Homer: Poet, Parent, Parodist?

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Greek Anthology, Exhortative Epigrams 90

“Because he wanted to exercise his mind,
Homer made up the tale of frogs and mice,
Which he then gave to children to imitate.”

῞Ομηρος αὐτοῦ γυμνάσαι γνῶσιν θέλων,
τῶν βατράχων ἔπλασε καὶ μυῶν μῦθον
ἔνθεν παρορμῶν πρὸς μίμησιν τοὺς νέους.

The problematic biographies, the various Lives of Homer, include some similar information.

Vita Herodotea 332-4

“The man from Khios had children around the same age. They were entrusted to Homer for education. He composed these poems: the Kekropes, Batrakohmuomakia, Psaromakhia, Heptapaktikê, and Epikikhlides and as many other poems as were playful.”

ἦσαν γὰρ τῷ Χίῳ παῖδες ἐν ἡλικίῃ. τούτους οὖν αὐτῷ παρατίθησι παιδεύειν. ὁ δὲ ἔπρησσε ταῦτα· καὶ τοὺς Κέρκωπας καὶ Βατραχομυομαχίαν καὶ Ψαρομαχίην καὶ ῾Επταπακτικὴν καὶ ᾿Επικιχλίδας καὶ τἄλλα πάντα ὅσα παίγνιά ἐστιν.

Vita Plutarchea 1.98-100

“He wrote two poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey and, as some say, though not truthfully, he added the Batrakhomuomakhia and Margites for practice and education.”

ἔγραψε δὲ ποιήματα δύο, ᾿Ιλιάδα καὶ ᾿Οδύσσειαν, ὡς δέ τινες, οὐκ ἀληθῶς λέγοντες, γυμνασίας καὶ παιδείας ἕνεκα Βατραχομυομαχίαν προσθεὶς καὶ Μαργίτην.

Vita Quinta, 22-24

“Some also say that two school poems were attributed to him, the Batrakhomuomakhia and the Margites.”

τινὲς δ’ αὐτοῦ φασιν εἶναι καὶ τὰ φερόμενα δύο γράμματα, τήν τε Βατραχομυομαχίαν καὶ τὸν Μαργίτην.

The Margites is another epic parody we have only in fragmentary form.  Aristotle attributes it to Homer in his Poetics (1448b28-1449a3):

“We aren’t able to say anything about [parody] before Homer—but it is likely there were many—but we must start from Homer who leaves us the Margites and other works of this sort. It is fitting that among these works he also developed the iambic meter—for this is the very reason that iambos is called this today, since men are always mocking each other in that meter. Some of the ancient poets wrote heroic poetry, others wrote iambic.  Just as Homer was the exceptional poet in serious matters—for he didn’t only do it well in other ways but he also made his representations dramatic—in the same way he was the first to display the character of comedy in dramatizing something funny, not reproachful. And his Margites completes an analogy for us: just as the Iliad and the Odyssey are to tragedy, so to the Margites is to comedy.”

τῶν μὲν οὖν πρὸ ῾Ομήρου οὐδενὸς ἔχομεν εἰπεῖν τοιοῦτον ποίημα, εἰκὸς δὲ εἶναι πολλούς, ἀπὸ δὲ ῾Ομήρου ἀρξαμένοις ἔστιν, οἷον ἐκείνου ὁ Μαργίτης καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα. ἐν οἷς κατὰ τὸ ἁρμόττον καὶ τὸ ἰαμβεῖον ἦλθε μέτρον—διὸ καὶ ἰαμβεῖον καλεῖται νῦν, ὅτι ἐν τῷ μέτρῳ τούτῳ ἰάμβιζον ἀλλήλους. καὶ ἐγένοντο τῶν παλαιῶν οἱ μὲν ἡρωικῶν οἱ δὲ ἰάμβων ποιηταί. ὥσπερ δὲ καὶ τὰ σπουδαῖα μάλιστα ποιητὴς ῞Ομηρος ἦν (μόνος γὰρ οὐχ ὅτι εὖ ἀλλὰ καὶ μιμήσεις δραμαικὰς ἐποίησεν), οὕτως καὶ τὸ τῆς κωμῳδίας σχῆμα πρῶτος ὑπέδειξεν, οὐ ψόγον ἀλλὰ τὸ γελοῖον δραματοποιήσας· ὁ γὰρ Μαργίτης ἀνάλογον ἔχει, ὥσπερ ᾿Ιλιὰς καὶ ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια πρὸς τὰς τραγῳδίας, οὕτω καὶ οὗτος πρὸς τὰς κωμῳδίας.

The Batrakhomuomakhia, however, is not clearly ascribed to Homer until the first century CE.

BM

Where Does the Odyssey End (and Why?) Aristarchus, Aristotle and Eustathius

Odyssey, 23. 293-296

τοῖσιν δ’ Εὐρυνόμη θαλαμηπόλος ἡγεμόνευεν
ἐρχομένοισι λέχοσδε δάος μετὰ χερσὶν ἔχουσα·
ἐς θάλαμον δ’ ἀγαγοῦσα πάλιν κίεν. οἱ μὲν ἔπειτα
ἀσπάσιοι λέκτροιο παλαιοῦ θεσμὸν ἵκοντο·

“Then Eurynomê the bed-maid led them
As they went to bed, holding a torch in her hands.
She left again once she led them into the bed chamber;
Then they happily entered the rite of the ancient bed.”

