BMCR 2008.06.23

Hesperos: Studies in Ancient Greek Poetry Presented to M. L. West on his Seventieth Birthday

, , , Hesperos : studies in ancient Greek poetry presented to M.L. West on his seventieth birthday. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. lvi, 406 pages ; 23 cm. ISBN 9780199285686 $199.00.

Table of Contents

Readers of BMCR will need no introduction to M. L. West, whose publications (so says the jacket of the book under review) “over nearly half a century … have transformed our understanding of Greek poetry.” Here are 24 essays, mostly on Greek poetry, written to celebrate his 70th birthday. The book also reprints “Forward into the Past,” West’s Balzan Prize acceptance speech (2000), and includes a complete bibliography of his academic publications—a staggering 497 items so far. Ranging across several of the fields in which West has exercised his enormous influence, the volume makes no attempt at unity of theme or purpose. Its value lies in the high quality of most of the individual contributions, and I will therefore say something about each of them, with a warning that a desire to keep this review from growing beyond all bounds means that I have undoubtedly failed to do some of them justice.

The essays are framed, fittingly enough, by original compositions in Greek verse by the former Tutor for Admissions who admitted West to Balliol College, Oxford, in 1955 and by a former advisee now well launched on her own distinguished career. The antistrophe of Sir Kenneth Dover’s lyric Encomium sets itself the familiar task of encoding the honorand’s achievement in a few well-chosen phrases. In West’s case, this would be hard enough to do in English, but Dover pulls it off in clever and elegant Greek. His epode praises West’s pioneering efforts to make students of Greek poetry more aware of its interactions with Near Eastern culture. This is perhaps the place to note that, while the volume as a whole achieves broad coverage, the Near East is almost entirely absent.

At the other end of the book, J. L. Lightfoot pays homage to West’s “Two Versions of Jabberwocky,” published in Greece & Rome in 1964, with a version of her own. West composed in the styles of Homer and Nonnos, respectively, to “overcome [the] difficulty” that these two poets “do not describe the same events” and are thus hard to compare directly. Drawing slithily on “the Humpty-Dumpty scholia,” he evokes many a chortle. Lightfoot’s version in the style of late Greek Sibylline oracles (on which she has a new book just reviewed in BMCR) is also amusing and, if possible, still more donnish. At any rate it employs obeli and comes with both a Latin apparatus and a parodic German Anmerkung expressing outrage at the poetaster’s incompetence (this may stir some rath). The transformation of “brillig” into a five-line eclipse may seem heavy-handed but is licensed by Lightfoot’s model; if in general she goes way beyond Carroll, it may be to avoid stepping on her advisor’s toves.

The book’s first main section, on Epic, gets off to a strong start with Stephanie West’s essay on endings. Reviewing the transmitted endings of Greek and Latin works, both poetry and prose, especially from the earliest period but selectively from later on as well, West notes that the conditions of oral performance did not encourage archaic poets to hold vital material in reserve until the end, and that “the desire for a formal conclusion, a recognizable epilogue or envoi, took time to develop” (4). Once it had developed, and dissemination of written texts had become the norm, practical considerations made it “wise for a writer to mark the conclusion as such if he was sure that he had reached it” (12), aesthetics of closure evolved too, and it is fair for us to be surprised at apparently abrupt endings (e.g. Sallust’s Catiline and Jugurtha). West lingers to good effect over a few items in her survey, such as Herodotus’ Histories and, the example she holds in reserve until the end, the Gospel of Mark, whose ending is famously … unmarked.

In “The Monster and the Monologue: Polyphemus from Homer to Ovid,” G. O. Hutchinson pays special attention to Theocritus, who reworked both Homer and Philoxenus, and to Virgil, on the way to demonstrating that “Ovid’s Metamorphoses confront (with complications) the Theocritean and Homeric Polyphemi, and two forms of Virgilian epos, across books 13 and 14″ (32). While in Ovid “intertextuality and narratology have reached an extreme of complexity” (ibid.), the result is not ponderous, for “the workings of intertextuality involve some simplification as well as complication” (36). Indeed, “One result of this little study is that [Homeric epic, whose Polyphemus may already have been “intertextual” with traditions in the visual arts (25)] looks at least as subtle and sophisticated as any of the treatments that grow from it” (36).

