Hanna M. Roisman and Joseph Roisman (edd.), Essays on Homeric Epic. Colby Quarterly 38.1 & 38.2 (March 2002 and June 2002). Pp. 263. ISSN 1050- 5873. US$5.00 each.
Classics Program, The Australian National University
This must be one of the great bargains of recent years. Two issues of Colby Quarterly devoted to Homer. Twelve essays by recognized Homer scholars on the Iliad and the Odyssey. All well worth reading and all for ten US dollars.
The essays emerge from a number of Homeric sub- fields: the philological, the literary, the mythological, and the historical. The balance is good. My review below will take the time-honoured form of a catalogue.
In 'Dying is Hard to Do' (pp. 7-16) Jenny Strauss Clay introduces the March issue with a careful re- reading of one of the best-loved episodes of the Iliad: the death of Hektor. As Clay observes, the narrative of Iliad 22 draws its themes and motifs from other major confrontations elsewhere in the epic but in this particular realization of the death of a warrior, these themes and these motifs come together in a drama of extraordinary richness and pathos. Clay's special interest in the episode is in the poet's portrayal of Hektor's 'psychological progress' (p. 8) towards death. That instant when Hektor comprehends his certain end is a terrible moment for the audience. But death, when it comes, has its own serene beauty (p. 16).
In 'Reading the Birds: Oinomanteia in Early Epic' (pp. 17-41) Derek Collins sets out what bird diviners in the ancient world do and how they do it; and he draws on ethnographic parallels to establish a wider context for his study. Using Odysseus's recollection of Kalchas's prophecy (Il. 2.303- 10) as a point of departure, Collins demonstrates that the important factor in divination is that the community should agree to the truth that has been constructed (p. 26). But in the literary world of early epic there is a problem with divination. Readings of the birds are not always accepted in Homer and elsewhere; and the authority of the readers is frequently questioned. Why is this? Collins proposes that the 'truth' of bird divination is not an objective relationship between observable and social reality. Rather, bird divination is 'literary', a truth constructed in performance; indeed, Collins claims, epic poets hint at parallels between interpretation of bird omens within the narrative and the external audience's interpretation of their song.
Donald Lateiner, in an interesting paper that reflects on cult practice and the composition of the Iliad, 'Pouring Bloody Drops (Il.16.459): The Grief of Zeus' (pp. 42-61), tackles the anomaly of the tears of blood that Zeus sheds for Sarpedon as the moment of his death draws near. Lateiner draws attention to the humanness of Zeus's sorrow, as he mourns his much-loved mortal son. Much as he would like to spare him, Zeus cannot defy, or side-track, fate and snatch Sarpedon from death. But Zeus can do something for the Lykian hero: his words and actions throughout this episode in Iliad 16 look ahead, Lateiner suggests, to cult practices which will bring honour to Sarpedon in his afterlife.
In 'Eurybates, Odysseus, and the Duals of Book 9 in the Iliad' (pp. 62-76) Bruce Louden draws attention to four realizations of a typical Iliadic delegation-scene (1.307-18, 320-348; 9.178-669; and 19.238-249) in which a key event recurs: 'Agamemnon despatches Odysseus to lead a delegation to return a companion dear to Achilleus'. Louden draws our attention to the significance in these scenes of Eurybates, Odysseus's herald, who is closely identified with his leader: on one occasion (1.320- 348) he replaces Odysseus as leader of a delegation and on others he is paired with him, to the extent that he and Odysseus are referred to in dual forms in Books 1 and 19. Louden also encourages us to reconsider Phoinix's place in the composition of the embassy of Iliad 9. He proposes that Phoinix on this occasion is 'the companion dear to Achilleus'. Louden's discussion allows us to look afresh at the embassy to Achilleus and some of its problems. It does not resolve the question of the duals used there but it sheds some new light on the issues. The analysis is detailed and carefully presented. I am sceptical, however, of Louden's detection of ring-composition in the four type-scenes under discussion (pp. 66f.): would a listening audience observe such a correspondence? Would they see any point in it?
Speakers in the Iliad are on the whole extremely well-behaved. There are few occasions on which a speaker is interrupted. In the Odyssey, by contrast, storytellers within the tale are interrupted in mid-narrative, and the poet himself interrupts his own narrative at a number of points. In 'Interruption in the Odyssey' (pp. 77-93) Robert Rabel draws together and builds on studies of interruption by Milman Parry and Bernard Fenik. He shows that interruption in the story-tellings within the poem dispels enchantment and draws critical responses from internal audiences (p. 79). For it is in the breaks between episodes that we find some of the most significant remarks on the nature and effects of poetry. As for the narrative of the Odyssey, the poet appears to favour an interrupted storyline as a device by which he can reveal the artificiality of his narrative, with all its 'seams and joints' (p. 85). Through this device, therefore, both internal and the external audiences are invited to reflect on the poet's narrative technique. Rabel concludes his paper with a comparison of the strategies of the poet of the Odyssey and Bertolt Brecht.
The final essay in the first collection is Hans van Wees, 'Homer and Early Greece' (pp. 94-117), a corrected and slightly adapted version of a paper first published in I. de Jong, Homer: Critical Assessments (London 1999). Here van Wees tackles two major issues in Homer scholarship: the history of the transmission of the epics (and the date of their being committed to writing) and the value of the Iliad and the Odyssey as historical sources. Arguing in detail against the widely accepted dates for the composition of the Iliad and the Odyssey (c. 750-700 BCE), he builds a plausible case for their composition, 'probably in writing' (p. 108), not long before 650 BCE. As for the world that is represented in the epics, van Wees claims that heroizing distortions in the narrative tend to be 'limited, moderate, and detectable' (p. 117), and that the poems otherwise reflect contemporary Greece. This, of course, is not the last word on this subject. But we have here a clear and coherent statement of a possible sequence of events which saw the production of these monumental poems.
