Homer, Divine Not Human

Yesterday I made the mistake of playing along with a twitter game and I submitted;

This wasn’t a big mistake–I was just surprised how many people don’t agree. But the upside was that a twitter correspondent W. Graham Claytor (@graham_claytor ) let me know about this:

Homer Theios

This is a a writing exercise on an ostrakon listing some names and words (from the website: “Stranger; Dios; Stranger; Herodes; Ptolemaios; Herodes;;Homer is a god, not a man.”. Note the absence of diacritical marks.

Homer theios close up

Here is the Greek as printed:


Here’s the Greek with the accents and breathings:

θεῖος οὐκ ἄνθρωπος Ὅμηρος

“Homer is divine not a human being”

I can’t tell if there is a ligature for -ος after θει or if it is a ligature of -ος after θε- (so, “divine” vs. noun “god”). But to break with the published translation, Greek anthrôpos is less gendered than anêr (“man”, sometimes “husband”) and is here opposed to “divine”. So, the contrast and meaning here is mortal/immortal. “Human being” is a better translation.

ὁ θεῖος ῞Ομηρος (“divine Homer”) is not an uncommon phrase in Ancient Greek (appearing in Classical Greece and then becoming increasingly common from the poems of the Greek Anthology through to letters of Julian the Apostate).

Here’s a dedicatory inscription from the Appendix of the Greek Anthology (Epigram 61)

“This is the divine Homer, who adorned all of boastful Greece
With wisdom of the beautiful word.
But especially the Argives who took down
The god-walled Troy, as payback for well-tressed Helen.
For his sake a great-citied people have set this up
And they apportion to him the honors of the gods.”

Θεῖος ῞Ομηρος ὅδ’ ἐστίν, ὃς ῾Ελλάδα τὴν μεγάλαυχον
πᾶσαν ἐκόσμησεν καλλιεπεῖ σοφίῃ,
ἔξοχα δ’ ᾿Αργείους, οἳ τὴν θεοτείχεα Τροίην
ἤρειψαν, ποινὴν ἠυκόμου ῾Ελένης·
οὗ χάριν ἔστησεν δῆμος μεγαλόπτολις αὐτὸν
ἐνθάδε, καὶ τιμαῖς ἀμφέπει ἀθανάτων.

Here is a nice bit too….

Dio Chrysostom, On Homer (Discourse 53)

Democritus says this about Homer: “Homer, who was granted a divine nature, crafted a universe of verses of every kind.” This means it is not possible for him to have created poems so beautiful and wise without divine and immortal nature. Many others have also written about this—some who directly praise the poet and also select for illustration some of his sayings while others attempt to interpret his very manner of thinking…”

Ὁ μὲν Δημόκριτος περὶ Ὁμήρου φησὶν οὕτως· Ὅμηρος φύσεως λαχὼν θεαζούσης ἐπέων κόσμον ἐτεκτήνατο παντοίων· ὡς οὐκ ἐνὸν ἄνευ θείας καὶ δαιμονίας φύσεως οὕτως καλὰ καὶ σοφὰ ἔπη ἐργάσασθαι. πολλοὶ δὲ καὶ ἄλλοι γεγράφασιν οἱ μὲν ἄντικρυς ἐγκωμιάζοντες τὸν ποιητὴν ἅμα καὶ δηλοῦντες ἔνια τῶν ὑπ᾿ αὐτοῦ λεγομένων, οἱ δὲ αὐτὸ τοῦτο τὴν διάνοιαν ἐξηγούμενοι

The Homeric poems as part of an oral tradition is not new in Post-enlightenment scholarship–F. A. Wolf was probably the first ‘modern’ author to get really into it. But the persistence of the insistence that because the Homeric poems are complex and meaningful, they must have been designed by an author to be that way is both a reflection of our own views about genius a creation and a misapprehension of the deep and complexity possible from oral traditions.

The work of Milman Parry and Albert Lord helps in part to explain how oral poetry may works compositionally, but this does little to address the larger issue which is the confirmation bias that shapes what we think ‘art’ is and how we think it is made (the works of John Miles Foley and Egbert J. Bakker are really helpful too; for the creation of the idea of Homer, I know of no better text than Barbara Graziosi’s The Invention of Homer).

I do think it is entirely possible for different modern interpreters to believe radically different things about the creation of the texts we possess and still come to similar conclusions about their meanings. Elton Barker and I cover this rather ecumenically in our introductory book to Homer. In our book Homer’s Thebes, out with the Center for Hellenic Studies next spring we are going to be a bit less so.)