In “Low Words in High Places: Sex, Bodily Functions, and Body Parts in Homeric Epic and Other Higher Genres,” the late David Bain distinguishes between “vulgar things and vulgar words for vulgar things” (45). Examining “six topics which, although they feature in higher literature, might be thought both beneath the dignity of their genres and to entail in consequence the use of indecorous vocabulary, for they involve passages in which cow dung, breasts, farting, animal sexuality, infantile incontinence, and urination are mentioned” (ibid.), he shows that “writers in the higher genres were capable of dealing with such apparently intractable topics while both preserving the dignity of the diction and without having to resort to vulgarisms” (45-6). Countering an influential view of Wackernagel with roots in Athenaeus, he also argues that Homeric epic is not fussier than other “high” genres on these matters.

Walter Burkert offers three Iliadic emendations. The first, suggested but not published by Alfred Heubeck, concerns 1.5, where the unanimous reading of papyri and manuscripts makes the dead heroes prey for dogs and “for all birds” ( οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι). As is well known, Athenaeus attributes to Zenodotus “a tempting alternative: οἰωνοῖσί τε δαῖτα, ‘prey for dogs, for birds a meal'” (58) and is apparently supported by three tragic adaptations. Heubeck’s idea was that πᾶσι ( ν) was corrupted from * πάστιν”meal” (from πά c(c) α c θαι). Because the nu at the end of this word (unlike that at the end of dat. πᾶσι ( ν)) is indispensable, the position of the words οἰωνοῖσι and πάστιν must also be reversed. Burkert frankly acknowledges the boldness of restoring an unattested word and positing two stages of textual change. In my opinion, his second proposal, to revive Bothe’s emendation (or rather reinterpretation) ἀγῶν’ for ἄγων at 2.558, is even less likely to be correct. More tempting is μυδόωσαν for μεθύουσαν at 17.390, giving an oxhide that is “soaked with fat” (and perhaps beginning to disintegrate) in place of one that is “drunk with fat,” a “powerful and surprising metaphor” (Edwards ad loc.) that has exercised commentators since antiquity.

In “Hesiod’s Theogony and the Folk Tale,” Malcolm Davies reviews a number of folk-tale motifs, mostly already identified as such in West’s commentary. His aim is to provide further comparative material, bibliography, and analysis, and in particular to illuminate “the aetiological account of how Prometheus tricked Zeus over sacrificial portions (555-616)” (66) in terms of the pattern “God and the Devil reach an agreement over the establishing of some permanent state of affairs on a condition apparently favourable to the Devil. Paradoxically, this condition turns out to favour God, and the Devil retires discomfited” (67).

In a compact and well-argued piece, N. J. Richardson links the widely accepted judgments that the Homeric Hymn to Hermes is funny and that it is somewhat untraditional in its language and disjointed, occasionally even incompetent, in its construction. According to Richardson, “Down to the fifth century BC, types of poetry which might be broadly classified as comic tend to use a different register of style and language and follow different narrative conventions from more serious forms. The language is closer to contemporary or everyday speech, the characters are more like ordinary people (though sometimes exaggerated or caricatured), and plot construction (for example in Attic comedy) is much looser and more episodic. All of these features can be seen in the Hymn to Hermes” (85). After demonstrating this, Richardson concludes with cautious speculation about the date of the Hymns to Apollo and Hermes; he suspends judgment about the absolute dates but inclines to a view of Hermes as later and perhaps “deliberately conceived to form a light-hearted, or even parodic, response to the grandeur and seriousness” of Apollo (91).

Eric Handley opens the section on “Lyric, Elegiac, Iambic” with astute observations on two passages of Archilochus. With West, he accepts that fr. 23.9 ends with a form of “night”, but following Luppe, he takes ἀμφί temporally, so that the sense is “I’ll think about it overnight.” He then suggests that we choose among conjectures giving similar sense at line 11 (17) of the first Cologne Epode (fr. 196a). The speaker would then be saying to the girl, “We shall take thought of this at our leisure, when it is dark, with God’s help.” In the rest of his piece, Handley shows that, in Greek literature, night time is the right time … for thinking. At the same time, an importunate speaker’s assurances that he will “think it over” may well be intended to sound hollow. Incidentally, Handley accepts the usual view that εὐφρόνη came to mean “night” by way of the meaning “the kindly time”. In light of his results, I wonder whether he believes the presumably false etymology “(time of) good counsel” has influenced some examples of the kenning.

