Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.11.47 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.11.47

Anton Bierl, Joachim Latacz (ed.), Homers Ilias: Gesamtkommentar (Basler Kommentar / BK). Band IX, Sechzehnter Gesang (Π) (2 vols.). Sammlung wissenschaftlicher Commentare.   Berlin; Boston:  De Gruyter, 2016.  Pp. xvi, 51 p.; xiii, 422.  ISBN 9783110206128; 9783110206531.  $56.00; $140.00.  

Reviewed by Ronald Blankenborg, Radboud University Nijmegen (

Together the present two volumes represent the ninth installment of the Basel commentary (‘BK’) on Homer’s Iliad. Previously published instalments in the German edition cover the Prolegomena, and Iliad books 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 14, 17, 18, 19, 22, and 24. In English translation, the Prolegomena volume and commentaries (without the text) on Iliad books 3, 6, 19, and 24 have been published. This ninth instalment, on Iliad book 16, features two separate fascicles. The first fascicle contains the Greek text based on the Bibliotheca Teubneriana edition of the Iliad by Martin L. West (1998/2000), and a translation into German verse by Joachim Latacz. The second contains the commentary, which, as its compiler Claude Brügger readily admits, owes much to the fourth volume (books 13-16, general editor G.S. Kirk) of The Iliad: A Commentary (Cambridge 1992) by Richard Janko, which is the standard in English-language scholarship.1 Still, Brügger’s commentary has much of great value to add to Janko’s admirable achievement.

Book 16 describes the aristeia of Patroclus with both its introduction, and its painful and horrifying conclusion. As Brügger’s commentary keeps pointing out, the introduction had already begun several books earlier, and the conclusion will keep affecting events until the completion of the narrative of the Iliad. The commentary invites its readers to focus on the poet’s craftsmanship in storytelling, and on the intricate and fascinating plot of Patroclus’ aristeia. The extended introductions and elaborations of passages (in Normaldruck, p. ix) facilitate all audiences enjoying the story of Patroclus’ overestimation of his own role, his heroic and successful attempt to drive back the Trojans, his two hundred verses of fame, and his encounter with Apollo and subsequent death at the hands of the god, of Euphorbus, and of Hector. The story loses nothing of its tension, its horror, and its emotional impact. With ample attention for characters’ motives, narratological threads, type scenes, and realia, Brügger (who also provided the commentary on Iliad 24 in the BK series) guides his readers through the Patrocleia as through a gripping and spellbinding epyllion. His laborious work enables audiences not familiar with Homer’s Greek, having read Latacz’ translation in the first fascicle, to come to a profound understanding and appreciation of the Iliad’s peripeteia and the extensive secondary literature.

Those (somewhat) familiar with Greek and with the Homeric Kunstsprache, benefit from philological and linguistic comments at various levels. Beginners and students are referred to the Elementarteil, ‘footnotes’ explaining how Homeric morphology and prosody differ from classical Attic Greek. With reference to the ’24 rules of Homeric Greek’ (fully formulated in the Prolegomena volume, and reprinted as a summary in subsequent volumes), non-Attic phenomena in Homer’s language, like shortening, non-contraction, tmesis, digamma, and epic τε, are touched on briefly -- and randomly, as frequently recurring phenomena like the verbal form without augment are mentioned only every so many lines. Useful in itself, the Elementarteil does not come to the beginner’s aid whenever he needs it, nor does it provide the information required for the more advanced student, who would do better to learn the 24 rules (pp. 1-7) by heart. Despite the promise (on page IX) to indicate the fuller treatment of the issues in the ‘footnotes’ in the main commentary (with ↑), this happens only once in the 357 pages of Brügger’s commentary (page 207, on line 454). Hence, for beginners and students, who will surely enjoy the general and narratological comments, a large part of the commentary cannot be put to practical use, and the Elementarteil, only sparingly.

The main commentary, both the general commentary and the treatment of Greek entries, suffers from comparable restrictions stemming from the editorial choices concerning the BK series as a whole. For discussion of phenomena that are used repeatedly in the Iliad (like the aristeia, p. 70-71), readers are advised to look back at their treatment in the volumes already published: in case of the structure of Patroclus’ aristeia, elements are described as ‘missing’ with reference to 19.374-383. Advanced students and scholars studying specifically Iliad 16 will have no problem here, provided that their institution or personal library provides them with all the instalments of the BK series published so far. Those reading the whole Iliad, or larger passages consisting of several books from the Iliad, cannot as easily benefit from their experience in reading Homeric Greek, or the growth of their knowledge and understanding from studying the work from its beginning when using the BK series as their guide and source.

