Bryn Mawr Classical Review 02.05.07


The Iliad of Homer, Part One: Books 1-6. Read in Ancient Greek by Stephen G. Daitz. The Living Voice of Greek and Latin. London: Jeffrey Norton Publishers, Inc., 1990.


Reviewed by Robert C. Schmiel, University of Calgary.

Although the arguments for the correct pronunciation of Ancient Greek are overwhelming, and the excuse that we cannot teach and practice what we cannot know is more convenient than convincing, far too little attention is paid to correct pronunciation. The reasons are patent: one has less and less time to bring students to reading competence before they disappear; whether by stated position or example many respected scholars have made their disdain for correct pronunciation clear (What cruel and unusual punishments would attend a like attitude toward the printing of ancient texts?); the Babel in departments of international provenance defeats any attempt before it begins, even if there is no archaeologist whose Greek has been thoroughly modernized by busy summers in Greece; and at universities if not at colleges, publication advances careers, however much lip service is paid to teaching. It is nonetheless remarkable that members of a discipline which prides itself on precision and correctness should be in this regard such sluttish handmaidens of the fair Philology.

Stephen Daitz has waged vigorous war against this vice, by recording numerous tapes in the series The Living Voice of Greek and Latin, and by persuading the APA to include practical sessions on the reading of Greek and Latin poetry in various meters. One hopes for the appearance of a widely-used elementary text for teaching Greek which includes tapes and encourages practice in pronunciation. But even if it is impossible to turn the profession as a body, it is a valuable service to make practical guidance and an example of careful and correct reading of Greek (and Latin) available to those who recognize how important it is.

The Iliad of Homer, Part One, Books 1-6 consists of six cassettes and a manual which provides a brief history of the pronunciation of Ancient Greek and information on Daitz' pronunciation and delivery as well as the Greek text (with makra) and the Lang, Leaf and Meyers translation of Iliad 1-6. Daitz attempts individual vocal characterization, but since there are more than two score different characters, only major figures are given a distinct voice. The digamma is not pronounced. Since Daitz always pauses at the verse end a number of printed acute accents are read (deliberately) as grave accents. Internal aspiration is observed (e.g. peri(h)oraw). "A few dactylic chords on the guitar" are inserted at logical points "to suggest the musical element of the early performance."

The guitar -- we proceed hysteron-proteron Homerikos -- provides relief, for listeners and surely for performer; the interludes mark natural pauses in the narrative (in Bk. 1 after lines 7, 52, 187, 303, 427, 492, 530) as well as beginning and end of each book. Daitz does not explain why he always pauses at verse end. (He has now done this in AJP 112 [1991] 149-69.) I should rather pause after oulomenhn (1.2) and hhrwwn (1.4) etc. One can not know what Homer would have done, but I find it hard to imagine that enjambment would have been disregarded in performance. In any production of such length there will be errors. I have noticed only a tendency to read fem. gen. sing. nouns in eta sigma as if they ended in alpha sigma. Daitz' "committed" style of delivery will, of course, not please everyone. The task of reading 12,000 hexameters correctly in a foreign language which has no native speakers is formidable; the individual vocal characterization requires the professional skill the performer possesses; there is carefully controlled variation in pace, dynamics, intensity, pitch and timbre, even apart from the individual characterization. It is a virtuoso performance.