There has not been a full-scale commentary on the Iliad written in German since the beginning of the last century. Since then, the work of Parry and his successors has changed the face of Homeric studies; analysis has disappeared together with its twin sibling unitarianism; narratology has had a major impact; and the Lexikon des frühgriechischen Epos has appeared almost to completion. Finally, the work of Burkert, West and others have put Greek epic back in the wider context of Near Eastern culture to which it properly belongs. A new commentary on the Iliad must take all these developments into account. It seems to me that Latacz and his fellow contributors have not only done so admirably but have also added many interesting observations of their own.
Since my remit does not extend to the Prolegomena volume in which the scope and approach of the commentary as a whole are set out, I mostly restrict my observations to the second volume which covers book 1 of the Iliad. First, however, some words about the work’s structure are in order. Each volume of the commentary consists of a Greek text, a facing translation into German and the commentary itself. The text is prefaced by a brief list of points concerning Homeric orthography (‘Orthographisches’ pp. x-xv, by M. West) and an introduction to the German translation (‘Zur Übersetzung’, by J. Latacz). The commentary is accompanied by 24 rules of Homeric diction (’24 Regeln zur Homerischen Sprache’). ‘Orthographisches’ and ’24 Regeln…’ are regularly referred to in the commentary, a measure designed to guard against cluttering the commentary with basic points of language.
The text has been constituted by Martin West on the basis of his own Teubneriana. Apart from some minor details, the Teubner text is reproduced unchanged.1 The critical apparatus has been slimmed down and the apparatus of testimonia left out. Perhaps the most important innovation is the editor’s decision to set off speeches from narrative. This is in line with the commentary’s overall narratological orientation and has the obvious advantage of alerting readers to the importance of focalisation through character speech (cf. vii). The possible side-effect that other, less direct, forms of focalisation might be obscured in the process was obviously found by the editors to be the lesser evil.
In view of the likely readers of this review I restrict my remarks on the translation to a minimum. The chosen medium is iambic verse of varying length. This can occasionally make for awkward German, especially where the need for a literal translation clashes with the exigencies of the metre.2 Generally speaking, the translation is accurate.3 Latacz makes a heroic attempt at rendering with precision any demonstrative pronouns that might be mistaken for definite articles.4 Italics are frequently employed to capture the precise nuance of a phrase.5 There are also many individual passages where Latacz offers compelling solutions.6 However, the reader must be warned that the translation does not always render the text printed by West.7 Discrepancies are usually, but not always, noted in the commentary;8 where the translators depart from West’s text, they tend to translate the Oxford text of Allen.
One of the outstanding features of the commentary, with likely repercussions beyond the field of Homeric studies, is its sustained effort at presenting material in a reader-friendly fashion. To that end, comments are arranged into four typographically distinct categories: those directed at the reader with no Greek are printed in normal type. Smaller type is used for standard commentary on matters demanding some knowledge of Greek. A third, even smaller, type, is used to discuss points of a specialised nature. Finally, there is an elementary grammatical commentary at the bottom of each page. Users of the upper three registers are assumed to read English and French as well as German. This points to a fairly advanced audience, an impression that is borne out by the fact that even the first, non-philologically based register, is of a high standard of scholarly sophistication.9 A typical page might include a note on the geography of Phthia (normal type), the grammatical gender of
The emphasis on presentation sits well with the commentary’s self-professedly narratological orientation. Many of its best points are directly or indirectly inspired by de Jong’s groundbreaking thesis.10 Narratology is a particularly effective tool for elucidating character speech, but the commentary has much to offer besides. Points which are particularly prominent include secondary focalisation and its effect on language, narrative foreshadowing, plot structure and the organisation of parallel narrative threads.11 From time to time, we sense the temptation to ‘explain’ by affixing a label.12 However, more often than not, the labelling is supported by close and perceptive reading. Indeed, it is above all the commentators’ sensitive treatment of language that renders their narratological points convincing and useful.13
On the face of it, the editors’ approach to Homer’s traditional idiom may seem unpromising. References to the most up-to-date research in the field are disappointingly rare.14 Instead, we are treated to Parry-isms of the cruder sort,15 sometimes with the express purpose of showing off the superior insight of Parry’s European, and especially German, forerunners.16 If the commentary’s treatment of Homeric language nevertheless represents a quantum leap ahead of any of the existing commentaries, this is largely due to the influence of the Lexikon des frühgriechischen Epos, of which the editors have made ample use.17 In the best tradition of the Lexikon, Latacz and his team routinely combine metrical with semantic analysis. When discussing a word or phrase they cite the widest possible range of parallels from all over early hexameter poetry (a principle which is yet to take root in the English-speaking world). Above all, they combine close contextual scrutiny with in-depth lexical analysis. The points that emerge are invariably well-founded and interesting, and it is to the editors’ credit that by no means all of them are borrowed from elsewhere.18
Grammatical problems are throughout treated in a helpful and concise way. I have particularly profited from the admirable discussions of particles, a notorious difficulty facing the reader of Homer.19 There are also very good explanations of points of ritual practice, and various other aspects of life in the Homeric world.20 Longstanding problems of interpretation, such as the nature of Homeric society, psychology, and the gods, are treated sensibly and even-handedly.21 The commentators are evidently no ardent supporters of the neoanalytical approach, but its findings are cited where relevant and occasionally recommended.22 Latacz et al. also respond to recent scholarship on the connections between Greek epic and Near Eastern culture.23 Entries on this topic tend to be of a rudimentary nature (‘For possible parallels see…’), reflecting the fledgling state of this long neglected subdiscipline.
