BMCR 1996.06.03

1996.6.3, Pelliccia, Mind, Body, and Speech in Homer and Pindar

, , Mind, body, and speech in Homer and Pindar. Hypomnemata ; Heft 107. Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1995. 389 pages ; 25 cm.. ISBN 9783525252079.

The thesis demonstrated with stunning thoroughness in the major portion of this book can be stated briefly. Homer does not portray the organs—that is, organs like the heart, which embody thought and emotion in Greek literature—as actually speaking, either by attributing to them direct or explicit indirect discourse (that much is obvious), or by description or implication. The poet has characters address them, and impulses, restraints, and premonitions are attributed to them, but such independence as they demonstrate from the person they inhabit excludes speech and is rooted in the literary functions they serve at the moment. P(elliccia) takes on no small subject. The existence of separate, independent components of a “self” is one of the two legs on which Snell’s notorious—and apparently immortal—theory of the absence of a “self” in Homer has been standing. P.’s picture of the organs in Homer recognizes the functions peculiar to them but subordinates them to the speaking person as parts of a whole. But P. succeeds in going beyond many attempts to rebut Snell, because he concentrates on the ways the heart (in Homer, actually, the thymos) does communicate and offers an alternative reading that, like Snell’s theory, gives a comprehensive account of the dramatic presentation of inner thought.

But that is not the primary thesis of the book. His refutation of Snell is incidental. P.’s aim is much narrower. He is investigating that locus conclamatus in Pindar, Nemean 7.102-4: τὸ δ’ ἐμὸν οὔ ποτε φάσει κέαρ ἀτρόποισι Νεοπτόλεμον ἐλκύσαι ἔπεσσι: “my heart will never say that I slandered …” Though less widely known, this too is a major topic. The communis opinio holds that there remain in Pindar some passages that are motivated more by his own circumstances than by the commission to praise the victor (however much they are accommodated to it); the arguments that resist interpreting other passages as encomiastic in the first place rely on the impossibility of excluding such a reference in the historical indirect statement in these lines of Ne. 7. the occasional nature of early lyric, and the history of rhetoric. P. wants to learn just what it can mean to say, “my heart will say …” and so he goes back to Homer to seek a starting point in the poetic tradition that he can follow to this passage; I am not giving anything away if I say that he finds a problem here. The point of this book is that line 102 in Nemean 7 does not say what we have thought it does.

So the book has a structure reminiscent of some Pindaric odes. The beginning (very briefly) refers to its immediate occasion, and the end returns to it, discussing the possible interpretations of this passage in detail. In between, is a long digression—a book in itself—exploring the historical paradigm for a speaking heart. But the model for P.’s exposition is not Pindar, or the rhetorical tradition of agonistic philology. It descends rather from Plato’s dialogues through a certain style of analytic philosophy: in plain, almost colloquial language, propositions and their consequences are subjected to meticulous examination, with no possible theory discarded until it has been traced from its sources to its conclusions and found untenable. This is a rigorous yet leisurely study, with many revelations along the way.

P. accepts from the start that the presentation of the organs involves dramatization; the problem is to determine precisely how they are realized. Dramatization implies some kind of personification, so we need to know just what the limits of personification are. He offers immediately his hypothesis that the restriction on speech means that the thymos and other organs are presented much like animals: capable of self-motivation and of directing impulses to humans, and even more capable than humans of knowing the presence of gods, but without logos. The key word here is “like.” P. above all is questioning the linguistic bases for treating subjects as similar (or identical) and seeking the criteria of similarity and difference which allow us to compare the dramatic function of separate passages. He announces in the preface (p. 7) that he proceeds by “way of the ‘open border’ between syntax and rhetoric; … This approach often intersects with the typological approach …” P.’s analyses here are in fact less formally syntactic than in some of his earlier articles on Pindar: he is interested in establishing the gray areas where categories blend into one another (especially indirect discourse and other infinitive constructions). Rhetoric looks to function; much of the book is devoted to the examination of passages in context, in order to understand their contribution. And because we need the evidence of similar situations to analyze the contexts, P. explores the inventory of episodes which might be similar to those which give expression to thought by involving the organs.

