Scholia Reviews ns 14 (2005) 1.

Peter Jones, Homer's Iliad: A Commentary On Three Translations. London, Bristol Classical Press, 2003. Pp. 345. ISBN 1-85399-657-2. UK£12.99

Stephen Evans
University of Turku, Finland

This commentary focuses on the translations by E.V. Rieu, revised very recently by Peter Jones and D. C. H. Rieu (2003), Martin Hammond (1987), and Richmond Lattimore (1951). It is designed for those reading the Iliad for the first time and is intentionally limited in scope. Jones acknowledges his debt to Kirk's editorship of the Cambridge commentary (1985-1993), and to Willcock's two-volume commentary (1978-1984) and companion to the Iliad (1976) -- the latter based on Lattimore's translation. Of early commentaries Jones picks out Leaf's two-volume one from 1900-1902. The Anglophone reader can further access Postlethwaite's commentary on the Iliad (2000), and Jones' earlier commentary on the Odyssey (1988), also both based on Lattimore's translation.[[1]]

This volume is yet more evidence of Jones' prolific production in his years of retirement and of the need for classics-in-translation commentaries. Most of Jones' sources are English but he has pioneered English translations of German scholarship so that Schadewaldt (p. 248) enters the fray alongside Kirk et al. (see below, n. 8). At times Jones' trenchant style reminds one of Thersites reviling the pedants but his writing is always fresh and very colloquial, even if the mention of a 'city-centre TV camera' (p. 34) is too deliberately anachronistic. There is not much discussion of the differences in translation (p. 77 on 2.576 is a rare exception, where he actually corrects Lattimore's 'swarming' for 'with many ravines'). His introduction is a triumphant distillation of scholarship. His purpose in writing this commentary is to elucidate the plot, explain references, say something about the techniques of oral epic poetry and discuss some of the main issues that lie at the heart of 'this masterpiece of Western literature' (p. 7).

The genre of book-by-book studies is not new and Jones acknowledges and recommends several books for further reading.[[2]] This reviewer turned straightaway to the catalogue at 2.484-779 where Jones is good and brief, to the embassy at 9.182, 'the most notorious crux in Homer' (p. 152), to Hera's seduction of Zeus at 14.153-353, 'one of the high spots of the Iliad' (p. 203), to the teichoschopia of Helen on the walls at 3.121- 24 and to the shield in Book 18. Each time Jones is ready with a pungent expression or a piquant witticism. Jones quips, adapting William Hazlitt: 'If we wish to see the insignificance of human learning, we may study Homer's commentators' (p. 7). Jones has succeeded in boiling down what the first-time reader of Homer needs to know into a succinct one-volume commentary, thus opening up Homer's force of human genius.

The book begins with a general introduction (pp. 11-44) discussing some features of the Iliad as poetry and history, oral poetry in general, Homer and history, heroic values, the hero's mind-set, the human and divine worlds, the interdependence of gods and men, divine intervention, worshipping the gods, destiny, death and free will. He then discusses some features of Homeric plotting and narrative, the plot and retardation, Homer as narrator and focaliser, ring-composition, similes and, lastly, battle.

Remarks on Jones' discussion of individual books follow:

Book 1 (pp. 45-64): Jones points out that Homer gives the Greeks three names: Achaians, Danaans and Argives. Argos, he adds, is a catch-all name for four different areas. Homer does not hang around; he is dealing with only a fifty-day section of the ten-year Trojan war. Jones sees Homer setting up the action of Book 1 to be played out on three levels: the public, the private and the divine. Jones' main sources for Book 1 include Pulleyn (2000) but exclude Draper (2002).[[3]] According to Jones, Agamemnon is not an evil man, 'he is just not up to the job' (p. 53).[[4]] He notes how the argument between Achilles and Agamemnon develops by each man 'capping the other's claim with a counter-claim' (p. 53) thus raising the emotional temperature. From this the reader can gain a good overall picture of Jones' brisk and breezy style.

Book 2 (pp. 65-82): This reviewer could not escape the feeling that Jones sympathises and almost identifies with Thersites, the ordinary, common soldier, 'the one man-in-the street to be given a voice in the Iliad' (p. 66). Odysseus is credited with persuasive skills, an 'upbeat message', served 'with a combination of carrot and stick' (p. 66). On the catalogue of Greek ships, Jones points out that the oral poet 'might tinker with them at the margins, but no more' (p. 75). Thamyris gets only four lines of comment at 2.595 even though he is crucial for the concept of competition in the oral tradition.

Book 3 (pp. 83- 93): Jones adduces a new source here (Hooker 1979).[[5]] He well explains Zielinski's first and second laws in the description of Helen on the wall of Ilium.

