Bryn Mawr Classical Review 96.5.2

Ø. Andersen and M. Dickie (edd.), Homer's World: Fiction, Tradition, Reality. Papers from the Norwegian Institute at Athens 3. Bergen: The Norwegian Institute at Athens (Distributed by Paul Âströms Förlag), 1995. Pp. 173. ISBN 82-991411-9-2.

Reviewed by John K. Papadopoulos, The J. Paul Getty Museum,

1995 saw the publication of three different volumes of essays focusing on Homer.1 Such a flurry of Homerica is always welcome and a healthy sign for the field as a whole. Of these three volumes, two, including the volume under review, are largely the proceedings of conferences held in Athens during 1993, while the third, the largest and most impressive of the three, represents a collection of essays presented to the great Emily Vermeule by former students and friends. Of the three, the volume edited by Andersen and Dickie is, in many ways, the most difficult to review. The volume as a whole offers much of interest to a wide variety of readers and makes an important contribution to the study of Homer. There are, however, several problems with the volume that have more to do with what was not in the book than what was included.

The ten essays are preceded by a brief preface, barely half a page, that announces the origins of the volume in a conference organized in December 1993 at the Norwegian Institute at Athens. The preface also admits that "the papers reflect sharply different views of the relationship between Homer and his world" (p. 4). This being the case, the editors should have published some sort of discussion, even an introduction, albeit brief, outlining the various points of views, and matters of consensus and disagreement. There is no such introduction and the ten essays follow with no list of abbreviations, no notes on the contributors, nor any form of index. The latter is an important omission, and some sort of index, even an index of Homeric passages, would have greatly benefitted the reader. It seems reasonably clear that the editors did not over-exert themselves; it is also my impression that some of the authors would not have submitted the versions of their contributions presented in this book for publication in a more carefully-scrutinized refereed journal or volume.

The first essay, "Lefkandi and Homer" by Carla M. Antonaccio, is an overview of a site and a building (the Toumba Building at Lefkandi) that have featured prominently in recent discussions. Too much of the paper, however, is devoted to summarizing primary evidence fully published in the excavation reports.2 Many of the more problematic interpretative conclusions of the excavators and their collaborators, among them the sticky question of "heirlooms", appear to be accepted at face value by Antonaccio with little discussion. When attention is turned to interpretation there is not much that is new, and even one of the main aspects of focus, the whole notion of questioning traditional assumptions of gift-exchange models, is largely based on the penetrating work of Ian Morris.3 It is perhaps worth noting that a more radical interpretation of the Toumba Building at Lefkandi, one that takes the construction of the building back into the Mycenaean era, has been recently presented by Crielaard and Driessen.4 Antonaccio's concluding sentence states: "In addition to the Early Mycenaean period and the late 8th century, Lefkandi points especially to the earlier Iron Age and Euboia, as critical for Homeric poetry as it has come down to us" (p. 20). Few would seriously contend such a conclusion, even though the evidence for such a statement involves more than just Lefkandi.5 Incidently, why is it always the "hero of Lefkandi and his consort" and not the heroine and her consort? That is to say, who died for, or with, whom?

The next two papers tackle the notorious problem of the "date" of Homer, and both opt for the seventh century. The first, by Matthew Dickie, "The Geography of Homer's World" (pp. 29-56), focuses on the evidence of people and places in Homer. Although a good case can be made for a seventh-century date for Homer, the arguments presented by Dickie are arguably not the strongest. His misuse of archaeological evidence is particularly frustrating and a textbook case of a classicist abusing archaeological information. On p. 34, for example, Dickie has much to say about terracotta roof-tiles and the passage in Iliad I. 39. In a footnote (p. 53, n. 24) he states: "The earliest terracotta roof-tiles in the Greek world come from the Corinthia, respectively from the temple of Apollo in Corinth and that of Poseidon at Isthmia, and are to be dated to 576-650 B.C." (sic). The "House of the Tiles" at Lerna, so-called because of the mass of fallen roof-tiles, both terracotta and schist, is conventionally dated to the Early Helladic II period,6 and predates the temples of Corinth and Isthmia by almost two millennia! Many of Dickie's other arguments follow similar lines, and two of the most prominent arguments, discussed both in the main body of his article and in his conclusions, represent similar cases of mis-information. Much is made of the existence of wine in Thrace: "The wine that comes daily by ship to the Greek camp from Thrace will be the wine that the Greek colonists introduced and for which the area soon became famous. It is hard to believe that vines were extensively cultivated in Thrace before the Greek colonization of the 7th century" (pp. 48-49). It is clear that Dickie has not consulted the archaeological literature, because extensive cultivation of the grape in Thrace goes back to the Early Bronze Age and is well-known on account of the excavations, for example, at Sitagroi.7 Dickie's other "conclusive" argument is the Sanctuary at Delphi and his suspicion that Homer is referring to the renowned sanctuary of the 7th or even 6th century B.C. Although citing Morgan's important contribution to the subject, Dickie has failed to grasp the full significance of the available evidence. Mycenaean settlement at Delphi was extensive, with evidence of cult activity at the Marmaria; during the Early Iron Age, the earliest bronze tripods and figurines clearly associated with cult can be dated to the early 8th century, if not the 9th.8 His insistence on a later date for the prominence of the Delphi sanctuary is at best a moot point and in need of further discussion. The latter, along with the factual errors cited above, greatly mar his other arguments and undermine the case for a seventh-century date.

