Asked to review Mt Everest, to what would one be reduced, with the shame-faced superlatives slinking away? “Well … um … great mountain; … nice view from the top; … a, er, … a bit hard to climb perhaps”. And although even, or especially, an enthusiastic reviewer must keep his wits about him in rarified air, these exhausted praises, attempts at the highest praise, might serve as headings for this review of volume two of the Basler (or Latacz) Gesamtkommentar (BK) of Homer’s Iliad.1
There are criticisms to be bruited, and a reviewer owes it not only to the readers of the work under review, but also, when that work is far from complete, to the editors, to advance them as boldly as may be. Nevertheless, it would be well-nigh impossible to overpraise BK. The criticisms below may be taken as a tribute.
BK is the fullest commentary on Homer since Eustathios, and the first German commentary in a hundred years;2 a very great deal has happened since then: a Near Eastern context has opened for Homer; the question of orality and formulaic composition has become a major subject of research, squeezing out others; the new and useful tool of narratology has been adjusted and applied; archaeological discoveries have come in apace; the question of the historicity of the backdrop to the Iliad has been given new life and likelihood; linguistic and philological tools have continued to improve; and these elements find their ways into this timely and very welcome Everest of a commentary.
In the first section I shall offer a critical description of the project, the text, the commentary and the translation. This gives a thorough overview. In a second section, I shall comment in more detail on the choice of the base text of the Iliad, its treatment in the commentary, and on metrical questions in the translation.
BK is a predominantly philological commentary based on Ameis-Hentze-Cauer, though there is more to it than the word “philological” suggests in English.3 A prominent and welcome emphasis lies on poetics and narratology. BK aims at classicists (actually the broader “Altertumswissenschaftler”, Prolegomena (Prol) p. 23) and others in the humanities; specifically, it aims to cross disciplines and offer an entry to the broad and increasingly disparate and specialised fields of Homeric studies and an entry to the text for non-classicists. It performs these functions admirably. The philologist is very well cared for; but BK aims to serve an audience from school students, through undergraduates to their professors (Prol. p. 23); and even if the climb will at times seem laborious, there is no reason why the Greekless reader or one whose school-Greek is very young or very old, should not also benefit from the Croesian riches provided. There is every reason to suppose that it will succeed in reaching these disparate audiences, and in its further aim, to reach and win over new audiences, and to preserve Homer in our “kulturelles Gedächtnis”.4
To help achieve these ambitious results, BK is built, so far, as follows: for each Book of the Iliad two fascicles, one of facing text and translation (including seven important pages on orthography, with bibliography) and one of commentary for each Book of the Iliad (so far Book I [reviewed at BMCR 2001.09.01 ] and II, reviewed here). In addition, there is a Prolegomena volume (not reviewed in BMCR) treating large themes more fully than could be done in the actual commentary itself.5 To this volume, continuous and useful cross-reference is made in the commentary, as well as to the commentary of Volume I. BK is extremely compact, both in its massive use of abbreviation and cross-reference, its adept citation, masterful précis and acute paraphrase.
Clarity and direction amid the quantity is partly achieved through layout. The commentary is divided into four levels: in normal type appear comments designed for all readers, and since these are keyed to the translation and Greek is transliterated in them,6 no Greek is required in this stratum and the translation becomes thus an integral part of the whole. There is no talking down, however, so that if “Greekless” means “novice” the climb will be hard. About half the commentary is in this normal type. Commentary for philologists is in a smaller type, while still smaller type considers material from various special fields. Sadly, this is not used in the present volume. At the foot of each page under a dividing line are specific notes for those whose Greek is in need of it, keyed to the 24 Rules of Homeric Language at the front of the volume (“24 Regeln zur homerischen Sprache”, reprinted from Volume I) and to the commentary itself.
One soon gets used to this unusual layout, which reduces clutter by imposing external organisation on masses of very varied material, and the present reviewer found it very successful. It invites a very small amount of repetition.7 At various points sections or groups of lines are treated as a bloc, these blocs are sometimes nested into each other, before the line by line commentary continues, so that one gets a general, running view as well as the detailed views.8 Literary-interpretative commentary, is, in general, to be found in these blocs; there are only sparing helpings, but what is there is precise and helpful in keeping the larger schemes in view amidst the great mass of detail. The whole is an organisational triumph.
The text is a slightly altered version of Martin L. West’s Teubner edition (1998-2000); a wise choice, proving fruitful. For BK, the critical apparatus has been reduced, testimonia omitted; synaeresis and diaeresis indicated; speeches indented and italicised (to help with the narratological strain in the commentary), and book divisions restored. At every turn this text itself is engaged by the commentary, to which it gives plenty of opportunity, and which is not always wholly in agreement with it; differences are signalled with square brackets in the commentary. The presence of West’s text and its treatment in the commentary should be applauded. (See Section II below.)
The commentary is vast: the fascicle for Book II contains 280 pages of commentary, 52 pages of bibliography, seven pages covering 24 Rules of Homeric Language; 15 pages for a Foreword, hints for using the commentary, and abbreviations; four pages of corrigenda to the Prolegomena volume and both fascicles of Volume one (a large portion of which update bibliographic material; the standard of printing is abnormally high). Two maps accompanying the catalogues of Book II are slipped into a pocket inside the back cover; other maps and tables appear in the commentary.
The commentary tends to fall into two parts, divided at the beginning of the Catalogues. I shall first consider the general commentary (up to 494, and 759-815), then that on the Catalogues.