Chapter 1 (of three) sets forth the “Preliminary Issues.” A survey of accounts that attribute autonomy to the personified thymos leads to a discussion of the differences between metaphorical and extended uses of words that draws on the work of J. Searle. P. discusses the ways in which we and the Greeks can use some verbs for both men and animals and imply speech in the one case, not in the other, in accordance with our “background” expectations—and not always in the one case either: verbs of “bidding” and “commanding” can be used for inferences about speakers who did not speak (Ζεύςμε κελεύει, says Agamemnon at Il. 9.18-21, misunderstanding events) and for non-verbal “impelling” by animate and inanimate subjects. We cannot conclude from their use with the organs that the latter speak. But we can note similar expressions that deviate from normal syntax whenever they would give the appearance of speech; Homer evinces an awareness of a prohibition on speaking animals and organs that is a feature of epic and which distinguishes it from fables about animals and comic depictions of persons. Since this restriction requires that the participation of the organs in mental processes be mediated, P. examines the various forms of mediated communication, using the example of gods’ to men (speech is exceptional; he includes a discussion of Socrates’ sign), and picks up again the role of inference as a particularly important means. Often inferences are based on the promptings of the organs, through which the gods have access to human behavior. The problem of determining the limits of personification is subsumed by the question of communication with an organ. The evidence is those passages in which an organ is the audience, and, for comparison, other types of monologue; and the use of the organs as subjects of verbs. (P. follows recent pragmatic studies of oral composition in giving weight to the “nuclear” elements, which determine the metrical shape of a line, and in discounting the “peripheral” elements, which reflect the metrical necessities; the great bulk of uses of the organs are adverbial, fall in the latter category, are interchangeable, and carry minimal semantic information. 1

In the second chapter, almost half the volume, P. resumes the problem of the speaking organ from its origins at the beginning of the century. The chief exhibit is the line: ἀλλὰ τίη μοι ταῦτα φίλος διελέξατο QUMO/S;—words with which a character rejects the course of action just proposed and turns to another. Although this would seem to indicate that the thymos has just spoken a proposal to the character, Homer introduced the speech to which it refers, four out of five times (all Il.), with ὀχθήσας δ’ ἄρα εἶπε πρὸς ὃν μεγαλήτορα θυμόν. If the thymos is separate and has speech capacity, one of the lines must be “conventional” and not indicate the actual speaker. To settle the matter P. undertakes a study of all scenes in which a character’s inner thoughts are reported: in Direct ( sic) speech those in which someone speaks πρός (11X) or προτί (4X, all gods) his thymos, and those in which he speaks, but not to his thymos or anyone else (5X + 1 in which Odysseus actually addresses his κραδίη in the second person), and in Indirect speech thirty-seven in which a character ponders how to accomplish something or which of two actions to choose. P. considers (following M. Edwards) whether a distinction among the Direct speeches can be based on “silent” vs. “aloud” and finds that that distinction is not usually of interest to Homer. More relevant, however, is whether or not the speaker is in “contact” with an outside audience or addressee (he adapts the term from D. Mastronarde): speech to the thymos does not occur when anyone else could be the audience. P. then turns to the question of what kinds of speeches are, or are not, addressed to the thymos. To focus this investigation he looks at the eleven Direct speeches that differ from the Indirect in not posing questions about an action. One key criterion centers on the question of addressees (the thymos is never the second person addressee, but it may be the audience to an address); these are sometimes “fictive” in that no actual communication is established (usually by reason of distance or death). P. develops a whole typology of “taunting” speeches and of “σχετλιασμοί” in order to deal with the instances of emotional expression, and discovers as well the operations of the “mute-addressee” rule: a question seeking real information is never posed in a way that would lead the audience (reader) to expect the answer to come from a character who is known to be mute. (He also observes that there is a potentially humorous grandiloquence typical of addresses to a mute character which has escaped most commentators [pp. 168-172].) No one speaks to the thymos when there is an actual addressee who could respond, or when real information is sought (e.g., Odysseus on the shores of Scheria and Ithaca). On the other hand, Homer normally does designate an addressee with verbs of speaking; nihilo obstante, the thymos fills the gap when the speaker is “out of contact.”

