BMCR 1998.05.20

A New Companion to Homer

, , A new companion to Homer. Leiden: Brill, 1997. xviii, 755 pages. ISBN 9780585367637. $265.75.

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This volume is a disappointment, being neither as useful nor as usable as it ought to have been (the inadequate indexing is symptomatic). It aims to succeed A Companion to Homer (here abbreviated CH) by A.J.B. Wace and F.H. Stubbings (London: Macmillan, 1962). The latter book, a tremendous achievement in its time, offered its readers 69 figures and 40 Plates along with 559 pages of text and full indices, at a price which students could pay (it cost 12 Pounds sterling in 1974). In this volume (here NCH) illustrations are so scarce that I was hard put to find them (they are not listed at the front). Even so, few students could afford it; nor would it be worth their money, given its unevenness, many contributors’ tendency merely to recycle their old materials and to write for specialists alone, and the gravity of its omissions, e.g. Anatolian geography and languages (Luwian is not even in the index), von Kamptz’ advances in Homeric onomastics, the Epic Cycle, similes, catalogues or religion. Any decent library ought to acquire it, because some chapters are very good indeed. However, if this volume is an image of the progress of Homeric scholarship since 1962, progress has consisted largely in forgetting what once we knew, like vistas hidden behind an orogenesis of verbiage. The prevalent focus on the limits to our knowledge has become all too often a mask for ignorance (inevitably most obvious in technical matters), the omission of opposing views and evidence, a timorous refusal to believe anything, or (worst of all) a failure to appreciate the greatness of Homer’s poetry and of his vision of humanity.

Homeric studies have suffered so much from polemics in the past that magnanimity towards colleagues whom one may personally like has come to seem more worthwhile than the confutation of error. However, this reaction, in which I have shared, has become a real barrier to good scholarship, as this volume proves. Misapprehensions, when often repeated by their authors, widely assimilated and long left uncorrected, cause confusion and eventually a collapse of confidence that anything can be known at all. Rebuking error by ignoring it has not worked: it is time for Glasnost.

Wace and Stubbings published their volume in the wake of two revolutionary discoveries—the work of Parry and Lord on oral epic poetry, and the decipherment of Linear B by Ventris and Chadwick. Although the latter was imperfectly understood, and the former imperfectly published (Milman Parry’s Making of Homeric Verse appeared only in 1971), CH presented both more clearly and gave a better idea of their significance than does NCH. It also gave a much fuller picture of the Mycenaean world and of how Homer depicts it (now, of course, there is a consensus that Homer is no guide to it at all, which I shall have to challenge below). These changes result from decisions by the editors. They have reversed the balance between archaeological and literary discussion, because scholarship has moved ‘away from traditional forms of historical analysis and toward more broadly cultural issues’ (p. xv). This begs the question of whether this move is appropriate or beneficial. They also expect different readers from those of CH : not merely those reading Homer in Greek at school or university, but specialists in different branches of Homeric studies who need to know the latest thought on other aspects of the field, where scholars no longer teach and write on Homeric philology, oral poetry and archaeology with equal authority. There, perhaps, lies the rub; few of us have heard tapes in the Parry Collection, been on excavations, studied linguistics, papyrology, textual criticism and so on. There is no short cut to the knowledge needed to see these poems in all their dimensions.

Part One, on Transmission, opens auspiciously with B. Powell’s chapter ‘Homer and Writing’, which gives a clear account of the evolution of writing, enlivened by its author’s wit and learning in this field; he is prepared to consider evidence of all kinds, even that of Greek traditions, and is fully up to date, taking account of the astonishing find of an inscription dated to c. 770 B.C. ( sic) from Gabii ( sic). Powell holds that the epics were taken down by dictation very soon after the invention of the Greek alphabet. But the theory of an oral dictated text is not only Albert Lord’s, as he implies at p. 30 n. 54; it goes back to Milman Parry, MHV p. 451. He interestingly suggests (p. 21-2) that Herodotus V 58.2 records a reliable tradition about the introduction of the alphabet at Eretria/Lefkandi. His belief (p. 28, cf. J. Bennet at p. 532) that the ‘folded tablet’ of Iliad 6.168-70 is a borrowed element in an Eastern tale can be strengthened by the observation that Homer gives the king an Anatolian name (Amisodaros, 16.328). His arguments that Homer was of Euboean origin are less convincing than those for Ionia (e.g. the direction in which the waves come ashore in similes, or the reference to Mycale). However, since some West Ionic forms, e.g. ὄντος, creep into the Odyssey, and the Phaeacians pay Euboea the compliment of having heard of it ( Od. 7.321), I agree that the poet must have performed there. But P. spoils his case by romantically positing a (linguistically impossible) synchronism between Homer and Hesiod.

R. Lamberton on ‘Homer in antiquity’ begins by claiming that the vulgate is probably owed to the Romans, and was ‘composed of the inventions of rhapsodes … along with the literary interpolations of poets, of politicians, and ultimately of textual critics such as Crates of Mallos’ (where is the evidence that Crates’ extra lines originated with him, or entered the text?), carved into a manageable and uniform oeuvre by ‘nameless editors’ (p. 34)—an odd way to refer to the Alexandrians! Aristotle’s text of Homer did not differ much from ours, pace p. 33; as he cited from memory, he was inaccurate, but his text was closer to ours than those of Plato and Aeschines. We have no evidence for fifth-century Iliads which did not resemble our own in story ( pace p. 39). On p. 41 L. perpetuates the notion that Plut. Pericles 13 could show that Pericles, rather than the Pisistratids, introduced rhapsodic contests at the Panathenaea: but Plutarch makes clear, by saying αὐλεῖν ἢ ᾄδειν ἢ κιθαρίζειν, that he is using μουσική in the sense of our ‘music’. On p. 44 we read that the Alexandrians ‘did not produce Iliads and Odysseys reduced and defined by their own idea of what was authentic and what was not. Rather, they used marginal symbols to indicate their judgments, and either did not have the power or simply chose not to delete lines they doubted’. An essential distinction between the numerus versuum and choice of readings is missing here: the Alexandrians successfully standardised the number of verses throughout the oikoumene, but could not impose their readings on a paradosis as broad as that of Homer’s. The reference given, astonishingly for a question of this importance, is to the work of T.W. Allen (1923), as if van der Valk never wrote.