Agnosticism on the issue is likely the wisest route. Ultimately, what we have are poems that have been treated as texts with a unifying authority behind them for two thousand years. Yet, I must confess a frustration that we so reflexively insist that the genius of any work is due to the genius of an individual and not a cultural context and its inheritance. Because we see the world as individuals and are culturally and biologically conditioned to imagine ourselves as agents acting individually within it, we assume a view of causality that reinforces our view of self. (And this is culturally reinforced by religious beliefs.)

What I teach, I approach the issue the way Elton and I do in the introductory book–I tell the full story and transparently say what I believe (without expecting followers). But I also ask students to consider why it is important that we have a Homer behind the Homeric poems. Why do we feel so strongly we need an author? What does it do for us? What do we lose without it?

[But it is fine if we disagree! I actually do treat this the way I do religion. Who can rightly judge what no mortal can ever truly know? Although an atheist, my spouse is Muslim, I was raised Lutheran and I have known as many religious people clearly smarter than I am as I have known atheists to be fools.]

Here is a full citation: “O.Mich.inv. 9353; Recto.” http://quod.lib.umich.edu/a/apis/x-784/9353o.tif. University of Michigan Library Digital Collections. Accessed: July 05, 2018.

Addendum [3 hours after original post]:

When I was visiting graduate schools as a precocious soon-to-be college graduate, I got in an argument with a 3rd year graduate student about “Homer” which ended with me suggesting that he only wanted to believe in a singular, monumental genius because he wanted to believe that he was a genius too. (The story has a happy ending, we are now friends.)

My comments on twitter about the non-existence of Homer drew more ire and rejection than I expected. I am in part grateful for this because it reminds me that I write and work and teach in a rather closed circle. I have for too long taken the tenets of my belief about Homer to be standard, when it seems that they are not.

From my experience, the Homeric poems are qualitatively and quantitatively different from anything else I have ever read. This knowledge emerged with the belief that their origins in an oral-performance culture help to explain this. When I first read Homer in Greek after years of reading Latin epic and a lifetime of reading English poetry and prose widely, I was floored by how different it was. It was so different that I despised Homer in translation before I read the Iliad in Greek and would only have imagined myself dedicating the next decades of my life to the study of Homer as a nightmare or joke.

The explanation for the genius was unfolded for me slowly. My Greek teacher, mentor, and eventually friend, Leonard Muellner, handed me a concordance of Homer and told me to take any ten lines and look for repetitions and similarity elsewhere (e.g. formulae). Only after seeing the building blocks of Homeric language up close, did I then read Milman Parry, Albert Lord, and Lenny’s own brilliant work on Homeric eukhomai and mênis.

(There are other authors whose work should be added here: the work of John Miles Foley on oral poetry, the linguistic informed books of Egbert Bakker, the work of Casey Dué, Olga Levaniouk, Sheila Murnaghan, and dozens of others too.)

I’m not exactly a dilettante when it comes to Homer (as I am with most Greek and Roman authors). But I do realize that I probably seem to be the member of a hardline approach. I must emphasize again that I think the problem of authorship is ultimately without a solution.

What is not without a solution is a careful reflection on why we believe what we believe about (1) Homer, (2) the nature of creative production, (3) authorship, and (4) the relationship between the individual and collective culture. The reason I bring this up is that some of the most strident responses to my comments about the non-existence of Homer come from the same voices who have objected to my assertions that the Homeric poems are misogynistic or that they don’t necessarily reflect the same assumptions about race and ethnicities as our own.

It is not surprising that some of the same people who have a knee-jerk reaction that Homer is only about European people and cannot be taken to task for being part of a misogynistic culture are those who so desperately cleave to a notion of Homer as genius. These beliefs are rooted in an essential conservatism, a patriarchal view of culture, and a rigidly individualistic view of cultural production.

[As an anecdotal aside, in addition to similar voices complaining about Homer as misogyny, etc. I got antisemitic hate tweets for the twitter thread associated with this post. The poster was a follower of one of the original culture haters.]

I do not mean that everyone who thinks there was a Homer is a racist of misogynist or that they hold their beliefs about Homer because they are conservative and close-minded. Indeed, I know and know of many well-educated, progressive, and intensely kind people who believe there was a Homer who wrote one or both of the epics.

