Alternative Careers: An Accidental Teacher and Scholar

Suetonius, Lives of the Grammarians 24

“Marcus Valerius Probus from Berytus tried to become a centurion for a while and then dedicated himself to study because of the waiting. He had read certain old books with his teacher in the provinces, since the memory of the ancient authors persists there and has not been completely lost as in Rome. Once he returned to these authors more carefully and then wanted to study others, he still pursued this plan even though he knew that everyone had contempt for them and those who studied them earned reproach instead of honor.

Once he obtained many copies, he took care to emend them, edit them, and provide notes for them and he committed himself to this beyond all other aspects of scholarship. Instead of students he had a few followers, for he did not teach in such away as to maintain the façade of a teacher. He used to welcome one or two, or sometimes three or four, in the afternoon hours and while reclining he could occasionally read some things among long and colloquial conversations. He published small number of short works on various minor little questions. But he also left a non insubstantial “Forest of Reflections on the Ancient Language.”

XXIV. M. Valerius Probus, Berytius, diu centuriatum petiit, donec taedio ad studia se contulit. Legerat in provincia quosdam veteres libellos apud grammatistam, durante adhuc ibi antiquorum memoria, necdum omnino abolita sicut Romae. Hos cum diligentius repeteret atque alios deinceps cognoscere cuperet, quamvis omnes contemni magisque opprobrio legentibus quam gloriae et fructui esse animadverteret, nihilo minus in proposito mansit; multaque exemplaria contracta emendare ac distinguere et annotare curavit, soli huic nec ulli praeterea grammatices parti deditus. Hic non tam discipulos quam sectatores aliquot habuit. Nunquam enim ita docuit ut magistri personam sustineret; unum et alterum, vel cum plurimos tres aut quattuor postmeridianis horis admittere solebat, cubansque inter longos ac vulgares sermones legere quaedam idque perraro. Nimis pauca et exigua de quibusdam minutis quaestiunculis edidit. Reliquit autem non mediocrem “Silvam Observationum Sermonis Antiqui.”

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Iliad vs. Odyssey? An Essential Complementarity

A few days back I ran a twitter poll setting the Iliad against the Odyssey. I figured that the Iliad would win, but I did not expect this to be as close as it was.

If we were to evaluate the popularity of the epics based on their mentions (using the Google ngram function), we would see that a few centuries ago, the Iliad had a pretty impressive lead over the Odyssey.

ngram

Here’s a different Ngram provided by Kyle Sanders ()which indicates the Odyssey overtook the Iliad in the late 1960s

NGram od 2

In the past century the mentions of the epics started to draw closer together. Is this because more people had less experience of war? Is there something more modern or simpler about the Odyssey?

the manuscript tradition for the Iliad is much better–there are more copies surviving from almost every period for which we have evidence. The epics were different enough that Samuel Butler (only partly joking) proposed that the Odyssey was composed by a woman. The epics differences were sensed in antiquity as well. Here’s how Aristotle puts it:

Aristotle, Poetics, 1459b

“for [Homer’s] two poems are complementary in structure, the Iliad being simple in plot and a poem of passion, and the Odyssey complex (it has recognitions throughout) and a poem of character; moreover they surpass all other poems in excellent of language and thought.”

πρῶτος καὶ ἱκανῶς. καὶ γὰρ τῶν ποιημάτων ἑκάτερον συνέστηκεν ἡ μὲν ᾿Ιλιὰς ἁπλοῦν καὶ παθητικόν, ἡ δὲ ᾿Οδύσσεια πεπλεγμένον (ἀναγνώρισις γὰρ διόλου) καὶ ἠθική· πρὸς δὲ τούτοις λέξει καὶ διανοίᾳ πάντα ὑπερβέβληκεν.