The commentary is very thorough; barely a single word escapes multiple discussion — detailed analyses of textual questions, grammar and etymology, culture and Realien, the linguistic and philological commentary one would expect — and valuable use has been made of the Lexikon des frühgriechischen Epos, and other major reference works. This has enabled reference not just to the Iliad and Odyssey, but to the whole corpus of early Greek epic poetry; one is frequently confronted with parallels to other Eastern literatures and languages.9 There are technical analyses of independent interest, but semantic, grammatical, etymological, prosodical analysis is constantly fed back into the text as it affects the meaning of the line, simile, speech or episode in question. Throughout, the commentary team have made their own contributions; we are not given simply a collection of other people’s sayings; its creativity is striking, its depth and range unparalleled.10
Another (unparalleled) feature of BK is the mass of secondary sources cited: works used as sources and in agreement with the point just being made are listed with page numbers; those in disagreement are similarly listed, but with “dagegen”, or “anders”. Adjacent references are also given copiously. This is one of the most laborious tasks; the reader reaps the reward.11
Poetics is emphasised:12 metre, prosody, formulae, ring composition, repeated lines and half-verses, epithets, similes, emphatic enjambment, rhetorical tropes and figures over large and small scales (the list goes on), are noted, analysed, described — sometimes merely labelled — listed and cross-referenced.13 The value of this can hardly be overstated.
While the commentary is not blind to the more flexible potential of traditional elements,14 the treatment of the formulae, and related verbal units, might possibly seem a little flat: they can be treated more as semantically thin metrical entities than independently meaningful (the distinction is wearing thin); or rather, where the commentary does not feel the need for special distinctions, the emphasis is on labelling and listing; formulae are often treated as formulae in fact.15
This is true, and not everyone will appreciate it. But I would offer a tentative demurral to the objections offered by others; for this is a deliberate choice by the commentary team, and to this reviewer, it seems the right one. In the Prolegomena article on “Formelhaftigkeit und Mündlichkeit”, Latacz offers a trenchant, though it will seem combative, defence of the treating of formulaic units with great reserve in this respect: “möglichst grosse Zurückhaltung”.16 There is a great danger of doubtful and subjective attributions of meaning, resonance and allusion (an example is given at 56 n. 25). But even while some or many traditional units might stand out to us, or might have stood out to Homer’s audiences, with a full weight of semantic meaning, formulae are still formulae. Also such a criticism would appear to neglect the work of Visser on Homer’s versification which might be mistaken for “hard Parryism, which it is not, in that it allows for elements with generic metrical function and for semantically thin “fillers”.17
Similar observations might go for the narratological commentary, based on De Jong’s work,18 and which is such a feature of BK: the distinctions between narrators, points of view and focalisers and focalisation. It is perhaps true that the treatment of this, too, tends to the mere formalism of labelling. More literary and aesthetic use could be made without overstepping the grey areas of “Zurückhaltung”. Nevertheless, even the merest listing of the various types of narrator and focaliser which are found in the Iliad, is of the greatest use. And as with formulaic elements, it would be possible to argue that greater interpretative use of these elements, so very useful as they have proved to be, is best approached with the greatest possible Zurückhaltung in a philological commentary. Indeed, it may be questioned with reference to both the poetics and narratology whether any further interpretative use might not simply clutter a commentary attempting a consensus view with transient and contested material. It would be possible to argue that the commentary gives a reader the tools to perform interpretations, which it certainly does, and that this is sufficient.
Nevertheless, the great danger of the use of Homer’s formulaic elements in criticism, has been the evacuation of semantic content from a phrase, just because it appears formulaic, and, while Homer criticism in general has seen this danger,19 it remains at least a danger worth pointing to. But the equal and opposite danger would be to treat formulae each as a uniquely meaningful occurrence, i.e., as not at all formulaic: to turn Homer into Virgil or Milton. So that the commentary steers a course which is probably wise, certainly useful, perhaps conservative.20 The great danger of narratology in literary criticism, at any rate outside of Classics, is, apart from careless and inaccurate attribution (not I think a criticism which could be made here), also a formalism which rests content with, or fails to interpret, a mere taxonomy of ever finer and finer distinctions, without much use being made of them in the practice of reading a text. This danger is courted here by implication, though distinctions are not self-indulgently multiplied. The danger is, again, worth pointing to.
Still, subject to the reservation just made, one general criticism may be made with regard to BK: the relative slimness of literary criticism as opposed to more formal and technical questions of philology and taxonomy, culture, religion and so on. There are literary-critical notes, mostly in the commentaries to the blocs of lines;21 but more might be useful (there is plenty of consensual material available), in view of the very broad audience envisaged. As against this, apart from the dangers, it should be pointed out that BK is presented not as a competitor to, or replacement for, the Kirk Cambridge Commentary, throughout more literary-critical, but as standing beside it as an ally (Prol. p. 25).22
Edzard Visser has provided the commentary to the Catalogues (NK and
The arguments as to the various possibilites of the origins, authorship and transmission of the First Catalogue (NK) are set out in a Forschungsbericht of 10 pages with a map and a table, in addition to the maps at the back, which interrupts the line by line commentary (and again for TK). What is worth remarking in a review is the following: the tendency of the argument is that the NK, its core handed down from a possibly historical origin, was prepared for the Iliad, and on balance, by the poet himself. The catalogue follows a rigorous formal scheme, but it is not so rigorous that there is no room for real places and names with realistically appropriate epithets — not all are metrical fillers (here Visser draws on his philological approaches in Homers Katalog). This is a careful analysis, opening the possibility that NK is based on a real situation (i.e., the materials were very old when they arrived in our Iliad), adjusted for insertion in our Iliad. A further source for geographical knowledge available to the poet is mythology, as Visser has argued in Homers Katalog. It is possible that a military muster-roll from Mycenaean times lies behind NK, and this possibility has been reinforced by recent new Linear B finds, and the most recent research can in fact point to a naval expedition to Troy as the occasion for the kernel of the present Catalogue (p. 153, referring to F. Starke, in press). How exactly this kernel was handed down and found its way, with materials from the intervening centuries, into our Iliad, must, at the moment, remain an open question (p. 153). The Forschungsbericht is a masterpiece of compression, an excellent introduction. Despite its tendency to come down, carefully, on the side of a historical kernel and poet-produced catalogue, it is fair and, relative to its length and purpose, comprehensive.
