BMCR 2001.09.01

Homers Ilias. Gesamtkommentar. Auf der Grundlage der Ausgabe von Ameis-Hentze-Cauer (1868-1913). Band: Erster Gesang (A)

, , Homers Ilias Gesamtkommentar (Basler Kommentar / BK) ; auf der Grundlage der Ausgabe von Ameis-Hentze-Cauer (1868 - 1913) Bd. 1. Erster Gesang (A) Fasz. 2 Kommentar. Sammlung wissenschaftlicher Commentare. Munich/Leipzig: Saur, 2000. XVI, 213 S.. ISBN 3598743017. DM 156.

1 Responses

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 βοῦς in the plural (smaller type), the verse structure of line 157 (smallest type), the prosody of Φθίηι ἐριβώλακι (bottom of page). It is not always easy to distinguish the different registers typographically. The two smaller types in particular look similar, and there may be something to be said for merging them in future editions. Naturally, there are also places where one might quibble with the editors’ choice of register. Yet, whatever reservations individual readers may have in each case, the experiment as a whole works remarkably well and will give food for thought to future commentators.

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 Ἀτρεΐδης, Πηληΐδης etc. with diaeresis. I have found two typographical errors which are not in the Teubner text: for ἔι ταρ’ v. 65 read ἔι ταρ; for ὂυ v. 86 read ὀυ; ἔι ταρ’ reflects the vulgate’s ἔι τ’ ἄρ’. Throughout, the commentary presupposes τ’ ἄρ where West prints ταρ. For further inconsistencies between text and translation and text and commentary see below nn. 7 and 24.

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 βασιλῆα is translated ‘Fürst’ [‘prince’] rather than ‘König’ [‘king’], contrary to all other instances where the word appears. This glosses over the clash of allegiances experienced by the two heralds through whose eyes the scene is focalised (as noted in the commentary ad loc.). At v. 401, Achilles’ address of his mother as θέα is not translated although the commentary rightly emphasises its importance. In v. 594 the German translation ‘… den jäh Herabgefall’nen’ presupposes taking ἄφαρ with πεσόντα, as recommended by Ameis-Hentze-Cauer ad loc. More recent translators tend to construe with κομίσαντο, as indeed do the commentators of the present volume ad loc., without acknowledging the discrepancy.

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 ἐξαλαπάξαι = ‘restlos ausräumen’; v. 132 ‘So kommst du nicht an mir vorbei’; v. 144 ‘ein Mann des engsten Rates’; v. 173 ‘verzieh dich nur’; v. 201 ‘gefiedert’, not ‘geflügelt’; v. 295 ‘Mach das doch anderen zu ihrer Dienstpflicht’; v. 330 ‘Und freilich fiel als er die sah Achilles nicht in Freude’; v. 350 ‘blickte übers dunkle Meer hin in die Weite’, combining the text of the vulgate and papyri, ὄινοπα, with Aristarchus’ ἀπείρονα; v. 390 ‘für den Höchsten’, cf. v. 444; v.462 ‘Das röstete im Holzscheitbrand der Alte’; v. 514 ‘uneingeschränkt’; v. 530 ‘So waren diese zwei sich eins und trennten sich’; v.561’Du Wunderliche! ahnst allweil!’.

7. The following list only includes discrepancies which become apparent in the translation. For ταρ vs. τ’ αρ’ see above n. 1. v. 5 οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι‘und für die Vögel zum Bankett’ West’s text is that of Aristarchus; the translation presupposes that of Zenodotus, οἰωνοῖσί τε δαῖτα. In the commentary, the discrepancy is acknowledged and the text of the translators defended. v. 11 West daggers τὸν and notes ‘mirum’; Latacz translates ‘diesen Chryses’ and emphasises the elaborate linguistic and rhythmic shape of the line (comm. ad loc.). West’s position is acknowledged in the commentary v. 91 ὃς νῦν πολλὸν ἄριστος ἐνὶ στρατωῖ εὔχεται εἶναι‘der jetzt ja von sich sagt, er sei der weitaus Beste der Achaier’ West’s text is that of the vulgate and papyri (novit Didymus). The translation presupposes Ἀχαιῶν for στρατωῖ, which is the text of Zenodotus, Sosigenes, Aristophanes and Aristarchus. The commentary seems to accept the text of the translation but does not note the discrepancy. v. 97 οὐδ’ ὅ γε πρὶν λοιμοῖο βαρείας χεῖρας ἀφέξει‘Nicht eher wird er von den Danaern die ekelhafte Seuche nehmen’ West’s text is that of the papyri and vulgate and was known to ancient readers. It may also have been that of Zenodotus. The translation presupposes Δαναοῖσιν ἀεικέα λοιγὸν ἀπώσει, which is the text of Rhianus, Aristarchus, and the Massaliotica. The commentary ad 97-100 presupposes the text of the translation without acknowledging any discrepancy; the entry ad 97 argues against West’s text; the following sub-entry once again simply assumes the text of the translation, this time quoting it as its lemma. v. 265 The verse is omitted from the Greek text (given in the apparatus) but printed with square brackets in the main text of the translation. The question of authenticity is discussed in the commentary. v. 447 The Greek text has κλειτὴν ἑκατόμβην with the papyri, ms. Z and the vulgate (novit Didymus). The translation ‘heil’ge Hekatombe’ presupposes the text ἱερὴν ἑκατόμβην (thus Zenodotus and Aristarchus). The discrepancy is not acknowledged in the commentary.

