Scholia Reviews ns 15 (2006) 22.
Barbara Graziosi and Johannes Haubold, Homer: The Resonance of Epic. Classical Literature and Society. London: Duckworth, 2005. Pp. ISBN 0-7156-3282-5. UK£16.99.
Classics, University of Otago, New Zealand
In Homer: The Resonance of Epic Graziosi and Haubold have successfully combined material from their individual and more specialized publications into a stimulating and easily digested new book that will appeal to the general reader of Greek epic in translation as well as the professional teacher and scholar. Its aim is two-fold: to provide its readers with an overview of the various modern approaches to the Homeric Question and their short-comings, and to offer a new framework from within which to interpret Greek epic. Key to the argument put forward by Graziosi and Haubold is the concept of 'resonance' which they define as a poem's 'ability to evoke a wider epic tradition and place itself in relation to that tradition' (p. 12). According to Graziosi and Haubold, a poem does this at the compositional level through its use of formula, type scene, and narrative patterning, and at the interpretative level through the narrative context in which they are used. By linking important modern insights from the oral-tradition branch of scholarship with the more literary-interpretative approaches to individual poems, Graziosi and Haubold offer their readers a way of reading Greek epic that prioritizes ancient reception and gives new life to epic compositional technique by taking the position of the auditor and listening to them in their larger epic context.
The book is divided into two parts and further sub-divided into chapters. In Part One, 'Resonance' (pp. 11-62), Graziosi and Haubold set forth their argument for adopting a different view of epic compositional technique. Then in Part Two, 'Resonant Patterns' (pp. 63-150), they demonstrate the applicability of their resonance concept as an interpretative tool. Each part is prefaced by a two-page overview of what is to follow, while each chapter concludes with a review of its argument and the significance of its findings to the larger argument of the book.
In Chapter One, 'The Poet' (pp. 15-34), which follows a balanced presentation and critique of the issues and positions taken on the Homeric Question, Graziosi and Haubold consider the significance of two aspects of the ancient discussions of Homer, noting first the tendency to attribute all (or nearly all) heroic epic to Homer, and second, the tendency to link the names Homer and Hesiod when appealing to the authoritative voice of early epic hexameter. According to Graziosi and Haubold, in the ancient view these names were synonymous with two differently-focussed but complementary types of epic, and they were authoritative because both types articulated and confirmed an understanding of cosmic origins and world order shared by their audiences, in accord with human experience and with the larger epic tradition. This siting of the poems within the context of the larger tradition is a valuable corrective to the modern tendency to consider each Homeric poem individually and especially as distinct from (and superior to) the Hesiodic oeuvre and other epic fragments later attributed to other poets.
Chapter Two, 'The Poems' (pp. 35-62), then sets out to demonstrate how the shared linguistic and compositional features of Homeric and Hesiodic verse point to that larger epic tradition and serve to locate particular persons and events within the cosmic-historical framework. Without denying the aide-memoire function of formulaic language for the poet, Graziosi and Haubold invite their readers to read/hear epic for its effects on the audience. They take note of the tendency in epic to employ divine/human genealogies to chronicle cosmic history and the way in which, on one hand, some epithets -- such as patronymics -- locate a figure within that history, while on the other some serve to show stability through time. They are particularly strong here in revealing the vitality of formula/epithet/type-scene and the importance of these aspects of epic to auditors in assessing the truth-value or authority of a particular telling.
Part One concludes by arguing that 'Homeric language is best understood as a specialized medium that expresses perfectly the contents of Greek epic poetry' (p. 61), contents which expressed the how, when, why, and where of existence right down to the present day, beginning with Theogony and the Catalogue of Women, moving through the Iliad, Odyssey, and Epic Cycle to the present of Works and Days. Throughout this part of the book Graziosi and Haubold's argument is made in clear, concise, and jargon-free language as they integrate and expand upon newer insights presented by others and regularly demonstrate their point through reference to the primary texts. Insofar as Part One draws attention to an un- and/or under-recognized aspect of the language of epic, that is, the 'resonance' effect, it provides an important contribution to scholarship in a format assessable to all readers.
Graziosi and Haubold, however, take their argument one step further in Part Two, where they attempt to demonstrate a correlation between the way particular events and characters are shaped in a given poem and the general shape of the social and theological framework of the poem itself through the use of resonant patterns.
Chapter Three (pp. 65-94) initiates this project through a consideration of 'Gods, Animals and Fate' in the Iliad and Odyssey, looking first at way in which epic represents the gods of the Odyssey as more aloof and distant from mortals than they were in the Iliad and how this maps unto the chronology of cosmic history. Graziosi and Haubold then consider how the poems differentiate between nature (animals and weather) as a manifestation of the will of Zeus and the natural world as it appears in the present time of the audience. From here they consider how the narrative can present an event as part of a regularly occurring natural pattern or as an aspect of narrative and divine telos. Throughout this chapter Graziosi and Haubold highlight the power of epic to explain the way things are today as a consequence of changes in the god's relationship with mortals over time as well as the reasons why those changes were necessary.
In Chapter Four, 'Men, Women and Society' (pp. 95-120), Graziosi and Haubold offer a new vantage point from which to view the social structures and gendered relationships within epic. They suggest that the poems represent society as it was imagined to be at particular points in cosmic history and that these points are themselves transitional moments in the relationship between men (here, gender-specific) and gods. Graziosi and Haubold are particularly good here, showing how the original crises at the beginning of the cosmos among the gods devolves to the level of the quasi-divine men-heroes of epic and are resolved in a similar direction. Of particular interest is the last sub-section in this chapter which considers the performance of Homer at the Great Panatheneia and other Greek civic festivals. Here Graziosi and Haubold suggest that such performances fostered 'comparisons between heroic society and present-day institutions' which would have encouraged their auditors 'to appreciate the development of several institutions, such as the polis, and the communal worship of gods as protectors of entire communities' (p. 118).
Chapter Five, 'Death, Fame and Poetry' (pp. 121-50), has Graziosi and Haubold looking more closely at the characters Achilles and Odysseus, arguing that the specific moment in cosmic history that each occupies affects his characterization and especially his concept of the sort of things for which he will win kleos. Additionally, and perhaps more controversially, they argue that each hero's journey is a history of the cosmos in miniature, as men move from being god-like (Achilles) and near to the gods (Odysseus) to an acceptance of mortality (Achilles) and a preference of ordinary mortal life (Odysseus), that is, from how things were then to how they are now.
Overall, the book is well organized and highly readable. I am less enthusiastic about the choice to use endnotes, however, especially when these contain a single textual reference without additional information or discussion. Parenthetical references are found occasionally in the text (for example, on pages 75, 81, 113) and, for this reader, it would have been preferable for all such single references to be handled in this way. Otherwise the notes are appropriately concise and the bibliography current. Graziosi and Haubold have kept their student/general reader in view by providing a list of all relevant journal abbreviations so that the articles cited can be located with relative ease.
I found the premise of this book intriguing and the argument engaging. It offers a fresh and insightful approach to the study of Greek epic and should serve to stimulate further discussion on the subject, particularly on the relationship between the Homeric and Hesiodic oeuvres and their reception. Homer: The Resonance of Epic is highly recommended reading.