Printer Friendly

Reading Homer in the 21st century.

Unlike the original audiences that participated in the oral culture of the Greeks, in our day we access the two Greek epic poems that have come down to us under the name of Homer (1) through the act of reading, whether in their original language or in modern translations. The Homeric poems have been transmitted to us and achieved their canonical status in our culture as written texts, (2) but we have reason to assume that they are the result of a long tradition of poetry, developed in oral performance, and only secondarily put into writing. Even though it is impossible to demonstrate to everyone's satisfaction that the Iliad and the Odyssey were composed and initially transmitted without writing, there are characteristics in their style which are best understood and explained if these texts started as oral compositions. (3) The terms just used, "oral" as opposed to "written," and "reception in performance" as opposed to "reading," need qualification. First of all, "oral" has very different meanings in English. It can, for example, when applied to language, simply mean "spoken." Now, there is a common awareness that, when we speak, even in the most formal situations, we use language in a way that is clearly different from the way in which we write. In this sense, then, as means of communication, "oral" can be taken as the opposite of "written." But in our culture, as E.J. Bakker puts it "either medium ... speech or writing, comes with its own set of associations, even its own mentality." In this regard, we could understand "oral" as the conception that underlies a discourse, and oppose it not to written but to "literate" (2005, 39).

Even today, in our heavily "literate" culture, most linguistic situations lie at some point or other on the continuum between the two extremes represented by "oral" and "literate." In addition, as Bakker notes, we endow the terms "oral" and "literate" with cultural value "and we tend to consider texts that are oral as to their conception as crude or primitive ... or, in another context, as 'archaic' simply because we use our own sense and conception of writing as a norm" (2005, 42). All this becomes particularly relevant when dealing with poetry, and particularly Homeric poetry, since we are evaluating a discourse that was never meant to be read but was produced only as speech from the perspective of our norm, which is "literate," not "oral." In sum, we speak of "oral" poetry as something else, different from our cultural norm, that is, "literate" poetry. But in a society without any use of writing in which poets might compose poetry, they would be simply poets, not "oral" poets, in the absence of "literate" poets to whom they could be contrasted. The same could be said of "oral composition," or "oral style," whose existence makes sense only in contraposition to a "literate" style.

Concerning Homer, for years a battle has been going on between hard "oralists" (who exclude the intervention of writing at any moment of the composition, performance or transmission of the poems) and those who defend the idea that these poems were composed with the help of writing. But numerous studies on the workings of traditional oral poetry as well as of ordinary spoken language have helped us understand the concepts "oral" and "written" not as mutually exclusive, but in a more flexible, open way. In the Greek archaic period writing must have been so different from our own conception of writing that the dichotomy between "orality" and "literacy" again breaks down (Bakker 2005, 45). Although the Homeric poems were put into writing, and have been transmitted to us in that form (that is, they have been "textualized"), (4) we should bear in mind, when we read them, that they retain many traits revealing their origin as spoken language. (5) We should not simply transfer onto this kind of discourse our conceptions of "poetry" or "style" that has developed within a quite different conception of the use of language, that is, a "literate" one.

