Say Something Once, Why Say it Again? A New Edition of the Odyssey

So, a few days ago I received in the mail the first Classical text I have ever pre-ordered (by almost a year): M. L. West’s new Teubner edition of the Odyssey:

Even before I received it, I knew I would have some issues with it. West has long been a proponent of a strictly textualist view of Homer–which means his goal in editing the Iliad or the Odyssey is to restore the epics to something closer to what the ‘original’ ‘author’ had in mind. Even with modern authors, I think we emphasize individual agency, creativity and genius to the detriment of cultural contexts and audience reception far too much. For the Homeric epics, which arise from oral performance tradition and which have undergone generations of transformations in the textualized forms, the peril of overemphasizing the importance of an ‘author’ is even greater.

So, West’s final great work was going to ruffle my feathers–indeed, he announced many of his intentions in his Making of the Odyssey. What I was looking forward too, however, was an edition with an updated apparatus criticus integrating new Papyri and manuscripts unavailable to Von der Mühll when he edited the text. In the accumulation of testimonia as well as readings, West’s edition does not disappoint. The text is quite readable.

But there are some problems. Minor: he uses iota adscripts instead of subscripts and offers a more liberal application of the nu-moveable. These are merely aesthetic annoyances for me….

The major problem is that West excises many repeated lines or passages that have almost always been included in editions and relegated them to the apparatus if there is some papyrological or testimonial justification for doing so. In addition, he brackets lines that are not typically bracketed. So, West eliminates some lines that Von der Mühll preserves, e.g. 9.30 and labels others as spurious (e.g. 9.55). But really takes it further.  (See the group discussion on these issues for more examples and some fine defenses and explanations).

West, of course, does this because he thinks many lines have been repeated by the process of transmission and that the writerly Homer would never have repeated so much. West is welcome to this opinion–and it is not alone in it. But the relegation of some many lines is quite striking and renders the text useless alone (in my opinion). I cannot imagine using this with undergraduates or advising a casual reader of Homer to use this instead of the old Teubner or even Allen’s OCT.

The editorial choices will change some interpretation as well. Some are idiosyncratic but have support (such as West’s decision to go with the double accent ἄνδρά μοι ἔννεπε instead of the common and more widely accepted ῎Ανδρα μοι ἔννεπε for 1.1). Others may alter what the text means, as when he goes with ἄνθρωποι, μήδε σφιν ὄρος πόλει ἀμφικαλύψαι instead of ἄνθρωποι, μέγα δέ σφιν ὄρος πόλει ἀμφικαλύψαι for Od. 13.158. In his reading, the infinitive ἀμφικαλύψαι becomes negative command–thus Zeus is ordering Poseidon not to drop a mountain on the Phaeacians.

There are many issues like this throughout the text. I will probably highlight some now and then. But when I started posting about it on twitter, a dozen or so people joined in with enthusiasm, expertise, and bibliographies! I have storified the several conversations as a group review of West’s edition. Check it out–I learned a lot from those involved and we inadvertently illustrated how useful twitter can be.

 

 

One response

  1. Pingback: A Farewell to Storify: Some Stories Before They’re Gone | SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

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