The research of Milman Parry and Albert Lord into oral-traditional poetry has been slowly transforming the study of the Homeric texts for over half a century. While Parry and Lord’s ideas have always had their detractors, a growing body of research has developed which integrates conventional understandings of the Homeric texts with an awareness of their roots in oral-performative traditions. One of the central tasks facing such research has been the question of how to understand the unity and interconnectedness of the Iliad and the Odyssey in an oral context. Kim’s book, The Pity of Achilles: Oral Style and the Unity of the Iliad, is a valuable new contribution to this project.
After a brief Introduction devoted to a discussion of the scholarly debate on questions of the orality and unity of the Homeric corpus and of the Iliad in particular, Kim’s book is divided into four chapters. The first, “Achilles’ Pity”, explores the pity of Achilles as the constitutive thematic element of the epic. The second, “The Meaning of Pity”, explores the formulaic use of phrases associated with pity—specifically, with the formulaic uses of
The sections of Kim’s book dealing with the analysis of formulaic language relating to pity are of considerable interest. Particularly striking are her observations on the adverbial use of
One aspect of the system of formulaic phrases pertaining to pity examined by Kim that may prove contentious for some readers is the assimilation of
These formulaic analyses aside, the core of Kim’s argument lies in Chapters Three and Four, in her tripartite structure for the Iliad and in her connections between pity and
The notion of a tripartite division of the Iliad is of course not new to Kim, who provides an extensive account of other such divisions, including, most recently, Richardson and Taplin.1 While the general structure of Kim’s division resembles those of Richardson and Taplin in positing a first section concerning the Wrath of Achilles, a second concerning the devastating consequences of that Wrath, including the death of Patroklos, and a third section of Achilles’ vengeance, Hector’s death and the final reconciliation, it differs in two major respects. Unlike others, Kim includes Book 9 as part of her second division rather than including it in the first, and in addition Kim takes the book-divisions we have more seriously than do most scholars in that she accepts them as more-or-less exact boundaries for her sections. Although the general consensus seems to be to disregard the book-divisions as Alexandrian innovations, the evidence either way is unclear, and Kim’s book would be the stronger for engaging more fully with the question of the possible significance of the book-divisions, rather than relegating the question to a brief discussion in a footnote (69.n2). As for the question of where Book 9 belongs in this structure, Kim makes a strong case for reading it more closely with what follows it than with what precedes it. By the latter view, of course, Achilles’ rejection of the offer Agamemnon transmits through his ambassadors serves principally to reinforce the intransigence of his
The following chapter explores the interconnections between the explicit theme of the Iliad, namely the Wrath of Achilles, and Kim’s overarching theme of the Pity of Achilles. This is obviously the crux of her argument and involves a depth and detail of argument that it is not possible to discuss in this format. The key to her analysis lies in her interpretation of Achilles’ response to Priam’s supplication in Book 24. As she argues, Achilles’
After the Conclusion, there follows a brief Appendix on the vexed question of the duals in the Embassy Scene in Book 9. This is familiar territory for the Homerist, and Kim situates her views on the question in relation to those of Richard Janko and Gregory Nagy.3 Rather than take a position on the issue of whether these duals represent what might be called “transcription errors” or instead are indicative of the artistry of an oral tradition, Kim offers instead a simpler solution, arguing that Phoinix’s status as a Myrmidon precludes his presence at the assembly called by Agamemnon in Achilles’ absence and implies that he only joins Odysseus and Ajax on their arrival at Achilles’ camp. This solution, while not inconsistent with the text, also lacks direct support in it. However inconvenient it may be, the text we have is hard to read as saying anything other than that Phoinix has come as part of the embassy. In particular, 9.168
In general, the book is well-presented and clearly organized. I find only a few minor typographical errors, such as the lack of an apostrophe after Achilles in the last line of English text on p. 28 and a pervasive tendency to write the possessive of Phoinix as Phoinix’ rather than the more natural Phoinix’s, neither of which errors of course interferes in any meaningful way with the understanding of the text. The publishers are to be commended for the clarity of the Index of Passages from the Iliad; the use of boldface for line numbers and regular type for page references greatly increases the usefulness of this index. One minor suggestion for an improvement in format does come to mind. In many cases, quotations from Homer are given with key words underlined in the Greek text. This is obviously a helpful practice, but the book might be of greater use to a wider market (including undergraduates and scholars in other fields) if the corresponding English word were underlined as well.
Despite the reservations expressed about certain details of argument, Kim’s book is a useful contribution to the study of formulaic language and themes in the Iliad, and may be read with profit by anyone interested in these questions.
1. Richardson, N. The Iliad: A Commentary Volume VI: Books 21-24 (Cambridge 1993) and Taplin, Oliver. Homeric Soundings: The Shaping of the Iliad. (Oxford, 1992).
2. Kim’s argument is also based on structural similarities, such as the fact that both Books 1 and 9 open with the calling of an assembly of the Achaeans (p.78), and by the “ring-composition” nature of Hera’s pity for the Achaeans at 1.56 and 8.352-3 (p.178).
3. Janko, Richard. “The Homeric Poems as Oral Dictated Texts,” CQ 48:1-13 (1998), and Nagy, Gregory. “Irreversible Mistakes and Homeric Poetry” in Euphrosyne: Studies in Ancient Epic and Its Legacy in Honor of Dimitris N. Maronitis, ed. by John Kazazis and A. Rengakos (Stuttgart, 1999).