L.’s account of the philosophical polemic against Homer elides the cardinal importance of Aristotle’s assertion of the independence of poetry from theology, in his Poetics as well as his Homeric Questions. I am astounded to read that ‘Aristotle’s Poetics… has little [to say] about qualities of Homer that are prized today’ (p. 52), when the philosopher’s observations about unity of action, characterization, moral choice and the use of direct speech have inspired such important approaches as those of Redfield or Griffin. Pace p. 52, Aristotle was important for his avoidance of ‘allegorical’ readings, and never offers any (the sole instance L. can be thinking of is Aristotle’s observation that the Cattle of the Sun are equal in number to the days in a lunar year, where I think Aristotle is right, not allegorizing). The biographical tradition of Homer is said to be the product of Hellenistic schools (p. 34), as if we did not meet the story of his death as early as Heraclitus of Ephesus (22 B 56 D) these traditions, like the ‘Homeric epigrams’, are manifestly archaic products (L. corrects this misimpression at p. 37 n. 10, but fails to say that we know from a papyrus subscriptio that Alcidamas produced a version of the Certamen—contrast R. Rosen at p. 474). Also, p. 38 seems to imply that allegorical interpretation originated with the Stoa; this too is corrected on p. 42, but surely Metrodorus of Lampsacus and Diagoras of Melos, whom I believe to be the author of the Derveni treatise ( ZPE 118 [1997] 61-94), did not write ‘sub-literary texts’ (and allegorical interpretation was more common, from an early date, than L. implies on p. 51). L. omits Ibycus’ important references to specific passages of Homer and Hesiod in fr. 282 from his survey of early allusions.

M. Haslam’s chapter ‘Homeric papyri and the transmission of the text’ is one of the best: he updates our knowledge thoroughly, points out errors (e.g. mine in p. 91 n. 103 or p. 97 n. 126), and stakes out his own position clearly. His accounts of both the ancient and the medieval MSS are profoundly reliable and full of flashes of insight; thus his description of the fuller text of many early papyri as a ‘flabbier’ Homer (p. 68) deserves to enter our idiolect. He well asks ‘[t]his flabbier Homer is not the one we are familiar with, and may not be one we like, but how are we to ground our taste?’ However, he at once supplies the right answer: ‘from a transmissional point of view, it is easier to view plus-verses as accretions which did not gain a sufficiently firm hold to be perpetuated than as pristine material which was dropped’. There is the nub, and it is a pity that he does not follow this to its logical conclusion. Instead, H. determines that there is no way to recover a stable text of Homer, because ‘the entire text was unstable, showing a degree of volatility more characteristic of texts whose transmission is oral’ (p. 69). This is true of much of the paradosis, but it does not follow that all the transmission was oral: for I think H. has overvalued the ancient manuscripts, which are not ‘the only secure evidential base’ (p. 55) for the reconstruction of the textual transmission: the scholia are at least as important. When one reads the Iliad with the Alexandrians’ comments to hand, the variant readings and extra lines can usually be sorted out, and cogent arguments for preferring one text over another advanced, which fully match the twin hypotheses that the epics are unified, oral-dictated compositions. This is what van der Valk achieved, and in my commentary on Iliad 13-16 I aimed to show how such reasoning works on a large scale and in context. Hence I am not as impressed as is H. (p. 70) by agreements between the ‘city-texts’ and fourth-century quotations, since, as H. himself grants, ‘the city-texts are unlikely to be very old, and some of their reported readings are clearly secondary’. These are, of course, among the χαριέστεραι, whose authority was cogently challenged by van der Valk (when the latter’s work is characterized as ‘prejudice-driven’ [p. 73n.], this means that he viewed the Homeric epics as an oralist and a unitarian). As for Aristarchus’ readings, it is an overstatement that ‘the prevailing opinion is that Aristarchus invented them, that is, conjectured them’. It is certainly not my opinion, only that he did venture some conjectures in his commentary (about 33 in the c. 3,000 lines of Iliad 13-16). Nor does Iliad 1.5, where Zenodotus (in line with Attic tragedians) read οἰωνοῖσί τε δαῖτα rather than οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι, prove what H. would wish (p. 72): the evidence shows that Zenodotus athetised lines 4-5 because of the ‘problem’ that not all birds eat flesh, and offered δαῖτα, already thought of during the fifth century, as another possible solution (see Eustathius 256.8, Nicanor in Eust. 19.42 and schol. b ad loc.). πᾶσι, not δαῖτα, is the lectio difficilior, both from an oral and a written point of view; it also appears in all MSS.

