Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.7.7

Marco Fantuzzi and Roberto Pretagostini (edd.), Struttura e storia dell'esametro greco, 2 vols. Studi di metrica classica 10. Roma: Gruppo editoriale internazionale, 1995-96. Pp. 434; pp. 340. ISBN 88-8011-050-0.

Reviewed by Margalit Finkelberg, Department of Classics, Tel Aviv University,

Vol. 1: Mario Cantilena, "Il ponte di Nicanore" (pp. 9-67); Carolyn Higbie, "Archaic Hexameter: the Iliad, Theogony, and Erga (pp. 69-119); Livio Sbardella, "La struttura degli esametri in Esiodo, Erga 383-828" (pp. 121-133); Harry R. Barnes, "The Structure of the Elegiac Hexameter: a Comparison of the Structure of Elegiac and Stichic Hexameter Verse" (pp. 135-161); Roberto Pretagostini, "L'esametro nel dramma attico del V secolo: problemi di 'resa' e di 'ricinoscimento' (pp. 163-191); Malcolm Campbell, "Hiatus in Apollonius Rhodius" (pp.193-220); Marco Fantuzzi, "Variazioni sull'esametro in Teocrito" (pp. 221-264); Franco Montanari, "I versi 'sbagliati' di Omero e la filologia antica" (pp. 265-287); Gianfranco Agosti and Fabrizio Gonnelli, "Materiali per la storia dell'esametro nei poeti cristiani greci" (pp. 289-434).

Vol. 2: Bruno Gentili and Pietro Giannini, "Preistoria e formazione dell'esametro" (pp. 11-62); Gregory Nagy, "Metrical Convergences and Divergences in Early Greek Poetry and Song" (pp. 63-110); Enrico Magnelli, "Studi recenti sull'origine dell'esametro: un profilo critico" (pp. 111-137); Francesco Michelazzo, "Per una rilettura dell'Esametro di Hermann Fraenkel" (pp. 139-172); Hermann Fraenkel, "L'esametro di Omero e di Callimaco" (pp. 173-269); Luigi Enrico Rossi, "Estensione e valore del colon nell'esametro omerico" (pp. 271-320).

In respect of both its structure and its content the collection of essays under review falls into two parts. To put it into the editors' own words, while the first of the two volumes of Struttura e storia deals with "ricostruzione di una diacronia dell'esametro quale strumento espressivo al servizio dello stile," the second is dedicated to the "problema della genesi e della struttura dell'esametro" (vol. i, p. 7). Moreover, according to the editors' original design, the first volume was supposed to contain essays written especially for this collection while the second was planned as a reissue -- partly in their original form and partly in the Italian translation -- of such earlier studies in the structure and history of hexameter which have proved especially influential. In effect, in the second volume too the articles of Magnelli and Michelazzo are original contributions which came instead of the initially planned Italian translation of a part of Von Kallimachos zu Nonnos by Albert Wifstrand, but it is none the worse for the substitution. Since it is hardly possible to pay equal attention to each individual study in so rich and diversified a collection, I shall concentrate my discussion on what seems to be the principal contribution of Struttura e storia as a whole to the contemporary understanding of its two main subjects -- the structure and the history of Greek hexameter.

Three ground breaking studies in Greek hexameter, all of them published in the 20s -- Les origines indo-europeennes des metres grecs by Antoine Meillet (1923), "Der kallimachische und der homerische Hexameter" by Hermann Fraenkel (1926), and L'epithete traditionnelle dans Homere, accompanied by Les formules et la metrique d'Homere, by Milman Parry (1928) -- form the methodological background of the contemporary approach to Greek hexameter. Of these three, it is above all the work of Fraenkel that is the focus of the editors' attention. This choice is sufficiently justified by the historic significance of Fraenkel's work: by drawing attention to the fact that it should be divided not into the metrically identified feet but, rather, into the semantically identified "cola," Fraenkel has opened new horizons in the study of hexameter. And he is being lavishly paid his due in the collection under review. Not only does the Italian translation of the revised version of Fraenkel's study, published in 1955 under the new title "Der homerische und der kallimachische Hexameter",1 appear here for the first time, and not only has the translator, Francesco Michelazzo, contributed a thorough and original discussion of Fraenkel's metrical theory in its historical development but Fraenkel's theory is also the focus of two important studies in the structure of Homeric hexameter published in this collection, those of Luigi E. Rossi and Mario Cantilena.