Two further contributions concern Archilochus. Paula da Cunha Corrêa offers extracts from a forthcoming study of the poet’s animal fables and metaphors. Focusing on frr. 174 and 177, she provides textual discussion, parallel passages, résumé of scholarly opinion, and her own analysis. Heinz-Günther Nesselrath follows three strands in the reception of Archilochus from the earliest times through late antiquity, namely that he was (1) a great poet, worthy of mention in the same breath as Homer; (2) a “harsh but justified (and therefore helpful) critic” (136); and (3) an “unbearable mocker and blasphemer” (137). The third gradually comes to predominate, but Lucian can still blend it with the others and thus “present an image of Archilochus that in important aspects reflects other heroes in Lucian’s satiric writings and even the portrait Lucian sometimes—in the guise of certain personages within his own works—likes to draw of himself” (151), particularly in respect of ἐλευθερία and παρρησία, the importance of which as Lucianic values Nesselrath nicely illustrates.

Calvert Watkins offers five short notes on Hipponax. Behind the mysterious word νικύρτας (fr. 28), which Hesychius glosses δουλέκδουλος, he somewhat ludically reconstructs a possible Lydian word meaning “belonging to or coming from nowhere”. In another note, he neatly relates the four nouns for commemorative markers in the list-like itinerary of fr. 42 to two Homeric formulae. In a third, he explores the Lydian divinity Malis (fr. 40), glossed “Athena” by Hesychius, and associates her via PLF fr. incert. utrius auct. 17 with spinning, and tentatively via etymology with * mon-“inner strength, mental force”.

In “Pindaric Accompaniments,” W. B. Henry argues that the needs of auletes (typically professionals engaged for a single performance after a minimum of rehearsal) can explain the rule that in Pindar’s dactylo-epitrites, while link anceps is generally long, if it is short anywhere, it is short already in the first instance (strophe or epode), or at least in the first triad. In aeolic odes, however, two different patterns are observable. In two odes for which aulos accompaniment is attested, there is an analogous strictness; in those for which it is not, greater freedom reigns. Henry explains that Pindar did not always know whether an aulete would be employed in the performance of his epinicians. His aulete-friendly strictness in dactylo-epitrite was a kind of hedging of bets; when he knew no aulete would be used, he could be freer. Unless I missed something, this leaves unexplained why the occasions on which Pindar knew no aulete would be engaged all happen to be occasions for which he composed in aeolic rhythm. Why no “free” dactylo-epitrite? Henry considers the possibility that aulos accompaniment was invariable for such odes but rejects it in favor of the bet-hedging hypothesis.

The first of eight papers on Tragedy is the magisterial “Housman’s Greek” by James Diggle. Diggle begins and ends with a previously unpublished excerpt from Housman’s lectures on “The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism,” a characteristically witty and scathing indictment of Jebb’s defense of a Sophoclean conjecture that had been deemed impossible by Porson. By the time he delivered his lectures, Housman had more or less stopped writing on Greek (except juicy new papyrus texts), but “before his election to the Chair of Latin at University College, London, in 1892, [he] wrote as much on Greek as on Latin” (146). Diggle judiciously reviews dozens of his conjectures, and while it is certainly true that later editors have rejected the great majority of them, Diggle questions Gow’s judgment (quoted on p. 168), that “the certainty and finality which distinguish scores of Housman’s Latin emendations are hardly to be achieved” in the case of tragedy. Diggle writes, “Of Aeschylus and Sophocles that is true. It is not true of Euripides, who, after Murray’s edition, remained, as he still remains, a fertile field of soluble problems…. I, for one, regret that [Housman] found no more time for Euripides” (168-9).

A. F. Garvie begins his essay on “Greek Tragedy: Text and Context” with a somewhat blunt distinction between “historicist” and “universalist” approaches. Through brief readings of Persians, Antigone, and Medea, he aims “to show that there is still something to be said for the ‘universalist’ approach” (171). Unabashedly old-fashioned, Garvie is a learned and sensitive reader. Jasper Griffin, in “Desperate Straits and the Tragic Stage,” promises a similarly direct approach to tragedy through the notion of intensity—”intensity of suffering, emotion, atmosphere, and situation, exceeding that of ordinary existence” (189). His examples concern supplication, decision, and exile.

In “Sophocles’ Learning Curve,” Christopher Pelling offers an original and compelling interpretation of the famous words Plutarch reports as Sophocles’ reflection on his own development (Plutarch, How to Observe One’s Progress in Virtue 79b = Soph. T 100 TrGF). Plutarch is concerned with style in its larger, ethical dimension, and Sophocles’ supposed evolution is consistent with what he describes throughout his essay (and in suspiciously similar vocabulary). What is at stake is not Sophocles’ technique, but his progress, within his art, towards ethical maturity. The stages are self-centered showiness, technical mastery, and finally a style that is “characterful and best.” This last, according to Pelling, means something like “truest to his own character” as well as “most able to touch the character of others (spectators)”. Anything to do with “characters” in the sense “stage figures” is remote from Plutarch’s argument, though Pelling admits it may have been part of what Sophocles meant if he has been quoted accurately. (Other ancient sources do comment on Sophocles’ “characterization” in the usual sense.) More likely, though, Plutarch has thoroughly re-cast whatever Sophocles said.