Turning to how there came to be a text of Homer, H. concludes (pp. 80-1), on the basis of my statistical study of the epic language, that the Homeric texts were indeed written down from dictation during the eighth century (well before the time of Hesiod), and takes a sensible view of the Pisistratean recension and Aristarchus’ influence in standardising the text. But he objects to van der Valk’s criticism of the Alexandrians for ‘tampering’ with the vulgate, urging instead that we should feel grateful to them for creating/restoring it (p. 87). Since the Alexandrians cannot physically have possessed the original dictated text, H. concludes that they attained it by textual criticism: ‘[t]he quality of the vulgate is indeed phenomenal, and it gives us poems which we could well believe are the genuine article, practically word for word; but it is the Alexandrians’ sifting and restraint that are responsible for it.’ If there was indeed an original dictated text, then excellent textual critics (such as Aristarchus was, even though he knew nothing of oral poetry) might conceivably have been able to retrieve it without access to a pre-existing ‘vulgate’ strand in the tradition. However, I still find the coincidence between the readings of the ‘ordinary’ texts (δημώδεις) and the best readings telling enough to believe that ‘vulgate’ texts, little influenced by the ‘improvements’ of the learned χαριέστεραι, formed part of the paradosis which reached the Alexandrians (on all this see further CQ 48 [1998] 1-13).

The next chapter, G. Nagy on ‘Homeric scholia’, is of a very different stamp. N. argues that the extent of rhapsodic variation in the text of Homer is so great that we cannot accept either an Aristarchean quest for the original reading, or Wolf’s distrust that Aristarchus could recover authentic readings in general; all his variants are authentic. ‘[T]here is no reason to doubt that any Homeric variant attributed to Aristarchus can be considered an authentic reading’ (p. 111, N.’s emphasis). This might seem an optimistic conclusion, until we realise that it leaves us with no criteria for deciding what the text of Homer is, nor even any means (short of some as yet uninvented Hypertext) of presenting it. To sustain the authenticity of all Alexandrian readings, even though the Alexandrians were not rhapsodes, N. has to claim that they never emended the text (p. 114). But he cites no example of their scholarly methods, nor discusses their comments on any Homeric passage, not even οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι. When he claims that ‘many of these variants stemming from the learned editions prove to be just as authentic, from the standpoint of oral poetics, as the variants stemming from the City Editions or from the koinê texts in general’ (p. 121), the sole evidence offered, typically, is a reference to another work of his own (M. Heath, reviewing that work in CR 47 [1997] 241-2, condemns the methods of argumentation there used and the conclusions reached). N. ignores the labours of W.J. Slater, who, in editing the fragments of Aristophanes of Byzantium, concluded that ‘Aristophanes was prone to alter the text [of Homer] or to accept others’ alterations, knowing that there was no authority, when he wished to solve a zetema‘ ( Aristophanis Byzantii Fragmenta, Berlin and New York 1986, 210). Fr. 378 Slater is incontrovertible proof of the earlier Alexandrians’ methods: Aristophanes reproached Zenodotus for emending Anacreon because the poet had written ἔλαφον κερόεσσαν, and in response himself emended Aristotle to make the zoologist say that female deer have horns! Nor does N. challenge any of the examples advanced to prove that all the Alexandrians were as capable of emending (or accepting emendations) as Wecklein or Wilamowitz; I, for one, have discussed 116 such cases in Iliad 13-16 (these are listed, and classified, in The Iliad: a Commentary IV, Cambridge 1992, p. 24 with nn. 22-4 [Zenodotus, c. 70 cases], p. 25 n. 27 [Aristophanes, 21 cases, plus 13 where he follows Zenodotus] and p. 26 n. 30 [Aristarchus, 33 cases]). You will learn nothing here of the fourth-century Ionic forms read by Zenodotus, Aristophanes’ preference for linguistic archaisms, or Aristarchus’ conservatism. N. does not distinguish between the different scholars, as if one must believe that they all emended either nothing or everything. He quotes no readings of the δημώδεις or χαριέστεραι. He discusses no case of the Alexandrians’ comparable approach in using athetesis, where the scholia often give full reports of their reasoning (for a telling example see my note on Iliad 15.56-77). Instead, the chapter amasses irrelevant detail, e.g. on the nomenclature and early editions of the scholia, or the twists in the past two centuries of scholarship, confusing the reader by talking of how van Thiel’s recent editions restore a ‘Wolfian vulgate’ (p. 115). The latter’s editions may have their faults (cf. Gnomon 66 [1994] 289-95), but they do not return us to Wolf, who never produced a text at all.

N. mistranslates φαίνεται γενόμενος in Josephus, Against Apion I 12-13, as ‘seems to have been’ rather than ‘obviously is’ (p. 108); he adopted the error from his source, the 1985 translation of Wolf. The story of Cynaethus’ rhapsodic performance of Homer (schol. Pind. Nem. II 1c, 1e Drachmann) derives not from Aristarchus ( pace n. 28), but from Hippostratus (in 1c, of which 1e is an epitome). In n. 34, N. obscures the fact that the theory of an orally dictated text of Homer was absolutely fundamental to Albert Lord, as the world knows from his writings and I can confirm from numerous conversations with him over the last decade of his life; instead, N. cites as advocates of it M.L. West and myself, mere epigoni. Indeed, Milman Parry never even considered any other explanation for the origin of the Homeric texts (see MHV p. 451). N.’s approach, represented as so close to that of Parry and Lord, is nearer to G.S. Kirk’s than theirs. Again, to state (also in n. 34) that my book of 1982 offers 750-725 and 743-713 B.C. as ‘definitive dates’ for the text-fixation of the Iliad and Odyssey is to misrepresent and trivialize what that chapter did ( Homer, Hesiod and the Hymns, Cambridge 1982, pp. 228-31): it translated into ranges of absolute dates, dependent on different assumptions, the set of relative dates for text-fixation obtained from a statistical study of a dozen innovations of frequent occurrence in the diction of the whole corpus of early Greek epic; the statistics show that the Homeric texts were somehow fixed (by dictation, I believe) well before Hesiod’s, and neither the method nor the results have been refuted. One should, however, relieve N. of responsibility for the misprints, which are just as numerous elsewhere, e.g. ‘Wilamovitz-Moellendorf’ (p. 123), ‘schlect’ (p. 138), or ‘Song and Roland‘ (p. 144).