Since terms such as "formula," "ringcomposition," "typical scenes" (all of which involve repetition at some level), (6) or "parataxis" and "additive syntax" (which suggest a kind of staccato at the syntactical level), are commonly used to characterize the "oral" style of Homer, it is not otiose to include here some thoughts on these notions. The groundbreaking work of Milman Parry and his disciple Albert Lord, which inaugurated the field of "oral poetry," concentrated initially on the study of the "formula." (7) High formulaic density in a text became the decisive criterion for considering it "oral" or not. (8) It is true that oral texts make use of formulae in a way that "literate" texts do not, but from the time of Parry's work the concept has been expanded and re-defined, often according to different evolving trends and models in the field of linguistics. (9) Linguists in their analysis of language have found and defined a series of basic units such as "word" or "sentence." The formulae we find in "oral" poetry fall somewhere between these units: they are more than a word but less than a sentence. In spoken discourse in any language there is another unit that seems to be more relevant than either the word or the sentence: it is variously called "tone group" or "intonation unit." It is Wallace Chafe's achievement to have paid due attention to these "intonation units" and Egbert Bakker's to have applied Chafe's research to Homeric poetry. (10) Intonation units are usually four to seven words long, they can constitute a complete syntactical unit or need some complementation to make sense syntactically, and in spoken language they are marked by intonation boundaries and, often, by pauses. Although intonation units are universal properties of ordinary speech, they can be stylized into metrical properties in special, poetical speech. In other words, the formulae of poetical language coincide with the "intonation units" of spoken language. They are, then, not so much a characteristic feature of an "oral style" as a property of spoken language in general. The same can be said concerning Homeric syntax. The famous Homeric parataxis or additive style is better understood if we compare it to the way our own syntax is produced in speech. For example, an expression such as "that boy, who came this morning, I gave him the letter" is very frequent in spoken language, but would be unacceptable when written. Instead we would write "I gave the letter to the boy who came this morning." Homeric syntax seems also to operate in accord with the parameters of speech more than the norms of written language. We can ascertain this property by comparing a Homeric passage in a conventional translation to the effect of the movement of the syntax in the original, preserved as much as possible in, for example, Bakker's rendering of Iliad XXIV. 391-93:
 him in the battle that gives men kudos, very often
 with my eyes I have seen him, also when drawing close to the ships
 he would kill the Argives, lacerating them with sharp bronze. (Bakker
 2005, 31)

Here is Lattimore's rather literal version:
 whom many a time my eyes have seen in the fighting where men win
 glory, as also on that time when he drove back the Argives
 on their ships and kept killing them on the stroke of the sharp

And here an even freer and more "literate" rendering by Fitzgerald:
 Never surmise
 I have not seen him with my very eyes,
 and often, on the field. I saw him chase
 Argives with carnage to their own shipways ...

We can appreciate that the flow of language in the original is much closer to the way we all speak than to the perfectly balanced sentences we tend to use in writing.

Thus far I have attempted to convey to a Greekless reader some sense of what Homer's language is like and how it works. The experience of reading Homer in Greek is an intense one: the richness of the language at all levels, its directness, the precision of words and constructions, the repetition of formulae and formulaic elements or even of whole verses, its metrical nature, all these elements contribute to rendering Homeric language a very peculiar, idiosyncratic, form of Greek. These particularities of Homeric language, of course, get for the most part lost even in the excellent translations available. But even deprived of these fundamental features, transformed into other words and adapted to other cultural contexts, the Iliad and the Odyssey are still immensely attractive. As a reader who has spent much time with the Homeric texts in their Greek original, I have often wondered about the power they exert on Greekless readers, which I experience every year with diverse groups of students who read the poems in English. How is it possible to capture fully the joy of Homer when read in translation? Why do people without a background in classical culture or languages enjoy reading these works? What do these poems have that make them so universal, and so appealing even when rendered in another language? What do their stories have that can be transmitted and which touches readers beyond the language itself?

The Iliad and the Odyssey as texts are quite demanding for their public. When we start reading both poems we face a series of characters, both divine and human, about whom practically nothing is said: no formal presentation, no true introduction is given. We can extract some information about the characters from other speakers in the text, from the situations in which they are placed, and also from the epithets and patronymics that often accompany their names. Thus, for example, the first verse of the Iliad mentions Achilles, of whom we are told his wrath is the subject of the poem and that he is the son of Peleus. Nothing else. A few lines later, when Agamemnon is mentioned for the first time (1.7), his name is not even given: "the son of Atreus, lord of men." The same happens with the introduction of the first divine character, Apollo. He is presented only as the son of Leto and Zeus. The text assumes in the reader or listener of this poetry a lot of previous knowledge, a knowledge that must necessarily be shared by the poet and his public. (11) Obviously, in the context of Greek culture the ancestry of Apollo was well-known. Even today, with a very limited, basic, knowledge of mythology it is perfectly possible to follow the main narrative line of both poems without too much trouble. But the Homeric poems are much more than their basic storylines. The main actions of the Iliad and Odyssey are, in fact, set against the background of a much larger mass of stories involving the human and divine characters that figure in the poems. In fact, one of the surprising features of this poetry for a first-time reader is the richness and density of its contents, the fact that one needs to read and re-read the texts to appreciate all that is going on within their lines and to reconstruct all the information that is either assumed or indirectly alluded to. Both poems present many secondary plots that involve the main characters and hundreds of minor characters with their lives and stories. Some of these stories are clearly expounded by the characters or the poet, and constitute what we could call "paranarratives"; (12) at other times, though, there are only obscure allusions, scattered throughout the text, and it is very difficult to reconstruct the full story just from the text of Homer alone. In these cases it is quite obvious that the poems assume a lot of information as well-known by the public, so that no further explanation is needed.

