BMCR 2023.11.38

Eustathius of Thessalonica, Commentary on the Odyssey, volume I: preface and commentary on rhapsodies 1-4

, , Eustathius of Thessalonica, Commentary on the Odyssey, volume I: preface and commentary on rhapsodies 1-4. Leiden: Brill, 2022. Pp. 928. ISBN 9789004527355.

Eustathius’ massive commentaries on the Iliad and Odyssey are more often consulted for particular passages than read in extenso, although these works, especially that on the Iliad, have garnered much more scholarly attention in recent decades as part of the more intensive study of Byzantine scholarship and Byzantine culture and literature in general. It is therefore timely and welcome to have a project devoted to a critical edition of the Odyssey commentary to complement the famous Van der Valk edition of the Iliad commentary,[1] and it is a wonderful bonus to see a translation added, promoting wider access to the often difficult text. It may be noted that this edition is also available in an online version in Brill Scholarly Editions (subscription required).

The observations in the commentary that address character, narrative technique, and what we would consider “literary interpretation” are in the minority. As Cullhed and Olson note on p. x, “Eustathius’ parekbolai are impromptu notes and extracts. His Greek is often inelegant and repetitive, his arguments and analyses wandering and obscure, his language technical, and his discussions so deeply embedded in previous scholarly controversies that their point can be difficult to comprehend at first.” To understand the point of the disjointed observations and their technical language, one needs considerable familiarity with scholia, especially those of the grammatical type,[2] and with the traditions of etymological and allegorical explanations, and one also needs to be aware of the intent in many notes to illustrate rhetorical techniques and to pinpoint phrases that one may suitably quote in particular situations. The editors came to this collaboration from different directions. Cullhed had already published an edition and translation of the commentary on Books 1–2 (his dissertation) in 2016;[3] Olson had worked extensively on Athenaeus for his Loeb and Teubner editions and thus become familiar with the many places where Eustathius quotes or alludes to the Deipnosophistae.

This first volume of the new edition, covering Books 1–4, is laid out in the traditional way: an exceedingly brief preface (only 5 pages),[4] plus acknowledgments, sigla, abbreviations/bibliography; then Greek text and facing English translation (884 pages). Beneath the Greek text there are up to three apparatuses. The first provides identifying references for texts actually quoted by Eustathius (mostly Iliad and Odyssey, but also other texts from Hesiod to Athenaeus and lexicographic works). The second (very substantial) apparatus identifies sources or similia for the observations offered by Eustathius: his own Iliad commentary (to which he often refers for fuller treatments—one reason the Odyssey commentary is half the length of that on the Iliad), scholia on Homer, the tragedians, and others, lexicographic works, etc. Because the edition is based on two manuscripts that go back to Eustathius or someone working under his direction, the third apparatus, for variant readings and emendations, is rarely more than two lines and is absent on a good number of pages.

The traditional reference system of page and line number of the Roman editio princeps of 1542–1550[5] is retained, but there are also marginal references to the pages in Stallbaum’s edition[6] (but not to Stallbaum’s line numbers, which appear in TLG) and, helpfully, to folio numbers of the two manuscripts.[7] Unfortunately, modern book production does not run to the luxury of printing specific page and line range in the header of each two-page spread, so when opening the book at random one may have to turn forward or back a few pages to learn what Roman page number one is looking at.[8] The continuous Greek text can be difficult to navigate visually. In the Roman edition, when a new observation begins, there is a little extra blank space before the first letter of the next note, which is a capital. In Stallbaum’s edition there is some additional aid to the reader in presenting each section governed by a single reference (such as β 33–37) as a separate paragraph. This new edition has improved on this by adding a blank line between such paragraphs.[9] Completely new and very welcome in this version is that within each paragraph black diamond-shaped bullets are added to separate one observation from the next, making the divisions much more visible than in the old editions. These bullets are not explained in the sigla or preface of this printed edition, but the online version does include it in the sigla, explaining “marks a place where the manuscripts use the punctuation mark “:”, typically it is a change of lemma in the Homeric text, or at least change of aspect or topic.” Occasionally one of the bullets is omitted in either the Greek or the translated version.[10]

The manuscript basis for a critical edition of the work is described briefly, with a reference to important work by Pontani and Cullhed, which established the complicated nature of the production of the two contemporary twelfth-century witnesses. In 2012, Cullhed had joined the scholars who regard the three mss. of the two Homeric commentaries as autograph products of Eustathius himself (as claimed for the Venice ms. by its fifteenth-century owner, Bessarion). But in 2016 (esp. p. 38* n. 23), Cullhed expressed less confidence about the conclusion, and here (ix) the editors say “working copy produced by Eustathius himself or perhaps more likely by an assistant working under his supervision.” The editors have produced an edition with minimal interventions in the text, although they have normalized the accentuation of enclitics (thus instances of τὲ or indefinite τίς/τὶς are tacitly adjusted to current conventions) and adapted the punctuation to be “syntactic, as opposed to the elocutionary punctuation of the Byzantine manuscript” (x).[11] It is essential for the reader to note the principles enunciated on pp. ix–x and not just the short list of sigla. The reader of the Greek will encounter “uncorrected” forms such as 1382,22 ἐνέφῃνε (false subscript) and 1384,47 δράμα (wrong accent) and 1466,32 ἐποίη (η/ει confusion).[12]