But I did want to point out the curious overlap between cultural chauvinists and the cult of genius. My apologies to the good people who believe in Homer but do not fall into this group. Whatever we believe about the origin of the Homeric poems, we must rigorously examine why we believe it. What assumptions do we make about personhood and the relationship between individual and community in the human species? Why do we need an author for the Iliad or the Odyssey? Why do we need to identify a designer if we sense beauty and design? Do we see design because we are part of an aesthetic continuum that has been shaped by the Iliad and the Odyssey and by later cultural reflections on those poems?


For flavor, a conventional of Homer:

Number 6, part 1part 2

Also, I made a poll, this will solve everything.

Ridiculous Poet, Grumpy Critic: Some Homeric Critiques from Zoilos the Zealot

Iliad 5.4

“A tireless fire burned from his helmet and shield…”

δαῖέ οἱ ἐκ κόρυθός τε καὶ ἀσπίδος ἀκάματον πῦρ

Schol. D ad Il. 5.4

“Zoilus the Ephesian criticizes this passage and he blames the poet because he composed this in too ridiculous a fashion, fire burning from Diomedes’ shoulders. For the hero runs the risk of burning up in flames! Therefore some say that it needs to be taken as it is, according to the habit of the fire. Others struggle about the fire—that it is the image of fire, not really fire.

Τρωσίν. ᾿Ακάματον. Πολύ. Ζωΐλος δὲ
ὁ ᾿Εφέσιος κατηγορεῖ τοῦ τόπου τού-
του, καὶ μέμφεται τὸν Ποιητὴν, ὅτι λίαν
γελοίως πεποίηκεν ἐκ τῶν ὤμων τοῦ Διο-
μήδους καιόμενον πῦρ. ἐκινδύνευε γὰρ κα-
ταφλεχθῆναι ὁ ἥρως. ῎Ενιοι μὲν οὖν πα-
ρειλῆφθαί φασι τὸ ὡς, κατὰ συνήθειαν
τῷ Ποιητῇ. ὡς καὶ ἐν ἑτέροις. ῞Ως οἱ
μὲν μάρναντο δέμας πυρός. ὡς πυρὸς
φαντασίαν, οὐκ εἰδικῶς πῦρ.

Zoilos is most often said to be from Amphipolos and appears in Aelian’s Varia Historia 11.10

Zôilos of Amphipolos, who wrote against Homer, Plato and others, was in attendance at a speech of Polycrates. Polycrates wrote a diatribe against Socrates. Zôilos himself used to be called the rhetorical Dog, and he was this kind of man: he had a beard though he shaved his head and he wore a coat above his knee. He loved to carp in public and he spent his time picking fights with many men: he was a complaining, mean-spirited man. When some educated man asked him why he spoke poorly of everyone, he said: “I cannot do them harm when I want to.”

Ζωίλος ὁ ᾿Αμφιπολίτης ὁ καὶ ἐς ῞Ομηρον γράψας καὶ ἐς Πλάτωνα καὶ ἐς ἄλλους, Πολυκράτους μὲν ἀκουστὴς ἐγένετο· οὗτος δὲ ὁ Πολυκράτης καὶ τὴν κατηγορίαν ἔγραψε τὴν κατὰ Σωκράτους. ἐκαλεῖτο δ’ ὁ Ζωίλος οὗτος Κύων ῥητορικός. ἦν δὲ τοιοῦτος. τὸ μὲν γένειον αὐτῷ καθεῖτο, κέκαρτο δὲ ἐν χρῷ τὴν κεφαλήν, καὶ θοιμάτιον ὑπὲρ τὸ γόνυ ἦν. ἤρα δὲ ἀγορεύειν κακῶς, καὶ ἀπεχθάνεσθαι πολλοῖς σχολὴν εἶχε, καὶ ψογερὸς ἦν ὁ κακοδαίμων. ἤρετο οὖν αὐτόν τις τῶν πεπαιδευμένων διὰ τί κακῶς λέγει πάντας· ὃ δὲ ‘ποιῆσαι γὰρ κακῶς βουλόμενος οὐ δύναμαι.’

Schol ad. Il. 10.274b

“Zoilos was called the scourge of Homer and was from Amphipolis. He was the teacher of Isocrates and he wrote Against Homer as an exercise since the sophists where in the custom of writing exercises on the poets. He criticized Homer for many other things….