S. J. Instone reads Sophocles’ Ajax through the lens of a “blurring of life and death” (229). Specifically, “Sophocles’ depiction of Ajax [intends] to suggest that a certain type of life is no better than death and that in some circumstances death can create a sort of ‘life’. Seen in this light, the apparently sharp distinction between life and death becomes less sharp, and Ajax’s death becomes less of a dividing point in the play” (ibid.). As he acknowledges, Instone largely re-casts familiar points within the framework of this suggestion. For example, Ajax’s death is said to bring him “life” and honor in that his deeds are remembered and talked about; his son lives to inherit and perpetuate his glory; and others who remain literally alive, Agamemnon and Menelaus in particular, “are petty and nonentities” (237). Overall, this essay is thoughtful and convincing.

Scott Scullion discusses “Problems in the Prologue and Parodos of Bacchae.” The first and longest section argues ably for four fairly small changes vis-à-vis Diggle’s text to remove oddities from Dionysus’ description of his progress (13-25) as usually understood. The second urges interpretation of the chorus’ words τίς μελάθροις; at 68-9 as “Who is by the palace?” so that the following words, ἔκτοπος ἔστω, can have their natural and expected meaning (“let him be out of the way”) instead of the meaning “let him be outside” to which Diggle is led by his insistence that τίς μελάθροις; means “Who is in the house?” Finally, Scullion examines a passage related to the question whether Euripides’ representation of maenadic ritual involves a “male celebrant”. In an influential article, Albert Henrichs rejected E. R. Dodds’ view that it does, as well as emendation of ὅταν to ὃς ἂν at 135 (Gompf), which Dodds had very tentatively taken as corroborating evidence. With the transmitted text, Dionysus himself must be the subject of 135-41, but Scullion maintains that the problems this entails have not been solved. He reinstates Gompf’s conjecture, and with it “a representative participant in maenadic ritual” (258) as distinct from the discredited “male celebrant”.

In “Tragic Interpolation and Philip II: Pylades’ Forgotten Exile and Other Problems in Euripides’ Orestes,” David Kovacs argues that “several passages in Orestes that have hitherto escaped suspicion are spurious, and further that in two of them (and perhaps in a third) there are allusions to fourth-century history, particularly to the Third Sacred War. It will be suggested that for once these interpolations are not anonymous: the chief suspect is the actor Neoptolemus” (259). The passages said to allude to fourth-century history are 1075-7 and 1092-7 (and possibly 1167-71). The first must go because it contradicts 765; so does the second, which also contains the phrase “acropolis of the Phocians,” which Kovacs finds explicable only in the context of the Third Sacred War (356-346 BCE). This leads him back to 1077, where “great harbour of wealth” (with reference to the Phocian Pylades’ home) likewise makes sense only in the middle of the fourth century. Kovacs next argues that the popular actor Neoptolemus, a friend of Philip II known from a didascalic inscription to have revived Orestes in 340, “had, as prosecuting attorneys say, both opportunity and motive” to make interpolations of just the kind he has detected.

In the book’s only chapter devoted mainly to Hellenistic poetry, Adrian Hollis explores “Some Poetic Connections of Lycophron’s Alexandra.” He surveys “points of contact” between Lycophron and other poets (mainly Hellenistic, but also Hipponax and Antimachus) and concludes, “Although one might think that Lycophron, because of his metre and matter, stands somewhat apart from mainstream Hellenistic poetry, I hope to have illustrated that the opposite is the case” (293). A relationship of particular interest is with Euphorion, because “the priority of Lycophron, if established, would sit comfortably with the Alexandra‘s traditional date and authorship, while the reverse would come close to demolishing these;” however, Hollis doubts “whether one can prove either position to a determined sceptic by a straight comparison of passages from the two poets” (288-9).

The section of six papers on Metre and Textual Criticism begins with L. P. E. Parker on “Dionysius’ Ear.” Parker asks whether Dionysius of Halicarnassus ( de comp. verb. 20) correctly analyzed the rhythmic effect of the famous line in the Odyssey (11.598) where the rock of Sisyphus rolls back down the hill. Dionysius considered word length, selection and placement of consonants, and above all the fact that the line contains only dactyls. Parker, however, points out that this last is true of nearly one in five Homeric hexameters. What Dionysius missed is the unusual placement of words so that pairs of short syllables are split by word end no fewer than four times. To describe it another way, amphibrachic words (short-long-short) are placed in this line so as to break the double short rhythm on either side, and it is such placement that Parker goes on to study in aeolic and dactylo-epitrite meters, where too it turns out that there is a strong preference (in some authors a hard rule) against it. Although Parker herself once described the effect as “bouncing” and was followed by Dale, she now thinks that as a speaker of a language in which verse is accentual, she ought rather to withhold judgment on the perception of amphibrachic phrasing in quantitative rhythm.

