shall venture to tell what passed between the two minstrels,
when Homer, leaving his couch, crossed the circle at once, flung
himself on the ground by David's side, gave him his hand; when they
looked each other in the face, and sank down into the rapid murmuring
of talk, which constant gesture illustrated, but did not fully explain
to the rough men around them? They respected the poets' colloquy for a
while; but then, eager again to hear one harp or the other, they
persuaded one of the Ionian sailors to ask Homer again to sing to them.
It was hard to persuade Homer. He shook his head, and turned back to
What should I sing? he said.
They did not enter into his notion: hearers will not always. And so,
taking his question literally, they replied, Sing? Sing us of the
snow-storm, the storm of stones, of which you sang at noon.
Poor Homer! It was easier to do it than to be pressed to do it; and
he struck his harp again:
It was as when, some wintry day, to men
Jove would, in might, his sharp artillery show;
He wills his winds to sleep, and over plain
And mountains pours, in countless flakes, his snow.
Deep it conceals the rocky cliffs and hills,
Then covers all the blooming meadows o'er,
All the rich monuments of mortals' skill,
All ports and rocks that break the ocean-shore.
Rock, haven, plain, are buried by its fall;
But the near wave, unchanging, drinks it all.
So while these stony tempests veil the skies,
While this on Greeks, and that on Trojans flies,
The walls unchanged above the clamor rise.
The men looked round upon David, whose expression, as he returned
the glance, showed that he had enjoyed the fragment as well as they.
But when they still looked expectant, he did not decline the unspoken
invitation; but, taking Homer's harp, sang, as if the words were
familiar to him:
He giveth snow like wool;
He scattereth the hoar-frost like ashes;
He casteth forth his ice like morsels;
Who can stand before his cold?
He sendeth forth his word, and melteth them;
He causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow.
Always this 'He,' said one of the young soldiers to
Yes, he replied; and it was so in the beginning of the evening,
when we were above there.
There is a strange difference between the two men, though the one
plays as well as the other, and the Greek speaks with quite as little
foreign accent as the Jew, and their subjects are the same.
Yes, said the young Philistine harper; if the Greek should sing
one of the Hebrew's songs, you would know he had borrowed it, in a
And so, if it were the other way.
Of course, said their old captain, joining in this conversation.
Homer, if you call him so, sings the thing made: David sings the
maker. Or, rather, Homer thinks of the thing made: David thinks of the
maker, whatever they sing.
I was going to say that Homer would sing of cities; and David, of
the life in them.
It is not what they say so much, as the way they look at it. The
Greek sees the outside,the beauty of the thing; the Hebrew
For David and his new friend had been talking too. Homer had told
him of the storm at sea they met a few days before; and David, I think,
had spoken of a mountain-tornado, as he met it years before. In the
excitement of his narrative he struck the harp, which was still in his
hand, and sung:
Then the earth shook and trembled,
The foundations of the hills moved and were shaken,
Because He was wroth;
There went up a smoke out of his nostrils,
And fire out of his mouth devoured;
It burned with living coal.
He bowed the heavens also, and came down,
And darkness was under his feet;
He rode upon a cherub and did fly,
Yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.
He made darkness his resting-place,
His pavilion were dark waters and clouds of the skies;
At the brightness before him his clouds passed by,
Hail-stones and coals of fire.
The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
And the highest gave his voice;
Hail-stones and coals of fire.
Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them,
And he shot out his lightnings, and discomfited them.
Then the channels of waters were seen,
And the foundations of the world were made known,
At thy rebuke, O Lord!
At the blast of the breath of thy nostrils.
He sent from above, he took me,
He drew me out of many waters.
Mine were but a few verses, said Homer. I am more than repaid by
yours. Imagine Neptune, our sea-god, looking on a battle:
There he sat high, retired from the seas;
There looked with pity on his Grecians beaten;
There burned with rage at the god-king who slew them.
Then he rushed forward from the rugged mountains,
He bent the forests also as he came down,
And the high cliffs shook under his feet.