Ζωίλος ὁ κληθεὶς ῾Ομηρομάστιξ γένει μὲν ἦτ ᾽Αμφιπολίτης, τοῦ δὲ ᾽Ισοκρατικοῦ διδασκαλείου, ὃς ἔγραψε τὰ καθ᾽ ῾Ομήρου γυμνασίας ἕνεκα, εἰωθότων καὶ τῶν ῥητόρων ἐν τοῖς ποιηταῖς γυμνάζεσθαι. οὗτος ἄλλα τε πολλὰ ῾Ομήρου κατηγόρει…

Schol. D. ad Il. 5.20

“Zoilos also criticized this passage. For, he says, the poet composed this too ridiculously, that Idaios fled, abandoning his horses and chariot in order to flee. For he was more capable of fleeing upon the horses. But it must be said, that he leaps upon the chariot to guard his brother. After he faced war in this way, he rushed into flight.”

Κατηγορεῖ καὶ τούτου τοῦ τόπου Ζωΐλος.
ὅτι λίαν, φησὶ, γελοίως πεποίηκεν ὁ Ποι-
ητὴς τὸν ᾿Ιδαῖον, ἀπολιπόντα τοὺς ἵπ-
πους καὶ τὸ ἅρμα, φεύγειν. ᾿Εδύνατο
γὰρ μᾶλλον ἐπὶ τοῖς ἵπποις φυγεῖν. ᾿Αλ-
λὰ ῥητέον, ὅτι κατέθορε μὲν τοῦ ἅρματος,
ὡς ὑπερασπίσων τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ. Εὐλαβη-
θεὶς δὲ τὸν πόλεμον, εἰς φυγὴν ὥρμησεν.


“Zoilos of Amphipolis was called the “Scourge of Homer” because he mocked Homer. For this reason, those who live near Olympia chased him and threw him from the Skironian cliffs.”

Ζωίλος, ᾽Αμφιπολίτης· … ὃς ἐπεκλήθη ῾Ομηρομάστιξ, ὅτι ἐπέσκωπτεν ῞Ομηρον. διὸ αὐτὸν διώξαντες οἱ ἐν τῆι ᾽Ολυμπίαι κατὰ τῶν Σκιρωνίδων πετρῶν ἔρριψαν.

Schol. ad Il. 21.256

“He fled behind the flows…” Zoilos carps that, even though he has immortal horses, he does not use them at an opportune time.”

φεῦγ’ ὄπισθε ῥέων] Ζωΐλος αἰτιᾶται ὅτι ἀθανάτους ἵππους
ἔχων ἐν τῷ ἀντικειμένῳ καιρῷ οὐ χρᾶται.

Schol. ad Il. 21.447

“wide and very fine”: Zoilos writes [instead] “both wide and very large.

εὐρύ τε καὶ μάλα καλόν] Ζωΐλος γράφει· «εὐρύ τε καὶ μάλα

Schol. Il. 18.22-5

“Zoilos writes that it is strange to see Achilles now. For he knew previously that it was necessary that the dangers of war are shared, and that it was not right that he consider death so terrible, and to grieve so much in a womanly fashion. Thus, not even a barbarian would behave. And, certainly, Hekabê is nothing of this sort in her mourning over Hektor.”

τι πεπονθότων (cf. ib. 387 d 5). Ζωΐλος (fr. 31 Friedl. = FGrHist
71,11) δέ φησιν ἄτοπον νῦν εἰδέναι τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέα· προειδέναι τε γὰρ
ἐχρῆν ὅτι κοινοὶ οἱ πολεμικοὶ κίνδυνοι, τόν τε θάνατον οὐκ ἐχρῆν δει-
νὸν ὑπολαμβάνειν, τό τε οὕτως ὑπερπενθεῖν γυναικῶδες. οὕτως οὔτ’
ἂν βάρβαρος τι<τ>θὴ ἐποίησεν· καί τοι ῾Εκάβης ἐπὶ τῷ συρμῷ ῞Ε-
κτορος οὐδὲν τοιοῦτόν ἐστιν (cf. Χ 405—7).

Tension and Precarity: The Iliad’s Simile of the Weaving Woman

Recently, I posted about the simile that helped to make me spend the last twenty years studying Homer. I did not provide the full context that really got to me for sake of brevity. After Homer compares the sides of the battle over the wall to two men struggling over a corner of a field, the slaughter is also compared to the scales of a woman measuring out wool for weaving.

Iliad 12.427-438

“Many were struck across their flesh by pitiless bronze
Whenever they turned and bared their backs
As they struggled, although many were also struck through their shields.
The towers and walls were decorated everywhere with the blood
Of men from both sides, from Trojans and Achaeans.