To pit one poem against another is, to my mind, to imagine a combat between day and night, land and sea, or life and death. These contrasts can be seen as polar–opposites canceling each other out–or they can be treated as binary where one can only exist because the other is there first. But it may be best not to think of them at all in terms of opposition, but instead as contrastive complements. This works on the level of content:

“This complementarity extends into other areas too. The so-called Monro’s Law states that the Odyssey never refers to any incident recounted in the Iliad, which at the very least strongly suggests that the Odyssey knew of the Iliad and deliberately stayed off its territory. Indeed, at the times when the Odyssey threatens to sing of Iliadic material, the moments are marked as highly problematic.” Barker and Christensen 2013

For all the years I have taught Homer in literature and myth courses, I have emphasized their complementarity in slightly different ways. Sometimes, I follow Aristotle’s emphasis on plots, pointing out that the Iliad ends in a funeral and the Odyssey ends in a wedding, anticipating in turn the plot structures of tragedy and comedy respectively. At other times, I have instead described the Iliad as a poem of death and the Odyssey as a poem of life. The former explores what is (and mostly what isn’t) worth fighting and dying for; the latter helps s understand what we live for and who we are outside of war.

Together, the epics teach how to live and how to die. One is essentially and forever incomplete without the other. But in concert, they reflect on the totality of life. (And I am so bold as to believe that this characteristic is part of why these two epics surpassed all others and survived antiquity: any other epic from their period would have been redundant).

I spent the first decade or more of my study of Homer passionately dedicated to the Iliad. I started working on the Odyssey primarily because I found students responding to it more easily than to the Iliad. I also grew more interested in how that epic engaged with other traditions, specifically those of Thebes and the so-called epic cycle. And then, when writing an introductory book about the epic with my friend Elton Barker, I was forced to think more deeply about the Telemachy and the importance of the reunions in epic’s second half.

But what really changed my relationship with the Odyssey was my own life. When I was writing on the Iliad in the 2000s, we were living a new state of war, sending our soldiers from the west to kill and be killed in a dwindling “coalition of the willing” in the east. The Iliad made sense to me. I used to mock the Odyssey too as that ‘other’ epic.

In 2010-11, I taught that other epic three times. We also welcomed two children into the world and lost my father to a sudden sickness in between. There is nothing like losing a parent and becoming one in the same year to force a reconsideration of life. These years also marked half a decade in Texas and a decade since I left New England. The Odyssey‘s exploration of who we are and nostalgia started to resonate with me like never before.

But I also started to see more in the epic itself. If the Iliad is a raging maelstrom of fire and blood, the Odyssey is a lit fuse which may or may not ever lead to a detonation. If the Iliad is loud and brash and confusing, the Odyssey is so subtle that many of us make the mistake of thinking it is simple. It is extremely sensitive to human mental function, to how we create ourselves through narrative, and to the therapeutic function of stories.

In antiquity, traditions of allegory were extremely influential among various approaches to the epics. Among these, one of my favorite readings of the epics as complements frames one as a narrative concerned with the development and excellence of the body and the other about the virtues 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.

Of course, not all contrasts made between the two epics were positive. (Pseudo)-Longinus believed that the differences in the poem were results of the senility of the Iliad poet as he turned to the Odyssey.

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.

I think Longinus is on to something here. But rather than being a sign of senility, the Odyssey‘s differences are indications of maturity. I don’t mean ‘mature’ as a sign of greater progress, necessarily; but I mean that the Odyssey is a poem that appeals more to those who have lived more in life, who have, like its hero, “suffered much on the seas and learned the minds of many people”.

So, if I had to save only 1, I would save the Odyssey, not because it is better than or superior to the Iliad but because its existence presupposes the existence of the other. And, one is, for better or worse, currently more meaningful to me.

Embracing the Dead: Homer, Vergil and Macrobius for AP Latin Week

Odyssey 11.204-222

“So she spoke but as I pondered this in my thoughts,
I wanted to clutch the soul of my departed mother.
Three times I reached out as my heart urged me to embrace her,
And three times she drifted from my hands like a shadow
Or a dream. The grief in my heart only grew sharper
And I spoke to her, uttering winged words.

“Mother, why don’t you wait as I come to hold you,
So we may even in Hades throw our arms around another
And have our fill together of cruel grief?
Or is it that dread Persephone sends only this ghost to me
So I may groan, grieving still more?”

So I spoke and my lady mother responded right away:
“Oh, my child, most ill-fated of all men,
Zeus’ daughter Persephone does not allow you things,
This is the law of mortals whenever they die.
We possess no tendons, flesh or bones—
Those things the strong force of burning fire
Consumed, and when the spirit first leaves its white bones,
The soul flits about and flies like a dream.”