F.M. Turner presents a lucid and valuable account of the ‘Homeric Question’ from the eighteenth century down to Gilbert Murray and makes most stimulating points about how it reflected the Zeitgeist and attitudes towards the Bible.

J.M. Foley on ‘Oral Tradition and its Implications’ speaks without qualification of the ‘Oral Theory’, a term to which Albert Lord recently objected: “the phrase ‘oral theory’ with regard to the investigations into South Slavic oral epic by Parry and me is a misnomer. These findings do not constitute a ‘theory’; rather, they provide demonstrated facts concerning oral traditional poetry…. Where else but to a tradition continuing into modern times could a scholar go to look for clues to the nature of epics such as the Homeric poems and Beowulf, the method of whose composition is not documented and is subject to controversy?” ( The Singer Resumes the Tale, Ithaca 1995, 191). Foley’s account of Parry’s work is accurate except for his belief, which is widely shared, that Lord ‘would wholly redefine the nature and goals of the enquiry’. Most of the evolution in Lord’s ideas came from more detailed study of other oral songs, notably the South Slavic, than Parry was able to accomplish, and many of Lord’s ideas already appear in Parry’s last work Cor Huso, only published in 1971; the basic concepts, which F. explains so well, of formula and typical scene already appear in Parry’s work, and Lord’s greatest contribution lies in his exploration of story-patterns as the third essential element, and in the broadening of comparative study. Fortunately, as F. acknowledges (p. 160), this has confirmed the aptness of the South Slavic tradition as an analogue to Homer; and he rightly points out the shortcomings of critiques by such sceptics as G.S. Kirk and H. Lloyd-Jones. However, F. relies on W.V. Harris’ excessively pessimistic assessment of early Greek literacy in concluding that the Homeric epics are ‘oral-derived texts’, which he considers the ‘maximum defensible assumption about the texts which have reached us’ (p. 163). It is the only fully verifiable assumption, certainly; but it is a way to leave the essential question of genesis in limbo. However, F. well emphasises how an oral poet is strengthened, not restricted, by the resources of his tradition.

Lastly, M.M. Willcock gives a concise account of Neo-Analysis, i.e. the analysis of story-patterns in the epic, which has provided important insights into the evolution and shaping of the plot of the Iliad. Provided that the patterns are ascribed to pre-Homeric oral versions of the epic cycle, rather than to the written texts of the Cycle which the ancients read, this theory is far more valuable than has generally been understood in the English-speaking world, and fully compatible with an oralist and unitarian perspective.

Part Two begins with G. Horrocks on ‘Homer’s dialect’; a map would have helped. H. offers an excessively tentative account of Greek dialectology on pp. 198-9, which may lead non-specialists to think that nothing is reliably known about it; and he incorrectly believes that the epic tradition passed directly from the Mycenaeans to the Ionians without an intervening Aeolic phase. For more dependable treatments see C.J. Ruijgh, in J.P. Crielaard, ed. Homeric Questions, Amsterdam 1995, 1-96 (which other contributors cite with approval), or M.L. West, ‘The Rise of the Greek Epic’, JHS 108 (1988) 151-72, both of whom are signally right (and agree with each other) on all these points. H.’s error rests on his view that, if any tradition of Bronze Age poetry existed, ‘the simplest account of archaisms [like the genitive in -ao] would be that they entered the tradition from a dialect very like that of the Linear B tablets’ rather than from an Aeolic phase of the tradition (p. 199). This would certainly be the simplest way to account for the presence of these forms: but their peculiar distribution, pointed out in the 1920s by Karl Meister and Milman Parry ( MHV pp. 325-64), disproves it. If genitives in -ao were a transmitted part of a continuous tradition, we would expect them to be modernised, wherever the metre permitted, to *-HO and then to -EW. However, this is not what we find: we find -ao retained wherever the trochaic scansion persists, alongside the new forms in -EW. Hence Meister and Parry postulated that there must have been an Aeolic phase of the tradition, whence it passed into the Ionic orbit after Ionic had altered *-HO into -EW. Apparent exceptions, like νηός for ναός, must be explained because the Ionians could still recognise νηός as the genitive of ναῦς, whereas genitives in -Αο seemed strange to them and were retained unaltered; H. misses this crucial point. Subsequent work has confirmed this picture. Thus, although H. knows that ‘the Homeric poems contain such East Thessalian [i.e. Aeolic] forms as ποτί alongside Ionic/Lesbian πρόσ’ (p. 200), and concludes that these were borrowed into his continuous Myceno-Ionic tradition from an Aeolic one, he has not considered the implications of how these forms are distributed : in Glotta 57 (1979) 24-9 (an article not cited by H.), I showed statistically, exploiting their high frequency in the epic Kunstsprache, that πρός has generally and relatively recently replaced ποτί, which can usually be substituted for it. H. argues, relying on his elegant proof of the antiquity of formulae relying on tmesis, that there must have been a continuous Ionic tradition, because such systems use full forms like κατά, whereas Aeolic favoured syncopated forms like κάδ (p. 202). But this too neglects Parry’s principle that the epic diction will modernize except where metre forbids: hence the full forms will have been preserved in the Aeolic tradition as archaisms needed for the formulaic systems to function. Nor is H.’s conclusion supported, as he thinks, by the survival in the epic tradition of pre-Mycenaean phrases like ἀνδροτῆτα καὶ ἥβην (which should be reconstructed *anrtâta, as West rightly prints it on p. 229); this proves nothing about the course of the tradition in Dark Age Greece. Moreover, H. has to concede (p. 205) the Aeolic origin of phrases like οἷς ἐπέεσσι (derived from Φοῖσι φέπεσσἰ, where we would expect a continuous Ionic tradition to have produced Οἷσιν ἔπεσσι with Ionic n-mobile introduced after the loss of digamma. ‘This adaptation must originally have been carried out by Aeolic bards’, he rightly notes; but is it not fundamental to the formular language, not merely the kind of rare word one might casually borrow? There are more Aeolic innovations in the Kunstsprache than he lists on p. 213: what of Ἴλιον ἱρήν, a sure proof that Aeolic bards were singing about Troy long before Homer, or e for i after r in ἑκτόρεος or ἠνορέη? In place of the hypothesis of an Aeolic phase, he has to argue that forms like *-HO were replaced relatively late in the Ionic tradition by metrically equivalent Aeolic forms. He rightly calls this an ‘initially not very appealing hypothesis’ (p. 216). He continues by arguing that, when in perhaps the early eighth century the Ionians took over the Persian word M*ada as μῆδος, the phoneme /*a/ cannot have existed in Ionic; hence the forms in -Αο must have been borrowed later. But this does not, he thinks, allow enough time for them to permeate the tradition by c. 750 B.C., and he calls this alleged difficulty the ‘fatal flaw’ in the hypothesis of the Aeolic phase. However, such a tight chronology is exactly what I predicted by extrapolating into prehistory the statistical trends in the evolution of the epic diction: the Aeolic phase ended very soon indeed before the time of Homer, closer to his own time than he was to Hesiod’s (see Homer, Hesiod and the Hymns, pp. 87-92 with Fig. 3). How odd, too, that the ancient traditions about Homer’s birthplace and an Ionic takeover of Smyrna from original Aeolic settlers accord with the statistics …

