BMCR 2004.03.44

Response: Haug on Hackstein on Haug on Hackstein

Response to 2004.03.12

Response by

In BMCR 2004.03.12, Olav Hackstein objects to my “recent” review of his book, Die Sprachform der Homerischen Epen (BMCR 2003.06.31). He does not limit himself to responding to my review, but explicitly takes on “the rather unpleasant task of reviewing a review”. Although no-one will be interested by a tedious debate in this forum, I think I am entitled to a response to Hackstein’s general criticism at points where he seems to me to have misread my review.

Hackstein’s reading of my remark “most of the book contains technical linguistic discussion which will deter many classicists” is surprising. My sentence ended “the theme should be of interest to Homerists generally” (not cited by Hackstein). I concede that this, on a malevolent reading, might be interpreted “the theme is a good one, but the book is too technical in its treatment of it”. My intention, however, was not to criticize Hackstein, but to draw the reader’s intention right at the beginning to what kind of book this is. This interpretation should be evident from my remark on the necessary symbiosis of classical philology and Indo-European linguistics and from myself having written a book much in the same genre.1 That some chapters are less technical than others should be clear from the summary that I give.

Nor was any criticism intended in my remark on Hackstein’s skeptical view of Mycenaeanisms (with which I agree). I did not want to suggest that Hackstein has a hidden agenda, but I think there should be a connection between an emphasis on recent Ionic and a downplay of Mycenaeanisms: in my view, it is entirely logical if someone who claims that the language of the Homeric poems was profoundly influenced by the poet’s vernacular is skeptical about claims that 600 year old linguistic forms survive intact or slightly concealed in the poems.

Our most substantial disagreement is on the methodological treatment of ‘anachronisms’. I continue to think that Hackstein’s treatment is problematic, especially the so-called ‘isolative anachronisms’, i.e. linguistic innovations attested nowhere outside Homer. As I stated in my review, the recognition of secondary ablaut patterns is one of the book’s great merits. But when Hackstein a priori assumes that such forms must belong to Ionic, I cannot follow. He now defends this with the question: Why should a form be Aeolic, if it could be Ionic or simply an archaism? The answer is: Why not? The Witte-Parry taxonomy invoked by Hackstein tells us what we expect to find in Homer when there are different, but metrically equivalent forms in Aeolic and Ionic. It is most plausibly interpreted as the working mechanism of a poetic tradition that went through different phases: the last phase of this tradition opted for Ionic forms when they were metrically equivalent with the Aeolic ones. It does not at all follow that modern scholars should regard every form as Ionic until proven otherwise.

Hackstein objects to my “nothing new on προθέουσιν” (Il. 1.291), falsely giving the impression that he suggested a word game here. As I said, and as Hackstein recognizes in his book, this is also in Ameis-Hentze, although Hackstein brought some parallels. More surprising, however, is the fact that Hackstein construes my “nothing new” as a dismissal, claiming that I do not accept “Kunstsprache” as part of the explanation of the “mystery form” προθέουσιν. I do.

As Hackstein said, “underestimating the force of the “Kunstsprache” is not on his agenda”. Certainly, no scholar would deliberately underestimate anything. But Hackstein does claim that “Überschätzung der Kunstsprache” has been a methodological fallacy in Homeric studies (p. 91), so it seems fair to say that he wants to show that Homeric philology has overestimated the effects of Kunstsprache. As it happens, I do not always agree with him, and I find it reasonable to address this point (which appears in his ‘Methodische Grundsätze’) in a specific context where I think Kunstsprache may be part of the explanation, without being accused of “pontification” and of “passing over germane and even decisive points” (presumably every case where he does accept a Kunstsprache explanation).

Since I continue to think that technical discussion might deter many readers of BMCR, I will refrain from discussion of the individual forms. But, note that quick fixes cannot repair all: allowing πρει to be an analogical extension of an erstwhile preposition *preti > πρει won’t do the trick, because Greek prepositions are either proclitic (in which case the i is not word-final, phonologically speaking) or barytone (in which case the accent would block the metathesis according to Hackstein’s own rules). Nor can Klingenschmitt’s etymology for παρθένος be saved by claiming that the dialectal reflexes of syllabic *r are “not as simple as Haug suggests”. Hackstein refers to Hajnal, which at this place inadvertently misrepresents the views of García-Ramón.2 As the latter scholar showed in this brilliant study, CrC is exactly the context where we find dialectal contrasting pairs with o and a. a-reflexes in an “o-dialect” as Mycenaean are Common Greek developments conditioned by morphonological factors which can hardly have been present in an isolated word like παρθένος.

All in all, I do not recognize my own review in Hackstein’s review of it. It supposedly abounds in “pontification based on ill-founded assumptions”, complete with an ex cathedra judgment on κνεε. Basing a review on parts of an argument is unavoidable for reviewers who, unlike Hackstein, do not want to write a review as long as the item under review. But disagreement is presumably not an option for the one who wants to “discharge his duties as a reviewer”. It is perhaps no surprise to hear this from an author who did not refrain from presenting his book’s conclusions in a tableau with two columns: ‘Bisher’ (i.e. the mistaken views of Homeric philology up to Hackstein’s book) and ‘Jetzt’ (Homeric philology of the present, based on Hackstein’s book).


1. D. Haug, Les phases de l’évolution de la langue épique – Trois études de linguistique homérique, Göttingen 2002.

2. J. L. García-Ramón, “The spellings Ta and Ta-ra for inherited *Tr in Mycenaean: Sound Law, Phonetic Sequence and Morphological Factors at Work”, Minos 19, p. 195-226.