In the first essay of the second Homer issue (June 2002), 'Polyphemos' (pp. 135-50), Egbert Bakker skilfully teases out the implications of the name Polyphemos, a name which, surprisingly, has not until now received attention, despite the significant role the Cyclops plays in an episode which deals with names and naming. Bakker begins with the verbal root for speech, FH- and takes us to two nouns which derive from it: FH/MH and FH=MIS. The semantic field that the name Polyphemos draws on therefore includes both FH/MH, an 'unhiding' of what is hidden, or prophetic revelation, and FH=MIS, saying what is better left unsaid. Instead of being an agent of FH/MH and KLE/OJ for Odysseus, Polyphemos becomes an agent of FH=MIS. Thus, Bakker argues, he becomes critical to the development of the plot of the epic and 'a powerful instrument' for the self- reflexive poetics of the Odyssey.
In a provocative and carefully argued essay, 'The Sources of Iliad 7' (pp. 151-61), Margalit Finkelberg argues that the several correspondences between the Cypria and Iliad 7 (the evocation of the death of Protesilaos, a major duel, negotiations about Helen, the fortification of the camp) indicate not that these narratives are independent variants of a common tradition, nor that the events of Iliad 7 are an evocation of events which belong to the Cypria. Rather, we have evidence in Iliad 7 of a reshaping and adaptation of themes treated in other traditional poems dealing with the Trojan War. The Iliad, Finkelberg argues, is not just another traditional poem. In its extraordinary status as metaepic, it transcends its tradition.
Christopher Mackie's paper, 'Homeric Phthia' (pp. 163-73), considers the various 'homes' of Achilleus: his war camp on the bay at Aulis and, in more detail, his homeland of Phthia -- an obscure region for a hero who so dominates the Iliad. In a reading which draws initially on Greg Nagy's work, Mackie discusses the significance of the connection between the root FQ-, 'waste away, 'perish', and the placename Phthia. In a survey of references across the Iliad to the placename, Mackie notes that, after the death of Patroklos and in the light of Achilleus's decision to return to the fighting, the naming of Phthia becomes ever more ominous. The essay closes with two persuasive postscripts: references to Phthia in Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis and Plato, Crito, demonstrate that Phthia in the classical period at least was associated with death.
Alan Nussbaum, in 'Homeric O(PH=AI (Od. 14.343) and O)MEI=TAI (Il. 9.274): Two of a Kind?' (pp. 175-96), addresses a linguistic problem. He proposes an explanation that will account for two problematical Homeric verb forms, arguing that they result from the same single 'inner-epic' analogical process, which is plausible only within Homeric language. It is possible, he claims, to explain O(RH=AI (2 sing. mid. present) as the result of a proportional analogical process, whereby I)/DWMAI yields a second person singular I)/DHAI and O(RW=MAI yields a second singular O(RH=AI. The third singular form O)MEI=TAI, Nussbaum argues, is likely to have been formed in a similar fashion: the obsolete first singular future O)MOU=MAI is given a third singular with a stem-final epsilon and thus, by analogy, takes the form O)MEI=TAI.
Hayden Pelliccia, in 'The Interpretation of Iliad 6.145-149 and the Sympotic Contribution to Rhetoric' (pp. 197-230), argues that Glaukos's image of man and leaves (' . . . as is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity . . .') is not a simile but an eikazein -- a stylized comparison that appears to have flourished in sympotic conversations (p. 200). The eikazein is a competitive genre: the best of its kind were witty, interesting, and memorable sayings. Having examined -- exhaustively -- examples of the EI)KA/ZEIN in Herodotos, Aristophanes, and Plato, Pelliccia claims that Glaukos, in introducing his reply to Diomedes with such a speech form, is identifying himself as a member of symposiastic society and as a 'skilled practitioner of the verbal jousting in which the Homeric hero revelled' (p. 221).
In 'Lion Kings: Heroes in the Epic Mirror' (pp. 231- 54) Donna Wilson focusses on images of lions and on the lion similes that are used in relation to Achilleus in the Iliad and Odysseus in the Odyssey. She proposes that these similes are a 'potentially significant locus of intertextual allusion and arguably of intertextual polemic' (p. 232). Wilson's study of diction and thematics (pp. 233-48) demonstrates that developing sequences of lion similes describing the hero of each epic run parallel to and comment on each narrative. She then takes her discussion one step further and argues that the Iliad and the Odyssey mirror each other in their culminating scenes: each hero seems to have returned from his wrath or wandering as his opposite and thus as a mirror image of the other. Thus we see both Achilleus and Odysseus as lion kings: 'lion-hearted culture heroes who mediate between the polarities of MH/TIJ and BI/H' (p. 250). Wilson concludes that the two epics were not composed at different periods, the Iliad earlier and the Odyssey later. Rather, she argues, on the basis of their intertextual echoes, that they were produced and reproduced through reciprocal interaction, in direct relation to the changing social realities in archaic Greece (p. 254).
This collection gives instructive examples of a range of approaches to the epics; readers are left with some useful and quite provocative insights into aspects of the composition, transmission, and interpretation of the texts. I warmly recommend these two issues of Colby Quarterly.