Yet, they still could not force the Achaians to flee—
No, it held as when an honest weaving woman holds
The balance and draws out the weight and the wool on both sides
to make them equal so she might earn some wretched wage for her children.
So the battle and the war was stretched even on each side
Until Zeus gave the glory over to Hektor
Priam’s son, who first broke through the wall of the Achaeans.”

πολλοὶ δ’ οὐτάζοντο κατὰ χρόα νηλέϊ χαλκῷ,
ἠμὲν ὅτεῳ στρεφθέντι μετάφρενα γυμνωθείη
μαρναμένων, πολλοὶ δὲ διαμπερὲς ἀσπίδος αὐτῆς.
πάντῃ δὴ πύργοι καὶ ἐπάλξιες αἵματι φωτῶν
ἐρράδατ’ ἀμφοτέρωθεν ἀπὸ Τρώων καὶ ᾿Αχαιῶν.
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἐδύναντο φόβον ποιῆσαι ᾿Αχαιῶν,
ἀλλ’ ἔχον ὥς τε τάλαντα γυνὴ χερνῆτις ἀληθής,
ἥ τε σταθμὸν ἔχουσα καὶ εἴριον ἀμφὶς ἀνέλκει
ἰσάζουσ’, ἵνα παισὶν ἀεικέα μισθὸν ἄρηται·
ὣς μὲν τῶν ἐπὶ ἶσα μάχη τέτατο πτόλεμός τε,
πρίν γ’ ὅτε δὴ Ζεὺς κῦδος ὑπέρτερον ῞Εκτορι δῶκε
Πριαμίδῃ, ὃς πρῶτος ἐσήλατο τεῖχος ᾿Αχαιῶν.

Schol D + bT ad Il. 12.433-435 ex.

“The equal balance of those fighting, [Homer] compared to the beam of a loom, again. For nothing is so precisely similar to an even balance. And the one weighing this out is not the mistress of the household—for she does not often trouble this much for so small an equal bit—nor is it one of the household maids—for they would not seek to make so precise a measure since they are fed by the household’s master and do not risk their nourishment if they mess up on the loom weights—but it is a woman for hire who must provide what is needed for living by the effort of her hands.”

ex. | D ἀλλ’ ἔχον ὥς τε τάλαντα<—μισθὸν ἄρη-ται>: πάλιν τὸ ἰσοπαλὲς τῶν μαχομένων παρέβαλε ζυγῷ· οὐδὲν γὰρ οὕτως ἀκριβὲς πρὸς ἰσότητα. καὶ ἡ ταλαντεύουσα οὐκ ἔστι δέσποινα οἰκίας (ταύτην γὰρ οὐ λυπεῖ πολλάκις τὸ παρὰ βραχὺ ἴσον), ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ θεραπαινίς (οὐ γὰρ αὗται ζητοῦσι τὸ ἀκριβὲς εἰς τοσοῦτον, ἅτε δὴ ὑπὸ τοῦ δεσπότου τρεφόμεναι b [BCE3E4] T καὶ οὐκ ἐν τῷ διαμαρτεῖν περὶ τὸν σταθμὸν κινδυνεύουσαι περὶ τροφήν), T χερνῆτις (433) δέ, ἡ χειρὶ τὰ πρὸς τὸ ζῆν πορίζουσα, ἵνα παισὶν ἀεικέα (435) φησίν.

This passage has always moved me because, as with the earlier simile, the great ‘epic’ themes and images of war were reduced to something simple, daily, and completely understandable. Even in the ancient world where many members of the audiences probably had considerably more experience of violence than we do and where most aristocratic audience members would certainly have nothing but contempt for working for a living, many probably heard a crucial echo of their own lives in this surprising comparison.

I also appreciate the way that the scholiasts here home in on how dire this woman’s position is, making the dubious but nonetheless striking claim that the household servants led less precarious lives than the woman of the simile who draws the weight so precisely because her pay—and the lives of her children—depend upon it. In a crucial way, this simile evokes the same sense of scarcity as that of the men on the field—but it adds that an all too familiar anxiety from the precarity that emerges when one lives constantly with the sense of how scarce those things we value are.

It may seem a stretch, but the image of the weaving woman evokes for me the creative power of women presented elsewhere in Homer–Helen weaves the story of her own kleos, Penelope weaves shroud whose images are never revealed. In a way, the tension prepared by the woman’s hands within the simile is a comparison for the balance of war and a metaphor for an act of creation. The epic’s plot and the audience’s experience are similarly drawn out in the narrator’s hands.