The commentary, which fills in the details, is full and minute. Apart from the continuation of the normal commentary, it provides detailed considerations of each name, person, ethnic group, and place — with its real or possible location, its real or mythological importance — with the characteristically copious references to ancient and modern sources; attention is also paid to the various types of entry and the important question of verse structure. The first volumes of BK have already achieved a revised second edition, and no doubt as research continues on its current headlong course, this volume, too, will be kept up to date.
The commentary to TK, similarly structured as that to NK, is more assertive, but probably still consensual in the light of recent research: the kernel may well be based on a military alliance of the Hittite empire (p. 265); the means of its transmission is still uncertain; most names of the Trojan leaders derive from Luwian and probably therefore from an old myth tradition; their allies bear good Greek heroic names (p. 266). The commentary is less full, not because there is no work waiting to be done on these questions but because it must first be done elsewhere.
The view from the top is superb: a vast landscape is laid out, routes to other peaks mapped, many described in detail, large features remarked, important minutiae precisely sketched: one can set out by oneself. It is an exhilarating prospect.
The translation is an important and intimate part of the commentary, very largely successful; it is evidently a translation produced by a teacher for teachers, whether that means someone instructing another, or an individual dwelling alone among these volumes. It reads well, and gives a clear idea of some of the techniques of Homeric verse. A great deal of thought and expertise has obviously gone into it. Samuel Johnson’s comment on Rowe’s Lucan, which Johnson very much admired, provides a good description:
His author’s sense is sometimes a little diluted by additional infusions, and sometimes weakened by too much expansion; but such faults are to be expected in all translations, from the constraint of measures and dissimilitude of languages.23
It is a line by line version, in iambic verses of varying lengths, with an extra unstressed half foot at the end of the line as part of an attempt to recreate the Homeric rhythm, another aspect of which is the attempt, not completely successful, to preserve the enjambment. (See Section II below.) It is designed to serve the commentary, for which it provides the lemmata in the first level, and is openly expository: a great deal is spelled out, especially pronouns and articles, and there are italics to indicate emphases in the Greek.24 It is a translation of and for a commentary, designed to mirror its results.25
The iterata fall easily enough into place, and assist with the rhythm; they, too, give an indication (“erahnen lassen” I.i. p. xix — all a translation can hope for, and a great deal for it to achieve), at least, of what actually happens in Homer’s verse. In this second Book, though not in the first, the epithets have been hyphenated, so that we have “Stadt-mit-breiten-Strassen” (66),”Athene-mit-den-hellen-Augen” (172), and so on.26 This is undoubtedly risky, and a bit awkward, though less so in German than it would be in English, but the gains for the rhythm, and occasionally syntactical clarity, seem to justify it. Needless to say, they are not segued into the textures as skillfully as Homer’s, but at least they are evidently segued — an echo of something that happens in the original. An effort has been made to reproduce local rhetorical structures, on the whole with great success.27 Some passages are enjoyable performances in their own right.28
Occasionally the German syntax is forced, and there are elisions reminiscent of 18th and 19th century poetry and drama.29 To the German ear these sound perhaps a little precious; it was a risky decision, but it is not overly intrusive, and it helps the translator to juggle metre with fidelity, and is one reason why the translation reads so well. It is another element in Latacz’s attempt to indicate something of what happens in Homer’s verse (II.i.xvii).
For reading aloud to an audience (in a seminar or a lecture), Latacz’s version is far more successful than others: it is clear and easy to follow, the final half-foot draws the lines onwards, helping to produce a speed in the flow which is admirable, and almost forcing the lines to separate from each other; its diction produces a ruggedness and an almost visual, sharp-edged clarity; the explicitness of its grammar enables full and speedy reception. The translation in several ways gives on its own surfaces an idea of some of the things which take place on Homer’s.
The diction is another part of the attempt to provide a modern German analogy to Homeric rhythm, and naturally it raises the question of fidelity. I shall not dwell on this problem — the translation is not completely literal30 — except to wonder whether things such as “Unmöglicher!”, and “Oje!” are really the most appropriate versions of
But even while objections have been raised against this sort of thing from the point of view of scholars of Greek, the very ruggedness, the vividness of the diction generally, to which these occasional slangy, to the scholar’s ear positively “fast”, expressions contribute, is part of the success of the translation; in general the diction is clear-edged and bright, energetic and quick. And these are versions at least of Homeric virtues.
Adapting the translation to modern language (read diction) is an avowed part of a deliberate purpose: to reach primarily an audience of students at both university and school who speak a German not that of the older scholars, and with whom the translator does not wish to lose touch, indeed to reach and win over (“Vorbemerkung zur Übersetzung” (II.i.xvii). As with the conservative tendency with poetics and narratology, it is a question of judgement and degree: making a translation relevant risks losing touch more or less completely with the original. Latacz has not gone nearly so far, but again, the danger is worth hinting at. Metrically the translation is uneven, and in the light of its aims and achievements, this is important enough to comment on at length in the next section.
The translation, then, has a great deal to recommend it as a tool both for using the commentary and introducing Homer.
According to the “Vorwort” to the 2nd fascicle (II.2, p. viii), funding has been assured for the next five volumes, to be published at the latest in 2009. In response to the needs of schools and universities, these will be to Books 3, 6, 9, 19, 24.
