BMCR 2021.08.27

Homer. Iliad. Book III

, Homer. Iliad. Book III. Cambridge Greek and Latin classics. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Pp. x, 198. ISBN 9781107698024 $29.99 (pb).

This is the ninth and latest contribution to the Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics array of Homer commentaries, joining Bowie’s own 2014 Odyssey XIII-XIV. The list began with Colin Macleod’s splendid Iliad XXIV in 1982; there are 4 more under contract and still more under discussion. (One should perhaps add to the list Nicholas Richardson’s Three Homeric hymns of 2010.) These Homer commentaries form an unofficial series within a series, in the matter of how much and what kind of information is supplied, especially in the introductory material.

Since I am neither a Homerist nor even a Hellenist, I will concentrate in this notice on Bowie’s approaches and methods as a commentator, considering how and in what ways the volume meets its goals. The series as a whole claims to be “aimed primarily at undergraduate and graduate students of either language” and to “discuss texts as works of literature while providing all the guidance needed by today’s student” (CUP website here). “All the guidance” is a big (and much-discussed) claim—but the longevity and utility of this series have proved again and again that whatever the particular approach of a given commentator, with very few exceptions, students of many levels are in safe hands here. As the number of Iliad and Odyssey commentaries in the “green and yellows” increases, it will be interesting to see how many of them engage in a dialogue across covers, as it were: the combined effect will certainly be enriching, as no single one of them can hope to deal with all the topics a student of Homer needs or wants. (I could easily see someone writing a study of this group of texts, along the lines of Henderson on the “Oxford Reds” or Gibson on the “green and yellows” as a whole.[1])

Bowie does not himself identify his target audience (though the blurb on the back cover mentions “students and instructors”), and that lack of definition to a certain extent haunts the work.  His 70-page Introduction concentrates on the relationship of Book III to the poem as a whole, particularly structure and characters; on the historical background of the Trojan war (especially on the relationship between the ancient Near East and Greece); on the ‘Cultural Background” (Helen and oath swearing are the two topics covered), and on Homeric meter and language (a “revised and slightly amplified version” of the corresponding section of Bowie’s Odyssey XIII-XIV commentary, but now, logically and helpfully, with examples taken largely from Iliad III; the section on the “History of the text” is also taken over from the earlier commentary). No commentary can do everything, of course: my impression was of coming into a conversation already begun, which would need to be supplemented by an instructor in certain areas. Bowie’s ample Introduction does not explain (inter alia) the principle of economy or of formulaic composition, the problem of the authenticity of Iliad X (used as a comparandum, p18), the construction and reception of “Homer.” On the other hand, alongside his explications of meter and language, Bowie has full and helpful discussions of the archaeological and historical background to the poem, and of the story patterns represented by Helen and other characters; in this last respect, it is consistent with the aspects he concentrates on in his Odyssey commentary.

In the Commentary itself, Bowie’s strong interests in Indo-European parallels and word formation, in figurative language, and in narratology quickly reveal themselves. He is particularly illuminating on the shapes and patterns of the poetry: on snakes as image and omen (note on 3.33), on different versions of two-person scenes (on 121-45), on Antenor the rhetorician (on 204-25), on symbolic objects (333), and on dancing (393). Help is given especially on particles, both singly and in combination, and on etymology, where Bowie uses the work of Beekes (Etymological dictionary of Greek, 2009) to great effect. There is a helpful Glossary of Linguistic Terms (repeated from the 2014 commentary).  I enjoyed reading the wonderful Book III with his notes, and found on the whole that he elucidated most of the grammatical problems I encountered, and opened my eyes to matters of Homeric style, scholiastic interpretation, and the IE heritage.

I regret that present circumstances have conspired to make this review both late and short—but I hope not also nasty and brutish. While this edition did not answer all my questions about Homer and Iliad III, it raised (and answered) many I did not know I had—which is in my mind the mark of a good piece of scholarship. It certainly earns its place on the shelf with the growing, set of commentaries on Homer in the Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics.


[1] John Henderson, Oxford Reds: Classic Commentaries on Latin Classics, Bloomsbury 2006; Roy Gibson, “Fifty Years of Green and Yellow: The Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics Series 1970–2020,” in S.J. Harrison and C. Pelling, eds, Classical Scholarship and Its History, De Gruyter 2021, 175-218.