 

Comments from the Scholia:

ἀσπάσιοι λέκτροιο] “They happily and enthusiastically remembered the ancient practice of intercourse”

Aristophanes and Aristarchus believed that this was the end (peras) of the Odyssey

Aristophanes and Aristarchus claim this as the end (telos) of the Odyssey

 

ἀσπάσιοι λέκτροιο] ἀσπαστῶς καὶ ἐπιθυμητικῶς ὑπεμνήσθησαν τοῦ πάλαι τῆς συνουσίας νόμου.

M.V. Vind. 133: ᾿Αριστοφάνης δὲ καὶ ᾿Αρίσταρχος πέρας τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας τοῦτο ποιοῦνται.

H.M.Q.: τοῦτο τέλος τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας φησὶν ᾿Αρίσταρχος καὶ ᾿Αριστοφάνης.

 

Erbse (1972,166-177) argues that the Alexandrian scholars really meant that the natural ‘end’ of the story in an Aristotelian sense was the reunion of husband and wife. And, yet, Aristotle seems to have a different ‘end’ in mind for the epic:

Aristotle, Poetics 1455b17-24 

“In drama, the episodes are brief; while epic uses episodes for expansion.  The story of the Odyssey really is not long: a man is away from home for many years because he is detained by Poseidon and he is alone. While this is going on, at home his possessions are being wasted by suitors and there is a plot against his son. But when he returns, storm-tossed, once he reveals himself, he attacks them, saves himself and destroys his enemies. That’s the core of the tale; different episodes comprise the rest of it”

ἐν μὲν οὖν τοῖς δράμασιν τὰ ἐπεισόδια σύντομα, ἡ δ’ ἐποποιία τούτοις μηκύνεται. τῆς γὰρ ᾿Οδυσσείας οὐ μακρὸς ὁ λόγος ἐστίν· ἀποδημοῦντός τινος ἔτη πολλὰ καὶ παραφυλαττομένου ὑπὸ τοῦ Ποσειδῶνος καὶ μόνου ὄντος, ἔτι δὲ τῶν οἴκοι οὕτως ἐχόντων ὥστε τὰ χρήματα ὑπὸ μνηστήρων ἀναλίσκεσθαι καὶ τὸν υἱὸν ἐπιβουλεύεσθαι, αὐτὸς δὲ ἀφικνεῖται χειμασθείς, καὶ ἀναγνωρίσας τινὰς ἐπιθέμενος αὐτὸς μὲν ἐσώθη τοὺς δ’ ἐχθροὺς διέφθειρε. τὸ μὲν οὖν ἴδιον τοῦτο, τὰ δ’ ἄλλα ἐπεισόδια. 

 

Eustathius takes issue with the scholiasts’ choice:

Eustathius, Commentary on the Odyssey, II.308

“We should note that according to the very old accounts, Aristarchus and Aristophanes, the best of the ancient commentators, made this line (23.296) the end of the Odyssey, because they were suspicious of what remained to the end of the book. But these scholars are cutting off many critical things, which they claim to oppose, for example the immediately following rhetorical recapitulation of that has happened and then, in a way, a summary of the whole Odyssey and then, in the next book, the recognition scene between Odysseus and Laertes, and the many marvelous things that happen there.”

᾿Ιστέον δὲ ὅτι κατὰ τὴν τῶν παλαιῶν ἱστορίαν ᾿Αρίσταρχος καὶ᾿Αριστοφάνης, οἱ κορυφαῖοι τῶν τότε γραμματικῶν, εἰς τὸ, ὡς ἐῤῥέθη, ἀσπάσιοι λέκτροιο παλαιοῦ θεσμὸν ἵκοντο, περατοῦσι τὴν ᾿Οδύσσειαν, τὰ ἐφεξῆς ἕως τέλους τοῦ βιβλίου νοθεύοντες. οἱ δὲ τοιοῦτοι πολλὰ τῶν καιριωτάτων περικόπτουσιν, ὥς φασιν οἱ αὐτοῖς ἀντιπίπτοντες, οἷον τὴν εὐθὺς ἐφεξῆς τῶν φθασάντων ῥητορικὴνἀνακεφαλαίωσιν καὶ τὴν τῆς ὅλης ὡς εἰπεῖν ᾿Οδυσσείας ἐπιτομὴν, εἶτα καὶ τὸν ὕστερον ἀναγνωρισμὸν ᾿Οδυσσέως τὸν πρὸς τὸν Λαέρτην καὶ τὰ ἐκεῖ θαυμασίως πλαττόμενα καὶ ἄλλα οὐκ ὀλίγα.

 

But there’s a good deal missing from Eustathius’ ‘summary’ of book 24:

1-202: Second Underworld scene: Suitors’ ghosts descend to Hades; Achilles and Agamemnon have a conversation; Amphimedon recaps the action

202-411: Reunion of Odysseus and Laertes: Odysseus tests his father, then relents; they return to his home and dine

412-471: The Trial of Odysseus: The families of the slain gather their dead; assemble; split over whether to face Odysseus; prepare for war

472-488: Divine Council: Athena and Zeus discuss how to end the conflict

489-545: The End: Families approach; Odysseus and his household arm; they kill one man (Eupeithes); Athena intervenes