ὣς ἔφατ’, αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γ’ ἔθελον φρεσὶ μερμηρίξας
μητρὸς ἐμῆς ψυχὴν ἑλέειν κατατεθνηυίης.
τρὶς μὲν ἐφωρμήθην, ἑλέειν τέ με θυμὸς ἀνώγει,
τρὶς δέ μοι ἐκ χειρῶν σκιῇ εἴκελον ἢ καὶ ὀνείρῳ
ἔπτατ’· ἐμοὶ δ’ ἄχος ὀξὺ γενέσκετο κηρόθι μᾶλλον,
καί μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδων·
‘μῆτερ ἐμή, τί νύ μ’ οὐ μίμνεις ἑλέειν μεμαῶτα,
ὄφρα καὶ εἰν ᾿Αΐδαο φίλας περὶ χεῖρε βαλόντε
ἀμφοτέρω κρυεροῖο τεταρπώμεσθα γόοιο;
ἦ τί μοι εἴδωλον τόδ’ ἀγαυὴ Περσεφόνεια
ὤτρυν’, ὄφρ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὀδυρόμενος στεναχίζω;’
ὣς ἐφάμην, ἡ δ’ αὐτίκ’ ἀμείβετο πότνια μήτηρ·
‘ὤ μοι, τέκνον ἐμόν, περὶ πάντων κάμμορε φωτῶν,
οὔ τί σε Περσεφόνεια Διὸς θυγάτηρ ἀπαφίσκει,
ἀλλ’ αὕτη δίκη ἐστὶ βροτῶν, ὅτε τίς κε θάνῃσιν.
οὐ γὰρ ἔτι σάρκας τε καὶ ὀστέα ἶνες ἔχουσιν,
ἀλλὰ τὰ μέν τε πυρὸς κρατερὸν μένος αἰθομένοιο
δαμνᾷ, ἐπεί κε πρῶτα λίπῃ λεύκ’ ὀστέα θυμός,
ψυχὴ δ’ ἠΰτ’ ὄνειρος ἀποπταμένη πεπότηται.

Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.13

“What do you make of the fact that all of Vergil’s work is made as sort of mirroring of Homer’s”?

Quid, quod et omne opus Virgilianum velut de quodam Homerici opus speculo formatum est?

Aeneid, 6.700-2

“Three times I tried there to wrap my arms around his neck,
Three times his ghost fled the empty closure of my hands,
Something like a blowing breeze or a flying dream.”

Ter conatus ibi collo dare brachia circum,
ter frustra comprensa manus effugit imago,
par levibus ventis volucrique simillima somno.

These lines in the underworld are repeated from Aeneas’ description of his flight from Troy when he bursts back into the city and encounters the ghost of Creusa.

Macrobius (Saturnalia 5.4 ) lists this a one of many passages adapted from Homer. But in his version, he offers a slightly different version of the Latin. Instead of the line listed in most MSS (2.794=6.702) Macrobius has Par levibus ventis volucrique simillima fumo, “similar to light winds and something like floating smoke”.

In his commentary, John Connington doesn’t make much of this variation. He does mention another.

Commentary on 2.792-794

[794] Hom.’s words are σκιῆ εἴκελον ἢ καὶ ὀνείρῳ. Virg., in talking of sleep, probably has a dream in his mind. In any case there is no probability in Macrobius’ (Sat. 5. 5) misquotation ‘fumo,’ which Wakef. adopts. The Medicean of Pierius has a curious variety, “Par levibus pennis volucrique simillima vento.”

Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.14-15

“Has it been proved to you that Vergil cannot be understood by someone who is ignorant of the sound of Latin and is equally distant to one who has not drunk Greek learning deep with the fullest thirst?

If I did not fear making you antsy, I could fill huge volumes with the material he translated from the most obscure Greek teachings. But these assertions are enough to support the thesis I have proposed.”

probatumne vobis est Vergilium, ut ab eo intellegi non potest qui sonum Latinae vocis ignorat, ita nec ab eo posse qui Graecam non hauserit extrema satietate doctrinam?

nam si fastidium facere non timerem, ingentia poteram volumina de his quae a penitissima Graecorum doctrina transtulisset implere: sed ad fidem rei propositae relata sufficient.’