The question ἀλλὰ τίη μοι ταῦτα φίλος διελέξατο θυμός; is never answered and is not meant to be; it is a familiar type of break-off formula, rejecting ταῦτα, and equivalent to a command to desist. It is consistent with the use of thymos in speeches to suggest that the addressee has a divided self in order to distance the self that is in the wrong from the person addressed as “you”; that use is in general consistent with the habit of speech which foists the cause of misbehavior on a scapegoat. The four thymos -speeches in which the question occurs are the only ones in which the speaker rejects as shameful a course of action that he himself proposed; upon reflection, he imputes the very idea to a scapegoat, using a verb that never (in Archaic or Classical Greek) introduces Direct or Indirect Speech, but dramatically lays more emphasis on the impulse than on the inference. Both the introductory line (by the poet) and the break-off (by the speaker) are conventional, but they participate in different sets of conventions; if there is some inconcinnity between them, it has parallels in other instances of differences between speech openings and imprecise speech closings.

A character’s decisions may serve the plot, but the elaboration of his decision-making is ethopoetic. The dramatization divides the thought into an impulse—often violent—and a restraint: the impulse may be ignoble and, after threatening to take over, may be restrained by the “operating self,” which is possessed of logos, or it may be noble and incite action, or be forced to yield to prudence. These impulses proceed from the organs. When the poet wishes further dramatic heightening, he may attribute speech to both sides of the argument; in that case, a god appears. But god or organ, the rhetoric of ethopoeia is the same, though the roles may be different. The beginning of Od. 20 serves (on pp. 220-222) to illustrate many of the points: Odysseus thinks to himself, feels the (noble) angry incitement of his thymos, weighs whether or not to act (in Indirect deliberation) and, in a Direct address to his barking (and therefore speechless) heart, by urging confidence and reliance on mêtis, quiets the organs; but immediately Odysseus αὐτός, restlessly reflecting on how to kill the suitors, is interrupted by a Direct address from Athena, who takes him to task for his anxiety—which he now attributes to his thymos—and, by urging confidence and reliance on herself, puts him to sleep. As motivators, the organs and gods are similar, and this is further brought out in an examination of the passages in which thymos is the subject of verbs that could be understood to be introducing or implying Indirect discourse. In none of them is speech actually required, and in all of them there is rhetorical motivation for attributing to the thymos an action that could be verbal if it belonged to the person. A character may wish to distance himself from the source of a wish. The thymos can express expectations about the future (with ἔλπω ) but in all cases the expectations prove to be incorrect. The thymos can have prophetic sight, replacing a god as a guide; and a god, wishing to act on a human, frequently does so through the thymos. The thymos receives credit for the motivation of men, gods, and animals, but motivations which the poet and a god can ascribe to a god, the characters (in accordance with Jorgensen’s “law”) ascribe to their thymos.

In sum, there is a psychological scheme that distinguishes the organs (and the gods) from the “‘normal operating self'” (p. 260) that is characterized by reason and which they intervene upon. The thymos has a certain character, being without logos : it expresses feelings directly, and is in closer contact with the divine than the rational self. The poet can call on it in a variety of situations to dramatize the process of thought, the expression of emotion, or the complexities of motivation, or to conform to the conventions that distinguish his knowledge from the characters’. It is not a precisely delineated psychological theory; its very flexibility is what makes it so useful to the poet.