Wolfgang Kullmann's "Homers Zeit und das Bild des Dichters von den Menschen der mykenishen Kultur" (pp. 57-75), avoids some of the problems Dickie has got himself into by simply omitting the archaeological evidence altogether. This is unfortunate as it renders the paper a fairly traditional overview of the internal evidence of Homer. Kullmann focuses on, among other things, the lack of an historical date for the Mycenaean period in the Iliad; what he views as a break between the past, the present and the glorification or effulgence of the heroes. His other arguments concentrate on the projection of an Archaic political situation onto the world of the Trojan War, as well as the transposition of a later heroic ideal and the social "city-state" onto an earlier time. Kullmann's arguments are firmly rooted in the political, social and economic landscape of the Archaic period, but his treatment of Mycenaean realities, not to mention those of the Geometric period, are not as full as they might have been.9

The next paper, in which Tilman Krischer discusses "Die Inhomogenität der Troja-Epik" (pp. 77-90), does not follow organically from the previous two. The focus now shifts to some of the concerns expressed in the subtitle of the book, particularly fiction and reality. In places verging on the 19th century in outlook, Krischer's paper should be read in conjunction with that of Phanis J. Kakridis, with the title "Odysseus und Palamedes" (pp. 91-100), since the two complement one another. In the latter it is Odysseus ("der 'Böse'") who is compared with Palamedes ("der 'Gute'"), whereas for Krischer there seem to be more profound contrasts at play (see also Kakridis p. 99, n. 5). The reluctance of both authors to approach the archaeological and iconographic evidence, however obliquely, is part of an alarming and outdated trend in Homeric studies which, it is hoped, might be remedied with the publication of the forthcoming New Companion to Homer.10

In "Poetic Invention: The Fighting around Troy in the First Nine Years of the Trojan War" (pp. 101-121), Peter Jones turns his attention to the silence about the fighting around Troy in the first nine years of the war, not only in Homer, but also in our summaries, the Cypria (Proklos' summary)11 and Apollodoros' Epitome. In parts the paper borders on the heavily statistical, such as the 5,500 lines of fighting in the Iliad, in which 170 named Trojans and 50 named Greeks lose their lives (p. 105). In asking the question, why the silence? Jones believes he can glimpse the oral poet in competition with other poets in order to impress his version of the events on the tradition (p. 108), which is to say (p. 109): "that Homer is reconstructing the War according to his own programme." Despite the fact that the latter is exactly what poets do best, Jones goes on to conclude (p. 109): ".. it must be admitted that it is the "Great Foray" that really interests Homer about the first nine years of the War: for there, in the fighting prowess of Achilles and the raising of so much booty, lie the seeds of his version of the Iliad." This is an interesting argument, though I believe Jones' reasoning would benefit from Mabel Lang's discussion in "War Story into Wrath Story."12

The following paper, M.M. Willcock's "The Importance of Iliad 8", is more difficult to comment upon. It begins with a fairly minor comment that G.S. Kirk made, which Willcock sees as one of the more surprising sentences in Homeric publications in recent years. Willcock exclaims: "How could an intelligent and clear-headed scholar write in these terms?" Applying a similar treatment to Leaf and others, Willcock goes on to provide a useful and erudite overview of Iliad Book 8, although at times he speaks with remarkable authority as to what is "absolutely and undeniably required by the plot" of the Iliad (p. 117). Be that as it may, the vitriolic tone of the paper detracts from its scholarship and the editors should have judiciously intervened.