M.L. West’s, splendid, wide-ranging and dependable chapter on Homeric metre helps to make up for the previous chapter; thus pp. 229 and 234 discuss the pre-Mycenaean formulae which survive in Homer, including ἀσπίδος ἀμφιβρότης which, because of its metrical anomaly, must reflect Early Mycenaean speech and describes the early Mycenaean body-shield. Several Bronze Age artifacts are embedded in Homeric formulae, however much some may wish them away.

J. Russo on ‘the formula’ offers a scrupulous and judicious survey of the development of thought on the topic from Parry onwards. At last we find, for instance, proper acknowledgement of the great work of the late Arie Hoekstra on the diachronic behaviour of formulae in relation to sound-change (but Hoekstra was a convinced oralist as well as a unitarian, pace p. 248). R. rightly sees through the stereotype which attributes to Lord a theory of ‘improvisation’ ( ibid.). M.W. Edwards’ contribution on ‘Homeric style and oral poetics’ is of similar quality.

E. Bakker writes on ‘the study of Homeric discourse’ from the perspective of discourse-analysis, which will seem novel to many but presents us with a new way in which Homeric style may be characterised as oral. This is worthwhile but rather long, given the brevity with which work of like importance is summarised in preceding chapters. I. de Jong on ‘Homer and Narratology’ gives a good account, drawing on her previous work, of another new approach which has yielded valuable results. There are excellent observations on points of detail, although on p. 314 she misses the Hebrew parallels for Homer’s use of relational terms, e.g. ‘sons’, to focalise the narrative (cf. R. Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, New York 1981, 7, 183).

A. Kahane on ‘Quantifying Epic’ tries valiantly to show Homerists the worth, as well as the pitfalls, of statistical studies of the epic. Their wariness has long been evident, as witness Hoekstra’s belief that the development of the epic diction could not be quantified, and many contributors’ neglect of the results of that quantification once it was carried out. K. misses an opportunity here: rather than pay those results pretty compliments (p. 328), he could have explained in a paragraph how my method worked and why he regards the results as ‘important’.

Part III treats ‘Homer as Literature’, and does it well. S. Schein, on the structure and interpretation of the Iliad, succinctly recapitulates the results of his excellent book of 1984, making appropriate use of Neoanalytic techniques; here, finally, is someone who, in this age of instant obsolescence, is not afraid to acknowledge a debt to such great scholars as Bowra, Schadewaldt, Heubeck or Whitman. S.V. Tracy offers a parallel account of the Odyssey, even clearer than Schein on the overarching structural patterns which Homer uses in both his poems. Both of course assume that the epics are unified compositions, which ought to be a major problem for those who deny that they began either as literate compositions or as oral-dictated texts.

The important chapter by J. Peradotto, on ‘Modern Theoretical Approaches’, makes admirably clear that the malaise in Homeric studies has its roots in, and is a reflection of, the crisis of twentieth-century Western culture. He shows how carefully we must question our own beliefs and authorities, if we are not to make some theory, as Stanley Fish thinks we should, into merely ‘an attempt to guide practice from a position above or outside it’. For instance, Homerists routinely assume that the epics display an aristocratic ideology, and often deduce from that assumption that the epics were composed in the seventh century B.C. rather than the eighth (e.g. A. Adkins on p. 702). P. usefully directs attention to the Marxist analysis of P.W. Rose, ‘no naive seeker after authorial intent or “original” audience response’, who seeks out the historical crisis which engendered these texts and ‘finds the Iliad torn between two representations, one that validates an ideology linking kingship with divine genealogy and another that … insists on claims of inherited excellence as valid only when demonstrated through risk taking and actual success on the field and in the trials of community deliberations’ ( Sons of God, Children of Earth, Ithaca 1992, 90). Rose’s views are even richer in their implications than space permits me to explain. The monarchist ideology of the epics, problematised as it is in the Iliad and defended in the Odyssey, helps explain why someone troubled to fix them in writing within the eighth century (cf. The Iliad: A Commentary IV, p. 38, and J.R. Lenz, Kings and the Ideology of Kingship in Early Greece, diss. Columbia 1993). P. shows that feminist theory can be equally valuable, e.g. in the work of N. Felson-Rubin. Modern theory need not lead to the hyperscepticism which is setting Homeric studies adrift.