If we limit ourselves to reading and "explaining Homer from Homer," following the principle favored by the Hellenistic scholar Aristarchus, (13) it is still possible to enjoy the poems as self-standing works of art, fully satisfying even without the support of a lot of external information. (14) The many levels at which the poems develop their narrative plots are sufficient in themselves to achieve two fundamental goals: 1) to produce a basic coherence in the tale: the narrative, all in all, "makes sense," is a "whole." 2) to accumulate a sufficient richness of elements, levels, contrasts, parallels, etc., to keep the interest and the attention of the readers or listeners. And yet, a reader who participates as fully as possible in the cultural ambience that lies behind all the secondary narratives presented in the poems will gain a much deeper appreciation of them. These secondary stories are, as Alden puts it "relevant in some way either to the interpretation of their immediate context or to that of the main narrative, or to both" (2000,1). Often the relevance of these stories is ambiguous, since the narrator presents them as simply the point of view of the character who tells the story. When the tale of Agamemnon's unfortunate return home is told in the Odyssey, it certainly creates suspense about Odysseus's behavior and the outcome of his trip. But it is also important to bear in mind how the story is told, by whom, to whom, and under which circumstances (as Olson 1990 showed).

Homeric poetry was not born in a vacuum, but rather in the medium of the rich and highly developed Greek culture of the end of the so-called "Dark Age" and the beginning of the "Archaic Age." (15) In the cultural ambience that produced the Homeric poems there was a large mass of folk traditions, legends, tales, and indeed other poems, epic poems that unfortunately are now lost to us but about which we can still know something through fragments and notices in later authors. Besides the major episode of the Trojan War that produced a full cycle of poetry to which Iliad and Odyssey belong, other major "mythical" events were also recounted in poems, stories and cycles of poetry. Thus, the set of legends centered on the city of Thebes and the story of Oedipus and his family were the subject of poems such as the Oedipodeia, the Thebais and the Epigoni; several other poems dealt with Heracles and his exploits. (16) The subset of these poems which dealt with the Trojan War became known in the tradition collectively as the Epic Cycle. We only have scant fragments from this cycle, but are informed about its contents. (17)

Although highly selective in regard to its contents, the Homeric tradition was not isolated from that mass of cultural elements and poetry, but rather embedded in it, and preserves traces of these other collateral traditions and poems. (18) The problem, of course, is to determine what kind of relationship exited between the Homeric poems and those other works, and more precisely between the Homeric poems and the poems of the Epic Cycle. (19) Was the Epic Cycle modelled on Homer, or the reverse? The first problem we meet in trying to answer this question is that the dating of the Cycle remains uncertain. (20) Even if we admit (as I think we should) that these were oral poems before they were put into writing, and that they were coeval with the Homeric poems, comparison between them is still difficult, given that we only possess bare resumes of their plots and some isolated lines.

