BMCR 2020.07.34

Fabriquer le monde: technique et cosmogonie dans la poésie grecque archaïque

Leopoldo Iribarren, Fabriquer le monde: technique et cosmogonie dans la poésie grecque archaïque. Kaïnon - anthropologie de la pensée ancienne, 11. Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2018. 261 p.. ISBN 9782406067191 €32,00 (pb).

Iribarren has fashioned an excellent work, intricate and well-polished. Based on the author’s dissertation, Fabriquer examines “le schème de la technique” in the cosmologies and poetics of Homer, Hesiod, Parmenides and Empedocles. “[L]a thèse générale,” as he puts it (14),

“est que le schème de la technique fournit un lien structurant entre le contenu des discours (le monde conçu comme l’objet d’une démiurgie) et la réflexion que les auteurs mènent sur les moyens poétiques nécessaires à la présentation de ce contenu (la composition poétique conçue comme opération technique).”

This structuring link, Irribaren argues, emerged gradually: from Homer, where the schema is not yet properly cosmological, to its Empedoclean extension into every domain. Each of the authors receives a chapter, and each could be read separately for its sensitive readings and original arguments; yet the links between them make an illuminating whole. The first focuses on the Shield of Achilles as an aesthetic reflection upon human life as shaped by art; the second, on the quasi-cosmological functions of craft and “la ruse technique” in the Theogony, with an emphasis on Prometheus and Pandora; the third, on the unifying role of craft in all three parts of Parmenides’ poem; the fourth, on Empedocles’ vivid craft metaphors and similes. The introduction contains a brief and judicious sketch of the broader poetical and philosophical contexts and the relevant scholarship, which the epilogue resumes with an eye to the later history of the schema in Socratic teleology, a separate treatment of which is proposed. Fabriquer is thus presented as the first stage of a reexamination, from a wider, more literary perspective, of the early history of creationist imagery. As a self-contained monograph, Fabriquer is an important contribution; as an opening study, it is very promising.

The foreword and introduction deserve further attention before we turn to the chapters. There Iribarren draws upon Ernst Cassirer and Hans Blumenberg, who studied the power of image and metaphor from a diachronic perspective. Iribarren gives a fine précis of each, which is all the more welcome since they have gotten relatively little notice in classics, where conceptual metaphor theory (absent from Fabriquer) seems predominant now. This makes for a refreshing contribution to the field. More immediately, it influences Iribarren’s thesis of the gradual transfer from traditional metapoetics to avant-garde cosmology. In a manner indebted to those two philosophers, Iribarren’s schème loosens the scope of the Kantian Schema, from linking images with concepts to offering images in advance of and at the outer limits of conceptualization—images that render “intelligible, dans les discours, une totalité à laquelle aucune intuition sensible ne saurait être adéquate” (23). Refining this approach by considering how certain schemata may function in certain discourses (whence the focus on hexameter with its poetological resources), Iribarren rightly asserts that this distinguishes his from prior studies of metaphor and analogy and creationist imagery in early Greek literature, which tend to neglect the poetical and poetological functions in favor of the schema’s role in naturalistic speculation and its ostensible reflection of articulate concepts. Iribarren’s stated desideratum: an intellectual history less limited to concepts and sociohistorical context (29f.). For the reviewer, this theoretical and methodological stance is fundamental to Fabriquer’s success. At the same time, Iribarren wears these influences lightly in the main chapters; and as much as he keeps his developmental thesis in view, he does not flatten the separate chapters into episodes of an abstracted history of tropes, but develops philologically robust interpretations that are admirably conversant in the scholarship on each author.

The introduction concludes, however, by summarily dismissing the tropes of divine inspiration (29) in favor of “la technique, thème métaphorique par excellence de la réflexion poétologique” (14). On a similar note, in the book’s epigraph, Valéry observes, “La pensée consciente d’elle-même se fait d’elle-même un système artificiel.” The quotation omits the sentence that follows: “Mais, par la suite, une transformation inverse peut arriver.” To be sure, the “transformation inverse” that Valéry describes (the loss of systematic goals) is not so relevant here. Yet the remark may also remind us that expressions of self-conscious thought, however artificial and systematic, have often been adamant in their assertions that they are precisely not artificial systems, but divine inspiration or spontaneous growth. Iribarren’s focus in Fabriquer is truly illuminating, but obscures the schemata operating in all four authors whereby human craft is masked as superhuman vitality. The neglect of such prominent tropes and their complicated interaction with craft imagery is a price paid throughout for the focus on craft, the primacy of which is sometimes overstated. This hardly undermines the project, however, which as a result is a rhetorically stronger corrective of the usual emphasis on tropes of inspiration and organic development.

The chapter on the Shield of Achilles is centered on a novel thesis: the shield creates “un dialogue . . . avec la réalité en tant qu’elle est déjà mise en forme par l’art” (36). First exploring “le motif d’une compensation d’ordre esthétique” (41), whereby the shield’s purpose may be implicitly identified (and contrasted) with that of the poem, Iribarren then analyzes the construction of the shield as a totalizing reflection upon reality in a decidedly different mode from the rest of the poem. The readings of the separate vignettes (esp. the dance) are cogent and evocative. One particularly suggestive and emblematic observation is that the origin of the world would seem to coincide with the origin and culmination of art: Oceanos, the γένεσις πάντεσσι, encircles the cave where Hephaestus began his work, and is also the final addition to Achilles’ shield (80f.). Some subordinate claims are less persuasive: e.g., the aesthetic pleasure afforded by the shield is said to transform Achilles’ “colère negative (μῆνις) en rage victorieuse (χόλος)” (48), which seems inadequately justified. But the chapter as a whole presents a compelling vision of the schema’s role and potential already in Homer.

