Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.06.02


Keith Stanley, The Shield of Homer. Narrative Structure in the Iliad. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. Pp. 470. ISBN 0-691-06938-7.


Reviewed by Robert C. Schmiel, University of Calgary.

Classical scholarship at present seems to be divided between those who will allow no design or symmetry in poetry and those who attribute a wholly excessive importance to such things. -- Brooks Otis
Drerup, Peters and Whitman all undertook the formidable study of the formal structure of the Iliad, and Stanley has now done the same, in far greater detail than before. The book is in five sections, with an introductory chapter on such fundamental matters as ring composition, oral theory, and book division, and an exemplary analysis of the ring composition of the Catalogue of Ships (in 8 parts), and a recapitulatory chapter on related topics as well as closure and the date of the Iliad (in 6 parts), framing three chapters on the structure of Iliad 1-7, 8-17, and 18-24. Discussions of the Shield form an outer ring. S. practices what he preaches. Some 120 pp. of footnotes, a 25-page bibliography, and an 18-page index (which should have included key words like 'center' and 'reversal') complete the book.

S.'s discussion of parataxis and ring composition (in the various forms: anaphoric, inclusive, multiple and motivic), and annular or inter-locking arrangement is brief and quite familiar. Although S. sees parataxis as a function of orality, he rightly regards symmetrical (annular) structure as a means of creating emphasis, parallel and contrast, not mere coherence. (See also Lohmann 1-11 and 210 and Thalmann 8-21.)

S.'s aims are stated on p. 28: "Our first objective will be a description of the text as a whole, in terms of narrative organization and the patterns that raise questions and suggest meaning within this structure. For design in the Iliad is not simply a consequence of generic precedent or autonomous artistic play but provides ... a consistent and indispensable guide to point of view and thus to poetic discourse." The result will be "to find evidence ... that will help to define a relationship not only of form and content but also between our Iliad and its predecessors, and its function as a performable entity in a specific cultural context ..."

S. takes some account of earlier views (esp. Peters' and Whitman's), and gives a brief survey of the work of Drerup, Sheppard, Myres, Whitman, Webster, Nagler and Nicolai. It is good that S. acknowledges some of the earlier work especially, which has generally been overlooked; for the most part he briefly notes agreements and disagreements. (To S.'s extensive bibliography add R. Peppmüller, Über die Composition der Klagelieder im 24. Buch der Ilias [Halle, 1872]; F. Stürmer, PhW 39 [1919] 803-816 and 832-840; PhW 42 [1922] 91-96; WS 39 [1917] 50-66 and 185-199; and M. Baltes, Literaturwissenschaftliches Jahrbuch 28 [1987] 9-25.)

Book division is a problem that confronts anyone working on the structure of the Iliad or Odyssey. S. regards the traditional book divisions as authentic. He points to variation in length as an argument against division for commercial (Hellenistic) book-production, and to the use of the old Ionian alphabet instead of the Alexandrian numbering system as an argument against a Hellenistic date for the division.

In the three central chapters S. goes through the Iliad book-by-book, providing a detailed schema for each, with running commentary on the structure as well as general interpretive comments (c. 8 pp. per book). So, for example, the structure of Bk. 1 is given as: 1a (1-52), 2a (53-307), 1b (308-318a), 2b (318b-430a), 1c (430b-487), 2c (488-533a), without headings for the sections. This does not cover the complete book, but S. supplies another division: A1 (1-52), B1 (53-412), C1 (413-430a), D (430b-492), C2 (493-510), A2 (511-533a), B2 (533b-611) in which the sections have headings -- or so I make it out, because when S. follows the AB(CD...) method as he generally does, he does not give the line references in parentheses but they must be determined from their placement beside the more detailed outline in which line references are given in the form 000ff.

Book 3 has a symmetrical structure (ABCDEDCBA) centering on the Teichoskopia, as well as a secondary analysis in which the duel is framed by Helen's meetings with Iris and Priam, Aphrodite and Paris. (Although the first three books receive a twofold outline of structure, that is not typical of S.'s practice.) Most of the major sections in the schema have a more or less annular structure themselves, but C1 (77-115) has an interlocking structure (in which actions/words of the leaders alternate with the response of the troops), as does B2 (383-447). Similes and their relationships (here between 3.23ff and 449) are indicated in the schema of each book. S. often notes verbal repetition (ring composition) within, often at the outer portions of, a section or sub-section, but seldom between parallel sections. Thus, in Book 1, S. cites O(u)lympon (492 and 497), but not A)NE/DU POLIH=S A(LO\S H)U/T' O)MI/XLH (359) and A)NEDU/SETO KU=MA QALA/SSHS / H)ERI/H (496f.), though Thetis' rising/appearance is noted at both points in the outline, in English.

