Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2012.03.44 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.03.44

Margalit Finkelberg (ed.), Homer Encyclopedia (3 vols.).   Chichester; Malden, MA:  Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.  Pp. l, xiv, xiv, 1072.  ISBN 9781405177689.  $595.00.  

Reviewed by Antonios Rengakos, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (

Although in recent years the blossoming Companion-Industry (to which the present reviewer has, unfortunately, contributed) is falling more and more to disrepute, The Homer Encyclopedia stands out as a marked exception (which perhaps justifies the rule). Let me make it plain from the beginning that what we have is a brilliant achievement: three volumes, which anyone—either the layman or the Homeric scholar—will use to his great enjoyment and benefit, since it is detailed, reader-friendly and always informed with the ‘last word’ on numerous aspects of Homer’s work and world.

As the general editor Margalit Finkelberg explains in the Introduction, this Homeric Encyclopedia contains 1300 entries divided into three categories: the first one includes approximately 900 entries on personal or geographical names. Both groups cover a wide span of references, the former stretching from the two most important heroes of the Iliad and Odyssey (Achilles is masterfully presented by Seth Schein in a five-column entry— Odysseus receives an equally tight but outstanding treatment by Richard B. Rutherford) to the so-called minor warriors (around 220 Trojans and Achaeans), who enjoy only a passing reference in the epics as victims of the first- rank heroes, and the latter from Odysseus’ fatherland Ithaca and the debate concerning its identification to (the still picturesque) Oitylos in Laconia, as well as the other hapax legomena included in the Catalogue of Ships. The rest of the entries (i.e. the second and the third categories) can be divided on the basis of a diachronic and a synchronic perspective; a ‘synopsis’ (pp. xxxixff.) facilitates the consultation of all items pertaining to a given field or area (a full list of entries appears in pp. viff.). The second category of entries contains everything related to the historical framework (e.g. Mycenaean, Dark and Archaic Age etc.) as well as the Nachleben of Homeric epic (textual tradition, ancient and modern Homeric philology, Nachleben from antiquity to the 20th century, among which I stress those entries dealing with less known topics such as "Reception, in Rabbinic Judaism" or "Reception, Syriac and Arabic"), and also ancient and modern interpretive trends in Homeric scholarship.

The third category of entries comprises anything that is related to the work of Homer: the Iliad and the Odyssey (and the different topics associated with them, e.g. the Catalogue of Ships, the Dios Apate, Peira, the Shield of Achilles, Odysseus’ scar, the suitors of Penelope etc), the Epic Cycle, the Homeric Hymns, Hesiod, the “Argonautica” (as a source of the Odyssey), language, meter, narrative, style, society, warfare, religion, values, Homeric man (self, mental organs, body and emotions), as well as aspects of the Homeric world (children, old age, youth, dress, food, ethnicity, poets and poetry etc.). The Encyclopedia ends with an extended bibliography (85 pages long) containing over 3000 entries and a detailed index (41 pages).

Amidst such a wealth of topics, each reader and/or Homeric researcher can often have opposing views or put different emphasis in the various entries. There is no point within the framework of a review to go over such possible disagreements in detail. It suffices to observe that I have not spotted any important omissions and that there are two other features of the Encyclopedia that I would like to stress: first, the reader-friendliness of the entries, the style being simple, precise, and a pleasure to read, the layout outstanding, the cross-references between various entries easily identified by means of small caps; the second characteristic is the quality of the contributors, the overwhelming majority of whom are first-class Homeric scholars. As a result, the various entries are often written by established authorities in the relevant sub-fields. I offer exempli gratia a small list from the first volume which is anything but exhaustive: "Diomedes" O. Andersen; "Cycle, Epic", "Cypria" J. Burgess; "Arete" N. Felson; "Avdo Medjedovic" J.M. Foley; "Decision Making" Chr. Gill; "Characterization", "Death", "Embassy to Achilles" J. Griffin; "Aristotle and Homer" M. Heath; "Emotions", "Friendship" D. Konstan; "Composition-in-Performance", "Glory" R. Martin; "Athens and Homer", "Catalogues" E. Minchin; "Crates of Mallos", "Editions", "Hero" G. Nagy; "Contemporary Theory" J. Peradotto; "Auerbach, Erich" J. I. Porter; "Alphabet" B. B. Powell; "Archaic Age", "Aristocracy" Hans van Wees; "Analysts" (and also "Unitarians", "Indo-European Background", "Interpolations" and many more) M. L. West; and other entries by M. Alden, C. Antonaccio, D. Cairns, J. S. Clay, B. Currie, L. Doherty, B. Eder, M. W. Edwards, R.L. Fowler, R. Friedrich, F. Graf , W. Hansen, M. Haslam, D. Haug, A. Kelly, D. Lateiner, B. Louden, R. Nünlist, H. Pelliccia, K. Raaflaub, I. C. Rutherford, S. Reece, J. Russo, F. Schironi, R. Schlesier, R. Scodel, S. Scully, R. Seaford, L. M. Slatkin, W.G. Thalmann and the editor herself. Anyone who is aware of the difficulties inherent in putting together such a high-valued team of scholars under the umbrella of a single project can appreciate the achievement of Finkelberg. The end product is truly rewarding: highly reliable information on all matters Homeric.

In sum, every library should get hold of this publication, although the price ($595.00) makes it almost impossible (as unfortunately is the case with many other collective volumes) for many libraries, individual researchers or lovers of Homeric poetry to acquire this remarkable treasure-house of information.

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