After Homer, there is scarcely any evidence for the role of the organs until the fifth-century, but Pindar makes full use of them. P.’s third chapter surveys this material in 72 pages. The separateness of the organs as objects to be addressed becomes more pronounced, but the Homeric norms persist. The organs incite or restrain, and are differently valued according to the context. There prophetic abilities become more noticeable, and quite possibly they provide prophecy in Direct speech (the instances are in fragments; over the next two centuries the restrictions break down). Ne. 7.102-104 will fit none of these categories. A detailed discussion of the future tense—a free standing analysis of the “encomiastic” (Bundy) or “performative” future into three types and, in particular, of the “will-testify” idiom—shows that here it cannot be merely equated to the present, but also that here it makes no sense to have a verb of saying. The supposition of a hyper-Doricism and a redivision of the words solves the problem neatly, and provides a phrase with an excellent Homeric parallel.

I have not mentioned the eight excursuses or the notes, so numerous and full that they win admiration for the typesetter who placed them below the text (and sympathy for dropping a couple of lines: p. 35 n. 54, p. 323 n. 82) These notes include careful histories of scholarship, arguments even more thoroughly detailed and explanations even more patiently expatiated than those in the text, as well as the exploration of numerous additional by-ways. Here you will find (in Ch. 1) the survey of the literature on the Snell’s thesis (including its other leg, the absence of a concept for which there is no corresponding word) and the critique of R. Padel’s use of it, or (p. 218, n. 196) a catalogue of all of Achilles’ speeches after the death of Patroclus to reveal his psychological and spiritual isolation.

The exposition is lucid, the style well-adapted in tone to the varying subject and context; the book is easy to read, page by page. But its very fullness creates a problem that should have received more attention. P. has divided the chapters into titled sections and subsections, and he is careful to announce his topics and clarify each step along the way, but it is hard to keep the argument in focus as he establishes each subsidiary point along the way. And the notes add too much at each step to be ignored. Cross reference is minimal: page 212, “We saw earlier that Otter had … equated”—I finally found it in n. 4 on p. 116. An index of names and topics would have been of great assistance, but there is only one of passages cited (42 columns; there is also a massive bibliography).

The prominence of the individual points reflects as well P.’s decision to produce a philosophically informed philological study. Given its scope, one keeps expecting it to evolve into a more broadly interpretive essay, backed up by the philological analyses. After all, he is defending the thesis that Homer’s psychology—his division of the soul—is analogous to Plato’s (adding an excellent discussion of the imagery of the Phaedrus, pp 28-29 n. 38, cf. p. 313), and so his book demands attention from any one reading Bernard Williams’ denial of that in his recent Sather lectures, in which he renewed the effort to expel Snell’s vision of a primitive Homer from the halls of modern thought. 2 From a literary standpoint, I am left wondering why so many of the examples of addresses to the thymos come in the Iliad from Achilles and in the Odyssey from Odysseus. And I am struck by the resemblance of the thymos to Diomedes in Bks. 4 through 9: he acts nobly on impulse and has special cognizance of the gods (and is finally dismissed as in fact shameless in Book 10). Is this not evidence that we are dealing with a Homeric device of parts and wholes for dramatizing the evaluation of action at every level? But if it is a literary device it cannot be called a psychology, out of its context. And so I see why P. has stuck to his design, to describe precisely Homer’s and Pindar’s personifications of the mental organs. P. knows how to use negative evidence, and he knows the limits of positive demonstration and the ease with which it slides into tendentious argument. That ease made possible the vision of humans without selves. P.’s study of the workings of Homeric language has made clear and coherent some passages that are fundamental to our use and appreciation of early Greek texts, and that is one task. His discipline may seem limiting, but it makes this an important book.

  • [1] The roles and interchangeability of the separate organs, as demonstrated by T. Jahn, Zum Wortfeld ‘Seele-Geist’ in der Sprache Homers (Zetemata 83, Munich, 1987), are assumed in P.’s book. [2] See ch. 2, “Centres of Agency” in Shame and Necessity (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1993).