"Puo portare a far dimenticare," Rossi writes in his 1965 article on the "colon" inspired by Fraenkel's revolutionary treatment of the inner structure of Greek hexamater, "che il verso e un microcosmo che seque sue leggi" (vol. ii, p. 277; Rossi's italics). These laws, seen by Rossi as identical to the rhythmical laws of a live recitation, may well produce a conflict with both the laws of syntax and the abstract metrical schemes. This is why Rossi proposes to treat Homeric hexameter in terms of the Saussurean distinction between langue and parole (vol. ii, p. 278). In his "Post-scriptum 1995", written especially for this edition, he elaborates on this idea as follows: "Io avevo preferito vedere fra langue e parole una dialettica meno libera, o meglio in qualche modo instituzionalizzata, e quindi, piu precisamente, una langue fonetica e una langue metrica: proponevo infatti di distinguere parola fonetica da parola metrica: la parola metrica sarebbe non uno stile individuale, bensi una sensibilita linguistica condizionata dal ritmo verbale del verso" (vol. ii, p. 314).

Similar to Rossi, in his study of the so-called "Meyer's Law" as applied to Homeric hexameter Mario Cantilena proceeds from the assumption that after Fraenkel Greek hexameter cannot be regarded any longer as simply a realization of abstract metrical schemes. Yet, as distinct from Rossi, Cantilena stresses the major role played by syntax in everything concerning the hexameter's inner structure. The significance of syntax finds its expression in the word-breaks by which each hexametric line is divided. "E se il verso recitativo fosse dominato da una logica puramente metrico-ritmica, non ci sarebbe bisogno di cesure" (vol. i, p. 57). Approaching the phenomenon of the caesura from the metrical-syntactical rather than from a purely metrical or rhythmical point of view, Cantilena comes to the conclusion that the ratio of violations of "Meyer's Law" (the word-break after the second-foot trochee) in Homeric hexameter is much lower than it is usually believed. He clearly sees his study as complementary to that of Fraenkel: while Fraenkel has shown that the hexametric line is a sequence of sense-units rather than of abstract prosodical schemes, introduction of the syntactic dimension, never explored in full by Fraenkel himself, can justly be seen as an additional step in the same direction.

As compared to the attention paid to Fraenkel's work, Milman Parry's achievement, which is hardly less important or less influential, has been considerably marginalized. To begin with, although demonstration of a principal difference between the formulaic and, eventually, oral versification techniques of Homer and Hesiod on the one hand and the literary hexameter of the Hellenistic and Roman periods on the other is undeniably one of the hallmarks of Parry's theory, the structure of the "diachronic" first volume with its smooth transition from Homer and Hesiod to Apollonius Rhodius and Theocritus signals insufficient awareness of such a difference. It is true of course that Parry's theory of formulaic composition looms large in the hypotheses of the origins of hexameter formulated in the contributions of both Gentili-Giannini and of Nagy, and it is also true that this theory gets some measure of critical assessment in the contributions of Cantilena (vol. i, pp. 46-47: Parry ignored Fraenkel's work which, however, anticipated his own), of Michelazzo (vol. ii, pp. 163-64: Fraenkel's conception of hexameter is more "elastic" than that of Parry), and of Gentili/Giannini and Nagy again (vol. ii, pp. 28, 41, 100-103: Parry's definition of formula is inexact and misleading) -- but the fact is that no separate discussion of this theory and its impact on the contemporary hexameter studies has been included into the collection under review.

Actually, Harry Barnes' study of the elegiac hexameter is the only one which is directly based on Parry's work -- not, however, on his formulaic theory as such but on the 1929 article "The Distinctive Character of Enjambement in Homeric Verse". Proceeding from the figures for the Homeric enjambement supplied both by Parry and, recently, by Carolyn Higbie (who contributed to the present collection a careful study of archaic hexameter), Barnes shows conclusively that the differences between the structure of epic and elegiac hexameter arise from the employment of the latter as the first line of the elegiac couplet. According to Barnes, "the elegists did not consider the hexameter to be an individual metrical unit, conceived apart, then stitched together with a pentameter to form the elegiac couplet. Rather, in the organization of syntax within it and in its metrical characteristics, the elegiac hexameter functions as an integral and organic component of the couplet as a whole: the modifications observed in its metrical structure all emanate directly from its function as the initial line of elegiac couplet" (vol. i, p. 158). As already mentioned, this stimulating conclusion, which goes remarkably well with those of Rossi and Cantilena, could not be made without the foundations that Parry laid.