Life is short and, as is becoming increasingly apparent, ring composition is endless (some would say 'interminable'). I have not checked every analysis of every book. Bk. 3 may serve as an example. S. takes 1-14 as introductory transition and calls 15-37 (A1) "advance of Menelaos and Paris," noting the contrasting similes, the ring formed by 'godlike' at 16 and 37 (and 30), and the contrast between Hektor's "relentless purpose" and Paris' "splendid appearance." B1 consists of 38-76. One may question the location of a major division in mid-sentence (76/77). The reasons evidently are to allow "Hektor rejoices" (76) to make a ring with Hektor's rebuke (38ff.), and to allow 77f. to begin the interlocking series (77-115=C1) already noted. D1 (116-120) might seem too brief for its corresponding section (245-313), but I regard insistence on approximately equal bulk (let alone numerical equivalence) for corresponding elements in a symmetrical structure as a mistake; both passages feature the heralds. The problem is that D1 has little else, D2 has a great deal else: the heralds announce the duel to Priam, he shudders but drives out to observe, Agamemnon sacrifices and prays, giving the conditions of the duel, and Priam returns to Troy. It is difficult to accept the second passage as a whole as parallel to the first. The central section (121-244=E) which features Helen is self-contained, and it is apparent that the sections other than the D sections correspond: C1 challenge, C2 duel; B1 and B2 rebuke pattern, A1 and A2. Peters (p. 26) sees the oath and duel as central in his far less detailed outline:

1-120 Angebot des Zweikampfes (on battlefield)
121-244 Teichoskopie (at Scaian Gate and Helen's home)
245-312 Eidopfer
313-382 Duell
383-447 Zweite Helenaszenen (at Scaian Gate and Helen's home)
448-461 Agamemnons Schlussworte (on battlefield)
One might be inclined to regard the duel as a more significant central action than the Teichoskopia.

S.'s presentation of the structure of Book 8 is completely convincing. A1 (1-3) dawn; assembly of gods, and A2 (485-565) night; Trojan assembly; waiting for dawn. B1 (4-40) Zeus' supremacy (Athena), and B2 (444-484) Zeus' supremacy (Athena and Hera), "united by the motif of Tartaros (13 and 481) and by a similar structure of challenge, reaction following silence, and response..." C1 (41-52) Zeus drives to Ida, and C2 (438-443) Zeus returns from Ida (again linked by motifs: [un]hitching horses and gold). D1 (53-198a) "inadequacy of the heroic mode," and D2 (397-437) "futility of divine partisanship in conflict with Zeus' intentions," both featuring Zeus' thunderbolt. E1 (198b-211) Hera exhorts Poseidon to help Greeks, he refuses, and E2 (350-396) Hera exhorts Athena to help Greeks, she agrees. F (212-349) central battle, itself concentrically structured. (It should be understood that I can give only a bare, somewhat misleading, hence less than satisfactory summary of S.'s detailed analysis.) The structure of Book 21, on the other hand, can hardly be considered a formal structure.

Although S. studies the structure of individual books, he sees a larger organization as well: Books 1-7 form a set of rings around 4, 18-24 a set around 21, and 8-17 two sets of rings around 10 and 15. There are also relationships between 7 and 18, 6 and 19...1 and 24. This might seem to some a multiplicatio ad absurdum, but it is wrong to insist on one exclusive structure, as witness the three (at least) significant and different structurings of the Aeneid. I shall look at Books 1-7. As S. acknowledges, various scholars have taken 3-7 (or 2-7) as a group, the first day of battle, centered on Diomedes' aristeia (Bk. 5). S. amalgamates the outlines of Peters (p. 47) and Whitman (p. 268) and so creates an outline that represents neither, which he then criticizes -- a policy of combine and conquer. The crux is that Peters and Whitman center the structure on Bk. 5, while S. must center his on 4 since he goes by books and takes 1-7 as a group. As preparation for his own views S. remarks that "the poet attaches greatest importance to parallels that reflect his peculiarly analytical interpretation of his material; our main concern therefore lies with the way in which he has integrated into a meaningful whole the thematic emphases we have noted..." A cynic -- and here I am one of that currish lot -- will read "Stanley" for "the poet" and suspect that he is being softened up to accept S.'s identification of what is important, with little attention paid to the superficial content which can then be given a convenient spin.