It struck me as odd that the preface provides no explanation of the relation to Cullhed’s 2016 edition and translation, which has not simply been reprinted. I conjecture this has something to do with copyright and the interest of Brill in monetizing the intellectual property (the copyright of the 2016 version is held by Cullhed). Whatever the reason, Cullhed and Olson faced the task of retranslating Books 1–2, and unfortunately there are some places where the 2022 version is less correct[13] or less felicitous[14] than the 2016 version.

For the purposes of this review, I concentrated on reading the entire Greek text of the comments on Book 1 and Book 3 in comparison with the facing English translation. I consulted the two top apparatuses sporadically, and these definitely provide a significant scholarly gain over the older editions, which had no such information.[15] The Greek and English are printed with great accuracy,[16] and the translation is a considerable achievement, with many felicitous choices and a good deal of help for the casual reader relying principally on the English.[17] It is, after all, quite tedious to translate etymological explanations because of the constant need to decide what to transliterate and what to translate, when to add parenthetic clarifications, and how to keep the use of italics, quotation marks, and parentheses or square brackets consistent. Of course, one can find places where even more help might have been given to the reader who just dips into the translation at a particular point and has not become used to Eustathius’ manner,[18] but on the whole Cullhed and Olson have done extremely well and are to be applauded for undertaking and carrying through a rebarbative task that will be of service to many users.

For reasons of space, I have limited specific comments to the selection of examples given in the footnotes of this review. Let me be clear that such corrections and quibbles concern a very small proportion of this massive work, which will be widely appreciated as a great resource for introducing students to this corner of Greek/Byzantine scholarship and valuable even to advanced scholars in this subject. One wishes the authors well in making steady progress on the remainder; the second volume covering Book 5–8 appeared in July 2023.



[1] Marchinus van der Valk, ed., Eustathius: Commentarii ad Homeri Iliadem pertinentes ad fidem codicis Laurentiani editi, 4 vols., Leiden 1971–1987.

[2] See the discussion of teachers’ scholia in Donald J. Mastronarde, Preliminary Studies on the Scholia to Euripides, Berkeley 2017, Chapters 2 and 3.

[3] Eric Cullhed, Eustathios of Thessalonike: Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey. Volume 1: On Rhapsodies A–B, Uppsala 2016.

[4] Cullhed 2016 provides an extensive and very informative introduction that will be helpful to anyone wishing to have more background and detail about Eustathius and this commentary.

[5] For a digital copy see HathiTrust.

[6] The standard bibliographic authorities give 1825–1827 as the dates of the two-volume edition, a digital copy of which can be accessed at Hathitrust or Internet Archive. As far as I can determine, the date 1841 given in the bibliography here is an error (also present in Cullhed 2016).

[7] Unfortunately, the Venice manuscript is not yet available online (very few of the Marciani are), and the images of the Paris manuscript (search for “grec 2702” at have in recent months been inaccessible, with the alert “The page is temporarily unavailable. It will be available soon.” Thus I have not been able to check an image on a few points where I would like to have done so.

[8] In the online version this is not an issue, since the entire text of each Roman page is displayed on one screen.

[9] Already in Cullhed 2016 there is first-line indentation to provide a similar visual aid in breaking up the text.

[10] E.g., p. 23, last line; p. 83, line 20.

[11] This policy is in general a boon to the modern reader, but I did note a couple of places where the translation reflects, in my opinion, an incorrect articulation of the phrasing, whereas the Roman edition reflected the proper understanding. E.g. 1387,39–41 (after two other derivations of βροτός) ἄλλως δὲ κοινότερον παρὰ τὸ ῥέω γίνεται ῥοτὸς ὁ ῥοῇ ὑποκείμενος, καὶ πλεονασμῷ τοῦ β Αἰολικῶς βροτός … is translated “Alternatively, rhotos, meaning “subject to flux”, is more commonly taken to come from rheō, and by the redundant Aeolic addition of a beta it becomes brotos…” The adverb κοινότερον is misplaced here. In the Roman edition there is a Byzantine comma after κοινότερον. I take the sense to be: “Alternatively, in the more common derivation (of brotos), rhotos, meaning “subject to flux”, is derived from rheō, etc.” Also 1395,32–34 τὸ δὲ ἀκαχμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ τὸ λυποῦν τῇ ὀξύτητι τοῦ σιδήρου· ἀκαχεῖν γὰρ τὸ λυπεῖν ἢ τὸ ἔχον ἀκὴν ἤγουν ἀκωκὴν δι’ ὀξέος σιδήρου is translated “akachmenon oxeï chalkōi is what does harm by the sharpness of the iron; because akachein is “to harm” or “that which has an akē”, i.e. a tip made of sharp iron …” The Roman edition correctly had punctuation after λυπεῖν, making the short γάρ-clause parenthetic. Eust. is here contemplating two different etymologies, one where ἀκαχεῖν is (tacitly) related to ἄχος and glossed with τὸ λυπεῖν, “cause pain,” the other relating it to ἄκη, “point.”

