Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.08.31

Wolfgang Kullmann, Realität, Imagination und Theorie. Kleine Schriften zu Epos und Tragödie in der Antike. Edited by Antonios Rengakos.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2002.  Pp. 320.  ISBN 3-515-08184-4.  € 68.00.  

Reviewed by Jonathan S. Burgess, University of Toronto (
Word count: 1961 words

It is good to have this gathering of work by Wolfgang Kullmann. Everything in it is worth reading, several pieces are brilliant, and the major theme of the book provides a timely and much-needed perspective on the historicity of the Trojan war. This is the second collection of articles by Kullmann; the first, Homerische Motive, appeared in 1992 and included articles from 1955. It featured the methodology of Neoanalysis, the school of Homeric thought of which Kullmann has been the acknowledged leader and tireless proponent since the publication in 1960 of his monumental Die Quellen der Ilias. This new collection features articles published in the 1990s, many of them in festschrifts, though two reach back a few decades, and a few have not been previously published. Neoanalysis is not the dominant concern here, though the focus is on literature, for the most part Homer and tragedy. The most consistent theme is denoted by the first two elements of the subtitle, reality and imagination, which refer specifically to the historicity of the Trojan war and its relationship to the Homeric poems. The first six chapters focus on this issue, forming the majority of ten chapters gathered under the subheading "Epos." The second subheading, "Epos und Tragödie," consists of a single chapter that reveals Kullmann's wide range (it discusses a narratological issue in several authors down through antiquity); the third subheading, "Tragödie," consists of four chapters on Greek tragedy and one on Seneca, and the final subheading, "Poetische Theorie," which apparently supplies the third element to the subtitle, consists of a single chapter on the influence of Callimachus. Two of the seventeen articles are in English.

Kullmann's articles on the historicity of the Trojan war were obviously motivated by the new excavations at Hisarlik by Manfred Korfmann, ongoing through the 1990s. Kullmann's attitude provides a counterpoint to that of Latacz, who working in close association with Korfmann has produced a synthesizing account, first published in German in 2001, and translated into English in 2004 (Troy and Homer). In 2001 Kullmann reviewed the book in Gnomon; a response by Latacz appeared, rather oddly, at BMCR (2002.02.15). Latacz has a historicist approach toward the Trojan war of myth; Kullmann's approach is skeptical. But Kullmann is not so much interested in Bronze Age history as in the Homeric poems, which he thinks reflect very little of the second millenium BCE. A number of Kullmann's concerns appear repeatedly, with different emphases, in the articles collected here (a reader whose first language is English would do well to start with Chapter 3, "Homer and Historical Memory," which gives a nice overview of Kullmann's major points in English). Kullmann first of all points to the oral nature of Greek culture in the so-called Dark Age, and follows oral theorists who have maintained that oral traditions do not reach back more than a few generations. In this view, oral traditions constantly re-focus on contemporary cultural concerns, sloughing off, in the process, details of the distant past. But Kullmann's main point is not that oral mytho-poetic tradition cannot provide extensive historical evidence. Rather, he emphasizes that myth and poetry have purposes that do not include the exact recording of history. He sees the Homeric poems, and the larger myth of the Trojan war, as directly engaged with current issues of the Greek renaissance, which are retrojected back into the Heroic Age. This mytho-poetic Heroic Age is a notional construct, not the historical period revealed by modern discoveries of Linear B tablets and multiple archaeological layers at Hisarlik, of which Homer and his fellow bards would be ignorant. Kullmann is willing to concede very little of the reality of the Bronze Age as contributing to the story of the Trojan war. The visible ruins of Hisarlik, and perhaps the stray Bronze Age heirloom, are the only elements that Kullmann believes had impetus for the creation of the myth. These would have been impressive, but mute, testaments to the past, and merely inspiration for an imaginative account of the Trojan war. The myth itself, Kullmann believes, need not have originated more than a century or so before the creation of the Homeric poems in the seventh century BCE.

The catalogues of Greek and Trojan contingents in Book 2 of the Iliad are the focus of the first Chapter, and are repeatedly discussed in subsequent chapters. Kullmann contests the view that the catalogue of ships, if not an actual muster list, reflects the Bronze Age. Kullmann argues that the Greek catalogue actually refers to Iron Age geographical boundaries, with some awkward attempts to account for political organization implied by heroic mythology. Following Giovannini, he thinks the catalogue of ships presupposes documents pertaining to envoys to panHellenic sites, as those later in use at Delphi. The catalogue of Trojan allies also reflects the post-Bronze Age world, Kullmann argues, though again there are attempts, sometimes mistaken, to convey what a bard might believe reflects the distant past. In particular Kullmann sees the ethnology of the catalogue of Trojan allies as reflecting the period of Greek migration to Asia Minor. Tension between natives and Aeolian settlers may be inspiration for a story of a Trojan war, rather than any Bronze Age battles at Hisarlik, Kullmann repeatedly suggests. The development of panHellenic culture in the Greek renaissance is also a key issue for Kullmann. He focuses on apparently panHellenic aspects of the Homeric poems (e.g., polis culture; hoplite military tactics) to argue that they reflect contemporary concerns of the seventh century BCE, rather than the Bronze Age. The very alliance of Greeks that forms the expedition against Troy is seen as reflecting a new, panHellenic age. The old communis opinio of an eighth-century date for the Homeric poems now seems to have lost favor (replaced by a wide variety of arguments for later composition and/or fixation), and Kullmann can point with pride to the fact that he long ago posited a lonely, and sometimes ridiculed, belief in a seventh-century date for the Iliad.