But the proof of the pudding... Bk. 7 is said to reflect 1 "by repeating the basic themes of a quarrel over the return of a woman and of a mortal offense..." The duel in 7 is to end the war; it is not over Helen (that in Bk. 3, of course, is). Antenor suggests returning Helen at 348ff, Alexander refuses, and that is that. Both books are said to have assemblies (but that in Bk. 7, S. admits, is an "intermission" which "functions as an assembly." "The duel of 7", S. concedes, "differs in formal pattern from the quarrel" in 1. "The intervention of Talthybios and Eurybates" in 7 "is phrased in terms that recall" Nestor's advice in 1. And so forth, all emphases mine. S. is evidently straining to make the parallel.

"Formal parallel is less precise in Books 2 and 6." I say no more; both here and on Bks. 3 and 5 the argument is forced. Although 4 is the supposed center, S. himself speaks of "[t]he ensuing dramatic climax in Book 5." This isn't working. I see no reason not to accept the basic structure as identified by Peters and Whitman, and which Camps (An Introduction to Homer, 1980, pp. 67f., not noted by S.) also accepts.

Later, when S. tries to show the parallels between Bks. 7 and 18, for example, the sections are differently characterized than when the individual books were discussed. For example, 7 C1 and C2: "Describing the two Trojan offers (of the duel, to return the treasure without Helen)" (p. 93) become "Nestor regrets that he cannot fight as once he did..." and "Bodies collected ...; wall built." This might just be legitimate -- S. isn't making it up -- but it doesn't inspire confidence. Given two sufficiently long passages and enough ingenuity and selectivity, one can find some parallel between, not all, but far too many passages of poetry. One must exercise stylistic self-restraint when doing this sort of analysis -- and describe the contents of a passage with both eyes on the text, not one on one's argument.

The problem of book division is one to which S. returns more than once -- it is both difficult and crucial to S.'s procedure and results. On pp. 249ff. he discusses it in terms of closure. After asserting again "the remarkable structural integrity" of each book, he claims that "breaks seldom interrupt continuous action" between two books, and that Homer uses "four major types of transition." The most common "involves a hos ("thus") statement that summarizes the previous action ... and a "but" statement introducing the next..." As S. concedes, this occurs within books also, but he claims there is a difference in that "the preceding book has ended with its own conclusion of the previous action" (one exception). As an example, there is a "transition from Trojan to Greek encampment" between 8.562-65 and 9.1-3. But doesn't the same sort of thing happen at 1.528 sq. where Zeus makes a decision, nods, Olympos is shaken? Homer continues: "So these two who had made their plans separated, and Thetis (leapt down to) the sea's depth, but Zeus went back to his own house..." And also at 1.308-321 where Agamemnon launches a ship under Odysseus' command to return Chryseis and performs hecatombs, then gives orders to the heralds to get Briseis? S. concedes that the transition between 16 and 17 is "no more emphatic than the introduction of a new element within a section of a book" (p. 258). Unless these transitions are truly different from those within books, they provide little support for pre-Alexandrian (i.e. Homeric) division.

It is difficult to deal with structure on the scale of 500 or 1000 lines. To attempt to lay out the structure of an Iliad, in detail, taking every line into consideration as S. has done, is difficult beyond imagining. Was S. virtually forced to proceed book-by-book in order to cope? If so, his insistence on the structural integrity of the book is a convenience dearly bought. That the Iliad -- as well as much if not most classical poetry, epic and lyric in particular -- is informed by ring composition if not symmetrical structure is no longer in doubt. The same sort of structure has been identified widely in Near Eastern and biblical literature (see J. W. Welch [ed.], Chiasmus in Antiquity. Structures, Analyses, Exegesis, Hildesheim, 1981), and in the choral music of J. S. Bach (see for example F. Smend, Bach-Studien, Kassel, 1969, 11 sq.; G. Herz, J. S. Bach: Cantata No. 4, Christ lag in Todesbanden, New York, 1967; W. Blankenburg, Einführung in Bachs h-moll-Messe, Kassel, 1974, 52 sq.; J. Butt, Bach: Mass in B Minor, Cambridge, 1991, 92 sq.). Most of S.'s analysis is no doubt right or reasonable. But I am not convinced by his plan for the whole Iliad, if indeed it is possible to reduce the Iliad to one clear, comprehensive, symmetrical plan. Time will tell.

I have not even mentioned much that is well-presented on orality and the nature of the Iliad, and I have not discussed S.'s conclusion that "our poet has recreated the world of long extinct heroes as a diagnosis of human illusion..." (p. 248). Since structure is the key S. chose to unlock the Iliad, if the presentation of that structure raises questions, anything based on the structure is called into question. I share S.'s conviction that structure is often crucial to meaning, as he has demonstrated on numerous specific points, in his discussions of Books 3 and 19 for example. This will not be the last word on the structure of the Iliad, but whoever takes the question up will have to take S.'s analysis into account.