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“When they had satisfied their thirst and hunger, they thought of their dear companions and wept, and in the midst of their tears sleep came gently upon them.” The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—how rarely the older literatures ever told it! ” No, obviously, you won’t find much of that sort of thing in literature.Bits of the truth, yes; every good book gives us bits of the truth, would not be a good book if it did not. Of the great writers of the past incredibly few have given us that. The ‘truth’ of which I was speaking just now is in fact no more than an acceptable verisimilitude.
Turning back from his post in the bows, Odysseus was in time to see them lifted, struggling, into the air, to hear their screams, the desperate repetition of his own name.Micawber’s papa’s favourite proverb would lead us to suppose.Artists are eminently teachable and also eminently teachers.For among the things they don’t shirk are the irrelevancies which, in actual life, always temper the situations and characters that writers of tragedy insist on keeping chemically, pure.Consider, for example, the case of Sophy Western, that most charming, most nearly perfect of young women.In a word, Homer refused to treat the theme tragically. Another author who preferred to tell the Whole Truth was Fielding.“Tom Jones” is one of the very few Odyssean books written in Europe between the time of Aeschylus and the present age; Odyssean, because never tragical; never—even when painful and disastrous, even when pathetic and beautiful things are happening.In any other poem but the Odyssey, what would the survivors have done?They, would, of course, have wept, even as Homer made them weep.They receive from events much more than most men receive and they can transmit what they have received with a peculiar penetrative force, which drives their communication deep into the reader’s mind.One of our most ordinary reactions to a good piece of literary art is expressed in the formula: “This is what I have always felt and thought, but have never been able to put clearly into words, even for myself.” We are now in a position to explain what we mean when we say that Homer is a writer who tells the Whole Truth.