Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.02.35

Paul Dräger (ed.), Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Homers Ilias (Vorlesung WS 1887/1888 Göttingen). Spudasmata, 109.   Hildesheim:  Olms, 2006.  Pp. 440.  ISBN 3-487-13136-6.  €78.00.  

Reviewed by Edith Foster, College of Wooster (
Word count: 2256 words

At the center of this book is the publication of a nearly word for word transcript of Wilamowitz's lectures on Homer's Iliad in 1887/1888. Paul Draeger and a team of sub-editors surround these lectures with a very copious and responsible supporting apparatus. However, the book reaches far beyond the editing and publication of transcripts, since in addition to the lectures it offers a portrait and defense of Wilamowitz himself.

This many layered volume begins with a short essay in praise of Wilamowitz by Walter Burkert (who is simultaneously the dedicatee of the volume), after which Paul Draeger provides an essay on Wilamowitz's character as a lecturer. He describes Wilamowitz's broad activities both as a university and a public lecturer, citing many vivid eye-witness accounts. Student accounts emphasize the appeal of Wilamowitz's deep knowledge and rhetorical power.

This introduction to Wilamowitz as lecturer is followed by introductions to the lectures themselves. First, Draeger offers information on the student copyists and on the character and history of their transcripts of the Homer lectures. Second, he provides an outline of the lectures and detailed remarks on Wilamowitz's personality as it emerges from the lectures. For instance, he compares how Wilamowitz characterized scholars with whom he agreed or disagreed (62-64), and discusses how and how often Wilamowitz mentioned himself (65-66). Draeger also lists and evaluates Wilamowitz's terms of praise and blame (56-57). Other questions have a more practical orientation. Draeger argues about whether or not Wilamowitz used a blackboard and maps (probably, 54) or brought any books other than the Iliad with him to the lectures (probably not, 55-59). Without neglecting to mention Wilamowitz's errors, Draeger provides detailed demonstrations of his astonishing memory (56, 66-70). The description of the lectures is laudatory; 21st Century practices are seen in negative contrast (53, 55).

The third and penultimate element of the introduction is a description of the close connections between these lectures and Wilamowitz's book Die Ilias und Homer (1916). Draeger argues that Wilamowitz's Homer lectures of 1887/88 are still useful even though Wilamowitz's main hypotheses about book 11 of the Iliad are nearly universally rejected (77). He points out that the lectures offer a very comprehensive discussion of the material from book 11 and that this discussion is not available in Wilamowitz's later publications (77-78). He also provides a sequence of examples to show that the lecture notes contain readings which have not yet been considered for critical editions (79-81), as well as a list of passages about which Wilamowitz changed his mind by 1916 (82-83). He might have been better off to let Wilamowitz speak for himself by this point and to place such arguments after the lectures, or even in an appendix. They give the impression that the lectures will be interesting mainly to an audience studying Wilamowitz, whereas in fact, both readers studying Homer, as well as readers studying their own received practices in historical context will find them useful.

Finally, two further sections of scholarly apparatus close this extensive introductory material. A list of extant transcripts of Wilamowitz's various lectures (which again might have been placed with the indices at the end of the book) leads to an extremely precise description of the transcripts and of the editorial procedures Draeger used to transfer the hand written information to the present printed volume.

Draeger takes his editorial guidelines straight from Mommsen (cf. 15, 91n.1). Thus his edition of Wilamowitz's lectures is clothed in the 19th Century sciences this book also brings to life. The lectures themselves divide into approximately two parts: in the first part Wilamowitz discusses the scholarly tradition on Homer and offers an analysis of the poem as a whole. The second part of the lectures offers a reading of book 11 of the Iliad, starting from line 400, and a concluding argument.