It should be added that the volumes are beautifully produced, a pleasure to handle and to read, well-bound, properly stitched, clearly and very accurately printed, and of pleasing proportions. Of too many expensive books the same cannot be said. All praise to Saur.
While some criticism is offered, it occurs in a context of startled admiration, and in the hope that it may be of assistance to the commentary team, even if only to help them keep a self-conscious awareness of where their achievement lies. Nobody with an interest in Homer can fail to profit from this magnificent commentary.
I pass to some further detailed remarks on the choice of text and the translation.
The choice of West’s text was a wise, and perhaps the only, choice, for not only does the presence of a major new edition relieve the editors of the necessity to provide their own amidst the immense labours of the commentary, but West’s Iliad is one of the major scholarly achievements of our time;32 BK bids fair to become another, and they make for good company.33
For a commentary of this depth and detail, it is essential that, for example, ample new material from papyri, recent developments in linguistics, the growing realisation of the influence of Near Eastern languages on Greek, be taken account of in preparing a text, and these are already features of West’s thorough and authoritative, if not uncontroversial edition,34 and are treated very carefully in the commentary itself. West’s text is not, however, slavishly followed, as some fixed or authoritative master-text, in either the translation or the commentary: athetization is sometimes challenged,35 and the commentary and/or the translation occasionally prefer a different reading to West’s text.36 There is a living, symbiotic relation between text, commentary and translation, which is highly productive.
Apart from these specifics, vast quantities of the commentary are devoted to elucidating the text, not only in its meaning, but as transmitted, re-constructed, emended, corrected, interpolated, athetized — historically, orthographically, grammatically and in general philologically. Cross references abound to West’s fuller Teubner apparatus and his directly relevant publications, as well as to the work of previous editors ancient and modern, to the “Grammatik der homerischen Sprache” in the Prolegomena volume 61-108,37 and the orthography section. In this way textual controversies (both those in the tradition, and those in West’s version of it), are laid out, if not settled, in accordance with the general aims of BK. Thus every help is given in dealing with West’s text; West’s text in turn gives every opportunity for exposition; and BK would be very much the poorer without it. There is no excuse for a reader to be led astray by anything in West’s sometimes surprising text; there would have been no excuse for not using West’s text, controversial as it may still seem, in favour of another.
Latacz thought a translation important enough to include it in the commentary, and the commentary in the translation, and to go to the otherwise supererogatory length, on top of the very heavy task of overseeing and contributing to the commentary, to actually produce one. He has tried to reproduce something of the rhythms of the Iliad, and he has laid considerable emphasis on it, rightly it seems to me; and this is such an important task, in the light of BK’s audiences, that it deserves serious criticism. We now have two Books (though one includes the special case of the Catalogues), enough to see the shape of things to come, but not so much that criticism is pointless. The obvious should be clearly re-stated: the translation is not for the Greek scholar, nor it is a literary work; it is a tool for those who might need it: teachers, students, professionals from other disciplines; to them it is directed, to them it is a priceless accompaniment to the rest of the commentary.
Matthew Arnold, writing on translating Homer, gave immense importance to the question of rhythm, a compound of diction, formulae, metre and prosody. There is no reason to feel that his comments are of no value a hundred and fifty years later: rhythm in the translation of Homer is important. For Homerists it is not; they can read the original; but to the young student or other interested reader it will be their first acquaintance with what Homer has to offer them.
This Latacz realises. The forewords to each volume of the translation repeatedly emphasise it. It is here that some impressions of the original can be carried into the hearts and minds of our students, irrespective of the gaps between their language and that of the refined, and older, scholar in the study; it is here too, as understood by Latacz, that some of Homer’s techniques, some of what actually happens on the surfaces of his poetry can be brought home; and in a commentary, that is in a teaching environment, this is indespensable. Much of this has been done very well, as I have already indicated, and makes the translation a good teaching tool. But metrically the translation suffers from some weaknesses, and detailed criticism might prove useful. The attempt, presumptuous though it may seem, is worth making. (I make no claim that any suggestions made might offer better versions of Homer; I am here concerned only to illustrate some pitfalls in the metre of Latacz’s German.)
The decision to use iambic metre with lines of varying length as need be, instead of attempting hexameter, proves its value. But there is a weak point in the long iambic line in a modern language, just as in the Homeric hexameter, which must be carefully bridged. Iambic lines of more than six feet, if left to themselves, tend to break three or four feet from the end of the line, encouraging the second half of a line to run to doggerel, to bump to a grinding halt (vv. 6 & 7), or to jumble along on uncertain feet with pronunciation forced onto the metre (v. 15). The extra half foot at the end of each line here only encourages this tendency, which is trivialising.
There are many such lines.
55: “Die nun berief er ein — || und machte einen starken Plan dann”
Here, apart from the jog-trot jingle of the last clause, “Plan dann” creates a terrible internal rhyme. The deleterious effect of the extra half-foot can be noted by reading the line without “dann”. The jog-trot effect is muted at least (and the rhyme disappears).
59: “Trat oberhalb des Kopfs heran || und sprach zu mir die Worte”
Here the line breaks in two after “heran”, with trivialising effects on the rhythm of both halves. (A very similar effect is found at 85 & 90).
142: “So sprach er. Denen aber rührte er || die Herzen in der Brust auf”,
where the line breaks after “rührte er”, and runs to its close in doggerel: “die Herzen in der Brust auf” (de dum de dum de dum dum). Also the separable “auf” is, rhythmically, so far separated from “rührte”, and so closely bound, metrically, to “Brust”, that it produces a slightly comical effect.
