BMCR 1995.02.20

1995.02.20, Dee, Epithetic Phrases for the Homeric Gods

, The epithetic phrases for the Homeric gods = Epitheta deorum apud Homerum : a repertory of the descriptive expressions for the divinities of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Garland reference library of the humanities ; v. 1850. The Albert Bates Lord studies in oral tradition ; v. 14. New York: Garland, 1994. xxix, 165 pages ; 23 cm.. ISBN 9780815317272. $28.00.

This volume is the latest in the Albert Bates Lord Studies in Oral Tradition, edited by John Miles Foley, and the first to appear which is devoted to a classical topic (another, Carolyn Higbie’s new book on heroes’ names and identities in Homer, is promised). One wonders a little how much it will aid the “interdisciplinary constituency” for which the series is intended, but it will certainly be useful to Homerists and probably to any Hellenist who teaches in-depth Greek Mythology courses. In fact, the author tells us that the work “began more than a decade ago, during the teaching of an undergraduate Greek Mythology course, when I felt it would be helpful to be able to see at a glance precisely which epithets and formulae were applied to the gods in Homer and how they were arrayed in the hexameter” (xi-xii), and his title “pays homage to two large-scale works, C. F. H. Bruchmann’s Epitheta deorum quae apud poetas Graecos leguntur, and J. B. Carter’s Epitheta deorum quae apud poetas Latinos leguntur, published as Parts I and II of the Supplementbände for W. H. Roscher’s Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie” (xi). D.’s lists actually include not only epithets but also “the full range of descriptive expressions found in the poems, including such things as words for family relations (πατήρ, θυγάτηρ, ἄκοιτις, etc.), terms of reproach (even self-reproach), and even adverbial phrases (οἱ ἔνερθε θεοί)” (xvi).

The data are organized under the deity’s name (67 headings, in Greek alphabetical order); each name is followed by numbers giving the total number of occurrences in Iliad and Odyssey respectively (for the most frequent, the OCT index has been relied upon; this is rather surprising, in view of D.’s use of computerized technology elsewhere, but he could argue that it matters little if the figures for Zeus, for instance—454, 223—are precisely accurate). Wisely, D. warns against the dangers of relying on such numbers where both a personification and an abstract concept are in question, and he knows that modern capitalization is quite unreliable (he lists 18 such cases, including of course the eternal enigmas Ἄτη, Ἔρις, Θέμις, Ψ, and Χάρις). Then the epithets (etc.) are listed; first (in alphabetical order) those which are applied in Homer only to this one divinity (group A), then in a separate group (B) those applied at least once to some other divinity or mortal. Totals are given for each lemma, broken down where relevant into those referring to this divinity and those referring to others; in the latter case, cross-references are given to the other divinities referred to by the epithet (though “Cross-references to mortals are very limited, subject to availability of space, and may be quite arbitrary” [xix]).

“Between an epithet lemma and the texts illustrating that epithet may be one or more of what I here call iuncturae By iunctura I mean any collocation of divine names, epithets, and epithet-like expressions in a common syntactical unit in other words, whatever is in the vicinity” (xix). Here D. includes attached words which fall into preceding or succeeding verses; the arrangements for giving totals and cross-references are complex, but presumably become easier for a devoted user. Then come the verses containing the epithet (printed out in full, with references), sometimes together with syntactically linked expressions in a preceding or following verse; cross-references are sometimes added to other entries (“these often have little or nothing to do with the epithets as such, but may be interesting for other reasons” [xxiii]). Finally D. lists, as group C, “those phrases, mostly relative clauses and some extended passages too long for repeated quotation at each epithet’s entry, which are also part of the Homeric portraiture of the gods” (xxiv).

The above listings make up the second and principal part of the volume, the “Repertory” (21-128). This is preceded by a “Catalogue of Epithets,” listing the divinities and the A and B groups of epithets applied to them (with asterisks marking Homeric hapax legomena) and the page-numbers where they may be found (a useful provision, since there are no page-heads in the Repertory and without the page-number finding any given divinity can be wearisome). This Catalogue itself is of considerable interest and potential usefulness. Finally (129-65) comes an “Index of Epithets & Iuncturae,” where one can immediately note (for instance) that ἀγαθός is applied only to Zeus, ἀγαυή only to Persephone, and ἀγήρως only to Calypso; this is where one has to go, if necessary, to discover the usual name of the deity referred to as Ἀτρυτώνη, Ἐνυάλιος, Τριτογένεια etc., or who exactly are the few characters honored as λαοσσόοι. As with the other parts of the volume, the rewards for browsing here are very considerable.