And what a source it is: Brügger’s volume, as did the previously published instalments, presents its readers with a wealth of observations and insights from the vast scholarship on Homeric epic. The series chose to start from the commentary by Ameis-Hentze that was published more than a century ago; it shimmers through on every page, but its contributions to the commentaries in the BK series betray its original aim to support the teaching of Homeric Greek in schools. Practically all relevant subsequent publications on Homer’s Iliad have been consulted: in his commentary, Brügger regularly backs up his interpretations with a wealth of references, ‘to allow his readers’, in his own words, ‘to expand on them, to modify them, and for further reading’ (Vorwort, p. vii). Alternative interpretations are often not elaborated but merely mentioned or signaled, also with extensive references for those longing to venture out onto the paths of neoanalysis, and readers studying the Homeric epic outside the frame of narratology. A field of study that this reviewer particularly missed in Brügger’s commentary, is Homeric performance. In recent years, substantial steps forward have been made that have not made their way to the BK commentary series, nor to the bibliography of the present instalment.2 The abundance of references and bibliographical entries is the commentary’s strength though, and it is effectively further exploited by two specific means. First, the editors and authors of the BK series implement the results of recent research in the field of Homeric study that developed during the project’s duration, or even as a result of the BK project. An example is Brügger’s constant reference to the series New Trends in Homeric Scholarship, summarized into a single chapter in the English translation of the Prolegomena volume in 2015. It is hoped that similar new initiatives will soon find their way to forthcoming instalments of the BK series.3 Secondly, there are numerous Hinweise, personal communications from the scholars mentioned as ‘contributors’ in the commentary’s credits. Such Hinweise provide a unique opportunity to witness the compilation of a commentary with the aid of a team whose observations are valuable even when not yet published. It is commentary-writing for the 21th century.

The commentary on Iliad 16, and the separate fascicle containing the Greek text and the translation, are both very well produced by De Gruyter: great care has been taken to check all the references and cross-references, and there are no serious typos. The various print types of the introductory section, the general commentary, the philologists’ and linguists’ commentary, and the ‘footnotes’, make for a well-organized and clearly set out read. At the same time, however, the presentation of the commentary’s lemmata at four different levels (the general audience, scholars on Homeric Greek, narratologists, and beginners/students), the various ways references are constituted (internally, to other instalments of the BK series, to introductory chapters and glossaries in the Prolegomena volume), and the (understandable but rather) profuse usage of abbreviations (five types in total) and specific markers and signs (for volume-internal or series-internal reference) evoke the question whether this beautifully produced and highly valuable printed volume is the best means of presentation. Users have to resort to many more publications to complete their picture and further their understanding of the issues raised in the separate instalments of the BK series. Using Brügger’s commentary fascicle alongside the reading of Iliad 16 in class, as this reviewer has done, evokes the very practical observation that there might have been a way to make this commentary even more up to date: by publication online. At times, the BK series makes one feel as if the book is a step in a process towards online publication: full use of all its observations requires readers to ‘click on the link’ to retrieve additional information. The BK series, this instalment in particular, I readily recommend to any advanced student and scholar working on the Iliad, and I am sure that anyone, regardless of specialty and interest, will find many valuable insights in it. They would, however, be easier to find and put to use if a commentary like this were to be found and accessed online. Until such online publication, the publishing house is encouraged to provide a translation of the commentary on Iliad 16 in English soon, so that Brügger’s achievement may be welcomed by a wider readership.


1.   Several of the volumes in the BK series, both in German and in English, have already been reviewed on BMCR. Haubold, BMCR 2001.09.01, Lethbridge, BMCR 2005.08.16, Van Emde Boas, BMCR 2016.08.22, and Lesser, BMCR 2017.04.25 have commented on the Greek text, the translation, the ‘24 rules of Homeric Greek’, the four typographically distinct categories in the Commentary, the disappearance of neoanalysis. and the abundant attention for narratology. I will try to avoid repeating their valuable and valued remarks in my attempt to add to their observations, and their praise.
2.   Notably J.M. González (2013), The Epic Rhapsode and his Craft. Homeric Performance in a Diachronic Perspective, Cambridge Mass./London: Harvard University Press.
3.   Like the Yearbook of Ancient Greek Epic (YAGE, edd. J.L. Ready & C. Tsagalis, first instalment published by Brill, 2016).

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