Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2019.11.34 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2019.11.34

Simon Pulleyn (ed.), Homer, Odyssey I. Edited with an Introduction, Translation, Commentary, and Glossary.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2018.  Pp. 320.  ISBN 9780198824206.  $24.95 (pb).  


Reviewed by Alexander Andrée, University of Toronto (alexander.andree@utoronto.ca)

Preview

πολύτροπος, in the very first line of the Odyssey, is the adjective used to describe the still nameless hero of Homer’s epic. “Ingenious” and “resourceful” have been offered by translators of the past (Butler and Rieu), whereas Emily Wilson recently proposed “complicated.” Whatever nuance we give it in English, the word aptly characterizes the volume here under review. For Simon Pulleyn’s achievement is indeed “versatile,” or, as he himself translates it, “of many turns”: besides the Greek text, the introduction to it, and a commentary, this volume also offers to its readers a freshly prepared translation, a Greek to English glossary, a list of technical terms (linguistic, and not referring to seafaring or other contents-related issues), and two indices, one general, the other of words in Greek and other languages (including Mycenaean Greek, Proto-Indo-European, Vedic / Classical Sanskrit, Avestan, Hittite, Old Church Slavonic, Old Irish, and Latin). If this were not enough, the Greek text is furnished with an apparatus of variant readings.

To offer new perspectives on one of the most hallowed oeuvres of the Western literary canon certainly is a daunting task. Yet Pulleyn fearlessly takes up the challenge, and, unlike the epic protagonist of his text, manages in the course of his meanderings to bring his readers back to port unscathed. It is not the first time he does this, however, as he almost twenty years ago undertook to introduce in a similar way the first book of the Iliad.1

In short sections, the introduction offers superb guidance to a number of topics encountered in reading the epic (and extending far beyond Book I), encompassing matters of linguistic, literary, and socio-historical interest. Although the sections are brief, references to scholarship, recent and not so recent, abound. Sections on the structure of the poem, on its style, speech, imagery, and poetic texture reveal the intricacies of composition—which, as the editor points out, are remarkable for such a long poem composed without the aid of writing (p. 4). Yet the many repetitions surprise: as noted on pp. 36-37, of the 27,853 verses of which the Iliad and the Odyssey together consist, some 9,253 are partially or wholly repeated elsewhere. About one-third of the poem is therefore formulaic. On the other hand, there are the Homeric hapax legomena, the frequency of which is startling given the repetitive nature of the poems (they occur about once in every ten lines). Some of them appear to be unique only because there is no evidence for them in other authors; others were created specifically to fit a certain position in the line; yet other words seem exotic and obscure, and may have been introduced for this very purpose, as a part of high style. Notes on versification and metre, alongside the nine or so pages of the introduction devoted to the grammar of Homeric Greek, are especially welcome to neophytes, although the section is perhaps a tad on the brief side. For example, the tables giving the different forms of irregular verbs stand uncommented.

The text is not a new edition, based on a fresh examination of the manuscripts, but rather eclectically composed from previous editions (such as Allen, von der Muehll, and Van Thiel). Martin West’s posthumously published text (Teubner 2017), which the editor was able to see prior to publication, also played a not insignificant part in establishing the text, particularly given the weight it grants to the evidence of papyri, of which there are about 566 (see West 2017, and the instructive review thereof by Graziosi and Haubold: BMCR 2019.01.05). The accentuation of the very first word of the poem, for instance, is printed after West with two acute accents (ἄνδρά), contrary to the rule that a paroxytone word with a trochaic ending takes no accent on its ultimate syllable if it is followed by an enclitic. But there are precedents in the literature and evidence of such writings in the manuscripts. This is not an uncontroversial move, however, and as Pulleyn points out (p. 92), Aristarchus refused it in his text on the grounds that it would produce “cacophony” in the opening words.

The inclusion of an apparatus to the Greek text should, of course, be a source of gratification and pleasure; that under prevailing circumstances the apparatus can by no means be complete and comprise readings from the entire tradition, ought not to trouble us too much. Yet I cannot rid myself of the unease, inveterate philologist that I am, before the somewhat lackadaisical practice of referring to manuscript variants as a, b, etc., implying that one unidentified medieval manuscript (arbitrarily called a) has this reading, and another (called b) that, instead of using the established sigla of the manuscript tradition (see e.g. line 10, p. 62: “ἁμóθεν a] ἀμóθεν b”). This is a practice adopted from the Cambridge University Press “Green and Yellow” series, where also anything from a papyrus is marked p; if there is more than one papyrus variant, this is called p2. “MSS,” furthermore, means that all manuscripts agree on a reading; “MSS*” that some manuscripts do, but that variants exist. I understand that it is not the purpose here to give a full account of the textual history of the Odyssey, but, since manuscript variants are in fact offered, would it have been too much trouble to give the established manuscript sigla instead? It would have made the textual evidence more tangible, even for a non-expert audience, and facilitated comparisons with full critical editions of the text.

The facing-page translation makes no literary pretensions, which is good. It is downright literal—without being unreadable—which greatly helps translation. It is irritating, however, that each new line begins with a capital letter, regardless whether the sentence continues from the preceding line or not; it makes reading irksome at times, also because the English translation of one line of Greek often extends over to the next line on the page.