The different perspectives of Latacz and Kullmann might be well illustrated by their discussion of the Hittite treaty of the 13th century BCE between the Hittite king and a ruler of "Wilusa" named "Alaksandu." Since Kretshmer in the early 20th century, the apparent correspondence between this name and the alternative name of Paris in Trojan war myth, Alexandros (among other striking similarites; e.g., Wilusa and Ilios) has been remarked upon. Latacz favors the correspondences, as many today are willing to do. But what would a Bronze Age king of Wilusa named Alaksandu imply for the myth of the Trojan war? Latacz considers the name to be a "Hittitized" form of the Greek name Alexander. He recognizes that it is curious for a ruler of a non-Greek political entity to have a Greek name, and suggests that Alaksandu was the son of a Greek concubine, or an exceptional man of Greek lineage adopted by royalty. Even if these speculations seemed plausible, we are still a long way off from Paris the prince of Troy. Kullmann, in contrast, admits the name Alaksandu must be Greek, probably resulting from the existence of Greeks in coastal Asia Minor, though he is grudging on the identification of Wilusa as Troy. He rules out the possibility that oral tradition could have transmitted this name over the centuries, but he allows that bards in the eighth and seventh centuries may have acquired information about an ancient ruler of Troy from contemporary Anatolians and introduced it into their own myth about Troy. But without any positive evidence, Kullmann is not particularly impressed even by this scenario, and his main conclusion is that there is no direct connection, through Greek tradition, between the historical past and the Greek myth of the Trojan war. Even if there is an indirect connection between Alaksandu and Alexander, he notes, the correlation is not very exact; the Paris of myth did not rule Troy, and the mythological conception of his lineage does not reflect the historical reality of Bronze Age Anatolia. Here and elsewhere one might well conclude that Latacz and Kullmann are talking past one another; Latacz is concerned with historical origins, about which Kullmann can seem stubbornly skeptical, whereas Kullmann is focused more on the poetic functions of the Trojan myth and the Homeric poems as we know them. In this sense Kullmann makes very many salient points which need not devalue the real achievements of the Korfmann expedition, and should be kept in mind as its historicist slant is celebrated in the coming years.

In two chapters Kullmann's specialty in Neoanalysis becomes apparent. One reproduces the text of the Proclus summary of the Epic Cycle that appeared in Die Quellen der Ilias. The text is essentially that of Severyns with minor changes of no great import; the most notable editorial change is the numbering of discrete sections of the text, usually no longer than a clause or short sentence. In Die Quellen der Ilias and afterwards Kullmann has thereby been able to make precise references to the Proclus summary. When considering Kullmann's arguments, therefore, it is of convenience to have ready access to this numeration system, assuming one does not have Die Quellen der Ilias at hand. I should add, however, that I have not noticed much employment of Kullmann's system by other scholars. In another chapter Kullmann displays, as he has over the years, an energetic curiosity about new work pertaining to Neoanalysis. He reviews recent work on a number of topics pertaining to Neoanalysis, noting correspondence to his previous work and bestowing approval or moderately expressed disagreement. The topics covered include the "plan of Zeus," the Iliadic use of Theseus, myth about Palamedes and Phoinix, Iliad and Thebais connections, the "Nestor's cup" from Ischia, orality and the Epic Cycle, and sources for the Odyssey. The last two topics lead Kullmann to assert his own conceptions about the boundaries of Neoanalysis. Though Kullmann has long sought to find connections between Neoanalysis and oral theory, and over the years has proved willing to accept the existence of oral prototypes to the poems in the Epic Cycle, in a review of my book on the Cycle (The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle) he objects to a non-literate conception of the Iliad. Kullmann likewise sees as unNeoanalyst Danek's exploration (in Epos und Zitat) of alternative forms of the Odyssey's story for which there is no documentary testimony. It is useful for Kullmann to clarify his position in regards to recent work that builds on earlier forms of Neoanalysis, but I suspect that on some issues, particularly in regards to orality, Kullmann's perspective will seem dated to North American scholars.

The remaining chapters on literature will probably receive less attention, but of particular value is an extended narratological examination, published for the first time, of the indication of internal thought in Homer, Euripides, Apollonius of Rhodes, Virgil, Ovid, and Statius. The range of Kullmann's interests is well displayed here, and the need for such range in order to examine such an issue is amply demonstrated. The chapters on drama are always well conceived, but often have a decidedly reactionary tone; the meta-theatrical nature of the Bacchae, for instance, is skeptically treated.

One advantage of such a collection is that it provides an opportunity for indexing, and the reader is helpfully provided with indices on ancient sources, modern authors, and general topics. The author has not sought to revise previously published articles beyond tacit correction of errata, but cross-references are provided in brackets. The editor is to be commended for his efforts at making this an accesible and well-organized book. All in all, the collection of recent work by one of the greatest Homerists of the last half-century is a cause for celebration.

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