Indeed, the scarcity and precarity evoked by this simile and the one that precedes it extends the transitional moment begun with the image of the farmers to create anticipatory tension in the audience. At the epic’s middle, before we move from book 12 to 13 and to the slaughter of the Achaeans at the ships, the balance hangs ever briefly before it breaks. Hektor surges through the Achaean fortification: the balance of action fails just as the balance of the plot will too—the story of Achilles’ withdrawal will now translate into the slaughter he asked Zeus to precipitate leading to the death of Patroklos, Hektor and, ultimately, Achilles too.


Weaving, spinning, carding wool, and combing flax. MS Royal 16 Gv, f. 56, British Library, London  France 1400s
MS Royal 16 Gv 56 British Library (France, 15th Century)

The Iliad is Of the Body; The Odyssey is of the Mind

Pseudo-Plutarch, De Homero 31–32

“Of these poems, the Iliad features the acts of the Greeks and the Barbarians over the abduction of Helen, especially the valor demonstrated by Achilles in that war; the Odyssey details Odysseus’ return home from the Trojan War and how much he endured wandering during his nostos and how he avenged himself on those plotting against him in his home. From these summaries it is clear that the Iliad is really about the bravery of the body while the Odyssey concerns the nobility of the soul.

It is not right to fault the poet if he does not only present virtues in his poem, but includes as well weaknesses of spirit, pains, pleasures, fears and desires. For it is necessary that the poet show not just noble characters but weak ones too—without these unexpected accomplishments do not appear—from all of these it is possible that an audience will choose the better ones.”

ὧν ἡ μὲν ᾿Ιλιὰς ἔχει τὰς ἐν ᾿Ιλίῳ πράξεις ῾Ελλήνων τε καὶ βαρβάρων διὰ τὴν ῾Ελένης ἁρπαγὴν καὶ μάλιστα τὴν ᾿Αχιλλέως ἐν τῷ πολέμῳ τούτῳ διαδειχθεῖσαν ἀλκήν, ἡ δὲ ᾿Οδύσσεια τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀνακομιδὴν εἰς τὴν πατρίδα ἀπὸ τοῦ Τρωικοῦ πολέμου καὶ ὅσα πλανώμενος ἐν τῷ νόστῳ ὑπέμεινε καὶ ὅπως τοὺς ἐπιβουλεύοντας τῷ οἴκῳ αὐτοῦ ἐτιμωρήσατο. ἐξ ὧν δῆλός ἐστι παριστὰς διὰ μὲν τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ἀνδρείαν σώματος, διὰ δὲ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας ψυχῆς γενναιότητα.

     Εἰ δὲ μὴ μόνον ἀρετὰς ἀλλὰ καὶ κακίας ψυχῆς ἐν ταῖς ποιήσεσι παρίστησι, λύπας τε καὶ χαρὰς καὶ φόβους καὶ ἐπιθυμίας, οὐ χρὴ αἰτιᾶσθαι τὸν ποιητήν· <ποιητὴν> γὰρ ὄντα δεῖ μιμεῖσθαι οὐ μόνον τὰ χρηστὰ ἤθη ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ φαῦλα (ἄνευ γὰρ τούτων παράδοξοι πράξεις  οὐ συνίστανται), ὧν ἀκούοντα ἔνεστιν αἱρεῖσθαι τὰ βελτίω.


Image result for Odysseus ancient greek statue

Another ancient author saw complementarity in the Homeric epics, but of a less positive kind

From (Ps.) Longinus On the Sublime, 9.11-13

“Nevertheless, all through the Odyssey, which must be examined for many reasons, Homer reveals that as great inspiration fades away, storytelling becomes the dominant attribute of old age. For it is clear in many ways that this epic was composed second. Throughout the Odyssey we find episodes modeled on scenes from the Iliad, and, by Zeus, he apportions his heroes grief and misery as if these tales were long already known. The Odyssey is nothing other than an epilogue to the Iliad:

There lies fierce Ajax; here lies Achilles
There likes Patroklos, an advisor equal to the gods,
There lies my own dear son. (Od. 3.109-111)

The cause of this fact, I imagine, is that when the Iliad was being written at the peak of his strength, Homer imbued the whole work with dramatic power and action; when he was composing the Odyssey, however, he made it more of a narrative, as appropriate for old age. For this reason, you can compare the Odyssey’s Homer to a setting sun: the magnitude remains without its power.  Since, in it, he no longer preserves the same power of the Iliad, that overwhelming consistency which never ebbs, nor the same rush of changing experiences, the variety and reality of it, packed full with things from true experience. It is as if the Ocean were to withdraw into itself, quietly watching its own measure. What remains for us is the retreating tide of Homer’s genius, his wandering in storytelling and unbelievable things. When I claim this, I am not forgetting the storms in the Odyssey and the events placed near the Kyklopes and elsewhere—I am indicating old age, but it is still Homer’s old age. And, yet, the mythical overpowers in every one of these scenes.”