Book 4 (pp. 94-104): Jones points out quite sensibly that it is easy to find the battle-books monotonous and shapeless, but this is because we are not attuned to the world of war 'with all its tears' which at the same time is an activity 'when men win glory' (p. 96). Shay's and Tatum's comparisons between the Iliad and the sufferings of American veterans of the Vietnam war would have been very accessible and relevant for the English- speaking reader but are not mentioned here.[[6]]

Book 5 (pp. 105-18): Here Jones refers to Fenik (1968) as his main source for the typicality of battle- scenes.[[7]] His individual style is always unmistakable and includes expressions such as a 'check-list' of slayings, and Diomedes getting down to 'serious business' (p. 105).

Book 6 (pp. 119-29): Once again, Jones' introduction is efficient and stimulating, backed up by a new source (Schadewaldt 1959).[[8]] He shows how Homer widens the perspective on battle: 'what the family means to Hector is the same as what it means to all warriors, Greek and Trojan alike' (p. 121).

Book 7 (pp. 130-37): Hector and the Trojans gain the upper hand once again. The Trojans 'cobble together a Helen-less deal' (p. 131) which the Greeks reject. Jones emphasises the flexibility that the defensive wall and ditch give the poet. There is good discussion of analyst worries about the motivation for the duel and the new Greek defences in this book.

Book 8 (pp. 138-46) makes use of a new source (Wilson 1996).[[9]] Jones demonstrates how in Book 8 the whole balance of forces is dramatically turned around and yet how the Iliad constantly invites speculation about possible alternative strategies.

Book 9 (pp. 147-63): Here there is plenty to say on the controversial embassy and a new source (Griffin 1995) is adduced.[[10]] Jones explains the notorious problems of the use of the dual number in the embassy narrative to refer to a three-man mission.

Book 10 (pp. 164-69): This is the shortest of Jones' chapters and there is indeed little to say on the 'tedious to-ing and fro-ing' (p. 165) except that the status of the entire book has been held in question since antiquity. He concludes (p. 164): ' The story in itself is exciting enough, but it is not a bona fide part of our Iliad.'

Book 11 (pp. 170-83): Jones has a useful summary of the book in his introduction.

Book 12 (pp. 184-91): 'Homer plays the ditch + wall card here and now, both at once' (p. 184). Jones pinpoints also the famous scene of Sarpedon's rallying call to Glaucus.

Book 13 (pp. 192-202): Fighting here changes from 'close-range scrapping around the wall' to colourful duels (p. 193).

Book 14 (pp. 203-10): Jones well analyses the wonderful scene of Hera's seduction of Zeus which occupies the middle of the book -- one of the 'high spots of the Iliad' (p. 203).

Book 15 (pp. 211-21): Jones notes the typicality of Zeus' outline of future events (15.59-71) and how it deepens the tragic outlook of the book. Jones calls 15.355f., where Apollo, contemptuously kicking over the wall, is likened to a boy knocking over a sandcastle, 'a brilliant passage' (p. 216).

Book 16 (pp. 222-37): At first reading, I instantly marked 'good' in the margin of this chapter. Jones adduces Segal (1971) on mutilation of corpses.[[11]] Achilles is brought 'back into the frame' in 'this richly ironic book' (pp. 223f.). Jones underlines Achilles' paradox -- that he needs to return to the fighting himself but that he still cannot forgive Agamemnon.

Book 17 (pp. 238-47): Jones brings up the question of retardation of the plot here and discusses Menelaus' aristeia, adducing a further work by Willcock (1987).[[12]] Following Edwards, Jones notes the high percentage of similes in this book (fifteen per cent). Achilles is mentioned twenty-four times in this book.

Book 18 (pp. 248-61) is the great turning-point in the Iliad, the 'book of decision' (p. 248), with reference to Schadewaldt (1959).[[13]] On the shield, Jones notes that the Iliad is 'shot through with images of peace' (p. 251).

Book 19 (pp. 262-70): Jones quotes Page's quip on 'luncheon stealing the limelight' (p. 263, from Page 1959: 314) in this book. Jones signals the major exceptionality of Achilles' talking horse, Xanthus. Achilles dons his armour with 'his usual single-minded impetuosity' (p. 263) and lack of compromise.

Book 20 (pp. 271-77): Here 'Homer bites the bullet and goes for Aeneas' (p. 271) as the first victim of Achilles' aristeia. Jones goes to town in describing Achilles' slaughtering of the Trojans (p. 272).

Book 21 (pp. 278-86): The pro-Trojan god of the river, Scamander, now 'looms large' but Hera persuades Hephaestus to 'turn his flame-thrower' onto the river and save Achilles. Jones typically describes the 'knockabout' between the gods on Olympus as a 'farce' (p. 279).