Image result for Medieval manuscript Vergil

AP Latin Week: Servius Rails Against Idle Nonsense

Servius tries to explain to empty-headed readers why Vergil’s Aeneid begins with the word ‘arma.’ (Commentary 1.1)

“Many people reason in various ways about why Vergil began his poem with ‘arms,’ but it is clear that their heads are full of idle nonsense, since it is obvious that he began his poem in another spot, as has been made clear in the biographical sketch already presented*. By ‘arms’ he means ‘war,’ and this is the literary device known as metonymy. For, he has substituted for war the arms which we use in war, just as the toga which we use in peace may substitute for the peace itself, as in that saying of Cicero, ‘Let arms yield to the toga,’ that is, let war give way to peace.”

*In his life of Vergil, Servius explains that the opening lines of the Aeneid were originally

‘I am he, who once measured out my song on the slender reed,
and emerging from the forests I compelled the neighboring fields
to obey the farmer, however grasping he might be –
all a pleasing work for farmers, but now I sing the awful
arms of Mars, and the man….”

Ille ego, qui quondam gracili modulatus avena
carmen, et egressus silvis vicina coegi
ut quamvis avido parerent arva colono,
gratum opus agricolis, at nunc horrentia Martis

ARMA multi varie disserunt cur ab armis Vergilius coeperit, omnes tamen inania sentire manifestum est, cum eum constet aliunde sumpsisse principium, sicut in praemissa eius vita monstratum est. per ‘arma’ autem bellum significat, et est tropus metonymia. nam arma quibus in bello utimur pro bello posuit, sicut toga qua in pace utimur pro pace ponitur, ut Cicero cedant arma togae, id est bellum paci.

The Birth of Philology

Again, from the Prolegomena ad Homerum by F. A. Wolf:

“This story allows us a chance to make a few overarching comments about the birth of the practice of criticism. And this also permits us to evaluate the nature of the recensions which were reportedly made in that period. For I don’t think that anyone will be surprised today that the Greeks of the time—who were by chance more men of genius than of learning,—even though they were completely estranged from the polymathy to which kings eventually provided ample time, that they were already starting to turn their attention to that art which is the collected sum of the various disciplines of literature and antiquity.

Indeed, all the foundations which would guide the ancients to the art of criticism already existed at that time. Among them I would put in first place the ancient method of preserving songs by only the use of memory; in the second, the errors and frauds perpetrated in ascribing authorship; and in the third, the many kinds of easy mistakes made by untrained hands in preparing the first manuscripts.

But even if this last case would precipitate a need for this art after many generations, anyone who is familiar with the Greeks will easily see that their genius would not have been able of declining so severely or so eagerly to such nitpicking concerns if their writings were only corrupted in the way that most books are. Let it stand as the singular fate of the monuments of Homer and his peers that in some sense they forced philology to be born—and that they did so even before the word for Critic or Grammarian was commonly spoken.”

Haec narratio nobis occasionem offert in universum dicendi nonnulla de ortu studii critici, ex quibus existimare liceat de conditione earum recensionorum, quae hoc saeculo offeruntur factae esse. Nunc enim nemo, puto, mirabitur, Graecos iam tum, quum prosperrima sorte sua ingeniosiores essent quam doctiores, et ab illa [corrupt text] cui reges deinde otium praebuerunt alienissimi, animum paullatim applicuisse ad eam artem, quae tota collecta est ex multiplici doctrina litterarum et antiquitatis. Etenim quae causae maxime perduxerunt veteres ad criticam artem, iam tum eaedem exstiterant omnes. In quibus primo loco posuerim modum illum conservandorum olim Carminum ope unius memoriae, proximo errores et fraudes in prodendis auctoribus eorum, tertio varios facillimosque lapsus rudium manuum in primis exemplaribus parandis. Sed etsi haec postrema causa eius- modi est, ut post aliquot saecula istius artis desiderium necessario fuisset allatura, tamen qui Graecos norit, facile intelliget, ad tam minutulas curas ingenium eorum nec tam mature-nec tanto studio potuisse descendere, si sola omni scripturae communia menda libros corrupissent. Maneat igitur, singularem fortunam Homericorum et supparum monumentorum extudisse quodammodo philologam criticen, idque etiam antea, quam nomen Critici aut Grammatici vulgo auditum esset.