A. Ford rightly borrows much from Aristotle for his useful account of ‘epic as genre’ (though he translates μίμησις as ‘imitation’ rather than ‘representation’, n. 6); in considering comparative oral epic, however, he ought still to refer to the work of the Chadwicks or Bowra. He well analyses the internal evidence for how the ἀοιδοί thought of their songs, and the generic categories of oral poetry at the time, only to omit any discussion of the most formally stable type of composition, the Homeric Hymn (and he calls the Hymn at the start of the Erga an ‘invocation’, p. 409). If the editors required him to leave Hymns to J.S. Clay, this should have been indicated.

L. Edmunds rightly locates ‘Myth in Homer’ in the context of oral story-patterns and Neo-analysis, and looks at characters’ own narratives, especially those in the Embassy to Achilles. He sensitively shows how essential it is to consider the context: e.g. (p. 419) in making Antinous tell the story of Eurytion’s hybris in the hall of Perithous (Od. 21.287-304), Homer is making an ironic comment on the suitor’s own breach of hospitality. But I think he underestimates the extent of innovation in Homeric story-telling, denying, for instance, that Alcyone’s other name Cleopatra is invented for its context, because ‘a new name would be jarring and would detract from the persuasiveness of the story’ to Achilles; it would, he thinks, be tactless for Phoenix to hint at a relationship between ‘Cleopatra’ and ‘Patroclus’. But, as E. has just acknowledged, the code operates on different levels for the audience, who have some foreknowledge, and Achilles, who has none. Again, E. is right to challenge excessively literalist enthusiasts for the historicity of myth; but we forget at our peril that ancient traditions led Schliemann to rediscover the Aegean Bronze Age. It is ridiculous to imply that Schliemann’s boastful mendacity could reduce the magnitude of his achievement or put in doubt his identification of Troy (p. 435).

W. Hansen on ‘Homer and the Folktale’ offers a fascinating analysis of the folk-tale motifs paralleled in Homer, some of it new to me, especially the parallels for the story of the Odyssey. However, neither he nor Edmunds refers to the fundamental article of J. Griffin, ‘The Epic Cycle and the Uniqueness of Homer’ ( JHS 97 [1977] 39-53). It epitomises the state of the field that M. Willcock is the only contributor to mention it, despite its implications for Homeric religion, Homeric originality, Homer’s relation to the Epic Cycle, the epics’ ideology and their audiences’ expectations.

R. Rosen’s generally excellent chapter on ‘Homer and Hesiod’ acknowledges that the texts must have been fixed close to the time of composition and that Homer is likely to be the earlier (p. 472-3). R. misses the fact that the linguistic evidence which shows this also points to the authenticity of the Catalogue of Women (p. 482 n. 31). He has, however, gone astray about the genre of the Homeric Hymn: at p. 482 he takes seriously Nagy’s claim that the whole Theogony was a prooimion, whereas in fact only 1-105 has the (easily recognised) formal characteristics of that genre (see ‘The structure of the Homeric Hymn: a study in genre’, Hermes 109 [1981] 9-24). His comparison of the poets’ attitudes to justice does not, however, reach the heart of the matter, which is their different attitudes to mankind’s place vis-à-vis the gods; and here is another lacuna in the volume—only S. Schein says anything to bring out Homer’s profound humanity.

J.S. Clay on the Homeric Hymns begins by dating the whole collection ‘from the 8th to the 2nd century B.C. or later’; at pp. 489 and 493 she seems to believe Gelzer’s ascription of Hymns XXXI and XXXII to Plotinus’ circle. But their endings, which show that heroic epic followed, are exactly like Hesiod’s transition from his proem at Theogony 104-5; there is no hymn from the 8th century, Hymn VIII is by Proclus and the rest can hardly postdate the archaic period. C. presumably wrote too late to notice Geneva papyrus 432 of Hymn I to Dionysus (A. Hurst, Proceedings of the 20th International Congress of Papyrology, Copenhagen 1994, 317-21), but not to have known that R. Merkelbach ascribed P.Oxy. 633 to it ( ZPE 12 [1973] 212-15). In her account of the formal aspects of Hymns (pp. 493ff.), she ought to have included Hesiod’s prooemia, but recent scholarship has obfuscated these: hence she writes (p. 495) ‘we have only the briefest of compositions in honor of Zeus ( H. 23)’, as if we lacked Hesiod’s prooemium to the Works and Days. Much of her argument about the genre’s origins in relatively brief but expandable prooemia derives, with minimal acknowledgement, from the article in Hermes mentioned above. The section on the content of the Hymns reflects the excellence of C.’s book on the topic. However, she might have linked this chapter to Homer by considering obvious hymnic elements in the Homeric poems, notably the string of episodes, including the Deception of Zeus, which borrow details from crucial moments in the divine succession-myth, as L. Slatkin, J. O’Brien and others have shown.

