Scholia Reviews ns 14 (2005) 28.
Martin L. West (ed. and tr.), Homeric Hymns, Homeric Apocrypha, Lives of Homer, Loeb Classical Library vol. 496. Cambridge, Mass. & London: Harvard University Press, 2003. Pp. xii + 468, incl. index of names. ISBN 0-674-99606-2. UK£14.95.
Martin L. West (ed. and tr.), Greek Epic Fragments, from the Seventh to the Fifth Centuries BC, Loeb Classical Library vol. 497. Cambridge, Mass. & London: Harvard University Press, 2003. Pp. x + 318, incl. a table of comparative numeration of fragments and index of names. ISBN 0-674-99605-4. UK£14.95[]
Classics, University of Cape Town
Did you know that the Homeric Margites was so stupid he did not know what to do with his bride on their wedding-night (Margites, fr. 4 West)? Or that Homer died of chagrin at not being able to solve a riddle posed by a group of fisher boys?[] Or that Homer was born in Egypt, or even Rome (!), or that he became blind from the brilliance of Achilles' armour, or from the anger of Helen?[]
All this and a great deal more is contained in this pair of new Loebs, edited by West. They comprise two of a projected three volumes intended to replace H. G. Evelyn-White's now badly out-dated, single-volume Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica, first published in the Loeb Classical Library Series in 1914. The third volume, which has not yet appeared, will contain the works of Hesiod, including the many new fragments of his poetry that were not available to Evelyn-White.
It should be said at the outset that the two volumes under review are a magnificent achievement, making easily accessible to scholars a much wider range of material than was contained in the old single-volume Loeb. With the much greater space available to him, West is able to print a range of valuable testimonia to the many fragmentary works he includes. But he also prints much more primary material than Evelyn-White: in Hymns, Apocrypha, Lives, for example, nine as opposed to five fragments of the intriguing Homeric Margites; fragments of the Epikichlides; a lacunose but fascinating papyrus Battle of the Weasel and the Mice; and ten 'Lives' of Homer.[] In addition, each hymn, each apocryphal Homeric work and each 'Life' receives a concise scholarly introduction, informing us about its provenance and setting the work in context.
West's other volume, Epic Fragments, goes far beyond what we find in the Evelyn-White Loeb. In effect, West gives us the text (and translation) of all significant epic fragments down to the fifth century BC, including also anonymous fragments, together with all the most important testimonia. So, fragments and testimonia not only of the Trojan and Theban epic cycles, but also of epics on Heracles and Theseus and on genealogical and antiquarian themes. Again, each author and work receives a short pithy introduction.
The story line of the poems that make up the Trojan Cycle -- Cypria, Aethiopis, Little Iliad, Sack of Ilion, Returns, Telegony, Thesprotis -- is known to us mainly through the late prose summary of Proclus' Chrestomathy. A welcome feature of West's presentation of the Cycle is that he introduces into his text (in square brackets) material from the mythographer, Apollodorus, where the latter seems to be drawing on the Cycle but includes detail omitted by Proclus. This will make West's edition an easy point of reference for those who want to check up on details of the myth of the Trojan War that are not in Homer.
West has devoted more of his scholarly career to establishing the texts of early Greek poetry and explaining them than perhaps any person alive. Here, as he informs us in the preface to both volumes, 'I have edited and arranged the texts according to my own judgment, but relied on existing editions for information about manuscript readings' (Hymns, Apocrypha, Lives , p. ix, Epic Fragments, p. vii). West is a scholar of strong views and decided judgment, so one is not surprised to find his name cropping up quite often in the rudimentary apparatus criticus (all that is allowed by the Loeb format) to his Greek texts. For example, I count seventeen occurrences of 'West' in his apparatus to the Homeric Hymns.
Sometimes West produces a text that is considerably different from Evelyn-White's, as, for instance, in his printing of the Battle of Frogs and Mice. Evelyn-White prints a very full and conservative text of this poem, including in square brackets lines he thinks are spurious. West omits those lines he judges should not be there (fourteen in all), noting their deletion in the apparatus; he also posits several lacunae (the one after line 257 not inevitable, in my judgment) and makes several transpositions -- the most violent of these involves transposing lines 268f. after 291 and deleting 292. On the whole one gains the impression that a far more incisive scholarly judgment has been bought to bear on the texts in these new Loebs than on those in Evelyn-White's volume.
What of the translations? As one would expect of a scholar of West's distinction these are accurate, keenly alive to each nuance of the Greek. His translation -- where he is translating material included by Evelyn-White -- is clearly not a revision of the latter but entirely new. A comparison should bring this out, while also giving the reader the flavour of West's English. Here, for example, are their respective versions of the beginning of Homeric Hymn 5, to Aphrodite, first Evelyn-White's, then West's:
'Muse, tell me the deeds of golden Aphrodite the Cyprian, who stirs up sweet passion in the gods and subdues the tribes of mortal men and birds that fly in air and all the many creatures that the dry land rears, and all that the sea: all these love the deeds of rich-crowned Cytherea.'
'Muse, tell me the doings of Aphrodite rich in gold, the Cyprian goddess, who sends sweet longing upon the gods, and overcomes the peoples of mortal kind, and the birds that fly in heaven, and all the numerous creatures that the land and sea foster: all of them are concerned with the doings of fair-garlanded Cytherea.'
My only criticism of the English of West's translations would be that it occasionally sounds archaic or bizarre to the twenty-first century ear, as, for example, when West uses words like 'evermore', 'aloft', 'swatheling' (all p. 137), and 'bumptious revel' (p. 151), or chooses to translate the noun-epithet phrases a)igio/xoio Dio\s by 'goat-rider Zeus' and )Arte/mida . . . keladeinh/n by 'Artemis of the . . . view-halloo' (both p. 161). But in general West's translation is an excellent resource for those who want to read the texts in English, or to check the sense of the words on the left-hand page against the right.
An index of names rounds off each volume. In addition, Epic Fragments (pp. 299-308) has tables giving the numeration of fragments in West's Loeb compared with the respective numerations of Kinkel, Allen, Davies, Bernabé, Bethe (and others where applicable).
Scholars owe a considerable debt of gratitude to West for these new Loebs. They are a vast improvement over what was available in this area before. We look forward with keen anticipation to West's Loeb Hesiod.[]
[] For ease of reference, I shall abbreviate the title of West's first volume as Hymns, Apocrypha, Lives, the second as Epic Fragments.
[] When he asked them if they had caught anything, they replied, 'All that we caught we left behind, all that we missed we carry'. The solution: the fish had not been biting, so the boys had spent their time delousing each other instead; the story is repeated in many of the 'Lives' (for example, West, Hymns, Apocrypha, Lives, pp. 397f., 409f., 437).
[] These details are in the bizarre Vita Romana (Hymns, Apocrypha, Lives , pp. 432-39).
[] In only one instance did I prefer Evelyn-White's presentation of these texts to West's. For the pseudo-Homeric Cercopes, the former usefully gives in Greek, and in translation, the Suda's summary of the Cercopes' story, whereas the latter gives a shorter synopsis of the tale in English only.
[] As always the volumes are meticulously produced by the Harvard University Press. I found just a handful of trivial misprints: in Hymns, Apocrypha, Lives rough instead of smooth breathing on a)/kousan (p. 64, line 413); closing square bracket omitted in [disputes] (p. 263, line 6); in Epic Fragments, Poetas instead of Poetae (p. 36); Thlema/xw| presumably a slip for Thlego/nw| (p. 170, line 11); 'a' left unelided at the end of e)nkate/leca (p. 292, fr.5).