Needless to say, the under-representation of Parry' achievement is first and foremost due to the estrangement that still exists between the Continental and the Anglo-American school in the hexameter studies. This under-representation is especially regrettable in view of the fact that in the decades that followed the first publication of their studies the interpenetration of the ideas of Fraenkel and Parry has proved very productive. This is why what I missed most in this book was an impartial assessment of the results of this interpenetration in the vein of the one recently made by Mark Edwards, himself a prominent representative of this kind of approach: "Parry was unaware of Fraenkel's work; but it is immediately obvious that the verse-divisions indicated by Fraenkel (together with the end of the verse) also mark the commonest points for the beginning and end of formulae. In the 1950s and later several scholars studied the relationship of cola and formulae etc."2

The early history of hexameter is another sphere in which the heuristic potential of the study of the relationship of Fraenkel's cola and Parry's formulae is at its clearest. Again, although when Meillet wrote his Les origines indo-europeennes des metres grecs he still could not be aware of the work of either Fraenkel or Parry, his insights into the genesis of Greek metres provided a pattern to which the discoveries of both were profitably adjusted. This is especially true of the so-called "coalescence-hypothesis", represented in this collection by the studies of Gentili-Giannini and of Nagy. Although differing on more than one point, most notably, in their evaluation of the respective roles played by metre and formulaic phraseology in the genesis of hexameter (as outlined e.g. by Gentili in vol. ii, pp. 33-36), the hypotheses of Gentili-Giannini on the one hand and of Nagy on the other are unified in what was aptly defined by Gentili himself as "proposta di un'origine lirica dell'esametro" (vol. ii, p. 33). Namely, if, as Fraenkel showed, the hexametric line can legitimately be envisaged as a "couplet", or a "strophe", consisting of several "cola," and if, as was shown by Parry, there exists a ramified traditional phraseology whose units can be shown to fit the boundaries of these "cola," then it is theoretically possible to isolate earlier non-hexametric units lying in the basis of Greek hexameter as we know it and thus to trace the history of this metre up to its remote origins. Significantly, all the reconstructions of the kind invariably end up in lyric metres.

The immediate conclusion following from the approach represented by the "coalescence-hypothesis" is that it is only possible to argue in favour of Indo-European origins of Greek heroic poetry if one abandons the idea that this poetry was composed in hexameters at its earliest stages. This point was made especially clear by Martin West in his important 1973 article in which he developed his own distinctive variant of the "lyric origins of hexameter": "The argument is not conclusive; but there is nothing inherently unlikely in the idea that the Greek had heroic poetry of some sort in the first half of the second millennium. However, it would not have been in hexameters."3 Now if the lyric metres into which hexameter can be analyzed preceded the emergence of the latter, and if the formulaic phraseology was originally designed to fit these metres, then the development of hexameter may well be envisaged in terms of uniting together of formerly independent metrical units and organizing of the traditional phraseology with which these units were organically connected into an entirely new system. Gregory Nagy connects this process with transition from the lyric melody to the epic declamation: "In terms of a differentiation of oral song into oral poetry as opposed to oral song, I would offer this axiom: with the structural strain brought about by the loss of melody in poetry, there would come about, for the sake of mnemonic efficiency, a compensatory tightening up of rules in the poetic tradition" (vol. ii, p. 98; Nagy's italics).

It goes without saying that, if consistently applied, this approach would revolutionize the current idea of the epic formula, in that the latter, rather than being seen as directly issuing from the needs of the hexametric composition, should now be envisaged as having been adapted to these needs at a considerably later stage. However, as Enrico Magnelli stresses in his critical assessment of the studies in the origins of hexameter that appeared after the publication of those of Gentili-Giannini and of Nagy, the most important caveat in this connection is that expressed by Aryeh Hoekstra as early as 1981: "the earliest narrative poetry that has left any traces in Homer was already composed in hexameters" (vol. ii, p.124).4 That is to say, since it can be shown that the overwhelming majority of the formulae which circulated in early Greek hexametric poetry fit perfectly well the inner structure of this and not of any other metre, and since it can be shown that at least some of these formulae belong to the most archaic layers of Greek language, the hypothesis of the "lyric origins of hexameter" can only relate to a stage in the development of this language which cannot be supported by the linguistic evidence at our disposal and thus is bound to be purely speculative.

It is difficult to think of a scholar to whom all the essays of the present collection can be of equal interest: those working on the early history of hexameter would hardly pay much attention to the hexameter of Christian poets, and vice versa. Whatever the editors' original intention was, this book is at its best when read selectively, viz. by the specialists in each respective field it touches, rather than when taken as an organic whole. At the same time, it includes some of the first-rate recent work on Greek hexameter which to my knowledge has never been translated into English. English translations of the important studies of Rossi (1965}, Gentili-Giannini (1977), and Cantilena (1995) could be of great benefit to every student of the subject.


1. H. Fraenkel, Wege und Formen frühgriechischen Denkens, Munich 1955 (2nd ed.1960, 3rd ed. 1968), 100-156.

2. M. W. Edwards, "Homeric Style and Oral Poetics," in: I. Morris and B. Powell (eds.), A New Companion to Homer, Leiden 1997, 266.

3. M. L. West, "Greek Poetry 2000-700 B.C.," CQ 23 (1973), 187-88.

4. A. Hoekstra, Epic Verse before Homer