Overall, then, Latacz and his team have given us a fine volume which whets the appetite for more to come. In terms of clarity of exposition, precision, relevance and sheer breadth of learning, I have found their contribution to be superior to any existing Iliad commentary of a comparable scale. Graduate students, professional classicists and Homerists will all profit from their insights. As one might expect with a project as ambitious as the one under review, there are occasional lapses. Most of these are of an editorial nature and arise from problems of coordination which will no doubt disappear as the project proceeds.24 If reservations remain,25 this should not in any way detract from the editors’ overall achievement. I have no doubt that the complete ‘Latacz’ will be a valuable tool for the advanced reader of Homer.
1. In his text for the commentary West indicates synizesis of vowels and prints
2. E.g. v. 23 (position of ‘glanzvoll’); v. 28 (difficult syntax); v. 215 (the cumbersome ‘hurtig’ rather than straightforward ‘schnell’ seems to have been chosen partly for metrical reasons); v. 218 (word order); v. 386 (strained versification); v. 399 (word order); v. 403 (awkward periphrasis); v. 416 (word order); v. 467 (strained versification).
3. There are exceptions. At v. 200, Latacz opts for ‘in seinen Augen’ [‘in his eyes’], explaining with Nörenberg that Achilles is ‘annoyed about the interruption’. This is a minority view which should have been identified as such in the commentary. In v. 331 Greek
4. Though they do acknowledge ‘real’ articles where they occur; see e.g. v. 54 and the commentary ad loc.
5. I must confess that I was unable to identify a single rationale which would account for all cases where this occurs.
6. Some favourites: v. 34 ‘im Brandungslärm des Meeres’; v. 53 ‘Neun Tage fuhren durch das Heer hindurch des Gottes Pfeile’; v. 89 ‘…schwer die Hände legen’, elegantly capturing the prolepsis; v. 129
7. The following list only includes discrepancies which become apparent in the translation. For
8. See above n. 7.
9. Some readers may find the amount of transliterated Greek quoted in the first register excessive, especially given that the other three registers are all heavily philological. However, granted that English speaking users of the commentary will be likely to share an active interest in Homeric Greek, the first register provides an excellent springboard for further forays into the world of Homeric philology.
10. See especially I. de Jong, Narrators and Focalizers, Amsterdam 1987.
11. ‘Vorwort’ p. IX; cf. p. 31 ad v. 16 (secondary focalization), p. 35 ad 25 (character language used by the narrator), p. 46 ad 52 (the narrator passes over events which are dwelt upon by the characters); p. 62 ad 94-95 (a character quotes the narrator), p. 67 ad 109, 110-12a, 110, 111, 112-17, 112 (Agamemnon’s rhetorical manoeuvres); p. 68 ad 115 (narrator language vs. character language); p. 92 ad 203 (narrator language vs. character language); pp. 93-4 ad 211, 212-13 (narrator language vs. character language, prolepsis); p. 94 ad 214 (character language); p. 99 ad 232 (narrator language vs. character language); p. 101 ad 242 (an exemplary note: the difference between narrator language and character language safeguards the principle of formulaic economy); p. 105 ad 254-284 (Nestor’s competence as a speaker); p. 116 ad 304 (formulae indicating a change of scene); p. 126 ad 348b-356 (narrative foreshadowing); p. 129 ad 354b-356 (character language); p. 129 ad 356 (Leitmotiv); pp. 129-130 ad 356 (narrator language vs. character language); p. 130 ad 356 (characters offer a different version of events from the narrator); pp. 133 ad 368 and 134 ad 376 (strategic employment of the person of verb); p. 134 ad 380-92 (pacing of Achilles’ speech); p. 134 ad 383 (characters and narrator offer different versions of events); p. 135 ad 386 and ad 387 (Achilles’ rhetoric); p. 141 ad 409 (Leitmotiv); p. 142 ad 412 (character language); p. 161 ad 493 (formula indicating a change of scene); p. 161 ad 496b-502 (mixture between arrival- and entreaty- scenes); p. 169 ad 531 (summary and change of scene).
12. E.g. in the comments on the proem, which, oddly enough, owe much to the universalising rhetoric of the Handbuch der literarischen Rhetorik by H. Lausberg. (See entries ad vv. 1-12a, 1, 5, 6, 7, 8.)