In “What’s in a Line? Papyrus Formats and Hephaestionic Formulae,” Kiichiro Itsumi compares the modern understanding of various verse-forms (in particular Sapphic and Alcaic stanzas and Archilochean epodes) based on their internal mechanisms with what their division into lines of writing implies about their understanding by the Alexandrians, Horace, and Hephaestion. He concludes that the modern method is generally sound, the different understanding implied by the layout of ancient texts could be due to the copyist’s or reader’s convenience, and thus we may suspend judgment as to how the Alexandrians analyzed archaic verse. He has no doubt that Hephaestion, on the other hand, analyzed verse forms as he saw them, as lines. It is therefore unwise to base a theory of asynarteta on his definitions, as some modern scholars do. As to why the Alexandrians laid out “epodes” as they did, Itsumi theorizes that they were guided by two principles: (1) lines should be about as long as a dactylic hexameter (or trochaic tetrameter catalectic or iambic trimeter); and (2) Archilochus’ poems should all be stichic or distichic. Archilochus himself “created a new kind of verse by uniting dissected parts from the most common metres” (323). If I understand Itsumi correctly, the key word here is verse, and he is recommending that the epodes be printed on two lines, not three. A closing glance at Horace shows that he had a better feel for Greek meter than Hephaestion.

In “Reconstructing Archetypes: A New Proposal and an Old Fallacy,” Michael Reeve analyzes two key concepts in stemmatic textual criticism, first considering whether he or Elio Montanari has a more correct and useful understanding of Paul Maas’ term eliminatio codicum descriptorum, then exposing a fallacy that crops up repeatedly in a book-length attack on stemmatics by Enrico Flores. Regarding eliminatio, Reeve explains that there is no problem of interpretation or coherence where an extant ancestor renders a witness eliminable. The question is how Maas meant the term to be understood in the case of a reconstructed ancestor, an archetype. According to Montanari, Maas took the process of reconstruction itself as tantamount to elimination of witnesses at lower levels. Reeve admits that this view derives some support from an isolated remark early in Maas’ text but maintains that it leads to paradoxical and unhelpful consequences. He therefore proposes a different formulation: “a witness can be eliminated wherever the reading of an ancestor is known” (329). As a matter of logic, both analyses collapse the distinction between elimination of readings and of witnesses, but that should not stand in the way of eliminating whole witnesses when the evidence of collation supports it, since achieving this result is one of the chief benefits of applying the method in the first place. Reeve’s second task is to show that Flores’ broad attack on stemmatics is vitiated by a fallacy caused by misunderstanding the term “archetype”. He examines three versions of the fallacy and shows that an argument analogous to one of them arose during a 19th-century dispute among linguists about reconstructing Indo-European.

From his ongoing work on Zenobius, Winfried Bühler contributes ten briskly efficient “Critical Notes on the Greek Paroemiographers” (and other late authors who transmit related material). Finally, Rudolf Kassel emends the text of Erasmus’ preface to the 1531 Basel edition of Aristotle. After citing an Aristotelian apophthegm, Erasmus writes that Homer, in his description of moly ( Od. 10.302-6), says the same thing as Aristotle not rectius, utpote poeta, as the passage has always been printed, but tectius, utpote poeta“more covertly, seeing that he is a poet.” Kassel demonstrates beyond doubt that tectus was among the words used regularly since the Middle Ages to identify allegory.

The volume has been well edited, and the typographical errors I noticed are few and inconsequential. A couple are in the Notes on Contributors (Kassel’s edition of Aristotle’s Rhetoric was published in Berlin and New York (de Gruyter), not Oxford; Richardson’s edition of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter appeared in 1974; “is” is repeated on p. 260); a few errors involve Greek (two incorrect accents on νίκη on p. 345, one on εὑρετής on p. 325, and a handful in Lightfoot’s poem); and the metrical scheme of Archilochus’ Cologne Epode Itsumi prints on p. 318 gives a dactylic hexameter where it should give an iambic trimeter, and the slip is repeated twice in prose descriptions further down the page. The price of the book is hideous.