Monday, March 28, 2011

BLAKE & HOMER

Blake never completely resolved his attitude to Homer and to Western Civilization's legacy from the Greek culture. Blake's mind was expanded when he became acquainted with Thomas Taylor and the Neoplatonist movement. The sign of the respect that Blake developed for what he had learned from them is apparent in their influence on the poetry. Blake exercised his critical faculty by adapting the Greek mythology to his own thinking. In spite of all he admired in the Greek literature, the one thing which he most required, consciousness of the relationship between God and Man, he found to be absent.

If you have seen the movie Amadeus you may find a similarity with the issue treated in that movie. Salieri could not reconcile the lavish gifts God had bestowed on Mozart with the young man's lifestyle and behavior. Blake could not reconcile Homer's talents as a mythmaker with his blindness to the spiritual truths found in the Bible. Some of Blake's friends may have had the same problem with Blake whose obvious talents were not spent conveying the conventional messages of Christianity or of the British Empire. Blake would have observed that the abilities which were present in Homer and Mozart and himself were their innate ideas with which they were born.

Annotations to Reynolds, (E 648)
"Knowledge of Ideal Beauty. is Not to be Acquired It is Born
with us Innate Ideas. are in Every Man Born with him. they are
Himself. The Man who says that we have No Innate Ideas
must be a Fool & Knave."

The picture called the Sea of Time and Space or the Arlington Tempera (dated 1821) evidences the connection between Homer and Blake. Scenes from the tale of Ulysses are portrayed in the picture intimating familiar aspects of Blake own mythology. In Blake and Antiquity, Kathleen Raine states: "As Blake Grew older he moved towards a more explicit Christianity; but this picture, painted with such evident love, such wealth of symbolic detail, makes it plain that he never disowned the philosophy that had given him the basis of his own symbolism."

More on Blake's use of Greek mythology can be found in the Blake Primer, Chapter 9.

As Blake became more wedded to biblical imagery his attitude toward Homer had become ambivalent. In this plate from c 1820 he seems to conclude by linking the troubled European conflicts with Homer's epics.








On Homer's Poetry
, (E 269)
"Every Poem must necessarily be a perfect Unity, but why Homers is
peculiarly so, I cannot tell: he has told the story of
Bellerophon & omitted the judgment of Paris which is not only a
part, but a principal part of Homers subject
But when a Work has Unity it is as much in a Part as in the
Whole. the Torso is as much a Unity as the Laocoon
As Unity is the cloke of folly so Goodness is the cloke of
knavery Those who will have Unity exclusively in Homer come out
with a Moral like a sting in the tail: Aristotle says Characters
are either Good or Bad: now Goodness or Badness has nothing to do
with Character. an Apple tree a Pear tree a Horse a Lion, are
Characters but a Good Apple tree or a Bad, is an Apple tree
still: a Horse is not more a Lion for being a Bad Horse. that is
its Character; its Goodness or Badness is another consideration.
It is the same with the Moral of a whole Poem as with the Moral Goodness
of its parts Unity & Morality, are secondary considerations &
belong to Philosophy & not to Poetry, to Exception & not to Rule,
to Accident & not to Substance. the Ancients calld it eating of
the tree of good & evil.
The Classics, it is the Classics! & not Goths nor Monks, that
Desolate Europe with Wars."

Three issues stand out in Blake's objections to Homer in this plate:
1) for Blake but not for Homer 'Unity and morality are secondary considerations',
2) Blake's interest was in substance not accident, poetry not philosophy,
3) Homer glorified war which desolated humanity.

Annotations to Berkley, (E 664)
"This is my Opinion but Forms must be apprehended by Sense or
the Eye of Imagination
Man is All Imagination God is Man & exists in us & we in him
... What Jesus came to Remove was the Heathen or Platonic
Philosophy which blinds the Eye of Imagination The Real Man
"

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