J.E. Sandys attempts to put Wolf’s accomplishment in historical context. Sandys also provides an overview of what he sees as the differences between classical scholarship at large and philology.

Jakobson: “ is the art of reading slowly”

Nietszche: “the art of reading well” (die Kunst gut zu lesen)

Vico: “By philology, I mean the science of everything that depends on human volition.”

Novalis: “Philology in general is the science of literature.”

[H/T to Patrick Burns (@diyclassics) for these last two]

What Does it Mean to Have an Oral Homer?

The ‘modern’ Homeric ‘Question’ simmered for many centuries before it received its most clear articulation at the end of the 18th century when Wolf, who had been working on an edition of the Homeric text, published his Prolegomena.  He was one of the first to argue persuasively for the oral derivation of the Homeric poems. In the (declining) style of the time, Wolf published in Latin.

The full Latin text is available from Google books and on the Homer Multitext Project website. A fine translation was published in English in 1985/1988 by Anthony Grafton, Glenn W. Most, and James E. G. Zetzel.

Friedrich Augustus Wolf, Prolegomena ad Homerum (1795) section 23

“But what if the suspicion of a few scholars is likely, that these and the other compositions of those days were not written down but were first created by poets using memory and circulated as songs and then were ‘published’ widely by the singing of rhapsodes who were trained by their particular discipline to learn them? And if because of this, before they were fixed in writing, what if many changes naturally occurred either intentionally or by chance?

What if, for this reason itself, as soon as they began to be written, they exhibited many divergences and soon added new ones from the hasty adjustments by those who were eager to polish them and to align them with the best laws of the poetic art and their own custom And what if then this whole creation and series of two eternal songs are not of a single poet whom we are used to crediting for his genius but more from the dedication of a more polished time and thanks to the collected efforts of many—that the very songs from which the Iliad and the Odyssey were composed did not have a single author and this can be argued from likely propositions and reasons? What if, I ask, we must take up a belief different from the popular one about all of this, what then will it mean to restore the ancient gleam and original form to these poems?”

At vero, si nonnullorum probabilis est suspicio , haec et reliqua Carmina illorum temporum nullis litterarum mandata notis, sed primum a poetis memoriter facta et cantu edita, tum per rhapsodos, in iis ediscendis propria arte occupatos, canendo divulgata esse; ex quo, antequam scripto velut figerentur, plura in iis vel consilio vel casu immutari necesse esset; si hanc ipsam ob causam, statim ut scribi coepta sunt, multas diversitates habuerunt, mox novas subinde adsciverunt temeritate et coniecturis eorum, qui ea certatim expolire, et ad optimas leges poeticae artis ad suamque consuetudinem loquendi corrigere studebant; si denique totum hunc contextum ac seriem duorum perpetuorum Carminum non tam eius, cui eam tribuere consuevimus, ingenio, quam sollertiae politioris aevi et multorum coniunctis studiis deberi, neque adeo ipsas docdd, ex quibus Ilias et Odyssea compositae sunt, unum omnes auctorem habere, verisimilibus argumentis et rationibus effici potest; si, inquam, aliter de his omnibus, ac vulgo fit, existimandum est: quid tum erit, his Carminibus pristinum nitorem et germanam formam suam restituere?

Prolegomena

Tracking (And Seeing) Divine Footprints

Homer, Iliad 13.71–72

“For I easily recognized the prints from his feet and legs
As he was leaving. The gods are really conspicuous.”

ἴχνια γὰρ μετόπισθε ποδῶν ἠδὲ κνημάων
ῥεῖ’ ἔγνων ἀπιόντος· ἀρίγνωτοι δὲ θεοί περ·

Porphyry, Quest. Homer. 396-7

“They say it is impossible that Aphrodite changes her skin into the form of an old women and that Helen recognizes instead the goddess. The explanation is that the poen toften shows the demigods reading the forms of the gods in disguise as when Poseidon appears similar to Kalkhas and Aias says “this is not the prophet Kalkhas, for I easily recognized….”