13. I can only give a selection of the many excellent points: p. 45 ad 48 (staging a cluster of epithets), p. 50 ad 57 (potential of formulaic language to encapsulate official parlance [‘Amtssprache’]; the same principle could have been applied at p. 53 ad 66, where Latacz et al. consider ‘revitalisation’); p. 52 ad 63 (scenic realisation of a formula), p. 56 ad 74 (‘Epitheton-Sprengung’), p. 79 ad 155 (context sensitive formula), p. 109 ad 272 (context sensitive formula), p. 120 ad 320-48a (strategic combination of two different kinds of type scene), p. 126 ad 345 (end-of-speech formula), p. 127 ad 351-357 (mixture of traditional registers at a moment of heightened intensity), p. 129 ad 355 (ironized formula); p. 142 ad 412 (formula effects analepsis); pp. 147 ad 430b-487 and 151 ad 447-468 (principle of ‘appropriate representation’ accounts for extended type scene). Occasionally, a good point is undermined by the commentators’ outdated conceptual framework: e.g. p. 152 ad 451-452, where the ‘besondere Bedeutung’ of the scene arises not despite but because of the inherent dynamics of formulaic language and the typology of prayer.
14. Neither Albert Lord nor John Foley is listed in the bibliography. Other notable omissions include: G. Nagy’s work (except for his 1976 article on the name of Achilles), M. Nagler’s Spontaneity and tradition; J. Russo’s and A. Kahane’s work (including The interpretation of order, sorely missed ad vv. 1 and 75).
15. Note especially the commentary’s occasional insistence on a—long discredited—opposition between ‘meaningful’ and ‘formulaic’ uses of language: e.g. p. 14 ad v. 1 (metrical ‘fillers’), p. 23 ad v. 7 (words ‘sinking’ to the status of a formula), p. 28 ad 12b (Homeric epithets predominantly ‘decorative’), p. 31 ad 17 (the adjective
16. See ‘Vorwort’ pp. VIII-IX and cf. e.g. p. 23 ad v. 7; I would urge the editors to reconsider their policy on this point. Scholarly retrospective of this sort belongs in the history books, not in a text commentary.
17. See ‘Vorwort’ pp. VIII and X.
18. Some highlights: p. 44 ad 44, p. 64 ad 100, p. 69 ad 115; p. 75 ad 143; p. 105 ad 254 and 255-256; p. 107 ad 261; p. 127 ad 350; p. 131 ad 362; p. 142 ad 412; p. 173 ad 552; p. 175 ad 564; p. 180 ad 591. Very occasionally the tone can become overly didactic (e.g. p. 131 ad 362). Some cases where I found myself disagreeing: p. 96 ad 222
19. E.g. p. 51 ad 61
20. Sacrifice: p. 53 ad 66, pp. 151-5; soothsaying: pp. 55-6 ad 72; oathtaking: p. 60 ad 80; weaving: p. 38 ad 31; sailing: pp. 148-9, 158-9.
21. Homeric society: p. 22 ad 7 (the
22. E.g. p. 20 ad 5, p. 26 ad 11, p. 66 ad 106-8, p. 108 ad 265, p. 117 ad 307, pp. 137-138 ad 396-400, p. 171 ad 541-543.
23. E.g. pp. 32-3 ad 18, p. 43 ad 43-52, p. 45 ad 48, p. 72 ad 128, p. 77 ad 149, pp. 77-78 ad 149, p. 81 ad 162, p. 86 ad 188-222, p. 91 ad 201, p. 183 ad v. 611, p. 99 ad 234-239, p. 100 ad 238-239, p. 107 ad 263, p. 111 ad 278-279, p. 118 ad 313-318, p. 129 ad 354, p. 131 ad 362-363, p. 146 ad 425, p. 157 ad 477, p. 163 ad 500, p. 168 ad 525-527, p. 168 ad 530.
24. I have noted discrepancies between the text and the translation above at n. 7. There are also occasional discrepancies between the translation and the commentary. I have noted vv. 401 and 594 at n. 3, to which add v. 178, where the careful explanation offered in the commentary ad loc. leaves no trace in the translation. Occasionally, one would have wished for a better coordination between West’s apparatus and the commentary. E.g. ad v. 183 West considers deletion (not discussed in the commentary); ad vv. 204 and 212 West notes Zenodotean variants that directly affect the point made in the commentary ad loc. (not discussed there); ad v. 299 Zenodotus’ reading, noted by West, would again have thrown an interesting light on the narratological point made in the commentary (not mentioned there).
25. In addition to what has been said already, I should mention that the role of etymology—a notorious stumbling block in the study of traditional poetry—is never clarified. Latacz and his colleagues are capable of making excellent points on synchronically ‘correct’ but diachronically ‘incorrect’ folk etyma (e.g. p. 91 ad 202