The school of criticism that has taken Homer's connection to the Epic Cycle most seriously and explored its possibilities in depth is Neo-analysis. Burgess provides a good definition of the purpose and method of the school:
 In more general terms neoanalysis can be described as a willingness to
 explore the influence of pre-Homeric material on the Homeric poems. In
 this respect theories concerning the effect of folktales or Near
 Eastern motifson the Homeric poems are comparable. But neoanalysis has
 been especially concerned with the pre-Homeric tradition of the Trojan
 War as it is represented by the Epic Cycle. Because the Iliad and
 Odyssey often contain direct references to such a tradition,
 neoanalysts propose that there are also indirect reflections of this
 "Cyclic" tradition within the Homeric poems. (Burgess 2001, 62)

Neo-analysis has attempted to demonstrate the strict dependance of certain Homeric passages on poems of the Cycle. Although the achievements of this school should not be dismissed out of hand, its conclusions have not been accepted by oralists, since, following Parry and Lord, they believe this type of allusion to be impossible in oral traditions. (21)

The question, then, remains: is Homer alluding to poems that had an existence as texts, or simply using in particular ways the richness of the "oral" tradition of which those other poems also were a part. As one commentator puts it:
 There is no way of telling ... whether Homer refers here to common
 stories or particular poems. The number of these references,
 however, does show his concern to place his own work in a context of
 other epics and to give it a sense of reaching out to the rest of the
 legendary world. (Dowden 1996, 52)

We should at this point go back to the notion of "text" and its value when applied to the Homeric poems. Dowden explains:
 By the word "text" I refer to a fixed poem.... A narrative may indeed
 become such a text thanks to writing, but only because writing fixes
 it, not because there is something special about writing. It is
 perfectly possible to have a fixed (memorized) text in an oral
 tradition, and Nagy, noting the archaic accentuation preserved by
 rhapsodes, has argued that Homer's own text is a case in point,
 preserved fixed in an oral tradition. Between the two extremes of
 total fixity and utter fluidity lie various levels of
 semi-fixity.... Amongst these ... lies a firm and standard sense of
 how the story goes (Proclos's summaries of the poems of the Cyclic
 epics may serve as a model for this). (Dowden 1996, 47)(22)

In regard to the Iliad, Dowden notes that the author of the poem must have had a sense of his own text. We cannot doubt that the making of such a poem requires a good deal of planning and careful preparation of events in the narrative, but one may observe here that a Faktenkanon or fixed order of events and a full poem such as our Iliad are two very different things. And precisely one of the problems that we face in comparing Homer with the poems of the Cycle is that we have only a list of the events narrated in the poems, but not those poems themselves, except for some scant fragments. Although it is common to refer to the poems of the Epic Cycle collectively, as if they were uniform and together constituted some kind of unity, the truth is far from this. The Cycle comprises works that are very different from each other in subject-matter, quality, length, etc., works that were probably composed at different times, and each of them bears its own particular relationship to Homer. (23)

The situation, then, is as follows: 1) The texts of the Homeric poems frequently allude to events or characters that are only marginal in the Iliad or the Odyssey but which, as we know from other sources, had been much more developed in cyclic poems. 2) Although we can read the Homeric poems without catching every allusion, our comprehension of certain concrete passages, and, in general, of the poems is considerably richer to the extent that we do. 3) We do not know whether these references are to concrete texts, or even passages of texts, or simply evocations of common motifs of the "tradition concerning the capture of Troy" set of legends. The problem is, then, to find an answer to two questions: "in Homer, how is a reference made to a specific item which lies outside the text and which the singer presumes the recipient will understand? And how is the text thereby enriched with additional meaning?" (Danek 2002, 5).

The subject-matter of Homeric poetry is constituted by what we call "myths." In regard to this concept we should always bear in mind that "myth" is not an indigenous Greek category, but rather a practical way for us to designate a complex of information about the Greeks' own past created and transmitted from generation to generation and which consists of a mixture of elements that we would label variously as "historical," "legendary," "religious," "ethnographic," "scientific," etc.