The concluding Part IV, aptly entitled ‘Homer’s Worlds’, opens with J. Bennet on ‘Homer and the Bronze Age’. B. easily achieves the essential synthesis of different kinds of evidence, to give a broad and well-balanced view of Homer’s relation to the Bronze Age, and of the Aegean Bronze Age itself, in the linguistic, oral-poetic and archaeological dimensions, including the recent excavations at Troy (and mentioning the Luwian seal found there in 1995); he even supplies a map. This is what Homeric scholarship should be. Here the reader will find (pp. 523-7) essential material which one might have expected to appear in the chapter on language, notably a clear account of a number of formulae that must go back at least to Early Mycenaean times (but I doubt whether the hexameter was of Minoan origin, since it matches Indo-European metrics so well). On Mycenaean visual narratives, n. 31 ought to include the stone rhyton from the shrine of Apollo Maleatas at Epidaurus; and B.’s account of the lyre-player in the throne-room at Pylos omits to mention the bird flying away from the musician, which surely symbolises his song, just as Odysseus’ bow-string ‘sings like a swallow’ at f 410. Still, this chapter sings too.

Ian Morris, writing on ‘Homer and the Iron Age’, achieves a similar synthesis, although he underestimates the severity of the cataclysm that followed the destruction of the palaces. Thus he writes ‘population fell by perhaps 75% between 1250 and 1100 … These were traumatic events, but we should not exaggerate their effects’ (p. 540). Can one not at least try to imagine the effects of a 75% drop in population? Hence I still prefer Snodgrass’ darker picture (p. 542). Bennet and M. have a balanced view of the amalgam which constitutes Homer’s picture of the material and social world, but many details could be filled in. For instance, we can correlate formulae for round shields with recent linguistic innovations; the shift from bride-price to dowry, so evident in Homer, surely reflects a later, eighth-century practice, when, with the population rising, it became harder to marry off one’s daughters; and Homer’s allusions to horse-riding and to three- and then four-horse chariots reflect documented stages in the material record (see The Iliad: A Commentary IV, pp. 66, 94, 302, 337). Again, M. Finkelberg ( CQ 41 [1991] 303-16) has argued that, in myth, kingship normally passed from father to a son-in-law who is born in another kingdom and wins his bride after some kind of contest; the sceptre did not pass from father to son (the exceptions, like Oedipus and Orestes, are warning exempla). The prevalence of this pattern also shows, I believe, that it was normal in Mycenaean kingdoms, whereas the Odyssey‘s endorsement of father-to-son inheritance reflects a shift to the classical system. Hence I must dispute M.’s claim that ‘there is no point in trying to pull Homer’s picture apart’ (p. 559): by doing so, we can study the operation of oral tradition through time, and more accurately understand what in Homer’s picture is contemporary and what is not. In CA 5 (1986) 81-138 M. gave a clearer view of why Homeric studies deserve a future than we find here.

A. Snodgrass on ‘Homer and Greek Art’ offers a meditative, well-illustrated and convincing defence of the autonomy of Late Geometric art, concluding (as ought to surprise nobody) that ‘Homer was not the exclusive source for legends of the Heroic Age, and especially not for the artists’ (p. 573). But I think that, by taking an exclusively art-historical view, he has missed the reason why so few legendary subjects were drawn from Homer in the seventh and much of the sixth centuries, ‘at a time when the Homeric epics were beyond all doubt enjoying wide circulation and growing prestige’ (p. 577). I question this: until the mid-sixth century, I suspect that performances of Homer’s text (as opposed to performances within his tradition) were relatively rare, and that the transmission was controlled by the Homeridae, who had a strong financial incentive not to share the written texts which they were, to an increasing degree, memorising for performance. Until the revival of kingship by such Mycenaeanising autocrats as Cleisthenes of Sicyon, who even reinstituted the bride-contest, Homeric ideology probably lacked wide appeal (and Cleisthenes objected to Homer for other reasons). Thus the two undisputed examples of Homeric illustration from pre-Pisistratid Athens, by Sophilus and Cleitias, both depict the funeral games of Patroclus, as if only this episode were known there. These artistic phenomena can be compared with the spread of ‘false archaism’ in the epic diction, i.e. the borrowing of much diction from far older fixed texts like Homer’s; this does not appear until the time of the pseudo-Hesiodic Aspis, which should be dated to c. 570 ( CQ 36 [1986] 42ff.), and the still later Hymn to Hermes. Also, S. might usefully have shown how much interpreters of Homer (e.g. of the Battle at the Ships) can learn from Geometric vase-painting.

S. Morris, witing on ‘Homer and the Near East’, puts the epics firmly into the context of the Near Eastern civilisations and literatures to which early Greece belonged. She rightly posits North Syria as the key locus of transmission after 1200 B.C., and protests against the recent tendency to minimise Bronze Age influences. This is an outstanding synthesis, full of basic information and nuggets of fascinating detail; most of the comparisons are convincing, e.g. pharaoh shooting arrows through ‘axes’ (although not that between Priam’s children’s bedchambers and the tombs of Ramses II’s sons, p. 621). M. is the only contributor to mention the Hittite analogues for Homeric names; but there would be no need for the question-mark in the equation Tawagalawa = Eteocles (p. 605), if only she had explained that in Mycenaean the name was Etewoklewes (cf. the possessive E-te-wo-ke-re-wi-jo), and in Hittite -ga-la- can stand for -kla-. I gravely doubt that Telephus is related to Telepinus, son of the Hattic storm-god (p. 609): Telephus’ name is fully explicable as Greek, being, in von Kamptz’ terminology, a Kurzform for Telephonus (cf. Mycenaean Qe-re-qo-ta(-o) = Telephontes), just as Polyphemus’ seer Telemus is the Kurzform for Telemachus (nobody in this volume seems to know the principles of Greek onomastics). The Bronze Age background to Homer’s romances is more important than even M. indicates. She does not point out the coincidence that Alaksandus (like Tawagalawa, the bearer of a non-Luwian name) was prince of Wilusa: he was long ago equated with Alexandros of Wilion, i.e. Paris of Troy. Nor does she discuss the Mycenaean finds at Miletus, the support offered to Blegen’s results by the new excavations at Troy, or the three Hittite inscriptions found in 1988 which confirm O. Gurney’s map of Anatolia in the Bronze Age (Millawanda = Miletus, Apasa = Ephesus, Lazpa = Lesbos, etc.): for the latest information see the articles by D. Hawkins and P. Mountjoy forthcoming in Anatolian Studies. The Ahhiyawa are riding back into history, and Homerists will have to take notice.