"Odyssey 11: The Question of the Sources" (pp. 123-131). By concentrating on the sources of the Nekyia, Tsagarakis tackles the problem of the influence of the Near East on early Greek epic poetry. The author admits that whereas the influences of Orientalism are evident in "the arts and handicrafts" of Greece, they are not so in epic poetry (p. 123). By this Tsagarakis seems to imply that the "arts and handicrafts" are really not that important, and his treatment is accordingly summary. On p. 125 the whole question of the adoption of the Phoenician alphabet by the Greeks is swept under the carpet and much other useful evidence, archaeological and literary, is similarly overlooked. By denying any influence from Near Eastern Epic, Tsagarakis concludes that the Nekyia should be viewed as a distinct poetic achievement on Homer's part (p. 129). This paper stoops to a level of nationalism that is, for a fellow Greek, embarrassing. Although citing Burkert's useful contribution to the subject,13 Tsagarakis would do well to read Burkert more closely, as well as some useful discussions by Crane and Morris.14

In the penultimate paper, Nanno Marinatos discusses "Circe and Liminality: Ritual Background and Narrative Structure" (pp. 133-140). A short article, this is one of the more refreshing papers in the volume (it is the only paper that admits illustrations). Her main point is the nature of the character of Circe in the Odyssey; how she embodies antitheses and how she represents liminality as discussed by Arnold van Gennep.15 By looking at some archaeological evidence, in this case iconographic representations of the so-called potnia theron, Marinatos introduces some evidence for a seventh-century date for Homer that is most interesting; evidence that could have been referred to by Dickie and Kullmann.

The final paper, J. Gordon Howie's "The Iliad as Exemplum" (pp. 141-173), poses the question of whether Homer intended his audience to learn from his picture of the heroic past in the Iliad. Although distinguishing between the Spatium Mythicum and the Spatium Historicum, the remoteness in time of the events in the main narrative are considered by Howie to be sufficiently comparable with Homer's own time to have had a serious bearing on his audience (p. 167). Howie reviews some of the exempla and more prominent paradigmatic episodes in Homer. Nevertheless, one is left wondering when, exactly, in Howie's estimate Homer's own time is to be dated and, more importantly, to what extent is it the powerful spell of the Iliad over later periods that has elevated it as an exemplary work of literature rather than it being so in its own time?16

Turning to the volume as a whole, there are a number of typographical errors, mis-cited references, and inconsistencies in spelling among papers, but these are rather insignificant when viewed against the most serious shortcoming of the book. Whichever way one looks at this volume, it is an admixture of disparate essays with little focus, many of which would not have been published in their present form by a refereed journal. The volume as a whole is a good example of a genre that is becoming increasingly common in classics and in archaeology: the poorly-edited collection of essays, often by-passing peer review, published either to promote an institute (such as a Foreign School in Athens) or, more commonly, to beef up the bibliography of a scholar in order for him/her to get a job or tenure. Examples of the genre sadly abound and one sure way of ferretting out such a volume is the title: it is normally pretentious or over-inflated, often with a colon, and, in many cases, inaccurate so far as the real content is concerned. The recent spate of such publications, particularly by presses such as Routledge, Oxbow and Paul Âströms Förlag is, in part, an attempt to crack the lucrative undergraduate market, but these presses might do well to consider that what may penetrate this lucrative market is quality, not slick titles that are misleading. More importantly, close scrutiny of edited volumes, by peer review, should be a minimum requirement of any scholarly press. In 1980 Robin Hägg and Nanno Marinatos instituted the first of the Swedish Institute at Athens symposia; a lot of hard work went into both the organization of the event and its publication,17 a level of effort that is clearly lacking from many recent volumes. If foreign archaeological schools wish to promote their institutions through publications, or if scholars are eager for a quick book under their belt, they would do well to emulate the achievements of Hagg and his collaborators.


