Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.06.20 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.06.20

Christos Tsagalis, Andreas Markantonatos (ed.), The Winnowing Oar: New Perspectives in Homeric Studies. Studies in honor of Antonios Rengakos.   Berlin; Boston:  De Gruyter, 2017.  Pp. vi, 311.  ISBN 9783110543353.  €89,95.  

Reviewed by Øivind Andersen, University of Oslo (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This volume pays homage to Antonios Rengakos, the enterprising and influential professor of Greek at Thessaloniki, on the occasion of his 60th birthday. The editors lavish panegyrics on the honorand in the first three pages of the Introduction. The subsequent six pages offer ample summaries of the twelve contributions.

The “winnowing oar” of the title (cf. Od. 11.121–130) perhaps signals a foray into uncharted territory. We are promised “new perspectives” in Homeric studies; what we in fact get is another collection of various articles on various Homeric topics. The value of the volume depends on the virtues of the individual contributions. In their own different ways, they are all worthwhile, as anyone would guess just from glancing at the list of contributors, “a host of eminent classical scholars” as the editors proclaim. Most of the contributions engage fully with other relevant scholarship.

The contributions are organized in four sections: Text (2 items), Interpretation (5), Language and Formulas (4), and Homeric Hymns (2). I offer a few remarks on each.

Martin West’s “Editing the Odyssey” (13–28) was originally written as a lecture for a student group shortly before the author’s sudden death in 2015; Stephanie West offers it here on her late husband’s behalf. After surveying the history of the text and some earlier editions with characteristic lucidity and sure-handedness, West explains the principles followed in his own edition and discusses some passages where he improves the text. He castigates other editors generally for their lack of independent thought and for failing to consider problems afresh (19, 23). West’s Teubner/de Gruyter edition of the Odyssey, with an extensive Latin Praefatio (p. vii–xxvi), was published near the end of 2017, so scholars may now judge for themselves. The succinct presentation in the Rengakos Festschrift will be appreciated by many.

Margalit Finkelberg’s “Homer at the Panathenaia: Some possible scenarios” (29–40) takes us back to the earliest stages of textual history. Most Homerists accord at least some importance to a late sixth century “Peisistratean recension” for the textualization of Homer. If it did not happen wholesale on that occasion, then around what time did a fixation (or “standardization”) take place? A few favour the ninth century, whereas many prefer a (mid-)eighth century dating. Finkelberg makes a strong argument for the (mid-)seventh century. Her main clue is the iconographic evidence, which indicates that the Homeric poems proper were not created and disseminated very early, but still well before assuming their role at the Panathenaia.

The section Interpretation opens with Franco Montanari’s exploration of narrative structure and logic in “The failed embassy: Achilles in the Iliad” (43–55). After his quarrel with Agamemnon, Achilles opts out and will not be moved. But the myth requires him to fight at Troy right up to his death. Rather than reconciliation and compensation, it is the death of Patroclus that leads Achilles into the fray again and speeds him on toward his own death. Passages that Montanari takes to be traces of a storyline with no embassy (cf. 11.609f.; 16.71–3; 16.83–6) suggest that the failed embassy is an invention of the poet of the Iliad; it is part of a dramatic frame that exacerbates the tension between traditional myth and narrative plot.

Egbert Bakker’s “Hector (and) the race horse: The telescopic vision of the Iliad” (57–74) revisits the question of the Iliad as a “monumental composition” and discusses the intertwining of the “inner-Iliadic” storyline with the story of Troy. The section on the meaning of repetition (58–60) is an important theoretical statement. “Formulaic diction is not just the medium in which the monumental composer tells the tale; it is precisely the medium in and through which monumentality is achieved” (59). Bakker focuses on three horse similes (6.506–14; 15.263–70; 22.22–4) applied to Paris, Hector and Achilles respectively. He elucidates aspects of the relationship between Paris and Hector and shows how the conflict between Paris and Menelaus shifts into that between Hector and Achilles. For the horse similes and other repeated elements to assist with the process of reception, Bakker has to assume a high level of coherence and fixity of composition, indeed a “work” (59) that was heard in performance many times over an individual’s lifetime.