δείκνυσι δ’ ὅμως διὰ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας (καὶ γὰρ ταῦτα πολλῶν ἕνεκα προσεπιθεωρητέον), ὅτι μεγάλης φύσεως ὑποφερομένης ἤδη ἴδιόν ἐστιν ἐν γήρᾳ τὸ φιλόμυθον. δῆλος γὰρ ἐκ πολλῶν τε ἄλλων συντεθεικὼς ταύτην δευτέραν τὴν ὑπόθεσιν, ἀτὰρ δὴ κἀκ τοῦ λείψανα τῶν ᾿Ιλιακῶν παθημάτων διὰ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας

ὡς ἐπεισόδιά τινα [τοῦ Τρωικοῦ πολέμου] προσεπεισφέρειν, καὶ νὴ Δί’ ἐκ τοῦ τὰς ὀλοφύρσεις καὶ τοὺς οἴκτους ὡς πάλαι που  προεγνωσμένοις τοῖς ἥρωσιν ἐνταῦθα προσαποδιδόναι. οὐ γὰρ ἀλλ’ ἢ τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ἐπίλογός ἐστιν ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια·

ἔνθα μὲν Αἴας κεῖται ἀρήιος, ἔνθα δ’ ᾿Αχιλλεύς,
ἔνθα δὲ Πάτροκλος, θεόφιν μήστωρ ἀτάλαντος·
ἔνθα δ’ ἐμὸς φίλος υἱός.

ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς αὐτῆς αἰτίας, οἶμαι, τῆς μὲν ᾿Ιλιάδος γραφομένης ἐν ἀκμῇ πνεύματος ὅλον τὸ σωμάτιον δραματικὸν ὑπεστήσατο καὶ ἐναγώνιον, τῆς δὲ ᾿Οδυσσείας τὸ πλέον διηγηματικόν, ὅπερ ἴδιον γήρως. ὅθεν ἐν τῇ ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ παρεικάσαι τις ἂν καταδυομένῳ τὸν ῞Ομηρον ἡλίῳ, οὗ δίχα τῆς σφοδρότητος παραμένει τὸ μέγεθος. οὐ γὰρ ἔτι τοῖς ᾿Ιλιακοῖς ἐκείνοις ποιήμασιν ἴσον ἐνταῦθα σῴζει τὸν τόνον, οὐδ’ ἐξωμαλισμένα τὰ ὕψη καὶ ἱζήματα μηδαμοῦ λαμβάνοντα, οὐδὲ τὴν πρόχυσιν ὁμοίαν τῶν ἐπαλλήλων παθῶν, οὐδὲ τὸ ἀγχίστροφον καὶ πολιτικὸν καὶ ταῖς ἐκ τῆς

ἀληθείας φαντασίαις καταπεπυκνωμένον· ἀλλ’ οἷον ὑποχωροῦντος εἰς ἑαυτὸν᾿Ωκεανοῦ καὶ περὶ τὰ ἴδια μέτρα †ἐρημουμένου τὸ λοιπὸν φαίνονται τοῦ μεγέθους ἀμπώτιδες κἀν τοῖς μυθώδεσι καὶ ἀπίστοις πλάνος. λέγων δὲ ταῦτ’ οὐκ ἐπιλέλησμαι τῶν ἐν τῇ ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ χειμώνων καὶ τῶν περὶ τὸν Κύκλωπα καί τινων ἄλλων, ἀλλὰ γῆρας διηγοῦμαι, γῆρας δ’ ὅμως ῾Ομήρου· πλὴν ἐν ἅπασι τούτοις ἑξῆς τοῦ πρακτικοῦ κρατεῖ τὸ μυθικόν.

Fragmentary Friday Redux: The Theban Alcmaeonis

Last week I posted the fragments of the lost Thebais and the Epigonoi. This week, here is the final set of fragments from the Theban tradition from the Alcmaeonis, which may have actually been a part of the Epigonoi.