  • [1] In addition to the volume under review these include: J.B Carter and S.P. Morris, edd., The Ages of Homer. A Tribute to Emily Townsend Vermeule, Austin 1995; J.P. Crielaard, ed., Homeric Questions. Essays in Philology, Ancient History and Archaeology, Including the Papers of A Conference Organized by the Netherlands Institute at Athens (15 May 1993), Amsterdam 1995.
  • [2] Especially M.R. Popham, P.G. Calligas and L.H. Sackett, edd., Lefkandi II:2. The Protogeometric Building at Toumba. The Excavation, Architecture and Finds (London 1993), wrongly cited by A. on p. 20, n. 2.
  • [3] I. Morris, "Gift and Commodity in Archaic Greece," Man 21, 1986, pp. 1-17; cf. id., "Circulation, Deposition, and the Formation of the Greek Iron Age," Man 24, 1989, pp. 502-519.
  • [4] J.P. Crielaard and J. Driessen, "The Hero's Home. Some Reflections on the Building at Toumba, Lefkandi," Topoi 4, 1994, pp. 251-270.
  • [5] For a useful overview see especially E.S. Sherratt, "Reading the texts: Archaeology and the Homeric Question," Antiquity 64, 1990, pp. 807-824.
  • [6] E.T. Vermeule, Greece in the Bronze Age (2nd. ed.), Chicago 1972, pp. 34-36.
  • [7] C. Renfrew, M. Gimbutas and E.S. Elster, edd., Excavations at Sitagroi. A Prehistoric Village in Northeast Greece, Volume I, Los Angeles 1986, pp. 138, 441.
  • [8] C. Morgan, Athletes and Oracles. The Transformation of Olympia and Delphi in the Eighth Century B.C., Cambridge, esp. pp. 106-107.
  • [9] Both Kullmann and Dickie could have consulted and more fully utilized some other discussions of the date of Homer's world, especially R. Janko, Homer, Hesiod and the Hymns, Cambridge 1982, pp. 228-231; I. Morris, "The Use and Abuse of Homer," CA 5, 1986, pp. 81-136, esp. 93, 104; S.P. Morris, "A Tale of Two Cities: The Miniature Frescoes from Thera and the Origins of Greek Poetry," AJA 93, 1989, pp. 511-535. Many of Dickie's and Kullmann's arguments are much more fully treated in, among others, J.P. Crielaard, "Homer, History and Archaeology: Some Remarks on the Date of the Homeric World," in Crielaard, supra n. 1, pp. 201-288; W. Burkert, "Lydia between East and West or How to Date the Trojan War: A Study in Herodotus," in Carter and Morris, supra n. 1, pp. 139-148; G. Nagy, "An Evolutionary Model for the Making of Homeric Poetry: Comparative Perspectives," in Carter and Morris, supra n. 1, pp. 163-179.
  • [10] B.B. Powell and I. Morris, edd., A New Companion to Homer, Leiden (forthcoming).
  • [11] In M. Davies, ed., Epicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, Göttingen 1988.
  • [12] In Carter and Morris, edd., supra n. 1, pp. 149-158.
  • [13] W. Burkert, Die orientalisierende Epoche in der griechischen Religion und Literatur, Heidelberg 1984.
  • [14] G. Crane, Calypso: Backgrounds and Conventions of the Odyssey, Frankfurt 1988; S.P. Morris, Daidalos and the Origins of Greek Art, Princeton 1992; also useful is I.J. Winter, "Homer's Phoenicians: History, Ethnography, or Literary Trope? [A Perspective on Early Orientalism]," in Carter and Morris, edd., supra n. 1, pp. 247-271.
  • [15] Although citing R. Huntington and R. Metcalf, Celebrations of Death: The Anthropology of Mortuary Ritual, Cambridge 1979 (2nd. ed., 1991), reference is not made to the seminal work of A. van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, translated from the French by M.B. Vizedom and G.L. Caffee, Chicago 1960.
  • [16] For a differing view to Howie's see M. Heath, The Poetics of Greek Tragedy, London 1987, especially pp. 38-47; see also G. Nagy, "Mythological Exemplum in Homer," in R. Hexter and D. Selden, edd., Innovations of Antiquity, London 1992, pp. 311-331, which Howie appears to have overlooked.
  • [17] R. Hägg and N. Marinatos, edd., Sanctuaries and Cults in the Aegean Bronze Age. Proceedings of the First International Symposium at the Swedish Institute at Athens, 12-13 May, Stockholm 1980.