We may understand myths to work in a similar way to what cognitive scientists have described as "scripts": "A script is a predetermined, stereotyped sequence of actions that defines a well-known situation" (Schank and Ableson 1977, 41, ctd. in Rubin 1995, 24). Thus, for example, a statement such as: "Richard went into a restaurant; they did not have fish" is perfectly understandable; the same is true of "Michael visited his doctor; he ordered some blood tests." A statement however, such as "Richard went into a restaurant; he ordered some blood tests" is, to say the least, surprising, and, in principle, does not make a lot of sense. The actions of the first parts of these two statements evoke other actions and objects that are assumed by the listener, even if they are not explicit. A second property of scripts is that "members of a culture have considerable knowledge about the kinds of routine activities that scripts describe, and they can use this knowledge to make inferences and set expectations" (Rubin 1995, 24). With myths and the stories of mythical characters something similar happens. For example, the mention of Achilles in Iliad 1.1 as son of Peleus evokes at a certain level also his mother Thetis and their wedding and problematic union, at least for participants in the culture where Achilles had a prominent role. This same principle applies to noun-epithet formulas, which carry with them a full set of associations and "bear implications beyond their literal sense" (Foley 1999, 4). (24) Foley uses the term "metonymic" to describe this relationship (1991,23). (25) But, as Bakker notes, "Metonymic relationships are at the heart of wider ranging strategies of epic poets to locate their discourse with respect to the larger realms of human experience, tradition and myth, that find their expression on a variety of levels and in a number of ways" (1995, 102). This property of the names and stories of characters of myth applies also to modern "myths." For example, the simple mention of a vampire in a movie or novel evokes in our minds a set of characteristics that we associate with such a creature: aversion to garlic, long fangs, nocturnal life, etc. It also creates in us a set of expectations about the behavior of the vampire himself and of those who encounter him. The kind of traditional story that we call myth contains also many elements that do not have to be mentioned specifically, since they are taken as "known" by both the poet and the auditor or reader, and form part of the shared knowledge among members of a culture. In the same way, participants in the culture can easily identify the elements that "belong" or not in each of these narratives, since through the retellings of the story a set of expectations has been created. (26) To put it in Foley's words, "Traditional referentiality enables an extremely economical transaction of meaning, with the modest, concrete part standing for a larger and more complex whole" (1999, 6). Traditional referentiality, as a shared code between poet and audience, operates at every level of an oral traditional composition, from the formula to the conception of the whole poem. This vision, thus, expands and enriches the narrow definition of "formula" given by Parry. Foley expresses it in the following way:
 To put it telegraphically, "swift-footed Achilleus" is traditional
 epic code for the mythic entirety of the Achaean hero. It is an index
 for his character, a nominal part that stands by prior agreement for
 the whole of his personality. As a traditional "word," it obeys the
 metrical strictures uncovered by Parry, behaving as part of the
 noun-epithet system and cooperating with other ways to name
 Achilleus. But it conveys much more than an "essential idea",
 serving as much more than simply a compositionally convenient way to
 say "Achilleus." It summons the larger traditional identity of the
 best of the Achaeans, using a telltale detail to project the
 complexity of a character with a resonant and singular history in the
 epic tradition." (Foley 1999, 210)

To continue with the case of Achilles, after hearing his name one expects, for example, to see him fighting with a spear and not with a bow, because through the many retellings of stories involving Achilles, and unlike some other warriors at Troy, this hero is never presented as an archer.

Epic poetry was, thus, a most important vehicle for the transmission of all this cultural baggage. Each performance reenacted stories of the past, which were presented and taken as truth. Homeric poets hide themselves behind their text. Poetry is not viewed in this tradition as the product of the poet's own creativity as much as a reproduction of knowledge kept by the Muses. The conservative character of epic language and the transfer of authority over the text to the Muses are fundamental factors in maintaining the illusion that all performances are identical, since they all express the truth about the heroes of the past. In addition, audiences were familiar with the main characters and their basic stories and, in particular, with the chronological order of events in those stories; they could, therefore, ratify the truth of the tale. (27) All this made epic poetry an important factor of social cohesion. If all performances are assumed to be the same, if repetition creates traditional referentiality, which in turn creates meaning, then variation, when it happens, is especially relevant. Here we observe again a basic principle of Homeric composition: meaning is created through variation within repetition (Scodel 2004, 49). Thus Foley writes, "The art of the Iliad and Odyssey stems neither solely from the uniqueness of the instance nor solely from its traditional meaning, but rather from their interaction" (1999, 7).