Fr. 1

“There, godlike Telamon struck him in the head
With a rounded discus and Peleus raised in his hands
Quickly a bronze ax to strike him down through the middle of the back”

ἔνθα μιν ἀντίθεος Τελαμὼν τροχοειδέι δίσκωι
πλῆξε κάρη, Πηλεὺς δὲ θοῶς ἐνὶ χειρὶ τινάξας
ἀξίνην ἐύχαλκον ἐπεπλήγει μέσα νῶτα.

Fr. 2

“Once he stretched the corpses on
the wide-couch placed on the ground, he set out next to them a feast
Food, drink—and he put crowns on their heads.”

<> νέκυς δὲ χαμαιστρώτου ἔπι τείνας
εὐρείης στιβάδος, παρέθηκ’ αὐτοῖσι θάλειαν
δαῖτα ποτήριά τε, στεφάνους δ’ ἐπὶ κρασὶν ἔθηκεν.

Fr. 3

“Queen Earth and Zagreus, highest of all the gods.”

πότνια Γῆ, Ζαγρεῦ τε θεῶν πανυπέρτατε πάντων

Fragmentary Friday III: The Sons Came Second, the Epigonoi

As early as Herodotus (4.32) it was doubted that the epic that told the story of the sons of the Seven Against Thebes was by Homer. Instead, it was attributed later to a man named Antimachus from Teios. We have two lines most people agree on, and a handful of uncertain lines.

Fr. 1 (From the Contest of Homer and Hesiod)

“Now, Muses, let us sing in turn of the younger men”
Νῦν αὖθ’ ὁπλοτέρων ἀνδρῶν ἀρχώμεθα, Μοῦσαι

Fr. 4 (From Clement of Alexandria)

“Many evils come to men from gifts”

ἐκ γὰρ δώρων πολλὰ κάκ’ ἀνθρώποισι πέλονται.

Fr. 6 (Dub. from the Contest of Homer and Hesiod)

“So then they divided the meat of bulls and wiped clean
The sweat-covered necks of horses, since they had their fill of war.”

ὣς οἱ μὲν δαίνυντο βοῶν κρέα, καὐχένας ἵππων
ἔκλυον ἱδρώοντας, ἐπεὶ πολέμοιο κορέσθην.

Fr. 7 (Dub. From Scholia to Aristophanes’ Peace)

“They girded themselves for war once they stopped….
And they poured out of the towers as an invincible cry arose.”

θωρήσσοντ’ ἄρ’ ἔπειτα πεπαυμένοι
πύργων δ’ ἐξεχέοντο, βοὴ δ’ ἄσβεστος ὀρώρει.

Commentary on the Batrakhomuomakhia, Part 9 (lines 109-121)

This is the ninth installation of our working Commentary on the Homeric “Battle of Frogs and Mice.” As always, comments, corrections and additions are welcome.

109 Τρωξάρτης ἐπὶ παιδὶ χολούμενος, εἶπέ τε μῦθον•
110 ῏Ω φίλοι εἰ καὶ μοῦνος ἐγὼ κακὰ πολλὰ πέπονθα
111 ἐκ βατράχων, ἡ πεῖρα κακὴ πάντεσσι τέτυκται.
112 εἰμὶ δ’ ἐγὼ δύστηνος ἐπεὶ τρεῖς παῖδας ὄλεσσα.
113 καὶ τὸν μὲν πρῶτόν γε κατέκτανεν ἁρπάξασα
114 ἔχθιστος γαλέη, τρώγλης ἔκτοσθεν ἑλοῦσα.
115 τὸν δ’ ἄλλον πάλιν ἄνδρες ἀπηνέες ἐς μόρον εἷλξαν
116 καινοτέραις τέχναις ξύλινον δόλον ἐξευρόντες,
117 ἤν παγίδα κλείουσι, μυῶν ὀλέτειραν ἐοῦσαν
118 ὃ τρίτος ἦν ἀγαπητὸς ἐμοὶ καὶ μητέρι κεδνῇ,
119 τοῦτον ἀπέπνιξεν Φυσίγναθος ἐς βυθὸν ἄξας.
120 ἀλλ’ ἄγεθ’ ὁπλίζεσθε καὶ ἐξέλθωμεν ἐπ’ αὐτοὺς
121 σώματα κοσμήσαντες ἐν ἔντεσι δαιδαλέοισιν.

Continue reading “Commentary on the Batrakhomuomakhia, Part 9 (lines 109-121)”