The commentary is rich: its 144 pages make up 45 percent of the volume’s 320 pages. Philological in the full sense of the word, it allows features of language to address the text historically, linguistically, and critically. A fascinating example of how a mere word or sequence of words, unexplained in the text, transports us to the mental universe of the author and his world is furnished by a passage at 261-2. Here Mentes (Athena in disguise), describes Odysseus, whom he claims to have seen in his house on his way back from an adventurous expedition, as φάρμακον ἀνδροφόνον διζήμενος (“[s]eeking a murderous poison”). Pulleyn’s notes inform us that this is extraordinary for two reasons: first, poisoned arrows do not otherwise exist in the Homeric universe, neither in the Iliad, nor in the Odyssey; second, and even more remarkable, is the observation that archery is frowned upon in the Iliad, to the extent that τοξότα (“archer”) is even used as an insult. Clearly, in the Iliad, bows and arrows are used underhand, and indicate un-clean fighting, unbecoming of the Homeric hero. On the other hand, in the Odyssey, Odysseus' prowess with the bow is famous: he boasts about it to the Phaeacians, and without it he could not have eliminated the suitors towards the end of the epic. The hero of the Odyssey, therefore, by contrast with his peers in the earlier epic, works by cunning and deception, and does not shirk from using dishonourable means. Some critics have used this alleged discrepancy to postulate different authors of the two epics. But, in literature, characters can develop, and as Pulleyn astutely remarks, “[w]hat is foreign to the ethos of the Iliad is not automatically bad” (p. 179).

The contrast with the Iliad is a recurring feature of this volume’s introduction and commentary, and the editor often returns to just how much the world of the Odyssey differs from that of the Iliad. The heroic virtue on display by the great heroes of the latter—Achilles, Hector, Ajax, and others—yields in the former to the cunningness and guile of Odysseus. Also the literary devices employed by the author—whoever he was—differ significantly between the two poems. Whereas the Iliad is a more or less straightforward narrative of a short period of time towards the end of a prolonged siege of the city of Troy, the Odyssey ferries its readers on a remarkable quest told with great sophistication. Contrary to its predecessor, which tells of the reversal of fortune and irreparable loss, the Odyssey is the story of one man’s quest, of his manifold adventures, and of his eventual return home and the satisfaction of justice. As such the Odyssey indeed remains “the ultimate precursor of the European novel” (p. 4). If this volume will help more readers to approach it in the original Greek, it will have fulfilled its purpose. Pulleyn, Simon (ed.). Homer, Odyssey I. Edited with an Introduction, Translation, Commentary, and Glossary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. 320 p. $24.95 (pb). ISBN 9780198824206.

Alexander Andrée, University of Toronto (alexander.andree@utoronto.ca)

Preview πολύτροπος, in the very first line of the Odyssey, is the adjective used to describe the still nameless hero of Homer’s epic. “Ingenious” and “resourceful” have been offered by translators of the past (Butler and Rieu), whereas Emily Wilson recently proposed “complicated.” Whatever nuance we give it in English, the word aptly characterizes the volume here under review. For Simon Pulleyn’s achievement is indeed “versatile,” or, as he himself translates it, “of many turns”: besides the Greek text, the introduction to it, and a commentary, this volume also offers to its readers a freshly prepared translation, a Greek to English glossary, a list of technical terms (linguistic, and not referring to seafaring or other contents-related issues), and two indices, one general, the other of words in Greek and other languages (including Mycenaean Greek, Proto-Indo-European, Vedic / Classical Sanskrit, Avestan, Hittite, Old Church Slavonic, Old Irish, and Latin). If this were not enough, the Greek text is furnished with an apparatus of variant readings.

To offer new perspectives on one of the most hallowed oeuvres of the Western literary canon certainly is a daunting task. Yet Pulleyn fearlessly takes up the challenge, and, unlike the epic protagonist of his text, manages in the course of his meanderings to bring his readers back to port unscathed. It is not the first time he does this, however, as he almost twenty years ago undertook to introduce in a similar way the first book of the Iliad.1

In short sections, the introduction offers superb guidance to a number of topics encountered in reading the epic (and extending far beyond Book I), encompassing matters of linguistic, literary, and socio-historical interest. Although the sections are brief, references to scholarship, recent and not so recent, abound. Sections on the structure of the poem, on its style, speech, imagery, and poetic texture reveal the intricacies of composition—which, as the editor points out, are remarkable for such a long poem composed without the aid of writing (p. 4). Yet the many repetitions surprise: as noted on pp. 36-37, of the 27,853 verses of which the Iliad and the Odyssey together consist, some 9,253 are partially or wholly repeated elsewhere. About one-third of the poem is therefore formulaic. On the other hand, there are the Homeric hapax legomena, the frequency of which is startling given the repetitive nature of the poems (they occur about once in every ten lines). Some of them appear to be unique only because there is no evidence for them in other authors; others were created specifically to fit a certain position in the line; yet other words seem exotic and obscure, and may have been introduced for this very purpose, as a part of high style. Notes on versification and metre, alongside the nine or so pages of the introduction devoted to the grammar of Homeric Greek, are especially welcome to neophytes, although the section is perhaps a tad on the brief side. For example, the tables giving the different forms of irregular verbs stand uncommented.

