Well do I know that it is my doom to perish here, far from my father and mother; but for all that I will not turn back, until I give the Trojans their fill of war.
The story of the Aeneid can hardly be told in the simplest form without some reference to the destiny of Rome, or the story of Paradise Lost without the feud of heaven and hell. There is a community of prosaic interests. It is a difference not confined to literature. The latter has something fantastic in his ideas which the other has not.
Whatever magnificence they may possess comes mainly from the dramatic strength of the heroes, and in a much less degree from the historic dignity or importance of the issues of the story, or from its mythological decorations.
In the wars of the great migration the spirit of each of the German families was quickened, and at the same time the spirit of the whole of Germany, so that each part sympathised with all the rest, and the fame of the heroes went abroad beyond the limits of their own kindred.
It is differently introduced from that of Odysseus, and has not the same importance, but it increases the likeness between the two adventurers. This collision of blind forces, this tournament at random, takes the place, in the French romances, of the older kind of combat. The great man is a good judge of cattle; he sails his own ship.
Where the characters are true, and dramatically represented, there can be no monotony. The rhetoric, the poetical habit, of the original epic may be retained. The wars and fightings of generation on generation went to create the heroism, the loftiness of spirit, expressed in the Teutonic epic verse.
The history of those two orders of literature, of the earlier Epic kinds, followed by the various types of medieval Romance, is parallel to the general political history of the earlier and the later Middle Ages, and may do something to illustrate the general progress of the nations.
In the different kinds of Northern epic literature—German, English, French, and Norse—belonging to the Northern heroic ages, there will be found in different degrees this epic quality of drama.
The change of temper and fashion represented by the appearance and the vogue of the medieval French romances is a change involving the whole world, and going far beyond the compass of literature and literary history.
It is hoped that something may be gained by a less minute and exacting consideration of the whole field, and by an attempt to bring the more distant and dissociated [Pg vi] parts of the subject into relation with one another, in one view.
The magnificence and aristocratic dignity of epic is conformable to the practical and ethical standards of the heroic age; that is to say, it tolerates a number of things that may be found mean and trivial by academicians. Here, however, the circumstances are exceptional.
In times when "the Epic Poem" was a more attractive, if not more perilous theme of debate than it now is, there was a strong controversy about the proper place and the proper kind of miraculous details to be admitted. The heroes, even if they can be identified as historical, may retain in epic nothing of their historical character, except such qualities as fit them for great actions.
It does not necessarily emphasise—by preference it does not emphasise—the historic importance or the historic results of the events with which it deals. They were occasionally troubled by the "Gothic" elements in Homer, of which their adversaries were not slow to take advantage.
Ermanaric, Attila, and Theodoric, Sigfred the Frank, and Gundahari the Burgundian, are heroes over all the region occupied by all forms of Teutonic language. A poem like the Hliand is under an obligation to a literary original, and cannot escape from this restriction. He is bound to the past, in one way; it is laid upon him to tell the stories of the great men of his own race.
Ermanaric, Attila, and Theodoric are all brought into the same Niblung story, a story widely known in different forms, though it was never adequately written out. Axel Olrik that the Danish ballads do not belong originally to simple rustic people, but to the Danish gentry in the Middle Ages.
Many of them, however, have at least made a beginning.A W. P. Ker Memorial Lecture is held at Glasgow University in his honour. Influence. He is referred to repeatedly in J. R. R. Tolkien's essay Beowulf: Epic and Romance: Essays on Medieval Literature (; second edition ) The Dark Ages () Sturla the.
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