Fun With Particles: ἄρα you surprised?

The particle ἄρα—translated often as “really”—has both consquential and explanatory functions (Smyth 1920 §2787) which are the regular meanings in Homer too (see Munro 1891, 316). Denniston (1954, 32) accords to the particle in Homer the expresion of “a lively feeling of interest” or even at times “surprise”. But, given the sheer number of occurrences in the Homeric epics, this may be problematic. The particle ἄρα occurs all the time in the Homeric epics (over 1800 times between the two for an average of 1:15 lines or so, see Denniston 1954, 33) but more sparingly in Hesiod.

How can this information help us judge the “Homeric character” of other hexameter poetry? The particle ἄρα appears 14 times in the 303 lines of the ‘Homeric’ Batrakhomuomakhia (BM) excluding the single time it occurs in the Prosodia Byzantina for a ratio of 1:21.64. For comparison, Hesiod’s Theogony exhibits a ratio of the same particle at 1:20.86 whereas the Works and Days’ ratio is a surprising 1:69 (see Zarecki 2007, 11 for these figures). For further comparison, the particle occurs 167 times in Apollonius Rhodes’ Argonautica (a ratio of 1:34.9); at a rate of 1:20.63 in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and 1:34.11 in the Hymn to Hermes.

Where the particle appears in the BM limits its significance even more: given that many of its occurrences are in the highly formulaic speech conclusion ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη (65, 177, 197, 277, 285) and that most are collocated in the last 100 lines of the poem during the rather ‘Homeric’ battle scene with two occurring in a formulaic death of a named character (e,g, Σευτλαῖον δ’ ἂρ, 209; cf. 226) and two appearing in the same metrical position as this following verbs (e.g. ὠργίσθη δ’ ἄρ’, 239; cf. 239). In fact, of the 14 total instances, only 2 occur before line 197. Hence, in the last 106 lines of the poem the particle occurs 12 times for a ratio of 1:8.83 which well exceeds that of either the Iliad or the Odyssey. (And this also leaves the ratio of the first 196 lines at a curious 1:98). Is the ratio in the last third of the poem an effect of the formulaic repetitiveness of this section, or is at feature of the parodist who chooses to exaggerate a Homeric tendency (if we can possibly divide the use of the formulae from the use of this particle specifically)?

3 thoughts on “Fun With Particles: ἄρα you surprised?

  1. αἲ ἅμα surprised indeed! I am no true scholar, and thus do not have access to that wondrous piece of bathroom reading, but I do know that Stanford’s commentary on The Odyssey cites him thus: “413-417. Note five successive instances of ἄρα: Denniston, G.P. p.33, observes the ‘almost reckless profusion’ with which H. uses this particle; cp. 19, 439-42.”

    Here we come to the central crux of the problem with the BM: determining the anonymous poet’s intentions. Some of it is so manifestly absurd that one is readily inclined to dismiss it as the work of a bad poet writing (composing?) carelessly. Yet, a highly critical reading begins to suggest that it could, in fact, be a rather intricately-wrought, carefully constructed parody, which goes deeper than the mere manipulation of genre conventions for comic effect, and probes deeply even to the point of mocking linguistic conventions.

    I am tempted by your suggestion that the repetition of ἄρα is specifically aimed at a notable Homeric convention. In fact, this is highly suggestive; I am going to re-read the poem this afternoon with an eye specifically toward the mockery of genre-specific linguistic convention. I think, in particular, about phrases such as ῏Ην δέ τις ἐν μυσὶ, which is clearly drawn straight from fable, but seems to have a totally trivializing effect when closely conjoined with a rather straightforward Homeric line.

    1. Let me know what you discover! I was surprised at my excitement about the particle too. Though, markedly less surprised at my eagerness to pun with it.
      I am recklessly expanding our commentary.

      I thought you would be more surprised by my interest in Vases!

      1. Actually, that comes as even more of a surprise to me than your ever-increasing fondness for Latin!

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