211: “Die andern alle setzten sich, || gebändigt auf den Sitzen”
Here again, the line breaks in two, this time at the comma, and again the rhythm is unintentionally comic — a fatal nursery-rhyme doggerel. Almost the whole paragraph vv. 35-40 runs to doggerel in both halves of the line.
Some lines, many in fact, are far more successful,38 and can indicate what is amiss in the metrically unsuccessful. This longer passage (771-779), is very successful in its own right:
Doch dieser — bei den Schiffen-den-gekrümmten-Meersdurchseglern,
lag er, im Groll beharrend gegen Agamemnon-Hirten-seiner-Männer,
den Atreus-Sohn; und seine Leute hatten an der Meeresbrandung
am Diskuswerfen ihr Vergnügen und am Speereschleudern
und Bogenschiessen; und die Pferde, jedes schön bei seinem Wagen
den Klee abrupfend und den wiesenfeuchten Eppich,
die standen still; die Wagen aber, gut verhüllt, die lagen in der Herren
Gezelt — die aber, ihren Führer, den dem-Ares-lieben, sehr vermissend,
spazierten hier- und dorthin durch das Heer und nahmen nicht am Kampf teil.
One reason why the first six of these lines are so successful is that they crowd polysyllabic words at the end, particularly important is the last word in the line; and many of Latacz’s rhythmically successful lines are built this way; it is a great help in avoiding doggerel, and mitigating the dangers of the double ending. Lines 777 and 779 are less successful, they both run to doggerel “die lagen in der Herren”, “und nahmen nicht am Kampf teil” — something which unfortunately spoils the effect of the whole at the last moment (it is the final unstressed syllable in each case which causes most of the damage).39
However, the lines which do not run to doggerel very largely avoid it for a different reason: the use of the true caesura, which breaks the line in the middle of a foot, combined with a syntax which forces the break forwards or backwards out of the danger zone.
43: “das schöne, frische, || warf sich um sodann den grossen Mantel”
Here the line is firmly broken well back from the fourth foot, and furthermore “warf”, following the caesura, is stressed.
Many of the lines that work well are built in this manner:
106: “und Atreus hinterliess ihn sterbend dem Thyestes, || reich an Lämmern”
where the syntactical break (at the comma) again divides the foot, providing a true caesura. Here the break in the line is forced closer to the end, past the dangerous third- or fourth-foot break.
107: “und der hinwiederum, Thyestes, || liess dem Agamemnon ihn zu tragen”
The syntactical pause here after “Thyestes” also generates a true caesura: “liess” is stressed.
Another way of avoiding the dangerous break three or four feet from the end of the line, is to break it twice, as at 109:
“auf den sich stützend || sprach er unter den Argeiern || diese Worte:”
the breaks after “stützend” and “Argeiern”, each forming a true caesura.
Other such lines are 112 (broken at the comma and after “hatte”) 118 and 119 (which break twice with the punctuation). In this manner line 245 is also very successful:
“und fuhr, || von unten blickend, || hart ihn an || mit scharfer Rede”
where the first break, at the comma is between feet and not a true caesura; the second forms a true caesura. There is a third break after “an”, with the foot, but with only two feet, plus the extra half-foot, left in the line, the danger of doggerel is avoided.
The danger of the double ending can be illustrated from line 307:
“dort || unter prächtiger Platane, || wo ein helles Wasser strömte”
If this line is read giving the least possible stress to the terminal ‘e’, eliding it as one might easily in casual conversation, it is a lovely line. There are many reasons for this, most of them not relevant here. What is relevant is that the speaking voice moves contrapuntally to the purely iambic metre. So that the “dort” would be stressed in speaking (the first foot trochaic), and “wo” instead of being stressed, would be hurried over, en route to “helles”.
Syntax plays an important role: some lines have no break, e.g. 77; in others the syntax pulls forwards over the potential break, as at 120 (which has no verb); a full clause in the last three or four feet is nearly always fatal, as at 59 (cited above), but not always, as at 95 — which also illustrates in its success that quantity is not a negligible factor in modern verse (“stöhnt'”). There are other factors involved, but it is enough to illustrate the difficulty.
Finally, while Latacz has tried very hard to preserve the enjambment of the original, and has often done so literally (as at vv. 28-34, where there are five, or at 777 quoted above) most of the enjambments are only formally equivalent, and sometimes only metrically confusing, without any of the effect, even the workaday effect, which the technique can produce. One reason for this is again the extra half foot terminating each line, which efficiently negates the effect of enjambment; all enjambment would probably be erased by such a form. Enjambment in modern German (and English) generally requires that one of the two syllables involved be stressed, but with the extra unaccented half-foot terminating one line, the new line beginning, of course, also with the unaccented half-foot, this is impossible without inversion.
One successful deployment of enjambment is at vv. 76-7:
“So sprach er, setzte sich dann nieder. Da erhob sich unter ihnen
Nestor, der über Pylos Herrscher war, das reich an Sand ist.”
The reason for its success is that “Nestor” is stressed on the first syllable (the first foot in 77 is inverted, trochaic); Nestor’s clause “Da erhob sich …”, also follows a true caesura.
The conclusion of all this would appear to be that the rhythm, insofar as it depends on metre, which is a great deal of course, is put at great risk by the extra half foot closing the lines. It does not appear that the excellent forward motion of this translation absolutely depends on the terminating syllable of the line, and it might be that this should be reconsidered altogether: it does not successfully reproduce the terminal Homeric foot; it assists the tendency to doggerel, and seriously limits the enjambment. The standard way to prevent the fatal break in the line three or four feet from the end is to ensure that the crucial breaks are either caesural, or forced earlier or later in the line. These measures will not turn a translation into a literary masterpiece, that is not the aim; but they, or something like them, might, so it seems to the present writer, help to give a clearer impression of something important in Homer.