Ruth Scodel’s “Homeric fate, Homeric poetics” (75–93) revolves around the “plan of Zeus” for the action of the Iliad, which operates within the constraints of fate and the Faktenkanon. The plan is improvised, and sometimes puts Zeus in a delicate or difficult situation, for he does not control everything. As the plan generates conflict among the gods, Zeus maneuvers as best he can, sometimes by being vague and detached. In the last part of her paper, Scodel suggests that Zeus may be “almost a parody of the poet in performance, struggling to return his narrative to the right path”, and that his repeated frustration with the other gods’ resistance makes Zeus “a possibly comic foil for the poet”. That is an interesting thought.

J. S. Burgess’s “The Apologos of Odysseus: Tradition and conspiracy theories” (95–120) concentrates on the Odyssey but ranges widely. Burgess considers that Odysseus’ wanderings at sea, which we know only through the apologos (used in the singular throughout) of Books 9–12, are essentially “a multiform of a traditional tale of Odysseus’ wanderings” (115). Burgess speculates about the possible varieties of pre-Homeric versions; while he recognizes that the Homeric apologos “is probably distinctive in nature, whether in terms of poetics, characterization, theme, and ideology” (116), he argues for its essential traditionality with respect to Odysseus. Burgess also reviews and rejects competing theories (“conspiracy theories”); they “mix much speculation with little evidence” (109). I would say that is typical of most discussions of the apologoi.

Jonas Grethlein’s “The best of the Achaeans? Odysseus and Achilles in the Odyssey” (121–42) certainly succeeds in showing that the relationship between the two heroes is far more complex than the metapoetically charged contrast between biê and mêtis (cf. Nagy) and that the Odyssey, rather than being merely an adventure story, is “a multi-facetted narrative engaged with ethical issues” (138). Starting from the explicit juxtapositions of Odysseus and Achilles (Demodocus’ song, the two nekyias), Grethlein considers Odysseus as an Achilles redivivus, especially in the pitiless revenge scenes in Book 22. He then develops the more problematic sides of the mnesterophonia before problematizing Odysseus’ responsibility for the fate of his comrades. In working out this richer picture, Grethlein builds on “the Odyssey’s oral intertextuality with the Iliad” (126), Many features will strike even a hearer or reader who relies less on presumed specific links such as the “particularly striking” linguistic parallels between Achilles’ speech in Iliad 9 and Odysseus’ rejection of Eurymachus’ offer at Od. 22.61–64 (“closely modelled on” Achilles’ speech), or the “implicit invocation” of the Achilles of Iliad 1 in Od.10.438–42.

The section Language and Formulas opens with G.O. Hutchinson’s theoretically oriented “Repetition, range, and attention: The Iliad” (145–70). Hutchinson deals with repetition, both formulary and in general. He is interested less in the productive aspect of repetition than in its reception, that is, the impact and effect it has upon hearers. Hutchinson adopts the concept of “attention” as developed in cognitive studies, helpful not least because it allows for “an indefinite quantity of degrees” (152). He considers repetition with respect to “range” and “variation”. His contribution is rich in observations, suggestions and assumptions. He also discusses some Homeric passages in which “attention sharply exacted” and “attention as immersion” seem to be recognized as mental events. It will be interesting to see whether the concept of “attention” will establish itself in Homeric studies.

A. C. Cassio’s “‘Authentic’ vs. ‘artificial’: Homeric ΕΠΕΕΣΣΙ(Ν) reconsidered” (171–89) is firmly on the linguistic side. Cassio presents the textual evidence for the three dative plural endings for s-stems (-esi(n), -essi(n) and -eessi(n)) and discusses the various theories that seek to explain them. He argues in favour of the view that the -essi(n) ending for –s-stems (as in epeessi(n)) results from an analogical process that is attested in Aeolic and Doric inscriptions. The replacement of an older -oisi epessi by -ois epeessi(n) represents not only a linguistic development, but also reflects the prestige which Aeolic forms achieved at a certain stage.

Christos Tsagalis’s “ΑΠ’/ΚΑΤ’ ΑΙΓΙΛΙΠΟΣ ΠΕΤΡΗΣ: Homeric iconyms and Hittite answers” (191–214) seeks to dig out the etymology and meaning of an iconym or “dictional fossil”: aigilip- (Il. 9.15; 16.4; HHymn XIX.4; cf. Il. 2.633), mostly translated by something like “impassable” or “precipitous”. Having surveyed five proposed etymologies that fail to satisfy, Tsagalis fastens on “a remarkable Luwian parallel” (“saltlick rock face”), which leads to a discussion of the first part of the compositum aig-: are we dealing with goats or with waves? Tsagalis shows through some examples that the stem aig- was contextually determined, although the meaning “goat” was more widespread than “waves” or “sea” (202). To explain how a Luwian expression could have been transferred into Greek, he turns to several Hittite rituals that use phraseology pertaining to saltlick imagery and argues that “ritual constitutes the performative framework through which imagery like ‘saltlick cliff’ passed to Greek speakers” (210). That may very well have been the case.