Next Iribarren argues that the Theogony relies in a precisely structured way on craft or “la ruse technique” to correct genealogical instability and establish the reign of Zeus. The structure proposed involves three stages of “crafty” correction: generational (Gaia’s ruses against Ouranos and Cronos), ontological (Prometheus, Pandora, and the divide between humanity and divinity), and cosmological (Titanomachy, Typhoeus). It is further defined by a shift from τέχνη to βίη, which is invoked to explain the anachronic treatment of Prometheus and Pandora. Neat as this solution is, it is built in part on a construal of τέχνῃσι βίηφί τε (Th. 496, 97f.) such that only the first term applies to the overthrow of Cronos (the topic of the line), the second applying instead to that of the Titans and Typhoeus, which seems somewhat forced (or artificial?). The chapter remains an eloquent synthesis of evidence for the schema’s role, correcting the usual generalization that the Theogony is interested only in anthropomorphic genealogy.

In Parmenides, the schema is given a dominant role in unifying all three parts of the poem (proem, Aletheia, Doxa), in each effecting unity amid duality. In the proem, it is represented poetologically by the two-wheeled chariot and the pair of gates, said to stand for the two main parts of the poem; in Aletheia, the comparison of Being with a well-rounded ball is interpreted as a clue that Aletheia and Doxa enjoy “un rapport réflexif” (162) such that “ce que la sphéricité est à la cosmologie, la relation à la sphéricité l’est au discours sur la vérité” (152), which is an intriguing solution to the problem of their relationship; lastly, the all-governing daimon of Doxa is demiurgic in uniting the opposite sexes. Iribarren’s arguments are subtle and stimulating, but raise some questions. For instance, when the daimon causes “mixing” or mating, does this justifiably qualify as craft? To be sure, this is intentional creation of a sort, and anticipates more patently technological demiurgy; but here the looseness of the schema becomes more pronounced.

Fabriquer culminates in the fourth chapter, where Iribarren argues that Empedoclean Love governs all “assemblage,” and that Empedocles’ craft images reveal “une homologie selon laquelle la pensée, le monde et le poème, se déploient selon une même loi de formation modelée sur l’agir artisanal” (166). To this end Iribarren marshals an impressive array of arguments and evidence (one rare exception being the possible χαλ[κεύς in P.Strasb.). New significance is found in παλάμη (“palm” or “device”), which is argued to reveal a craft-paradigm governing Empedoclean epistemology. The same word features in Iribarren’s interpretation of the “painters simile” of fr. 23, where he builds on the growing consensus that the three dual participles modifying the painters are not, as previously thought, false duals, but are the key to a proper allegoresis: recent interpreters take the dual painters to represent Love and Strife collaborating, but Iribarren convincingly rejects this on several grounds (including a memorable discussion of art in Love’s “golden age”), and proposes instead that the duals hint at the παλάμαι of Love, which are demiurgic elsewhere—but never dual. Questions may remain, but Iribarren’s is the most cogent reading so far of the duals as true duals. Iribarren also makes special use of the ἄρθμια ἔργα that humans accomplish through Love, translating the phrase with “œuvres de jonction.” Setting aside the etymological link with ἀραρίσκω etc., which Empedocles does play upon, the use of ἄρθμιος in other authors and the Empedoclean context suggest a preoccupation with Love’s role in love, and not in craft (recall Parmenides’ daimon). Are craft and an eroticized nature coextensive, or is the former an outgrowth, as it were, of the latter? Iribarren’s argument for the fundamental identity of nature and art in Empedocles is powerful, but may permit some modulation. Objections aside, this chapter in particular is an exceptional contribution to the scholarship.

This brings us back to the problem of how precisely the schème technique is to be delimited. Self-evident as the schema may be, one wonders, e.g., whether a “crafty” ruse could be usefully distinguished from craft production, and whether their fusion in some of these texts is important for our understanding of how exactly the texts prefigure the later relationships between nature and craft. Perhaps these questions will be taken up in the continuation, apropos of the delineation of τέχνη and φύσις in the sophists and Plato.

The epilogue offers welcome qualifications to any impressions of teleology in the authors considered, thus showing the relevance of the last sentence of the epigraph: “Si la « vie » avait un but, elle ne serait plus la vie.” Iribarren then concludes with an incisive and original sketch of how an increasingly anthropocentric notion of cosmological craft came to shape Socratic teleology.

Besides a helpful outline and bibliography (where perhaps the most conspicuous absence is Giambattista Vico, who seems to lurk behind many passages), the back matter contains an index des personnages, a compendious index des notions, and an index locorum. It is well edited: I noted few errors, none obstructive. There are e.g. a few mistaken diacritics; a colon missing after ἀγορεύεις (41); 605 for 600 (74); τύτων for τούτων (189); δι’ ἀγυίων for δι’ ἀγυιῶν (Emp. 100.22, 205), where, since most editions print only διὰ γυίων, a note would have helped (ἄγυια is “street,” which Bollack took as a metaphor for “vein”). Otherwise the Greek is treated meticulously: numerous textual problems are carefully discussed, and all is translated clearly and precisely.

Like Iribarren’s prior publications, Fabriquer displays a rare combination of poetical, philological, and philosophical sensitivity and breadth. While the separate chapters would be worthwhile for specialists, the whole is accessible to a wider audience of advanced undergraduates and beyond. This book should reward anyone with interests in early Greek poetry and philosophy and their interaction, but particularly those interested in the history of craft metaphors and teleological thought, for whom it will be essential reading. One expects that the same will be true of the project’s continuation.