Scholia Reviews ns 16 (2007) 7.

Irene J. F. de Jong, Narrators and Focalizers: The Presentation of the Story in the Iliad. London: Duckworth / Bristol Classical Press, 2004[2]. Pp. xxvi + 318. ISBN 1-85399-658-0. UK£16.99.

Stephen Evans
University of Turku, Finland

This doctoral dissertation was the first book to light a narratological fire in Homeric scholarhip, a fire that has been blazing ever since and has now spread to virtually all Greek literature. It was a landmark in its heyday and represented a breakthrough in Homeric scholarship by combining narratology with literary theory and by cutting through much of the meshing of oral theory which had clouded the horizon up till then. Looking back, we can say that this book prompted much other narratological work on Greek literature.[[1]]

The structure of the book reveals its origin as a doctoral dissertation. The first chapter, 'The presentation of the story in the Iliad: the state of the art' (pp. 1-28), deals with ancient and modern accounts of Homer, the presenter of the story, and challenges the concept of epic objectivity. In the second chapter, 'A narratological model of analysis' (pp. 29-40), de Jong distinguishes narration and focalisation, based on earlier work by Bal and Genette, which in turn was preceded by the concept of narrator and point of view. In the third chapter, 'Simple narrator-text' (pp. 41-99), de Jong 'brings forward' or rather sets out simple narrator text, since complex narrator text is reserved for the following chapter. She introduces the narrator-focaliser and the primary narratee-focalisee and how they interact. The fourth chapter, 'Complex narrator-text (embedded focalization)' (pp. 101-48), discusses complex narrator-text including explicit and implicit embedded focalisation. Chapter five, entitled 'character-text' (pp. 149-94), turns to the topic of the speeches or character-text, including embedded speech, repeated and messenger-speeches. Chapter Six, 'The relation of narrator-text (simple and complex) and character-text' (pp. 195-220), treats the relation of the narrator-text and character -text (simple and complex) and character-text. The conclusion (pp. 221-29) dubbed 'narrators and focalisers', sums up de Jong's rejection of traditional objectivity in Homeric narration. Scholars have not noticed the subtlety of Homeric focalisation and narration. There are five appendices, detailed notes to chapters, a bibliography, index of subjects and an expanded and revamped index of passages.

Professor de Jong is a polymath who employs a rich mix of languages such as French, German, English, and Latin on the same page (see, for example, p. 82). The faults in her English language have never been fully analysed but suffice it to say that nowadays she works full-time with American colleagues and that her use of idiom has improved enormously. Scholars have pointed to the algebraic nature of this book,[[2]] the thorough and exhaustive nature of her research,[[3]] the possibility of exploitation of the narrator-focaliser (NF1),[[4]] and similarly, how the the strictness of de Jong's interpretation, especially in the confrontation of the narrator-text and the character-text, sometimes denies the text the subtlety it deserves.[[5]]

This second edition includes an up-to-date bibliography of works published in the interim touching on narratology and Homer. Above all, it includes a valuable introduction, in which de Jong widely discusses Homeric scholarship in recent years and where she notes that structure and plot are not included in her first work. She explains that the text is that of the 1989 reprint which included numerous corrections. This work is basic reading for the Homeric scholar and in particular the new introduction and bibliography offer a valuable overview of recent scholarship.


[[1]] The year 2001 witnessed the publication of a similar book by De Jong, A Narratological Commentary on the Odyssey (New York). Her other books include Narrative in Drama: The Art of the Euripidean Messenger-speech (Leiden 1991) and with René Nünlist and Angus Bowie (edd.), Narrators, Narratees and Narratives in Ancient Greek Literature (Leiden 2004).

[[2]] S. Hornblower, 'Narratology and Narrative technique in Thucydides', in S. Hornblower (ed.), Greek Historiography (Oxford 1994) 131.

[[3]] R. B. Rutherford, 'Brief Reviews of Greek literature' in Greece and Rome 36.1 (April 1989) 95-100.

[[4]] J. P. J. van der Hejden, Review in Mnemosyne 43.3-4 (1990) 465-67.

[[5]] H. Bannert, Review in WS 105 (1992) 265f.