Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.05.47 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.05.47

Jonathan L. Ready, Christos Tsagalis (ed.), Yearbook of Ancient Greek Epic, Volume 1. YAGE, 1.   Leiden; Boston:  Brill, 2017.  Pp. 210.  ISBN 9789004334144.  $119.00.  


Reviewed by Fabian Horn, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (fabian.horn@klassphil.uni-muenchen.de)

Table of Contents

The newly established Yearbook of Ancient Greek Epic (YAGE) is dedicated to the publication of articles on all aspects of the Greek epic tradition from Homer to Nonnus. As the editors, Jonathan L. Ready and Christos C. Tsagalis state in their preface (pp. 1–2), YAGE differs from most Classical journals in two respects, which provide the journal with a special and particularly coherent format: YAGE is unusual in its focus on a single genre of ancient literature, and also in its attempt to devote a cluster of articles in every issue to a specific topic (while still including contributions on other topics), thus combining the forms of traditional journal and special issue/thematic collective volume (albeit without coordination of contributions which are thematically related). These features, which distinguish YAGE from other journals, also qualify the volume for review.

The inaugural volume of YAGE comprises eight articles, seven on Homeric poetry and one on the hexametric fragments ascribed to Manetho Astrologus. Of the contributions on Homeric epic, the first six form a thematic cluster addressing and exploring the theme of “the epic middle” from different perspectives, often originating their arguments with small observations, but broadening the scope to include interpretive issues regarding the complete poems and their composition. In this endeavor, they adopt a variety of approaches, ranging from the metrical to the narratological to the oralist, even though explicit theoretical considerations are included only rarely. Thus, even though the individual articles are held together by a common objective, they cover a wide range of topics with great depth.

The opening article, Justin Arft’s “Structure as Sēma: Structural and Liminal Middles in the Odyssey” (pp. 5-–5) is well placed at the beginning of the cluster, since it offers theoretical considerations which are central to the discussion of “epic middles”, even though they are not revisited in the following contributions and no overt relations between individual articles are established. Arft first provides a discussion of the phenomenon of ‘ring composition’ in Homeric poetry in order to approach the ‘structural middle’, acknowledging that ring structures are not the only ones with a middle, but that rings generally highlight their central element more conspicuously than other compositions. He then discusses examples from the middle of the poem, the central positions of Penelope in the Anticleia ring (Od. 11.170–203), of Pero and Melampous in the Catalogue of Heroines (Od. 11.233–329), and of the following intermezzo, the pause in Odysseus’ narration to the Phaeacians which constitutes the structural middle of the Nekyia, the Apologoi, and of the Odyssey as a whole. Arft argues that these middles all have thematic connections to Odysseus’s nostos and form the pivotal point for his own homecoming which is effected by Arete’s speech during the intermezzo. With the more abstract notion of a ‘liminal middle’, the position of the poet and his work within the framework of his tradition, Arft goes on to explore the role of the seer Theoclymenus who is linked to the structural middle of the poem through his ancestor Melampous and occupies a liminal position between the epic past and the present of Odysseus’ return. In adopting this oralist approach, analyzing centrality in the epic narrative as a way of highlighting intratextual correspondences as well as drawing attention to extratextual connections affecting the centrality of the poet’s work within the oral tradition, Arft’s article shows the importance of epic middles in the Odyssey.

In the next contribution, “Lost in the Middle: Story Time and Discourse Time in the Iliad” (pp. 46–64), Bill Beck explores an aspect of Homeric narrative technique, starting from the observation that in the Iliad, narrative time and discourse time are disproportionate and that plot-significant action is spaced out and continually delayed over the course of the poem. Beck argues that this disjunction was a manipulation of the narrator in order to highlight the middle space of uncertainty, delay, and subplot and to make the audience lose their orientation within the performance. Thus, the article provides an unexpected and surprising answer to a problem which has been recognized and provokes questions about the original performance context and the originality of the poem, which, however, are not considered here.

The following article, Ronald J. J. Blankenborg’s “Ending in the Middle? Enjambment and Homeric Performance” (pp. 65–106), approaches the epic middle from a different perspective by reconsidering the meaning of verse-end enjambments. Bolstering his claim with numerous examples, Blankenborg argues that, contrary to the common conception, enjambments do not signal extra emphasis but are poetically meaningless and prosodically unmarked.