The text is not a new edition, based on a fresh examination of the manuscripts, but rather eclectically composed from previous editions (such as Allen, von der Muehll, and Van Thiel). Martin West’s posthumously published text (Teubner 2017), which the editor was able to see prior to publication, also played a not insignificant part in establishing the text, particularly given the weight it grants to the evidence of papyri, of which there are about 566 (see West 2017, and the instructive review thereof by Graziosi and Haubold: BMCR 2019.01.05). The accentuation of the very first word of the poem, for instance, is printed after West with two acute accents (ἄνδρά), contrary to the rule that a paroxytone word with a trochaic ending takes no accent on its ultimate syllable if it is followed by an enclitic. But there are precedents in the literature and evidence of such writings in the manuscripts. This is not an uncontroversial move, however, and as Pulleyn points out (p. 92), Aristarchus refused it in his text on the grounds that it would produce “cacophony” in the opening words.

The inclusion of an apparatus to the Greek text should, of course, be a source of gratification and pleasure; that under prevailing circumstances the apparatus can by no means be complete and comprise readings from the entire tradition, ought not to trouble us too much. Yet I cannot rid myself of the unease, inveterate philologist that I am, before the somewhat lackadaisical practice of referring to manuscript variants as a, b, etc., implying that one unidentified medieval manuscript (arbitrarily called a) has this reading, and another (called b) that, instead of using the established sigla of the manuscript tradition (see e.g. line 10, p. 62: “ἁμóθεν a] ἀμóθεν b”). This is a practice adopted from the Cambridge University Press “Green and Yellow” series, where also anything from a papyrus is marked p; if there is more than one papyrus variant, this is called p2. “MSS,” furthermore, means that all manuscripts agree on a reading; “MSS*” that some manuscripts do, but that variants exist. I understand that it is not the purpose here to give a full account of the textual history of the Odyssey, but, since manuscript variants are in fact offered, would it have been too much trouble to give the established manuscript sigla instead? It would have made the textual evidence more tangible, even for a non-expert audience, and facilitated comparisons with full critical editions of the text.

The facing-page translation makes no literary pretensions, which is good. It is downright literal—without being unreadable—which greatly helps translation. It is irritating, however, that each new line begins with a capital letter, regardless whether the sentence continues from the preceding line or not; it makes reading irksome at times, also because the English translation of one line of Greek often extends over to the next line on the page.

The commentary is rich: its 144 pages make up 45 percent of the volume’s 320 pages. Philological in the full sense of the word, it allows features of language to address the text historically, linguistically, and critically. A fascinating example of how a mere word or sequence of words, unexplained in the text, transports us to the mental universe of the author and his world is furnished by a passage at 261-2. Here Mentes (Athena in disguise), describes Odysseus, whom he claims to have seen in his house on his way back from an adventurous expedition, as φάρμακον ἀνδροφόνον διζήμενος (“[s]eeking a murderous poison”). Pulleyn’s notes inform us that this is extraordinary for two reasons: first, poisoned arrows do not otherwise exist in the Homeric universe, neither in the Iliad, nor in the Odyssey; second, and even more remarkable, is the observation that archery is frowned upon in the Iliad, to the extent that τοξότα (“archer”) is even used as an insult. Clearly, in the Iliad, bows and arrows are used underhand, and indicate un-clean fighting, unbecoming of the Homeric hero. On the other hand, in the Odyssey, Odysseus' prowess with the bow is famous: he boasts about it to the Phaeacians, and without it he could not have eliminated the suitors towards the end of the epic. The hero of the Odyssey, therefore, by contrast with his peers in the earlier epic, works by cunning and deception, and does not shirk from using dishonourable means. Some critics have used this alleged discrepancy to postulate different authors of the two epics. But, in literature, characters can develop, and as Pulleyn astutely remarks, “[w]hat is foreign to the ethos of the Iliad is not automatically bad” (p. 179).

The contrast with the Iliad is a recurring feature of this volume’s introduction and commentary, and the editor often returns to just how much the world of the Odyssey differs from that of the Iliad. The heroic virtue on display by the great heroes of the latter—Achilles, Hector, Ajax, and others—yields in the former to the cunningness and guile of Odysseus. Also the literary devices employed by the author—whoever he was—differ significantly between the two poems. Whereas the Iliad is a more or less straightforward narrative of a short period of time towards the end of a prolonged siege of the city of Troy, the Odyssey ferries its readers on a remarkable quest told with great sophistication. Contrary to its predecessor, which tells of the reversal of fortune and irreparable loss, the Odyssey is the story of one man’s quest, of his manifold adventures, and of his eventual return home and the satisfaction of justice. As such the Odyssey indeed remains “the ultimate precursor of the European novel” (p. 4). If this volume will help more readers to approach it in the original Greek, it will have fulfilled its purpose.


Notes:


1.   Homer, Iliad I ed. S. Pulleyn, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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