The Philhellenic Horizon: Homeric Prolegomena to the Greek War of Independence
Vorschule and Prolegomena
The work, he continues, considered his most important publication yet, is to complement Wolf’s scholarly insights, presented in his 1795 Prolegomena ad Homerum, and to make them available, in German, to a broader audience. Müller’s foray back into classical scholarship throws light on the question of his own public standing, as much as Wolf’s popularity: as a ducal librarian (in the small duchy of Dessau), a school teacher of Greek, and an independent writer and scholar, Müller was caught between a position of great dependence on a ruling aristocracy and the still uncertain status of the writer in the early nineteenth century. While classical scholarship had, with Humboldt’s reforms, become a staple of German educational institutionalism, it had also begun to drift away from literary production and its concerns, a field that had still been close to it during its formative period (Most 2004). Müller’s ambitions, therefore, seem to put him into the paradoxical position of standing with one leg each on separating floes, in order to gain greater balance. What links those two areas for Müller is an understanding of Greece that taps both into contemporary politics and classical philology; and with the title of his new project, he stood to gain twice, both from Wolf’s name and clout and from the reputation of Jean Paul’s Vorschule der Ästhetik (1804), from which his work borrows its title.
Instead, Müller opts for the interpretive angle of elaborating on Homer as a nature poet where the full meaning of nature in its material sense is exploited; at the same time he uses nature metaphor to describe the creative process in question, speaking, for example, of the “pure and strong natural simplicity of Homeric song” and of Homer as the “crown and flower” of the Ionian epos (60). Another instance of how Müller bases himself on Wolf’s text while favoring the side of nature and environment are his references to Robert Wood. Wood was the English traveler whose Essay on the Original Genius and Writings of Homer with a Comparative View of the Ancient and Present State of the Troade (London, 1769 and 1775), widely-read in Germany and translated into German in 1773,  proceeded by matching contemporary locality to Homeric description, in what he called his own “poetic geography.” His argument that the understanding of classical literature is enhanced by the knowledge and description of the actual locale proved to be a powerful impetus for contemporary Homeric scholarship at home and across Europe. Wolf mentions Wood for his claim that Homer was an oral poet, who was not familiar with writing and in this resembled the modern uneducated singers whom Wood encountered on his journey, but Wolf also modifies this claim by making writing, as an immensely resource-consuming technology, simply less available to the epic pursuit. Müller on the other hand throws himself upon Wood’s description of Homer as a poet who copied from nature and who, in turn, is now best approached through the natural environment still in place. So he comments on the claims of several towns to be Homer’s birthplace:
This is then followed by a direct reference to Wood. In other words: while the quality of natural song can be compromised by cultural influence (in Müller’s case the influx of weak Asian culture on the Ionians), the authentic natural environment, here somehow exempt from the arcs of progress and decline, remains constant across time: constant physical nature in turn becomes a hermeneutic tool in the study of Homer.
The Nature of Folksong
The “natural” character of folk poetry, of its “poets” expressing an immediate relation with nature, is carried over into nature metaphor in the description of poetic practice. In an anonymous review of Müller’s translation of Fauriel’s collection of Greek folksongs, the characteristics of Greek nature reappear as a metaphor to describe the aesthetic process that characterizes the folk song:
The close interaction with a natural environment as the basis of free artistic expression thus plays a central role in the perception of Greek folksong. And indeed, in the Greek literature translated as part of the philhellenic endeavor, folk poetry was predominant (Goedeke 1884:713-717).
I should make clear that in the following I am not so much concerned with the living practices of Greek oral-related poetry as an object of complex study or a genre with its own no less complex self-understanding (for which see Richard Martin’s contribution). Instead, I focus on Greek writing of the nineteenth century that presupposes Homer as already a critically studied and received text; in consequence, this is writing that is specifically conceived of as a public contribution to the national corpus, and that is produced to pass muster before an audience that may well stretch beyond Greece itself. 
every breeze pure,
every tree inspired
speaks with its rustling.
And when the rocks
are most alone and silent,
you shall hear Μήνιν ἄειδε [‘Sing the wrath …’]
being sung to you by a voice.
And for your part follow the verse
… in order to see,
if the blind poet
knows your voice.”