We tend to consider the Iliad and Odyssey as the most traditional examples of Greek epic poetry, and look at the remains of the rest (such as the poems of the Epic Cycle mentioned before) as being poorer stuff. (28) But it is extremely difficult to make strong pronouncements on the nature and artistic quality of those other poems, since we have them in such fragmentary form. There are, though, certain reasons to believe that the other poems were rather the norm, whereas Iliad and Odyssey were highly innovative and raised the tradition to another level. (29)

To begin with, both Homeric poems are very ambitious in their contents, much more than what we know of the rest of the epic tradition, and not only by the sheer amount of information included in them, but also by the way in which this information gets organized. Instead of presenting a linear succession of several major events developed in so many consecutive actions (as the poems of the Cycle seem to have done), the Iliad and Odyssey concentrate their plots on one single action (the quarrel of Agamemnon and Achilles for the Iliad, the return of Odysseus in the Odyssey). (30) In addition, the actions of the Iliad and Odyssey are only minor episodes in the whole picture of the Trojan War and its aftermath. And yet, although they are much more limited and specific in their plots, they are at the same time far more ambitious in their scope and their temporal dimension. Thus, even if the Iliad presents its subject as "the wrath of Achilles" (just one episode among many in the larger story of the fall of Troy at Achaean hands), and its whole action lasts for only ten days, the poem in effect relates the ten years of the war through allusions to past events and projections of future ones. The Odyssey, too, although in principle a poem about the difficult return home of Odysseus after the war, is far-reaching in telling us the stories of many other heroes who fought at Troy. This kind of all-embracing scope within a single action seems to have been a Homeric innovation; the poems of the Cycle, in what we know of them, were more limited. In this sense at least the Homeric poems must have constituted novelties, very much appreciated by their audiences. Telemachus himself in the Odyssey expresses as a matter of fact the preference of the public for the newest song. (31) This is his response to Penelope's request that Phemius stop singing the "Return of the Achaeans." Since this passage is placed at the very beginning of the Odyssey, Telemachus's statement seems programmatic. Phemius's audience enjoys his song because, as Telemachus says, it is new. But the audience of the Oydssey is hearing even a newer song, a song in which Phemius's poem is already part of the past. (32) And thus the Odyssey, a poem that seeks to become the "Return Song" par excellence and presents itself as the final poem of the aftermath of Troy, embraces all major events at the end of the war, and all other possible "Return Songs": we hear about the death of Achilles, the Trojan Horse, the destiny of Ajax, the safe return of Nestor and Menelaus, and the unfortunate end of Agamemnon. Through this sort of ambitious scope, the Odyssey, a deeply self-conscious narrative, places itself as the "final word" on the Troy tradition, and plays off the Iliad and several poems of the Epic Cycle (Aethiopis, Ilias Micra, Ilioupersis).

The treatment of the temporal dimension in the poems is very much connected to their ambitious scope. (33) Among the elements that are often taken for granted in the Iliad and Odyssey, and therefore need not be explained in detail, are many events of the past, but also of the future. Past and future are here used as relative terms in regard to the time of the main narrative of the poems. (34) Homeric characters, both men and gods, are historical: they have a past, a present, and a future. Stories from the past come up here and there through the text. Some are of little immediate importance for the main plot, and serve mainly for characterization and individualization, for example, the biographical vignettes that reflect the origins and life-at-home of many minor warriors, which the poet introduces at the moment of their deaths. Any one of these episodes has very little bearing on the action of the Iliad, and yet, taken together, they contribute greatly to making the Iliad what it is: not only the poem of the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, but also the poem of the Trojan War. The descriptions of these men's previous histories, of their time at home before the war, introduce another world into the poem that contrasts strongly with the main narrative of battles. They are also a way for the poet to arouse pathos: these warriors are not just numbers, or simple names in a list, but men who had a history and a life that is now lost. (35) They follow a traditional pattern and show many common elements, whereas, at the same time, they present original combinations of those elements and may be just created ad hoc, to fit a concrete passage. (36) They show variation in length too; sometimes they are just a few words, or a single verse; other times, they constitute a full tableau. Contrast, for example, "The lord of men, Agamemnon, brought death to Elatos/ whose home had been on the shores of Satnioeis' lovely waters, /sheer Pedasos" (VI. 34-35) (37) with the following two passages:
 Diomedes of the great war cry cut down Axylos,/ Teuthras' son, who had
 been a dweller in strong-founded Arisbe,/ a man rich in substance and
 a friend to all humanity/ since in his house by the wayside he
 entertained all comers./ Yet there was none of these now to stand
 before him and keep off/ the sad destruction, and Diomedes stripped
 life from both of them, Axylos and his henchman Kalesios.... (Iliad
 VI. 12-18)