The readers of this review, those providing the funds,40 as well as those providing the work, should be assured that this project, of the greatest importance, exhausts superlatives, is timely, even urgent, and is being executed with the profoundest scholarship, the greatest intelligence, and obviously with the most diligent and patient stamina; it is and will be of almost inestimable worth to the community of those who already read Homer at work, at rest or at play, and will undoubtedly help to win over, or retain, new readers.
1. I shall refer to BK as Prolegomena, Volume I and Volume II; references will be to Prol.; I.i (text and translation of Iliad) Book I; I.ii (commentary to Book I); II.i (text and trans. of Book
2. Georg Danek, review of BK Prolegomena and Volume I, Gymnasium 109, 2002, 341-342, here 341. Other important reviews of the first volume and Prolegomena are: Johannes Haubold, BMCR 2001.09.01; Malcolm Willcock, The Classical Review 52, 2002, 229-231; Wolfgang Kullmann, Gnomon 73, 2001, 648-657 (including a review of Latacz, Troia und Homer: Der Weg zur Lösung eines alten Rätsels; but see on this Latacz’s Response, at BMCR 2002.02.15; and Herbert Bannert, Wiener Studien 116: 2003, 277-281.
3. Unless otherwise indicated I shall use “philology” in the narrower English sense rather than in the broader sense of the German “Philologie”.
4. “Vorbemerkung zur Übersetzung” (II.i.xvii), and “Vorwort” (II.iivii-viii). Helpful in fanning interest is Latacz’s Troia und Homer; not part of the commentary, it is cited therein. It was, however, written as an accompaniment. See n. 2 above for Kullmann’s review and Latacz’s response. It has recently been translated into English: Troy and Homer: Towards a Solution of an Old Mystery, trans. Kevin Windle and Rosh Ireland, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
5. The number and arrangement of future volumes are not yet settled. The Prolegomena contains: a history of Homer commentary up to and including BK, a history of the text, an essay on formulae and orality, an Homeric grammar, a dictionary of persons and gods in the Iliad, an essay on the structure of the Iliad, a dictionary of Homeric poetics, an index of gods, mortals, animals and fabulous creatures, and an index of Mycenaean words in the Iliad.
6. This has been criticised as pointless on the grounds that the transliteration is of no more help to the Greekless than the original Greek (Kullmann, 654, Bannert, 280). This is not true, as I imagine anyone else who came to Greek late and remembers being an interested Greekless reader of commentaries or papers on Homer will testify: transliteration at least gives the Greekless a word to deal with; at most it gives some access to those who would otherwise not gain it — one of the aims of the commentary.
7. E.g. nn. 145 & 146; nn. 147; nn. 148. There is a small amount of repetition elsewhere: e.g., nn. 42 & 43; pp. 151 & 155 — the inevitable result of the intensive cross-referencing which is such a useful feature of the commentary at all levels.
8. vv. 1-6, p. 11; 1-2a, p. 12; 3-7, 3b-4, pp. 12-13; 11-15, p. 14; 16-49, 16-18, 18b-19, p 16 — and so on. There is also (suitably dry) commentary on directly aesthetic matters, e.g. ad 95-100: acoustic details, “urgent” verses, enjambment … .
9. E.g., comm ad 5 refers to ‘Hes’ fr 209.1 M.-
10. At least once, the commentary disagrees with the LfgrE: ad 401,
11. One should not ask for everything, but a warning might gently be sounded: occasionally adjacent sources are simply referenced without a specific indication of what exactly is in them (ad 111-118: “Zenodot athetierte hier …; zu seinen möglichen Gründen NICKAU 1977, 63 ff” — what are the grounds? A phrase would help those without a large library; 86b-401, “zu den Besonderheiten der vorliegenden Version s. HAINSWORTH 1966” — what are these Besonderheiten?, a phrase naming one or two would help); and if this becomes more general, there is a danger (it is far off) of a commentary in this respect becoming a series of bibliographical footnotes (“for more on this see …”, “for remarks on XYZ, see …”). Usually, the commentators indicate in a phrase what is to be found in these adjacent sources (from many: ad 75 on Haft; 80-82 passim; 119 passim; 130-131 on Latacz; 498 on Beister). It is an immense labour, for which readers for decades will be grateful; but without its unrelenting pursuit, the commentary will be just that much less useful.
12. Some examples: ad 1-2a we are alerted to summary, polar expression, generic epithet (ref. to Prol. “Homerische Poetik”) and metrical variants for
13. The poetics glossary in the Prolegomena will need expansion before too long. It is not clear exactly what constitutes “Poetic”, but since the commentary usefully and faithfully lists, and sometimes makes interpretative use of, rhetorical terms such as asyndeton, parataxis, hyperbaton, chiasmus, and others (ad 285; chiasmus 282; 353 anacoluthon; 337-338 hyperbaton; 362-363 asyndeton, chiasmus, alliteration; 381-393 adept analysis of rhetorical factors in Agamemnon’s speech), it might be useful for students to have some rhetorical terms included in the glossary.
14. Occasionally the question of revitalisation in the hands of the poet is discussed. E.g. ad 110, the commentary asks whether this verse was so formulaic that to contemporary listeners it was “abgeblasst” [worn out, flat], or whether it had meaning, and presents information to support the latter; 169 the use of ‘Zeus an me-tis gleich’ is formulaic, but here “revitalisiert”.