K. Raaflaub on ‘Homeric Society’ is equally superb. Although he is a historian, he is the sole contributor to acknowledge the strength of the dialectal evidence for that influx of new populations which the Greeks called the return of the Heraclidae (p. 626, contrast p. 198). He insists on the severity of the disruption at the end of the Bronze Age. His five principles for understanding Homeric society (p. 627) are spot-on, and all Homerists should memorise his epigram ‘heroic epic is historical in appearance but contemporary in meaning’ (p. 628), which in practical terms means that Homer takes for granted a form of society that goes as far back as normal memory extends, i.e. to the late ninth and eighth centuries. R. offers the most sensible account I have seen of the polis in Homer, rightly arguing that the dispute depends on what historians mean by the term. He properly appreciates the political and military importance of the laos, and shows how carefully the epics depict all aspects of a society in transition.

W. Donlan shares his assumption that Homer’s picture of the economy dates to c. 800 B.C. (‘it was old-fashioned when Homer made it’, p. 654). He opens his first-rate chapter by daring to say (p. 649) ‘although it is not an “historical society” in any sense of the word, we can, in a scientific manner, extract a real society from it’ (my italics). He surveys the whole epos with a very acute eye, rightly accepting Snodgrass’ theory of the ‘multiplier effect’ of population-growth in the eighth century, and locating Homer’s picture of the material world in the time before those effects took hold.

H. van Wees on ‘Homeric warfare’ does not, alas, discuss weaponry and other Realien (or Homeric techniques for narrating battles and arousing pathos, where someone should have done justice to the ideas of Fenik and Griffin), but solely tactics and military organisation. He attributes to historical developments, rather than to Latacz (who should have been credited on p. 668), the new orthodoxy that Homeric and Classical warfare were more similar than may appear, and that the masses played a significant, indeed decisive, role. But his Homeric warfare dissolves into a chaotic mêlée, since he denies that Homer sustains in his narrative the separation of ‘national’ contingents which the Catalogue of Ships posits. I do not see how he can explain e.g. the roster of Central Greek units at Il. 13.685-722, or the Myrmidon catalogue at Il. 16.168-97, or the remarkably consistent order in which Homer locates his units—not in the sequence of the Catalogue of Ships, but in the battle-plan discovered by Aristarchus in his περὶ τοῦ ναυστάθμου, and proved anew by Ribbeck and Cuillandre (see my notes on Iliad 13.675-81). W. rejects the view of Albracht and Latacz that Homeric battles started with long-range exchanges of missiles, and were fought between lines of warriors ( phalanx means ‘roller’) rather than between shapeless masses of men. To disprove it, W. analyses the opening combats of the Iliad, where verbs for throwing predominate over those for stabbing; but these opening combats, for obvious dramatic reasons, are likely to be less bloody and hand-to-hand than those which follow. He recognises only one case of massed hand-to-hand combat in the whole poem, at Il. 17.370ff.; but how else can we take e.g. 15.706-715, of the fighting at the ships? W. is right that some difficulties in Homeric warfare derive from changing historical developments, but does not here show that ‘the details of Homeric arms and armour, and above all the relative frequencies of the use of spear and sword in Homer, are best matched by finds of armour and by battle scenes in vase paintings of the period 700-650 B.C.’ (p. 692). His support for what he terms ‘the current trend’ to this dating also depends, as he makes clear, on how the poems ‘reflect the self-image of contemporary aristocrats‘ (my italics), the same ideological mis-reading which I discussed above.

The last chapter is by the late A.W.H. Adkins, on ‘Homeric ethics’. This takes account of only one work written after 1960, but would already have been obsolete then. A.’s argument rests, as always, on purely lexical analysis, with no insight into the subtleties of human nature or of Homeric characterization. There is no Bowra, no Schadewaldt, no Reinhardt, no Redfield, no Lloyd-Jones, no Griffin, no Schein, nothing to counterbalance the gross overemphasis on the competitive virtues and undervaluation of those co-operative values which were also very important in Homer’s world, values like pity and hospitality. These are, of course, the two values which provide the themes of, respectively, the Iliad and the Odyssey, precisely because they are so long refused. To miss this is to miss the essence of Homer’s thought.

ταῦτά τοι, ἀχνύμενός περ, ἀληθείην κατέλεξα.

To the Editor, BMCR
From: Richard Janko (
Re: B. Powell and I. Morris, eds., New Companion to Homer

Upon rereading my review of the New Companion to Homer, now distributed over the Net, I have realised that it contains an error which I would like to correct. When speaking of the work of Wolf on the text of Homer, I wrote that he never produced a text. This is an error on my part: he did produce an edition of the Iliad in 1804 and another of the Odyssey in 1807. (I was thinking of the fact that he never produced the promised Part II of his Prolegomena.) Hence his authority over the numerus versuum in subsequent editions of Homer. Like van Thiel’s new editions, his contained far too many weakly attested lines; but unlike his, it did not take account of new MS material.