Let us quickly check the entry for Hermes (56-59). For him alone one finds Ἑρμείας ἀκάκητα twice, always (unusually for a proper-name formula) beginning the verse; Ἀργειφόντης 27 times at verse-end (in different cases), preceded by διάκτορος, ἐύσκοπος, καρύς, and (once) χρψσόρραπις (all these verses are printed in full); then the other epithets applied only to Hermes, διάκτορος (the verses printed out again), δώτωρ ἑάων, ἐριούνης, ἐριούνιος (with the enjambing Ἐρμείας duly noted), κρατύς (a surprise), σώκος, and χρυσόρραπις (including the pendant enjambing phrase αἰδοῖός τε φίλος τε at Od. 5.87-88). The list of epithets Hermes shares with others begins (demonstrating D.’s inclination towards comprehensiveness) with the predicative ἄγγελος (… σὺ γὰρἄγγελός ἐσσι, Od. 5.29), and goes on to include ἀθάνατον θεόν (who refuses to join the mortals Priam and Achilles, Il. 24.464), αἰδοῖος (see above), θεὸς ἄμβροτος (again from his conversation with Priam), ἄναξ (once only), ἐύσκοπος (shared with Artemis), even θεός (including his neat εἰρωτᾷς μ’ ἐλθόντα θεὰ θεόν to Calypso), Κυλλένιος, υἱός, and φίλος (the last two both separately and together). Under C, D. lists two relative clauses describing the god’s nature, and Zeus’ characterization of him: σοὶ γάρ τε μάλιστά γε φίλτατόν ἐστιν ( Il. 24.334-35). This is informative, thorough, sensibly-arranged, and well-fitted for the reader’s use.

Besides the general convenience of having all this information so ready to hand, D.’s lists are useful for anyone seeking the expression for a particular deity fitting a particular metrical shape (as I needed, a few days ago, to find if Telemachus—not included here, of course—had a name-form that might have replaced τρηχεῖαν ἀταρπον at the end of Od. 14.1). As D. notes (xxv n.6), the lists clearly show cases where the poet has chosen to omit part of a multi-word formula (e.g. κούρἡν [without αἰγιόχοιο] 5 times on p.29, or Κρόνου πάις [without ἀγκυλομήτεω] 3 times on p.73) in order to begin a new enjambing sentence at the bucolic diaeresis, a practice which has never been properly studied. In a little browsing, one notices, for instance, what phrases precede γλαυκῶπις ἀθήνη compared to those preceding QEA γλαυκῶπις ἀθήνη, and that among her “titles” is αἰνοτάτη κύον ἀδεές ( Il. 8.423). Anyone who spends half an hour perusing the 19 pages devoted to Zeus will emerge with not only a fuller vision of his attributes but also a better understanding of the mechanics of the hexameter, the powerful tendency of words of certain metrical shapes to be localized in one metrical position, and the resources of the traditional diction in facilitating composition. The C passages (relative clauses) seem to me of less obvious use, but might be of value to someone teaching a Mythology course.

Unfortunate omissions, especially in view of Mythology courses, are the demigods Heracles (mentioned several times, with epithets, in both poems), and Castor and Polydeuces (also in both poems, with epithets, in a repeated line). For the convenience of non-Homerists a concordance to the Greek-letter system of numbering the books of the two poems might well have been included (how many here can immediately identify Iliad Xi?).

Though he pays graceful acknowledgment to all those whose labors have made Greek literature accessible via computer, D. keyboarded the entire text. I have noticed no errors in the Greek, which is printed in the Graeca font, pleasant enough to read and with clear diacritics. I saw one trivial typo in the English, plus the common error traditionelle in Milman Parry’s famous title (xxvii).

D. announces (xii) that he is “in the planning stage of a project to create a large-scale concordance to Homer, in which texts will be arranged by a series of lexical, morphological, metrical, and formulaic criteria, analogous in some ways to the layout of texts in the Repertory.” For that project, I hope he will have available a Homeric text from which he can simply copy the data, instead of keyboarding it; and it might be made available in computer-readable form.

The work is in general well-conceived and intelligently done. At the close of his introductory Epigramma, in Latin hendecasyllables, D. has an imaginary reader say “Quam vellem ille fuisset ordinator!” That would have been a great pity.