15. This has been criticised by both Haubold and Kullmann. See the entry in “Homerische Poetik”, Prol. p. 162. Examples: ad 1-2a generic epithet, merely metrical variant; ad 2 distinctive epithet; ad 6 contextualised epithet; ad 12 ornamental epithet; but ad 21 the particle
16. Prol. p. 56. See also pp. 46, 48, 50. Bannert criticises Latacz’s essay quite harshly, with a certain amount of justice (pp. 278-279). See also the note on the hyphenation of the formulae in the translation at II.i.xvii-xviii, end of the paragraph; and Comm. p. 149 “Generierung …”, first paragraph.
17. Visser Homer’s Versifikationstechnik Peter Lang: Frankfurt am Main/Bern/New York, 1987. There is a brief sketch at Prol. 56-57. With reference to the Catalogues, see the sketch at Homers Katalog, 50-51, and BK II.ii. 148-150.
18. Centrally: Irene J. F. De Jong, Narrators and Focalizers: The Presentation of the Story in the Iliad, second edition, London: Bristol Classical Press, 2004.
19. Broad overviews where this is sufficiently clear: articles by John Foley and Joseph Russo, A New Companion to Homer (reviewed at BMCR 98.5.20, ed. Ian Morris and Barry Powell, Brill: Leiden/New York/Köln, 1997, 146-173; and, earlier, James P. Holoka, “Homer, Oral Poetry Theory, and Comparative Literature: Major Trends and Controversies in Twentieth-Century Criticism” in Zweihundert Jahre Homer-Forschung, ed. Joachim Latacz, Stuttgart/Leipzig: Teubner, 1991, 456-481, where a distinction relevant to a philological commentary is made between literary criticism and literary history. Cf “Formelhaftigkeit”, Prol. p. 50, para 23.
20. A further relevant factor here, is the great value Latacz ( Troia und Homer) and Visser ( Homers Katalog, and in the present volume of BK) to cite only the immediately relevant writers, have discovered in the traditional unit — particularly as primarily a variable metrical unit — as yielding historical evidence: stated in crude black and white, the value of traditional elements as historical evidence lies precisely in the inherited and unthinking aspects of their use; and the tendency to elide the “unthinking”, runs the risk of eliding also the evidence. Also in crude black and white: BK is a philological commentary, and that implies a commentary with an historical emphasis or focus (on “unthinking” rather than on context-specific and unique creativity) — and that in turn implies the use of some version of authorial intention (Visser has “poetic intention”) as criterion and source. This is contested; but at least reference to it is not a mistake or an oversight.
21. 26b-27 where the ironies are shown to be strengthened by the various parallels between Zeus and Agamemnon, which are listed; ad 38 (on “der Tor!”); 54 on the calling of the advisory council at Nestor’s ship; 95-100; 110-141 on Agamemnon’s Versuchungs-Rede; 201-202; 210; different interpretations are also presented, e.g. 344. The note to 27 also offers critical comment, “fern von dir”, and we are referred to Richardson on the “physical remoteness of Zeus”; but a chance is lost to comment that the remoteness is not only physical at this point: Zeus is engaged in deceiving Agamemnon. (The cross-reference directs us here back to the note to line 6, which gives an example of the commentary at its best, where all the levels and types of comment are drawn skillfully together in the exposition.)
22. In the “Vorwort” to Volume I, Latacz remarks that the principle guiding selection in doubtful cases is: “eher mehr als weniger” (I.1, ix). His team, however, have worked, “oft bis an die Grenzen der Belastbarkeit” (Prol. ix). In view of the glorious bravery of the former, the latter is not surprising. But in view of the former and despite the latter, it is surprising that there is no general introductory essay of a literary-critical character, dealing with large-scale issues, structural, interpretative, where all the pieces of the commentary fit into the larger picture. Each Book, after all, raises special problems and questions, has its own special role to play, its own qualities, its own position in the whole and its own achievement, unique from other Books. Such an essay would be of the great value, in particular to those whose whole life has not been spent with Homer and among the secondary sources — a large part of the intended audience. It need not be technical, that is the job of the commentary; nor need it be trivial. There is a limit of course to what even Latacz’s hardy mountaineers can do.
23. Johnson’s “[Nicholas] Rowe”, last paragraph ( Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets …, 2 vols, New York, 1861, I.259).
24. So for instance instead of something like “erzgewandeten Achaier” (Schadewaldt, II 47), we have “der Achaier-mit-den-erznen-Panzerhemden”; and “ihren Führer, den dem-Ares-lieben” (778), instead of a more familiar structure such as “den aresgeliebten Führer” (Schadewaldt). From the same passage (quoted in full below), “Klee” (clover), for
25. “… der Grundfunktion der Übersetzung, in komprimierter Form die Ergebnisse der Kommentierungsarbeit widerzuspiegeln: Kommentar und Übersetzung erläutern einander wechselseitig” (II.i p. xvii). “Die äussere Form — den Rhythmus, die Formelhaftigkeit, die Wiederholung — fortzuwerfen und nur den Inhalt zuzulassen bedeutet diese Dichtung zu verkrüppeln” (“Zur Übersetzung” (I.i p. xix).
26. Further examples (67), “Zeus-dem-Kronos-Sohn-dem-Herrscher” (102), “Pelops-der-die-Rosse-tummelt” (104), “Troia-mit-den-breiten-Strassen” (141), “schnellen-Schiffe-der-Achaier” (168), “Achaier-mit-den-erznen-Panzerhemden” (187), “Zeus-der-weise” (197), “Agamemnon-des-Kriegsvolkes-Hirten” 243).