Book 22 (pp. 287-97): Jones well comments on one of the most satisfying features of this book -- the strong sense it gives us of having been here before -- it summarises and closes the revenge theme. Jones lists the numerous similes in the book and notes that the preparation for the duel between Achilles and Hector is 'a demonstration of the oral epic poet's art at its finest' (p. 288).

Book 23 (pp. 298-308): 'Running his own show to honour Patroclus', Achilles is a 'transformed' man on the 'playing-field' (pp. 298f.). The games indeed take up six hundred lines. Perhaps Jones' comment on crowd behaviour at line 485 goes slightly overboard: 'wanna bet on it, squire? Name yer price.' Again on line 676 Jones enjoys comparing the clichés with modern boxers' boastings.

Book 24 (pp. 309-23): Macleod (1982) complements the sources here.[[14]] Achilles cannot move on and forget his grief for Patroclus. The gods, especially Thetis, are invoked to persuade Achilles to give up Hector's body.

There is an appendix on the truce in Book 3 (pp. 325- 27). Jones argues that the much-discussed truce in Book 3 was unofficial. The bibliography (pp. 329-32) is mainly on English sources but incorporates Jones' own English translations of German books. Jones has had to be selective here since the bibliography on the Iliad is huge. I would still consider that Shay's and Tatum's work on comparing combat trauma in the Iliad with that of American combat veterans from Vietnam would have been well worth taking into consideration.[[15]] The index (pp. 333-45) is very full.

Jones' strength lies in the freshness of his language and the economy of his commentary. One could quibble with the tendency to over-colloquialise or with his tendency to lump the three translations together with rare examination of the reasons for their differences and without sideglances to Fagles (1990) or Lombardo (1997).[[16]] He also could have mentioned Postlethwaite's (2000) commentary on the Iliad, which was based on Lattimore's translation, though Draper's (2002) commentary on Iliad I must have appeared simultaneously with Jones' own work. Without hesitation I can say that I look forward to Jones' further projects from his very active retirement.


[[1]] G. S. Kirk et al. (edd.), The Iliad: A Commentary (Cambridge 1985-1993); M. M. Willcock, The Iliad of Homer I-II (London 1978-1984); idem, A Companion to the Iliad (Chicago 1976); W. Leaf, The Iliad I-II (London 1900-1902); P. J. Jones, Homer's Odyssey: A Companion to the Translation of Richmond Lattimore (Bristol 1988); N. Postlethwaite, Homer's Iliad: A Commentary on the translation of Richmond Lattimore (Exeter 2000).

[[2]] R. M. Frazer, A Reading of the Iliad (Lanham 1993); E. T. Owen, The Story of the Iliad (Clarke, Irwin 1946; Ann Arbor 1966); A. Pope (tr., ed. S. Shankman), The Iliad of Homer (London 1996); P. Toohey, Reading Epic: an Introduction to Ancient Narratives (London 1992) 20-43.

[[3]] Jones' main sources for Book 1 are: M. W. Edwards, Homer: Poet of the Iliad (Baltimore 1987); S. Pulleyn, Homer: Iliad Book 1 (Oxford 2000); P. A. Draper, Homer: Iliad Book I with notes and vocabulary (Anne Arbor 2002).

[[4]] Referring to J. M. Redfield, Nature and Culture in the Iliad (Durham 1994) 95.

[[5]] J. T. Hooker, Homer: The Iliad III (Bristol 1979).

[[6]] J. Shay, Achilles in Vietnam. Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (New York 1995); idem, Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming (New York 2002); J. Tatum, The Mourner's Song: War and Remembrance from the Iliad to Vietnam (Chicago 2003).

[[7]] B. Fenik (ed.), Typical Battle Scenes in the Iliad (Wiesbaden 1968).

[[8]] W. Schadewaldt, 'Hector and Andromache' (1959), in P. V. Jones & G. M. Wright, Homer: German Scholarship in Translation (Oxford 1997) 124-42.

[[9]] C. H. Wilson, Homer: Iliad Books VIII and IX (Warminster 1996).

[[10]] J. Griffin, J. (ed.), Homer: Iliad IX (Oxford 1995).

[[11]] C. Segal, The Theme of the Mutilation of the Corpses in the Iliad (Leiden 1971).

[[12]] M. M. Willcock, 'The Final Scenes of Iliad XVII', in J. Bremer, I. de Jong and J. Kalff (edd.), Homer: Beyond Oral Poetry (Amsterdam 1987) 185-94.

[[13]] W. Schadewaldt, 'Achilles' Decision' in Jones and Wright [8] 143-69.

[[14]] C. W. Macleod, Homer Iliad: Book XXIV (Cambridge 1982).

[[15]] There is a minor printing slip on p. 7: 'it' for 'is'.

[[16]] R. Fagles (tr.), Homer: The Iliad (Harmondsworth 1990); S. Lombardo (tr.), Homer: The Iliad (Indianapolis 1997).