[12] On p. 128, the first word is printed as προθύροι whereas the Homeric phrase is ἰθὺς προθυροῖο. Since I cannot check the manuscripts, I am unsure whether this is an error of the scribe (Cullhed 2016 also prints προθύροι) or a modern erratum. If it is the former, then I would have printed προθυροῖο, which was clearly Eustathius’ intention here, since he is quoting to exemplify a use of the singular of the noun; if προθύροι is in the mss, it belongs, in my view, in the apparatus criticus.

[13] E.g., 1388,13 Cullhed 2016 “Hermes does not only hint at our natural logos, but also uttered logos” is correct against 2022 “Hermes does not only hint at our natural logos, but expressly refers to it”; 1389,15–18 καὶ διὰ αἰτίαν ἐχομένην λόγου is (2016) “also for a good reason,” not (2022) “also for a reason connected with the argument.”

[14] E.g., in the opening words of Eustathius’ preface (1379,7) πικροὶ … λογισταί is well expressed as “bitter scrutinizers” in 2016, less well, I think, as “relentless auditors” in 2022.

[15] One issue I noted: in the top app. of p. 90 it is suggested that Eust. lapsu memoriae had in mind Pindar Isthm. 13.16, but Eust. cites Pindar here only for his use of the Doric form ἐν (variant of εἰς/ἐς + acc.), not for any specific Pindaric phrase containing ναίει.

[16] Some errata I noticed: p. 39, line 3 from bottom, delete either “then” or “entha”; p. 46, line 18, τὸ νε  for τὸ ε; p. 67, line 4, “blatthering” for “blathering”; p. 127, line 19, embrithses for embrithes; p. 145, line 20, leusō for leussō; p. 205, line 5 from bottom, epembolai for epembolas; p. 209, line 4, oplon for hoplon; p. 211, line 15, “man” for “woman”; p. 212, line 4 ἠκριβωμένος for ἠκριβωμένως (unless the editors are leaving the typical ο/ω error uncorrected—not a user-friendly policy, nor one that reflects the intention of a scholar like Eust.); p. 248, line 13, τὸ ν for τὸ ρ.

[17] There are naturally some lapses: e.g., 1383,52–53 ποθέν twice translated as “whence” when it has to be “from some place”; 1384,47–49 the translation misrepresents Eust.’s argument (based on etymologizing ἀγαθός from ἄγαν); 1385,57 διαυλεῖν, which means “play the double flute,” is mistranslated as “tear asunder” (did someone’s eye see διαλύειν?); 1388,16 θαυμασίως is not “[the epithets] are used in admiration here” but “in a wondrous way”—Eust. often uses θαυμασίως to express approval of the consummate literary skill of Homer, in this passage in choosing morally and thematically suitable epithets for Hermes in his role of warning Aegisthus; 1388,19 τίσις ἔσσεται Ἀτρεΐδαο is not “revenge upon the son of Atreus,” but “revenge for the son of Atreus” (as correctly translated a few lines later in 1388,23–24); 1390,40 ἄγω τὸ κλῶ is rendered “agō meaning to spin,” but Eust. is glossing ἄγω (ἄγνυμι) with κλάω/κλῶ, “break, crush,” and the following κατακλῶνται γὰρ τὰ σπαθώμενα is “for things that are woven (i.e., by being struck with the spathē) are crushed”; 1391,24–26 τεκμήρασθαι in the first sentence is rendered correctly, but the echoing and explaining τεκμαίρονται in the second sentence is not; 1394,31 μήποτε is “perhaps” (LSJ s.v. I.3), not “never.”

[18] E.g. sometimes “the periegete” is clarified by adding Dionysius, or “the geographer” by adding Strabo, and sometimes not; similarly, some technical terms are translated or glossed, but sometimes they are simply transliterated, as “antiparastasis” (p. 69, line 18); “the Cilician poet” (p. 213, line 17) is not identified as Oppian (and the allusion to Halieutica 1.242 is not identified in the apparatus opposite).