Jonathan Fenno’s contribution, “Stretching out the Battle: Zeus and Measurement in the Iliad” (pp. 106–36), investigates measuring/balancing metaphors and ‘stretching’ imagery in the Iliad, taking as its starting point the repeated formula ‘the battle was stretched out evenly’ for Greeks and Trojans by deities, especially Zeus (Il 11.336, 16.662; cf. 12.436, 14.389, 15.413, 17.543, 17.736; 21.100–1). Homeric metaphor has been largely neglected in the wake of Milman Parry’s oralist approach (except for Moulton’s 1979 article) and has only recently been studied again. Fenno makes a convincing case, from a close investigation of the imagery’s source domain, that the obscure measuring metaphors of the Iliad have programmatic significance for the position of Zeus as supreme ruler and arbiter of the war.

Zina Giannopoulou’s piece, “Middles and Prophecy in the Odyssey” (pp. 137–58), explores notions of fixedness and fluidity about the middle of the Odyssey by examining the repeated motif of prophecy about the fate of the Phaeacians (Od. 8.564–71, 13.125–87). In arguing that the middle of the Odyssey can be seen both as fixed and fluctuating, depending on how the relevant sections are interpreted, Giannopoulou’s article takes a different approach but reaches a similar conclusion to Arft’s contribution in pointing to the significance of “epic middles” for the Odyssey.

The last piece of this thematic sequence, Andrew M. McClellan’s “The Death and Mutilation of Imbrius in Iliad 13” (pp. 159–74) focuses on a few lines in one of the battle books, the gruesome slaughter of Imbrius at the hands of Locrian Ajax in Il. 13.201–5, and attempts to endow the scene with structural, thematic, and metapoetic significance for the poem as a whole. Similar importance has been claimed for other passages, but considering the enormous length of the poem, the highlighting of any individual passage of a few verses as crucial for the understanding and evaluation of key themes might be suggestive, but cannot be entirely convincing.

The section on the Homeric poems is concluded by Pietro Pucci’s “Divine Protagonists in the Iliad: Hector’s Death in Book 22” (pp. 175–205), which is not concerned with epic middles, but rather with the nature of divine intervention in the Iliad. Pucci provides a detailed philological reading of Achilles triumphing over Hector, with particular focus on the participation of the gods which, he argues, reduces Achilles’ part in the killing and bestows a tragic and heroic death full of κλέος on Hector (while Achilles receives only κῦδος). Thus, this contribution touches upon many important themes and aspects of heroism in the Iliad, and its argument, which is certainly controversial, aims at the heart of how the climax of the poem is to be understood and interpreted.

The final piece, Konstantinos Spanoudakis’ “Manethoniana” (pp. 206–9), while in itself a valuable contribution to scholarship, is at odds with the other articles in this volume regarding both length and subject matter. It is more of a short note (or a compilation of three individual short notes) than a full paper, and offers textual emendations and explanations on the spurious text of the Apotelesmatika of [Manetho]/Manetho Astrologus (1st half of 2nd c. AD).

To conclude, despite the objective to unify contributions under common theme of “epic middles”, the inaugural volume of the Yearbook of Ancient Greek Epic first and foremost bears testimony both to the incredible and impressive breadth and theoretical diversity of Homeric scholarship as well as to the fact that the Homeric poems are certainly the most prolific field of Ancient Greek epic studies. Hopefully, future issues of the journal will prove to be a valuable forum for the study of all ancient epic beyond the Homeric poems. However, volume 2 of YAGE (2018) is announced to focus on “Ancient Greek Epic and Ancient Greek Tragedy” and is thus likely to show a similar focus on Homer, according to Aeschylus’ well-known dictum that his tragedies were merely “leftovers from Homer’s great banquets” (Ath. 8, 347e).

Read comments on this review or add a comment on the BMCR blog

Home
Read Latest
Archives
BMCR Blog
About BMCR
Review for BMCR
Commentaries
Support BMCR

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010