Students of Homer who also read German should read no further in this review: instead, they should pull out their Iliad, open Draeger's book at page 246, and read with Wilamowitz. This exercise is pleasant, it is thought provoking, and it is not difficult. In this part of the lectures Wilamowitz operated in a clear and straightforward way. Words are defined, spellings explained, emendations argued. Many remarks reference the ancient commentators. The plot and the mythology (cf. e.g. the remarks on Death as a Horseman, 256) are not neglected. Wilamowitz's erudition is wonderful, and Draeger provides further explanations, including, for instance, frequent references to the readings accepted by the main critical editions used today. This section of the book offers a very efficient way to test one's own 21st Century assumptions against what is now an alien (but still comprehensible) point of view. At the same time one can take away many useful observations about the Iliad.

Other readers, particularly students of the classical tradition, will wish to read the lectures from the beginning. Wilamowitz's lectures began with an astonishing tour of the previous (mostly German) scholarship on Homer. Many of the names mentioned in this overview will be completely unknown to all but the best informed readers. Again, however, Draeger provides copious background notes on each and every possible name and topic, so that most pages contain more explanatory than lecture material. The result of the Wilamowitz-Draeger combination is a surprisingly clear and readable narrative, and a vivid picture of 19th Century German philological culture.

The initial focus of Wilamowitz's investigation was the "Homer (not "Homeric") question," which was the compositional question. His heroes are figures such as Gottfried Hermann (106-107; cf. 63) and Karl Lachmann (111). His least favorite person is Friedrich August Wolf (100-106).

Wilamowitz's seminar continued with arguments about the origin of the Homeric hexameter and brief historical remarks on Homeric language and mythology. Next the lectures focused on the manuscript tradition and contemporary editions of both the Iliad and the Odyssey. This discussion was in turn followed by remarks on the state of the scholarship concerning the lesser poetry attributed to Homer or about Homer (Homeric hymns, Orphic poetry, Homeric epigrams, etc.). The section concluded with a similar treatment of Hesiod and the epic cycles.

Only when Wilamowitz had completed his presentation of the scholarship did he broach an analysis of the Iliad. This analysis divided the Iliad into many stories and fragments of stories. One story, however, was central. By excising all additions to this central story Wilamowitz ultimately distilled the original unity [Einheit] of the poem. The original story, he argued, was composed of material from books 1 and 2, 3-6, 11, 12-15 and 16-22 (183). The reasons for rejecting so much of the material of the Iliad seem to have their basis in a combination of historical and ethical conceptions. We find here the famously (or infamously) confident Wilamowitz. Judgment upon discarded sections of the poem is peremptory. Thus book 24 is to be rejected because (I translate) "It originated in a time when people required a moral reconciliation between Achilles and the Trojans. The hatred between the peoples has disappeared. It has to be a later poem" (174). The games in book 23 are "too Ionic" to belong to the original poem (174). The Catalogue of ships "is an interpolation. It originated in the motherland" (176). And then, in the next lines: "a class of absurdities separates itself out in the same way, little pieces that cannot stand alone, padding, the removal of which does not hurt the context but more likely improves it." (176) Among these absurdities: 1.430-87 (Chryseis' return home), 2.53-86 (the council of the Trojan elders), 5.711-777 "the journey of Athena and Hera. . .a piece that has no cause and no effect, and is easy to do away with" (177),

The 21st Century reader is somewhat horrified. If Homer's ancient commentators had been this strict and this confident Wilamowitz would have had little to work with. Wilamowitz perceived a logic in the ancient plot, and he holds the ancient singers strictly to the logic he perceives. Anything outside of this logic is superfluous, incoherent, or only mortar, layered on in order to bind the poem into a whole. By contrast to his rules for inclusion, his rules for excision are explicit: E.g. "When two verses of a borrowed passage are absurd, we do away with the whole passage" (306).

The song or story that was left after Wilamowitz finished his analysis was obviously much shorter than our Iliad. In order to explain the appearance of the received text he was next led to explain the roles of Homer's numerous ancient editors, starting from the 5th and 4th Centuries BC and ending in the 3rd Century AD (188-240). Wilamowitz takes care to explain these commentators as clearly as he can, and I found this chronological review of Homer's ancient readers and the societies from which they sprang the second most interesting part of this book.