Stephanie West’s “Mysterious Lemnos: A note on ΑΜΙΧΘΑΛΟΕΣΣΑ (Il. 24.753)” (215–27) discusses another dictional fossil, which according to the ancients means either “difficult of access”, “misty, foggy”, or “fertile”. West takes us through the history, mythology and geology of Lemnos. She entertains the idea that amichthaloessa has been borrowed from the speech of one of the other groups familiar with the island and suggests that the poet of the Iliad “alludes to such earlier poetry, highlighting this subtlety by the unusual metrical effect presented by disregard of the convention we know as Hermann’s bridge”, which indeed is ignored at the one place the word occurs. Intriguing!

Two very different contributions make up the section on Homeric Hymns. Anton Bierl’s “‘Hail and take pleasure!’ Making gods present in narration through choral song and other epiphanic strategies in the Homeric Hymns to Dionysus and Apollo” (231–65) first deals with some general characteristics of the hymns, particularly the way in which the gods become accessible and real through performance – the hymns as “epiphanic disclosure in epic telling” (241). Bierl then offers a detailed analysis of the Hymn to Dionysus; he discusses its pointillistic “poetics of suddenness” (244), the hymn’s link to mysteries, and the several stages of Dionysian epiphany. Next, he turns to the themes of epiphany and choral festivity in the Apollo hymn, which he considers from a “neounitarian” perspective. He stresses the way the hymn focuses on its own medium in a self-referential manner, and again on the unfolding epiphany of the god.

The first half of Richard Janko’s “Tithonus, Eos and the cicada in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite and Sappho fr. 58” (267–92) discusses the text, structure and meaning of the Sappho fragment. Janko’s readings and interpretations could well have justified publication of this part by itself in another context; yet much more light is shed on Sappho when read with the Aphrodite hymn! Sappho ends her short poem by bewailing the inevitability of old age and refers to Tithonos, who was taken by Eos to the edges of the earth, “yet still grey age in time did seize him, though his consort cannot die” (tr. Janko, 270). There is nothing here about Tithonos’ transformation into a cicada and everlasting song. Janko thinks that “[o]ut of tact or subtlety, Sappho leaves it to her audience to fill in the missing ending of the tale” (280), which tallies so well with her desire for poetic immortality. In the final section of his paper, Janko elegantly corroborates the view that Sappho and her audience were familiar with the story of the metamorphosis of Tithonos.

The last pages of the volume contain a List of contributors and Publications by Antonios Rengakos followed by a General index and an Index of principal Homeric passages.

The volume as a whole is a rich offering with many interesting contributions. A few minor slips should not distract the reader.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
M. L. West, Editing the Odyssey 13
Margalit Finkelberg, Homer at the Panathenaia: Some possible scenarios 29
Franco Montanari, The failed embassy: Achilles in the Iliad 43
Egbert Bakker, Hector (and) the racehorse: The telescopic vision of the Iliad 57
Ruth Scodel, Homeric fate, Homeric poetics 75
J. S. Burgess, The Apologos of Odysseus: Tradition and conspiracy theories 95
Jonas Grethlein, The best of the Achaeans? Odysseus and Achilles in the Odyssey 121
G. O. Hutchinson, Repetition, range, and attention: The Iliad 145
A. C. Cassio, 'Authentic' vs. 'artificial': Homeric EΠEΕΣΣΙ(Ν) reconsidered 171
Christos Tsagalis, ΑΠ'/ΚΑΤ' ΑΙΓΙΛΙΠΟΣ ΠΕΤΡΗΣ: Homeric iconyms and Hittite answers 191
Stephanie West, Mysterious Lemnos: A note on AΜΙΧΘΑΛOΕΣΣΑ (Il.24.753) 215
Anton Bierl, 'Hail and take pleasure!' Making gods present in narration through choral song and other epiphanic strategies in the Homeric Hymns to Dionysus and Apollo 231
Richard Janko, Tithonus, Eos and the cicada in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite and Sappho fr.58 267
Publications by Antonios Rengakos 297
General Index 301
Index of Principal Homeric Passages 305

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