Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.05.39


Nicholas Richardson, The Iliad: A Commentary (Vol. VI). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Pp. xx + 387. ISBN 0-521-30960-3.


Reviewed by S. Douglas Olson, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This is the sixth and final volume of the new Cambridge commentary on the Iliad. There are few great surprises or revelations here, and Richardson's interests are considerably more restricted than those of some of his fellow-editors. All the same, this is a welcome contribution to Homeric studies, and the series as a whole should remain a basic research tool well into the next century.

Richardson begins with two major essays, on the "Structure and Themes" of the Iliad (1-19) and "Homer and his ancient critics" (25-49). In the first, he argues that the overall architecture of the poem can be usefully analyzed in terms of ring-composition: the actions of the gods in Book I are balanced by those in XXIV, the panoramic view of the Greek army in the Catalogue of Ships in II is apparent again in the Funeral Games for Patroclus in XXIII, and the duel between Menelaus and Paris in III is echoed in that between Achilleus and Hector in XXII. Richardson himself calls his theory "somewhat speculative" (p. 5) and admits that after Book VI or so the echoes and contrasts he detects become much less apparent. His sketch of the early exegetical history of the text (a considerable portion of which appeared in a slightly different form in Lamberton and Keaney, Homer's Ancient Readers [Princeton 1992] 30-40), on the other hand, is of considerable independent interest and value and might well have been expanded at the expense of what precedes it. There are also brief discussions of the traditional Book-divisions (20-21) and the relationship between the end of the Iliad and the Odyssey (21-4).

In the commentary itself, Richardson is concerned primarily to trace the surface action of the story and the poet's purposes with it. Along the way, he notes rare or difficult words, textual problems, the Scholiasts' remarks and parallel passages elsewhere, with relatively little attention to the history of the Homeric dialect or the mechanics of oral composition. His observations are generally reasonable, moderate and sensitive to the nuances of the text and its music in particular, although in some cases his views on the larger structural symmetry of the poem lead him in odd directions. Thus he argues that the differences between the snake-similes at III.33-7 and XXII.93-7 mark a deliberate attempt to contrast the characters of Menelaos and Hektor rather than simple reuse of a standard image, and devotes considerable attention to the alleged internal unity and balance of individual Books, despite his acknowledgement earlier that these divisions are most likely Hellenistic in date. There are nonetheless many helpful and acute observations here and a great deal to be learned by readers of any critical stripe. I do have a few general reservations about the scope of the commentary and the scholarly apparatus which accompanies it. Useful parallels from the Odyssey, first of all, are sometimes neglected. Thus ad XXII.69-71, Richardson discusses Priam's "gate-watching" ("door-watching"?) dogs without reference to those of Alkinoos (vii.91-4); ad XXII.106, he fails to note Eurymachos' fear of what some KAKW/TEROS may say of him and the other Suitors if they fail to string Odysseus' bow (xxi.323-9) in connection with Hektor's very similar anxieties before his city's lower classes if he retreats inside the walls; ad XXII.146, he does not cite as parallels for the wagon-track leading down to the springs and washing-places outside of Troy the comparable (and apparently standard) topography of Telepyle (x.103-8) and Scheria (esp. vi.81-8). There are also occasional bibliographical lapses. Ad XXIV.44-5, for example, Richardson cites for Homeric AI)DW/S only a very brief article by Hooker in G & R 1987 rather than the massive study of Von Erffa (1937) and the subsequent work of Verdenius (1945), Cheyns (1967) and Riedinger (1980), while ad XXII.66-76 he discusses Priam's KU/NES without reference to Faust's lengthy treatment of the word and its implications in the Iliad in Glotta 1970. In addition, he often appears reluctant to follow up larger questions raised by the text. Ad XXI.320-1, for example, he observes that the thongs with which Achilles binds his twelve Trojan prisoners "are usually taken as belts," but does not discuss other possible interpretations or what the various theories might tell us about Dark Age clothing; ad XXI.162-3, he fails to note what (if anything) we know of "handedness" in the ancient world in connection with the apparently ambidextrous Asteropaios; ad XXII.29 (KU/N' *W)RI/WNOS), he offers no information on the early traditions of Orion. These are all in one sense peripheral matters, but exploration of them could only have added to the richness and enduring value of this commentary. Despite such limitations, this remains a very useful book and an absolute "must buy" for most college and university libraries. With the exception of an odd variation in the spelling of the divine name "Here" (also noted in Vol. IV), proofreading has been meticulous. A general index of Greek words for all six volumes appears at the end and seems relatively complete.