Finally, (240) we arrive at the line by line reading of Iliad book 11 mentioned above, and at Wilamowitz's concluding argument. In his opening essay Burkert describes Wilamowitz's attempt to fix the date of the "Nestoris," one of the two stories he culled from book 11 of the Iliad. Burkert's summary must outbid mine, and I here translate a short section (13):

Then follows a verse by verse commentary, and after this a concluding section that attempts explicitly to fix the historical site of the "Nestoris." The hail storm of mythological names that is here followed through the entire Iliad must deter [the reader]. Wilamowitz is moving on paths opened up by Otfried Mueller in his thick books about "Dorians" and "Minyans," in order to crystallize structures, and if possible facts, out of the debris of the transmission. Wilamowitz keeps the whole field, as well as his goal, in mind so that at the end he can triumphantly conclude that he has arrived at the same end, namely the dating of the "Nestoris" at around 700 BC, from two different directions, namely from both Pylos and Elis. He was clearly aware of the insecure foundations; he never brought this conclusion to publication (13; cf. Draeger 77-78).

Burkert concludes that scholars who work on Nestor will nevertheless find Wilamowitz's reasonings pertinent. To me, Wilamowitz's example seems more likely to be useful than his argument. Wilamowitz's accumulation of geographical and mythological names no longer impresses us with the same effect of scienticity as in the 19th Century; indeed, we are likely to feel that his tendency to combine geographical and mythological names with his own experience of the Greek landscape is rather unscientific. On the other hand, it is important to remember that these are lectures Wilamowitz never published and never intended to publish. Which one of us, in lectures, does not make remarks based on personal experience? Both the systems of analysis this argument displays and the materials of which it is forged seem capable of furnishing useful paradigms, especially for historians seeking to sharpen their grasp of the methods and attitudes underlying the conclusions of earlier scholars. To paraphrase Wilamowitz's own words on Lachmann (111), the contribution of the argument is in the wealth (and variety) of individual observations.

Each scholar's assessment of Wilamowitz's importance will be closely connected to his/her view of the task of classics and his/her evaluation of the founding period of classics in the scientific age. As for these lectures, we can learn about Homer from reading them and profitably compare our own courses to their ambitious aims. But the most vivid result of reading this book is a perception of Wilamowitz's character: these lectures demonstrate his trust in the historical sciences, his trust in his own judgment, his willingness to compel himself to reach provisional conclusions, and his confidence that these conclusions would be useful. Wilamowitz's reading of the Iliad combined direct observation of the text with an astonishing grasp of history and scholarship. Though we recoil in horror at his aggressive dissection of a poem the deep architecture of which we so deeply admire, this combination is still a model for us today. If only for this reason Wilamowitz is worth thinking about.

Draeger and his team of sub-editors have therefore succeeded in their double aim: they have reintroduced Wilamowitz at the same time as providing these lectures with the most comprehensive apparatus imaginable. This book is really two books in one. Draeger's essays and commentary are longer than the lectures themselves, and one is tempted to think that when Draeger took on the project he swore to himself to demonstrate that German philology is as exact and as thorough as ever, despite our fallen times. Mommsen indeed. This book contains 1447 scientifically thorough footnotes. Draeger's obvious pietas toward Wilamowitz does not detract from his ability to write note after note explaining Wilamowitz's errors as well as his sources. Many notes also provide references to scholarship subsequent to Wilamowitz, together with helpful remarks on this scholarship; at the same time the notes are thoroughly cross referenced so that the whole sequence can become useful. Draeger and his team have thought of everything. As a final concluding flourish, the book ends with numerous indices: separate lists of the modern authors and scholarship mentioned by Wilamowitz, a copious list of the abbreviations used by Draeger, and three indices for the lectures--one of ancient authors, works, and passages, another of names and topics and a final index of Greek words.

Despite the enormous amount of scholarship on every side I saw few typographical or formatting errors of any kind in this book, and the publisher (Georg Olms Verlag) has produced a physically beautiful volume.

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