ἀδύνατόν φασιν εἰς γραῦν μεταβαλεῖν τὴν ἰδέαν τὴν ᾿Αφροδίτην καὶ νοῆσαι τὴν ῾Ελένην τὴν τῆς θεᾶς δειρήν. λύσις· πολλαχοῦ ποιεῖται τοὺς ἡμιθέους τεκμαιρομένους τὰς τῶν θεῶν μορφάς, ὡς ὅταν ὁ Ποσειδῶν Κάλχαντι ἀπεικασθεὶς φαίνηται ὅ τε Αἴας φησίν· οὐδ’ ὅγε Κάλχας ἐστὶ θεοπρόπος· ἴχνια δὲ μετόπισθε ποδῶν ἠδὲ κνημάων ῥεῖ’ ἔγνων ἀπιόντος· ἀρίγνωτοι δὲ θεοί περ

Image result for medieval manuscript poseidon neptune

Etymology and Your Grandfather’s Grandfather

Varro, on the Latin Language (VII. 3)

“It is not surprising [that ancient words have unclear meanings] since not only was Epimenides not recognized by many when he got up from sleep after 50 years, but Teucer as well was unknown by his family after only 15 years, according to Livius Andronicus. But what is this to the age of poetic words? If the source of the words in the Carmen Saliorum is the reign of Numa Pompilius and those words were not taken up from previous composers, they are still 700 years old.

Why, then, would you criticize the labor of an author who has not successfully found the name of a hero’s great-grandfather or that man’s grandfather, when you cannot name the mother of your own great-grandfather’s grandfather? This distance is so much closer to us than the period from now to the beginning of the Salians when people say the Roman’s poetic words were first in Latin.”

Nec mirum, cum non modo Epimenides sopore post annos L experrectus a multis non cognoscatur, sed etiam Teucer Livii post XV annos ab suis qui sit ignoretur. At hoc quid ad verborum poeticorum aetatem? Quorum si Pompili regnum fons in Carminibus Saliorum neque ea ab superioribus accepta, tamen habent DCC annos. Quare cur scriptoris industriam reprehendas qui herois tritavum, atavum non potuerit reperire, cum ipse tui tritavi matrem dicere non possis? Quod intervallum multo tanto propius nos, quam hinc ad initium Saliorum, quo Romanorum prima verba poetica dicunt Latina.

Teucer was a king of Salamis who was absent during the Trojan War.

Epimenides was a poet from Crete who wrote a Theogony. He allegedly went to sleep as a boy and awoke 57 years later. Here’s his strange entry from the Suda.

“Epimenides, son of Phaistos or Dosiados or Agiasarkhos and his mother was Blastos. A Cretan from Knossos and epic poet. As the story goes, his soul could leave his body for however long the time was right and then return again. When he died, after some time his skin was found to be tattooed with words. He lived near the 30th olympiad and he was among the first of the seven sages and those after them. For he cleansed Athens of the plague of Kylôneios at the time of the 44th Olympiad when he was an old man. He wrote many epic poems, including in catalogue form about mysteries, purifications, and other riddling matters. Solon wrote to him asking for the cleansing of the city. He lived 150 years but he slept for 50 of them. “The Epimenidean skin” is a proverb for mysterious writings.”

᾿Επιμενίδης, Φαίστου ἢ Δοσιάδου ἢ ᾿Αγιασάρχου υἱός, καὶ μητρὸς Βλάστας, Κρὴς ἀπὸ Κνωσσοῦ, ἐποποιός· οὗ λόγος, ὡς ἐξίοι ἡ ψυχὴ ὁπόσον ἤθελε καιρόν, καὶ πάλιν εἰσῄει ἐν τῷ σώματι· τελευτήσαντος δὲ αὐτοῦ, πόρρω χρόνων τὸ δέρμα εὑρῆσθαι γράμμασι κατάστικτον. γέγονε δὲ ἐπὶ τῆς λ′ ὀλυμπιάδος, ὡς προτερεύειν καὶ τῶνζ′ κληθέντων σοφῶν ἢ καὶ ἐπ’ αὐτοῖς γενέσθαι. ἐκάθηρε γοῦν τὰς ᾿Αθήνας τοῦ Κυλωνείου ἄγους κατὰ τὴν μδ′ ὀλυμπιάδα, γηραιὸς ὤν. ἔγραψε δὲ πολλὰ ἐπικῶς· καὶ καταλογάδην μυστήριά τινα καὶ καθαρμοὺς καὶ ἄλλα αἰνιγματώδη. πρὸς τοῦτον γράφει Σόλων ὁ νομοθέτης μεμφόμενος τῆς πόλεως κάθαρσιν. οὗτος ἔζησεν ρν′ ἔτη, τὰ δὲ Ϛ′ ἐκαθεύδησεν. καὶ παροιμία τὸ ᾿Επιμενίδειον δέρμα, ἐπὶ τῶνἀποθέτων.