Three times he trod upon them,
And with his fourth step reached the home he sought for.
There was his palace, in the deep waters of the seas,
Shining with gold, and builded forever.
There he yoked him his swift-footed horses;
Their hoofs are brazen, and their manes are golden.
He binds them with golden thongs,
He seizes his golden goad,
He mounts upon his chariot, and doth fly:
Yes! he drives them forth into the waves!
And the whales rise under him from the depths,
For they know he is their king;
And the glad sea is divided into parts,
That his steeds may fly along quickly;
And his brazen axle passes dry between the waves,
So, bounding fast, they bring him to his Grecians.
And the poets sank again into talk.
You see it, said the old Philistine. He paints the picture. David
sings the life of the picture.
Yes: Homer sees what he sings; David feels his song.
Homer's is perfect in its description.
Yes; but for life, for the soul of the description, you need the
Homer might be blind; and, with that fancy and word-painting power
of his, and his study of everything new, he would paint pictures as he
sang, though unseen.
Yes, said another; but David And he paused.
But David? asked the chief.
I was going to say that he might be blind, deaf, imprisoned,
exiled, sick, or all alone, and that yet he would never know he was
alone; feeling as he does, as he must to sing so, of the presence of
this Lord of his!
He does not think of a snow-flake, but as sent from him.
While the snow-flake is reminding Homer of that hard, worrying,
slinging work of battle. He must have seen fight himself.
They were hushed again. For, though they no longer dared ask the
poets to sing to them,so engrossed were they in each other's
society,the soldiers were hardly losers from this modest courtesy.
For the poets were constantly arousing each other to strike a chord, or
to sing some snatch of remembered song. And so it was that Homer,
àpropos of I do not know what, sang in a sad tone:
Like leaves on trees the race of man is found,
Now green in youth, now withering on the ground:
Another race the following spring supplies;
They fall successive, and successive rise.
So generations in their course decay,
So flourish these, when those have passed away.
David waited for a change in the strain; but Homer stopped. The
young Hebrew asked him to go on; but Homer said that the passage which
followed was mere narrative, from a long narrative poem. David looked
surprised that his new friend had not pointed a moral as he sang; and
said simply, We sing that thus:
As for man, his days are as grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourisheth;
For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone,
And the place thereof shall know it no more.
But the mercy of the Lord
Is from everlasting to everlasting
Of them that fear him;
And his righteousness
Unto children's children,
To such as keep his covenant,
As remember his commandments to do them!
Homer's face flashed delighted. I, like you, 'keep his covenant,'
he cried; and then without a lyre, for his was still in David's hands,
he sang, in clear tone:
Thou bid'st me birds obey;I scorn their flight,
If on the left they rise, or on the right!
Heed them who may, the will of Jove I own,
Who mortals and immortals rules alone!
That is more in David's key, said the young Philistine harper,
seeing that the poets had fallen to talk together again. But how would
it sound in one of the hymns on one of our feast-days?
Who mortals and immortals rules alone.
How, indeed? cried one of his young companions. There would be
more sense in what the priests say and sing, if each were not
quarrelling for his own,Dagon against Astarte, and Astarte against
The old captain bent over, that the poets might not hear him, and
whispered: There it is that the Hebrews have so much more heart than
we in such things. Miserable fellows though they are, so many of them,
yet, when I have gone through their whole land with the caravans, the
chances have been that any serious-minded man spoke of no God but this
'He' of David's.
What is his name?
They do not know themselves, I believe.
Well, as I said an hour ago, God's man or Dagon's man,for those
are good names enough for me,I care little; but I should like to sing
as that young fellow does.
My boy, said the old man, have not you heard him enough to see
that it is not he that sings, near as much as this love of his
for a Spirit he does not name? It is that spirited heart of his that
You sing like him? Find his life, boy; and perhaps it may
sing for you.
We should be more manly men, if he sang to us every night.
Or if the other did, said an Ionian sailor.
