BMCR 2007.10.26

Homeric Whispers. Intimations of Orthodoxy in the Iliad and Odyssey

, Homeric whispers : intimations of orthodoxy in the Iliad and Odyssey. San Antonio: Scylax Press, 2006. 286 pages : illustrations (some color), maps ; 25 cm. ISBN 9780910865111. $30.00.

The book is laid out in three sections, each dedicated to one of the important issues dealt with by Homeric philology: The Iliad, The Odyssey and Homer. In the rather extensive Foreword preceding these sections, the author (hereafter RSP) refers to his previous study1 and explains his line of argument. This introductory part, however, contains the most interesting ideas in the book. The discussion outlined in the main body of the book fails to convince, even if RSP puts forth a few interesting readings and thoughts about the Homeric text.

RSP’s purpose is to show that the geographical context alluded to in the two Homeric epics is totally independent of the setting in Asia Minor and the other traditional locations in the Mediterranean world associated with the journey of Odysseus. The landmarks mentioned by the Homeric texts, according to RSP, fit perfectly the geographical realities of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. He bases his thesis on several absurdities occurring in the Homeric text when a location in Asia Minor is presupposed, and he then leads his reader through a catalogue of examples to argue that these inconsistencies and many others disappear when the entire Homeric setting is thought to be in the Balkan landscape. This remains a sensational statement and his book gives no conclusive answers, which is, one may add, not the purpose of RSP, who sees himself as a “merchant of ideas”.

His main argumentation starts in the Foreword from a list of eight geographical absurdities in the Homeric texts. The first discrepancy with the location in Asia Minor arises from the fact that the Homeric texts allude to the sea on the west as well as on the east side of Troy. With the setting in Asia Minor, RSP argues, this cannot be the case, since the sea is only located in the west, whereas the Croatian setting is more convenient, the Balkan peninsula being surrounded by the Adriatic Sea on one side and the Black Sea on the other. This argumentation is however based on an overly literal reading of the Homeric text. For instance, RSP infers from passages mentioning Dawn rising from Oceanos that the sea should also extend east of Troy. Secondly, RSP discusses the location of the islands in front of the shore, using the same literal reading of Homeric passages. He then expands his argumentation to the rivers, mountains, districts, peoples, towns and places mentioned in the Iliad. For each of these sections, he shows that there are some inconsistencies between the Homeric text and the setting in Asia Minor, and he gives a new interpretation of the unclear passages, showing that with a setting on the Dalmatian coast these difficulties vanish. He then proceeds to the main body of his text, where the chapters contain more expanded examples of the same ideas, starting with a chapter on the Iliad.

Indeed, RSP begins the section on the Iliad with a geographical reading of the text and gives an extensive catalogue of the different passages from the epic poem with a geographical content. In discussing his readings, he makes some interesting classifications of the geographical material from the Homeric text. His first distinction among the great number of topographical allusions in the Iliad is between a Trojan Homeland and a World abroad in the west, a very sound distinction with respect to the narrative. Again, his observations about the concept of geonyms are very attractive. By geonyms he understands a one-word term enclosing some geographical or historical truth. This concept helps him to distinguish the topographical onomastica in which he is interested, first from other names without topographical or geographical meanings and second from topographical elements having more than one word (for instance the geonyms Batieia or Kallikolone versus expressions like the Skaian Gates or the Troic Plain composed by at least two words describing the place). His further classification of these one-word geonyms into those related to physical geography and those linked to social geography is also worth further consideration. The same could be said about a third distinction where RSP uses the criteria of west/east and coast/interior, which shows again a rather close analysis of the Homeric text.

A somewhat lengthy catalogue follows, in which RSP tries to give a Dalmatian setting for each of the Homeric geonyms, using topographical and etymological evidence. This part of the book is, however, much less convincing. In the next chapter of the section about the Iliad, RSP analyses the topographical evidence about the setting of the town Ilios. RSP again argues that the Dalmatian setting answers every inconsistency in the Homeric description of the Trojan city. He goes even further in his attempt to make the Homeric text entirely coherent by giving a symbolic reading of the war between the Achaeans and the Trojans, and he does not hesitate to use medieval stories about western cities claiming to be descendents of the Trojans to prove his theory of a Dalmatian location. Obviously, he tries to explain a Trojan-Dalmatian migration to these countries before the texts were crystallized in a Greek form. He unfortunately fails to discuss all the medieval traditions and their transmission from the Roman world, where the Trojan myth developed its own independent tradition with new creations and new variations. A medieval scholar would therefore certainly share my opinion.

In the section on the Odyssey, RSP pursues the same line of argument, building on this discussion about the settings mentioned in the Iliad and listing the additional geographical elements contained in the Odyssey. There are, however, two interesting consequences of RSP’s discussion. First, the Odyssean journey is, from this point of view, confined to a much smaller space than most of the ancient and modern scholars would imagine. The author tries to locate the different episodes of Odysseus’s journey around the island in front of the Dalmatian coast between modern Split and Dubrovnik. Second, in his arguments he comes to the conclusion that the Achaeans are rather a nomadic folk opposed to the more sedentary Trojan, an idea which does indeed emerge from the Homeric text. The Achaeans are frequently linked to the coast, to ships and to the sea. They are always aware of the fact that they will leave after the war. The Trojans are, on the other hand, linked to the more permanent city of Ilios, to the interior of the territory and to Mount Ida. They are the native folk, and the Homeric text announces that remains of Troy will still be seen on the spot even after the fall of Troy.

In the last section on Homer, the reader will no doubt be interested to discover how the author can explain the introduction of these Balkan tales into Greek heritage. RSP imagines several stages of a supposed Illyrian expansion, in which at some time this people made its way down to the North of Greece with a final stop in Pella, where RPS introduces the so-called “omirones”, the keepers of this ancient Illyrian lore. Their compositions became, little by little, both bicultural and bilingual, and they ultimately even shaped the Homeric Greek language. RSP then narrates the history of these “omirones”. According to him, the initial assembly split up into two groups, one of them travelling to Ephesus and later becoming the Homeridai. Again, extending his argumentation far beyond the scope of a classical reviewer, RSP believes that the other group of these “omirones” travelled even further and brought their influence to the Judaic tradition.

In his Postscript RSP tries to explain that the association of Hissarlik (Schliemann’s Troy) with the Homeric Ilios has never been satisfactory but has been shaped by the city-state communities of Archaic Greece working with information brought from abroad.

The book as a whole, then, is a very idiosyncratic reading of the Homeric epics with a special purpose, to prove that the texts mention a Dalmatian setting and that with this interpretation the geographical indications of the Homeric epics are clear and coherent. Even if one is willing to follow RSP’s enthusiastic statement that the Dalmatian coast and its people have captured his life, the book is unfortunately not convincing precisely because the author often overstates his case, failing to mention all other interpretations and the generally accepted premise that much in Homeric geography cannot simply be read in a straight-forward way, since it is built on the peculiarities of oral composition and the formulaic style. The merits of the book should, however, also be judged by linguists because of the many Illyrian etymologies on which RSP bases the often obscure Homeric toponyms.2 The audience of this book, in spite of its many disappointing aspects and RPS’s ultimately unconvincing thesis, may nevertheless find in it a reminder of the many colourful readings such master-pieces as the Iliad and the Odyssey still create.


1. Price Roberto Salinas, Homer’s Blind Audience, An Essay on the Geographical Prerequisites for the Site of Ilios. San Antonio: Scylax, 1984.

2. One may however mention recent studies on Luwian and Hittite etymologies (e.g. Lebrun R., L’Identit√© des Troyens, in Queastiones Homericae, Louvain-Namur 1998).