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Homer’s Contribution to the Meaning of Truth

HOMER’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE MEANING OF TRUTH

The Greeks called Homer wise, the wisest of all mortal men, and made his poems their only schoolbooks. It may be not unwise to ask the question, what kind of knowledge did the Greeks suppose Homer possessed-why was he called wise?

Of course, Homer occasionally inserts into his narrative sentences about life in general, man’s happiness and misery, good and evil, such sentences as we call wise. None of these sentences nor all together make Homer the wisest of all men. The question cannot be answered by referring to these sentences. His wisdom is far greater, but not so easy to extract. It is not at all presented as knowledge, doctrine, or advice. The presentation is much more efficient than sentences and advice can be. His wisdom permeates his poetry and is transmitted in visible images of human actions and passions. It is wholly inseparable from what we call the “beauty” of his poems. Homer’s wisdom and his greatness as a poet are indeed accounted for by the same reason. It is a kind of wisdom that is by no means Homer’s alone. Homer shares it with Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe but only with the greatest. But there the modest question concerning Homer’s wisdom transgresses its limits and grows into a philosophical problem of the first magnitude.

Since a poet’s greatness has to do with something we call “beauty” (in the sense of “quality” of a work of art), and since “wisdom” as a kind of “knowledge” refers to something we call “truth,” there seems to be a link between “beauty” and “truth.” But “beauty,” we are told, is a matter of appearances, senses, taste, and pleasure; “truth,” we learn, has to do with “facts,” propositions, and the syntactical rules of a calculus. I shall, however, not start from such words as beauty and truth, their meaning in a philosophical system or their possible interrelation. I shall inquire into the concrete case. It may be that the concrete case yields at least some suggestions that a philosopher concerned with the meaning of beauty and truth might be wise to consider.

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