With this vignette Polylas tries to nail down Solomos’s linguistic homecoming, not only to the Greek language, but to an unimpeded demotic Greek, as opposed to the inherited learned written Greek that originally arose from the Atticist venture; he reads the draft poem as an expression of Solomos’s honest doubts and modesty about his poetic vocation and the undertaking, without many models or predecessors, to cast thought into form. The episode is couched in the somewhat larger framework of Solomos staking out his own territory within the quarrel between classicizing and popular language in Italy, and Polylas seeks to detect Solomos’s turning affiliation from the classicism of Monti, the great translator of the Iliad, no less, to the popular language of Manzoni. It is therefore no coincidence that it is in quasi-Greek nature, of all places, that Homer’s voice should arise. And yet it is an ambivalent voice. Not only is the natural scene too generic to be aligned with Greece; stepping from corresponding, animated nature to the barren, silent rocks, it is here that the opening lines of the Iliad are to be heard, while recognition of the singer’s echo by Homer, authorization of the new poet, is uncertain. This is a natural world that is suffused with critical reflection and distance, a scene from Schiller’s sentimental pastoral (in line with Polylas’s trajectory), rather than the rough genius of Homer. The alignment of Solomos with a native voice arising from Greek soil is undermined – just as the relationship between the voice of Homeric nature and the modern poet is a fractured one in European Romanticism too. While Solomos’s demotic Hymn to Freedom (whose first stanzas later became the Greek national anthem) is included in Fauriel’s Chants populaires, the folk venture is, as in Europe, the task of the editor. The Solomos whom we receive, the Solomos who appears on the printed page, is always the national poet of the editor, be it Fauriel or Polylas, and so is Solomos’s tentative Homeric voice. In fact, Homer is effectively written into Solomos’s works, as an editorial feat, by Polylas. A case in point is another early, fragmentary poem, in which the figure of an old, blind man appears to the speaker in an eerie nature at night and draws near. Solomos abandons the draft until it is resurrected by Polylas, who fits it with the highly disputable title “The Shade of Homer.”
I listen to the metrical din of the leaping waterfall,
I study the lowing of the wind that blows through the woods
The trilling bird I hear sharply, the shrieking owl
And the Aegean bellowing as it bellowed before, and I examine
Wherefrom then were taken those heavenly tunes,
And my soul, all comet, sings forth in hexameter.
Flowing in the wealth of rhythm, the well-varied twists of verse,
Sublime for sublime things and delighted in the face of graceful tunes,
When ancient Greece stands resurrected and with it
Ancient sensibility, with it, too, ancient meter must stand.
As the writer-figure next stands confronted with the quasi-Adamic task of renaming his environment in the spirit of the bard, Rangavis is quick to add the twist that Homer is, in fact, once exiled from Greece like his Odysseus, still wandering in foreign climes:
Has fled, a roamer (planes), like his hero, much tossed-about of old.
Wishing elsewhere to find admirers and beating hearts,
He took to colder climes, stringing kitharas tuned in different ways.
The oaks of Teutonia whisper his melodies now,
And Albion understands the bard of soft Ionia,
But in Hellas his voice is silent.
And what is more:
warbling a sweet song, and setting alight and bewitching the mind,
but like a gigantic corpse which a pedant anatomizes
in cold blood, researching dialects and accidence and meter.
The verb planô also means ‘to deceive’, and so Homer has become an unreliable trickster seeking fame and fortune elsewhere, a revenant straying abroad while his body is dissected at home. Once more, then, scholarship and literature threaten to drift apart in the guise of the national scholar and the national poet. Overall though, as with Solomos, Homer is not a major player within the literary remit. Sporadic translation, as can be seen with contemporaries of Solomos and Rangavis, is an exercise in expectation – and it usually stays at that.
τον ερμο ! απ’ ολουσ ποτισε τουσ αχαιουσ φαρμακια,
και πληθουσ εστειλε ψθχεσ λεβεντικεσ στον αδη
οπλαρχηγωνε, κι’ εθρεσε με τα κορμια τουσ σκυλουσ
και ολα τα ορνια (του διοσ ετσι ειχε η γνωμη ορισει)
Imposing Greek education on the industrial landscape of America, where dereliction and advance sit side by side, and being answered in kind this time, not having to answer himself, Rangavis finally seems to have found the nature that affirms his command of Homer.