 [Euryalos] went in pursuit of Aisepos and Pedasos, those whom the
 naiad/ nymph Abarbare had born to blameless Boukolion. / Boukolion
 himself was the son of haughty Laomedon, / eldest born, but his mother
 conceived him in darkness and secrecy. / While shepherding his flocks
 he lay with the nymph and lover her, / and she conceiving bore him
 twin boys. But now Mekistios' son unstrung the strength of these and
 the limbs in their glory, / Euryalos, and stripped the armour away
 from their shoulders." (Iliad VI. 21-28)

On other occasions, though, the stories from the past do not seem to have been created ad hoc, but rather to be fully traditional. Often they are simply alluded to and no details are given, which seems to imply the audience's familiarity with them. In addition, they are normally much more important for the development of the plot. In this category we could place histories of the Homeric gods. We have a paradigmatic case in Thetis's supplication to Zeus on behalf of her son Achilles that will result in the famous Zeus's will or design, which is the motor of the Iliadic plot. As Achilles explicitly mentions when requesting her intervention, she is in a position to ask Zeus's help on his behalf, since she had done a big favor for Zeus in the past, and the god is therefore indebted to her. Thetis, summoning the Hundred-handed Briareos, had liberated Zeus when Hera, Poseidon, and Athena (note that they are all pro-Achaean gods in the war) had tried to bind him (1.395-407). The goddess, though, when addressing Zeus directly, uses a much more vague formulation: "if ever before in word or action / I did you favor among the immortals" (I.503-04) which falls within the traditional pattern for the beginning of a prayer. (38) We cannot be sure that without the existence of such debt Thetis would have felt confident of securing Zeus's help.

The tension between Zeus and his brother Poseidon in the Iliad offers another case in which what happened in the past is meaningful for the present. Poseidon conspires against his brother whenever possible. We have just mentioned the conspiracy of Hera, Athena and Poseidon evoked in 1.395-407. In VII.446 Poseidon complains to Zeus about the wall the Achaeans are building. In VIII.201-07 Hera proposes to him a new conspiracy; but here Poseidon refuses to join in. In book XIV Poseidon joins forces with Hera to deceive Zeus; Hera makes love with Zeus in order to put him to sleep, and Poseidon takes the opportunity to fight on behalf of the Achaeans (352 ff.), leading the attack himself (384). Zeus's instructions to Iris when, in the next book, she is dispatched to stop Poseidon from fighting, show again the rivalry between the brothers, "since I say I am far greater than he is / in strength, and elder born; yet his inward heart shrinks not from calling himself the equal of me, though others shudder before me" (XV.165-67). Poseidon, in his reply to Zeus's message, affirms his equality with his brother, invoking the distribution of powers among the three sons of Cronus,
 "No, no. Great though he is, this that he has said is too much
 if he will force me against my will, me, who am his equal
 in rank. Since we are three brothers born by Rheia to Kronos,
 Zeus, and I, and the third is Hades, lord of the dead men.
 All was divided among us three ways, each given his domain.
 I when the lots were shaken drew the grey sea to live in
 forever; Hades drew the lot of the mists and the darkness,
 and Zeus was allotted the wide sky, in the cloud and the bright air.
 But earth and high Olympos are common to all three. Therefore
 I am no part of the mind of Zeus. Let him in tranquillity
 and powerful as he is stay satisfied with his third share.
 And let him absolutely stop frightening me, as if I were
 mean, with his hands." (Iliad XV.185-99)