Yes, said the chief. And yet, I think, if your countryman sang
every night to me, he would make me want the other. Whether David's
singing would send me to his, I do not feel sure. But how silly to
compare them! As well compare the temple in Accho with the roar of a
Or the point of my lance with the flight of an eagle. The men are
in two worlds.
O, no! that is saying too much. You said that one could paint
Into which the other puts life. Yes, I did say so. We are
fortunate that we have them together.
For this man sings of men quite as well as the other does; and to
have the other sing of God
Why, it completes the song. Between them they bring the two
He bows the heavens, and comes down, said the boy of the
olive-harp, trying to hum David's air.
Let us ask them
And just then there rang along the valley the sound of a distant
conch-shell. The soldiers groaned, roused up, and each looked for his
own side-arms and his own skin.
But the poets talked on unheeding.
The old chief knocked down a stack of lances; but the crash did not
rouse them. He was obliged himself to interrupt their eager converse.
I am sorry to break in; but the night-horn has sounded to rest, and
the guard will be round to inspect the posts. I am sorry to hurry you
away, sir, he said to David.
David thanked him courteously.
Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest, said Homer, with a
We will all meet to-morrow. And may to-night's dreams be good
If we dream at all, said Homer again:
Without a sign his sword the brave man draws,
And asks no omen but his country's cause.
They were all standing together, as he made this careless reply to
the captain; and one of the young men drew him aside, and whispered
that David was in arms against his country.
Homer was troubled that he had spoken as he did. But the young Jew
looked little as if he needed sympathy. He saw the doubt and regret
which hung over their kindly faces; told them not to fear for him;
singing, as he bade them good night, and with one of the Carmel-men
walked home to his own outpost:
The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion,
The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the bear,
He will deliver me.
And he smiled to think how his Carmelite companion would start, if
he knew when first he used those words.
So they parted, as men who should meet on the morrow.
But God disposes.
David had left to-morrow's dangers for to-morrow to care for. It
seemed to promise him that he must be in arms against Saul. But, unlike
us in our eagerness to anticipate our conflicts of duty, David
And the Lord delivered him. While they were singing by the
brookside, the proud noblemen of the Philistine army had forced an
interview with their king; and, in true native Philistine arrogance,
insisted that this Hebrew and his men should be sent away.
With the light of morning the king sent for the minstrel, and
courteously dismissed him, because the princes of the Philistines have
said, 'He shall not go up with us to the battle.'
So David marched his men to Ziklag.
And David and Homer never met on earth again.
NOTE.This will be a proper place to print the following note,
which I was obliged to write to a second cousin of Miss
after she had read the MS. of the article above:
DEAR MADAM:I thank you for your kind suggestion, in
paper, that it involves a piece of impossible history. You
me, that, 'according to the nomenclatured formulas and
analogies of Professor Gouraud, of never-to-be-forgotten
NEEDLE is less useful for curing a DEAF HEAD, than for putting
ear-rings into a Miss's lily-ears; and that this shows
second king of Judah, named David (or Deaf-head) began to
1055 B.C., and died 1040 B.C.'; and further, that, according
same authority, 'Homer flourished when the Greeks were
his POETRY'; which, being interpreted, signifies that he
in 914 B.C., and, consequently, could have had no more to do
David than to plant ivy over his grave, in some of his voyages
I thank you for the suggestion. I knew the unforgetting
and I do not doubt that he remembered David and Homer as his
friends. But, of course, to such a memory, a century or two
easily slip aside.
Now, did you look up Clement? And did you not forget the
Arundelian Marbles? For, if you will take the long estimates,
will find that some folks think Homer lived as long ago as the
1150, and some that it was as 'short ago' as 850. And some set
David as long ago as 1170, and some bring him down to a
fifty years later. These are the long measures and the short
measures. So the long and short of it is, that you can keep
poets 320 years apart, while I have rather more than a century
which I can select any night of, for a bivouac scene, in which
bring them together. Believe me, my dear Miss D., always
Confess that you forgot the Arundelian Marbles!
 After Chapman.
 After Cowper and Pope. Long after!
 Iliad, vi.
 Iliad, vi.POPE.
 Iliad, xii., after Sotheby.