Homer: Poet, Parent, Parodist?

If you want to read more about Homer and the “Battle of Frogs and Mice”, you can check out the page on the blog. And you can also check out our book…

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

The Ghost Giving Up the Mind: Psukhe, Eidolon, and Phrenes in the Iliad

Homer, Il. 23.103-4

“Wretches, really someone in Hades’ home
is a spirit and ghost but there are no phrenes altogether inside.”

ὢ πόποι ἦ ῥά τίς ἐστι καὶ εἰν ᾿Αΐδαο δόμοισι
ψυχὴ καὶ εἴδωλον, ἀτὰρ φρένες οὐκ ἔνι πάμπαν·

Schol ad Il. 23.104a-b ex

A: “Soul and ghost, “but the thoughts were not completely present:
Patroklos converses thoughtfully and with understanding. This line, then, is inserted from the Odyssey [where it does not exist]. For there [Homer] makes the psykhai into shadowy ghosts with no share of understanding.

Either he means that thoughts [phrenes] are not perceptive, but some part of the organs within the body as is said elsewhere: “they kept the phrenes and liver inside” and elsewhere “there really where the thoughts go/are”. Therefore this is the whole body from a part. Thus Aristophanes the grammarian. But there is a diplê: Homer depicts the souls of the unburied as still preserving thought.”

[lemma] Some [say] that phrenes are the body. For the phrenes are a portion of the body. But he means that he did not obtain them as long as he was stretched out. But, it is better that the dead do not have thoughts. For he criticizes [Achilles] that he does not care. And, certainly, the unburied often give prophecies. Or, it could also be, that they are present, but not completely.”

Did. (?) | ψυχὴ καὶ εἴδωλον, <ἀτὰρ φρένες οὐκ ἔνι πάμπαν>:
Ariston. ἐμφρόνως καὶ συνετῶς διείλεκται πάντα ὁ Πάτροκλος. ἐνσέσεισται οὖν
ἐκ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας ὁ στίχος (ubi non exstat)· ἐκεῖ γὰρ τὰς ψυχὰς εἴδωλα σκιώδη φρονήσεως ἀμέτοχα ὑπέθετο. ἢ φρένας λέγει οὐ τὸ διανοητικόν, ἀλλὰ μέρος τι τῶν ἐντὸς σώματος, ὡς καὶ ἀλλαχοῦ „ἔν τε φρένες ἧπαρ ἔχουσι” (ι 301) καὶ πάλιν „ἔνθ’ ἄρα τε φρένες ἔρχαται” (Π 481). ἔστιν οὖν ἀπὸ μέρους τὸ ὅλον σῶμα. οὕτως ᾿Αριστοφάνης ὁ γραμματικός (fr. 87, p. 227 N. [= p. 191 Sl.]). | ἡ διπλῆ δέ, ὅτι τὰς τῶν
ἀτάφων ψυχὰς ῞Ομηρος ἔτι σωζούσας τὴν φρόνησιν ὑποτίθεται. A
ex. ἀτὰρ φρένες οὐκ ἔνι πάμπαν: φρένες T τινὲς σῶμα· μέρος γὰρ σώματος αἱ φρένες. τοῦτο δὲ εἶπε, παρ’ ὅσον ἐκταθεὶς οὐκ ἔλαβε. κάλλιον δέ, ὅτι φρένας οἱ τεθνεῶτες οὐκ ἔχουσιν· ἐμέμφετο γὰρ ὡς ἠμελημένος (cf. Ψ 69—74). b(BCE3E4)T καὶ
μὴν οἱ ἄταφοι προμαντεύονται. T ἢ εἰσὶ μέν, οὐ μὴν πάμπαν.
b(BCE3E4)T

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