BMCR 1997.03.10

Response: Holoka on Cook on Latacz

Response to 1996.10.03

Response by

Erwin Cook, in the opening of his lengthy review (BMCR 96.10.3) of Joachim Latacz, Homer: His Art and His World, makes several confusing and misleading statements. In his first paragraph, he criticizes the book for not being what it never claims to be. He cites not the statement of intent in Latacz’s Foreword, but the (fulfilled) dust-jacket promise of “sections on the relevance of Homer to modern issues of literary criticism”; he then portentously asserts that the book “cannot be said to offer anything approaching a representative, let alone a comprehensive, survey of modern criticism, even as it is currently applied to Homer.” But neither jacket nor author claims that the book is comprehensive in any way: “It is impossible in an introductory work to offer a thorough explication of the Iliad and the Odyssey…” (ix-x). Latacz sets himself carefully defined goals: he means to (a) spark the interest of a general, literate audience in Homer and (b) reflect the historical and literary critical consensus of opinion among German-speaking scholars (something Cook admits that the book does “clearly and succinctly”).

Nonetheless Cook proceeds to attack the book for not conforming to prevalent Anglo-American opinions about the creation and the artistic character of the Homeric poems. He even implies that Latacz lacks familiarity with Anglo-American scholarship: “American entries [in the bibliography of works cited] are limited to A. and M. Parry, A. Lord, and S. Richardson, and the English to C.M. Bowra and J. Griffin.” Cook seems unaware that Latacz has an intimate knowledge of Anglo-American scholarship and has done more to make its concerns and achievements known to European students than any non-Anglo-American Homerist since Albin Lesky. 1 Even in the present, non-specialist work, besides the six authors Cook notices, he cites (and lists under “Works Cited”) C.M. Antonaccio, C. Blegen, J. Chadwick, M.E. Clark, J.N. Coldstream, J.M. Cook, R. Finnegan, J. Goody, E. Havelock, J. Hershbell, R. Janko, L.H. Jeffery, A.W. Johnston, G.S. Kirk, M.J. Mellink, O. Murray, W.J. Ong, D.L. Page, B.B. Powell, J.B. Pritchard, A.N. Snodgrass, I. Watt, T.B.L. Webster, M.L. West, and N.A. Winter. (Names that do not, admittedly, appear on the dust-jacket.) An additional fifty Anglo-American authors appear in the “Selected Bibliography” of recommended texts and readings.

Latacz is in fact fully aware of the main tenets of the Anglo-American consensus (to the extent that one exists) and realizes that his opinions, like those of most other German-speaking scholars, diverge from them. The translation of his book into English is intended precisely to give wider currency to an alternative conception of Homeric composition: “A few years ago, I spoke of the ‘reservations’ that ‘American (and to an extent British) Homer scholars [have] with regard to the traditional European interpretation of Homer.’ It would be a source of particular satisfaction to me if the present book were to dismantle some of those reservations.” Latacz knows that “no one who writes about Homer can expect that his view of the origins of the poems or his understanding of their meaning will convince all readers” (xi). We may, naturally, remain unconvinced, but we should not fault Latacz for failing to do what no one could do.

1. See J. Latacz (ed.), Homer: Tradition und Neuerung (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1979), Wege der Forschung volume 463, with selections (often in German translations) from M. Parry (3), A.B. Lord, G.S. Kirk, M.W.M. Pope, J.B. Hainsworth, M. Nagler, J.A. Russo, A. Parry (2), M. Curschmann, and B. Fenik; the volume includes an essay “Zur Geschichte der Oral poetry-Theorie” and a forty-five-page “Spezialbibliographie zur Oral poetry-Theorie in der Homer-Forschung” by Latacz. See also Homer: Die Dichtung und ihre Deutung (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1991), Wege der Forschung volume 634, with selections from B. Fenik and O. Taplin. Also, essays on Homer reprinted in Latacz, Erschliessung der Antike: Kleine Schriften zur Literatur der Griechen und Römer (Stuttgart/Leipzig: Teubner, 1994).