27. E.g. vv. 370-393; 474-477.
28. E.g., vv. 760-779, particularly 771-777.
29. Some examples: vv. 4 “wohl ehren könnt’, vernichten aber…”; 23 (= 60) “des mut’gen Rossezähmers”; 26 “von Zeus bring’ ich dir Botschaft”; 29 (= 66) “könnt’st du nehmen sie” 37 “nehmen werd’ er Priams Stadt”; 45 “um die Schultern hängt’ er sich das Schwert”; 50 “den stimmgewalt’gen Herolden”; 94 “trieb sie an zum Geh’n, Zeus’ Botin”; 95 “unten stöhnt’ die Erde”; 198 “und beim Schrei’n ertappte”; 213 “viel ungehör’ge Worte”; 248 “keinen schlecht’ren Sterblichen”.
30. Other reviewers (n. 2 above), better equipped, have done so for Book I and the general principles apply also to this Book. The criticisms from scholars of Greek are helpful, even while the translation serves its own aims and audiences. Kullmann has the most detailed criticisms on the diction; useful, though tetchy; Bannert also has much one can agree with. Haubold is more directly appropriate and more sympathetic.
31. “Tor” (fool, even idiot, for
32. Willcock, 230; cf Kullman, 651. West’s Iliad is reviewed by G. Nagy at BMCR 2000.09.12 and by J.-F. Nardelli at BMCR 2001.06.21. There is an important response by West at BMCR 2001.09.06. See also Studies in the Text and Transmission of the Iliad reviewed by A. Rengakos at BMCR 2002.11.15. Response by West at BMCR 2004.04.17.
33. Kullmann has devoted a page or two (651-653) to argue against this choice, largely on the grounds that the orthography of West’s edition (which Kullmann otherwise seems to admire) is inappropriate for a commentary such as the BK. Kullmann deserves careful attention; but it is very difficult to agree here. Kullmann compares West’s text to an original spelling edition of Shakespeare, and argues that if modern readers are to read Shakespeare he must be, as he almost always is, modernised, as are popular editions of Goethe and other older writers. The controversial, and at first perhaps alarming, orthography of West’s text is no grounds for not choosing it here. The modernisation of Shakespeare’s orthography and punctuation is a curse in serious modern reading and understanding: far too much is lost, even at the basic level of the connotations and evocations of words, through modernisation, not to mention other losses, and the same might be said of the Iliad. Pronunciation and orthography have changed a great deal since Shakespeare’s day, so Kullmann, and the text must be, carefully, changed to reflect this, “zumal sich inhaltlich dadurch nicht das Geringste ändert” (since the content is not thereby in the least bit altered, p. 652). This last remark is impossible to defend and a bit dated; one only has to think how Shakespeare’s own sense of etymology is lost completely when his (chaotic) spelling is streamlined. Bibliographers and editors such as Donald F. McKenzie and Jerome J. McGann, have been arguing this for some time now (McKenzie, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999; McGann, The Textual Condition, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991 — spelling is no longer an “accidental”). A better parallel would be to Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and no serious scholar has depleted Spenser’s text by modernising its orthography since the early Eighteenth Century. Nor is the preparation of an original spelling edition of Shakespeare as unproblematic as Kullmann implies. By this argument, West’s is the attempt a serious reader or commentator of Homer requires. BK is not, in any case, a popular, paperback version of Homer to be put into modern spelling, but a commentary with masses and masses of philological explication. There is an element of popularisation in BK — in the translation. It may be questioned how far West’s ambition to give a (qualified) “best approximation that may be possible to the Iliad as its original author left it” (158, the qualifications are explained in West Studies, 158-170) is possible, or how well this ambition has been achieved; but any hint of a possibility should certainly be followed up: and particularly for a philological commentary.
34. For West’s principles, and a defence of his version of the editor’s task, see idem, Studies in the Text and Transmission of the Iliad. Munich/Leipzig: K.G. Saur, 2001, especially 158-170 (n. 32 above). For criticism in the context of BK, see Kullmann (n. 2 above); for reviews of West’s Studies and the Teubner text, and responses by West, see n 32 above.
35. Vv. 168, restored to the transl.; 491-2, restored and implicitly defended, comm ad loc; in the Catalogue, West athetizes 525-526, 535, 547-551, 558, 674, 703, 742-744, and the commentary remarks that, while these often do seem to be suspicious as later interpolations, if the author of the Catalogue as we have it intended that the whole should be closely related to the Iliad, then each of these passages requires special analysis (p. 149), and suggests, with varying levels of emphasis, with various arguments, (ad locc) that 525-6, 674, 703, 742-44 might well be reclaimed, and hints (ad 547-51) that the case for athetization may not be complete.
36. Examples from Book I are given in the respective reviews: e.g. Haubold, nn 7 & 24. Examples from Book II would be: 125
37. E.g. comm ad 27
38. Other examples are vv. 87-89, 144-145, 147-154, 213, 221, 274-275, 278-280, 333-335, 455-467, and the splendid 872-875. Latacz is very good at similes, animals and sound.
39. It is distressing to have your work casually re-written (especially by a reviewer who may have had months to dwell on a single line); I must beg for patience if I make so bold as to illustrate: suppose “Herren” were elided to Herrn”; this would eliminate the doggerel and restore the enjambment. Similarly, suppose the end of the last verse to be written something like “und teilten nicht den Kampf” (which has not exactly the same meaning) and the improvement in rhythm would be illustrated. The rhythm of 22 is infelicitous, partly because of a muddy concatenation of ‘n’s near the end: “dem also gleich sich machend sprach der Traum, der göttliche, ihn an nun” — this can be illustrated by rewriting thus: “… nun sprach ihn an, der göttliche, der Traum”, with an improvement at least in rhythm.
40. Mentioned in this volume are the Schweizerische Nationalfonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung, the Freie Akademische Gesellschaft, and the Max Geldner-Stiftung (II.2, pp. vii-viii); additionally the University of Basel has provided domicile, and the electronic infrastructure (Prol. ix).