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 ἐυκνήμιδες solely used as a metrically useful ‘heroic’ epithet [!]), p. 44 ad 45 (‘Formelzwang’), p. 60 ad 86 (authorial intention as a criterion for the semantic potential of a traditional phrase), p. 72 ad 129 (primarily metrical function of Troy epithets), p. 125 ad 344 (glossing over the Leitmotiv character of the formula ‘by the ships’), p. 143 ad 416 (Leitmotiv character of ‘sitting’ is played down in favour of contextual meaning).

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 δαίμων (declared to be roughly synonymous with θεός; the reading is based on a misrepresentation of LfgrE s.v.); p. 119 ad 316 ἀτρυγέτοιο (one set of occurrences is dismissed as ‘merely formulaic’); p. 157 ad 477 (‘Eos’ is stated to be poetic for ‘day’); p. 158 ad 479 οὖρος (something more than ‘der Wind zum segeln’ is needed).

19. E.g. p. 51 ad 61 δή; p. 68 ad 113 γάρ ῤα; p. 73 ad 133 ; p. 75 ad 140 ἀλλ’ ἤτοι μέν; p. 79 ad 156 E)PEI ; p. 92 ad 205; p. 93 ad 208 δέ; p. 100 ad 237 αὖτε; p. 104 ad 249 καί; p. 106 ad 259 δέ; p. 108 ad 269 καὶ μέν; p. 128 ad 352 γε, περ; p. 129 ad 354b-356 OU)δέ; p. 129 ad 355 ἦ γάρ; p. 166 ad 518 δή; p. 167 ad 521 καί τε.

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 ἄναξ), p. 24 ad 9 (the king), p. 25 ad 10 (the people), pp. 26-7 ad 11 (honour), p. 29 ad 13 (the practice of ransom); p. 33 ad 19 (the city), p. 34 ad 23 ( αἰδώς), p. 36 ad 26 (old age), p. 37 ad 30 (the house), pp. 37-8 ad 31 (the position of captive women), p. 42 ad 39 (the temple), pp. 47-8 ad 54 (the assembly), pp. 51-2 ad 62-3 (the priests), p. 68 ad 113-114 (the position of the legitimate wife), pp. 69-70 ad 118-129 ( γέρας), p. 71 ad 122 ( κῦδος), p. 76 ad 144 (the council), pp. 79-80 ad 159-160 (honour), p. 99 (the sceptre), p. 111 ad 278-279 (the king), p. 112 ad 286 ( μοῖρα), p. 121 ad 321 and p. 123 ad 334 (the herald), p. 142 ad 412 ( ἄτη). The psychology of Homeric man: p. 35 ad 24, p. 49 ad 55, p. 65 ad 103, p. 69 ad 115, p. 87 ad 188, pp. 92-3 ad 205, p. 135 ad 387. The gods: p. 49 ad 55, p. 176 ad 571-611.

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 αἰγιόχοιο). However, occasionally they slip into essentialist readings, dismissing the bards in favour of modern linguistics (e.g. p. 175 ad 567 ἀάπτους χεῖρας [‘…tatsächlich handelt es sich um…’]). The issue comes down to the more fundamental one of diachronic and synchronic aspects of traditional narrative, never explicitly addressed by the commentators.