The issue of Zeus's supremacy and the distribution of power among the sons of Cronus, which is behind the rivalry of the brothers, is mentioned in another passage, this time by the poet himself, who explicitly opposes one brother to the other; "Two powerful sons of Cronos, hearts divided against each other, were wreaking bitter agonies on the fighting warriors" (XIII.345-56) and "Indeed, the two were of one generation and a single father, but Zeus was the elder born and knew more" (XIII.354-55). Therefore, when in XXI.441-57 Poseidon mentions his time as a servant to Laomedon in Troy, one cannot fail to perceive again his resentment against Zeus, who punished him by means of that servitude.

But human characters too have events in their past that turn out to be crucial for the main plot of the poem. At several points in the poem, for example, different characters evoke moments of the past in which the Trojans showed themselves as treacherous and unable to keep their word. Thus, at V.648-51 Sarpedon mentions the treatment of Heracles by king Laomedon. Laomedon had enrolled Heracles's help and promised to give him horses in payment for ridding Troy of a sea monster that was attacking their coast. But Laomedon never fulfilled his promise, and, as Sarpedon puts it: "he (sc. Heracles) did destroy Ilion the sacred / through the senselessness of one man, the haughty Laomedon, who gave Heracles an evil word for good treatment." (39) Later on, we read that Laomedon treated even Poseidon and Apollo the same way. Poseidon, in a reproachful address to Apollo, recalls the event: the two gods served king Laomedon for one full year, Poseidon building a wall that would make the city impregnable, Apollo shepherding his flocks. (40) "But when the changing seasons brought on the time for our labour / to be paid, then headstrong Laomedon violated and made void / all our hire, and sent us away, and sent threats after us" (XXI.441-57). Indeed Laomedon wanted to sell the gods as slaves. Laomedon's complete disregard for elementary norms of reciprocity constitutes a precedent for Paris-Alexander's betrayal of Menelaos's hospitality, the reason why Greeks and Trojans are at war.

Poseidon's intention in this speech is not to let Apollo forget the way they were treated by the Trojan king. The situation brings to mind a similar address, earlier on in the poem, by Agamemnon to Menelaos. When Menelaos is on the point of sparing the life of the Trojan Adrestos in exchange for ransom, Agamemnon rebukes him: "Dear brother, O Menelaos, are you concerned so tenderly / with these people? Did you in your house get the best of treatment / from the Trojans?" (VI.55-57). Agamemnon, like Poseidon, bears continually in mind the underserving, treacherous nature of the Trojans. There is another passage that deserves consideration in this connection. During his aristeia (episode of an individual warrior's prowess in battle) in Book XI, Agamemnon captures two Trojans, Peisander and Hippolochus, sons of Antimachus. The poet indicates that Antimachus had taken more gold than any others from the treasure brought to Troy by Alexander when he carried Helen away. He had also opposed the return of Helen to Menelaos. When Agamemnon is on the point of killing his two sons, they again make an offer of ransom, to which Agamemnon replies,
 "If in truth you are the sons of wise Antimachus,
 that man who once among the Trojans assembled advised them
 that Menelaos, who came as envoy with godlike Odysseus,
 should be murdered on the spot nor let go back to the Achaians,
 so now your mutilation shall punish the shame of your father." (Iliad
 XI. 138-42)

Agamemnon's words underscore again the untrustworthy nature of the Trojans. They do not honor their contracts; when offered hospitality, they pay it back by stealing away the wife and treasures of their host; (41) and when an embassy is sent to them with the purpose of achieving a peaceful end to the conflict they propose to kill the envoys. (42)

These passages contribute to building up an image of the Trojans as people who cannot be trusted, whose word is "evil" (as Sarpedon characterizes Laomedon's), or has no value. (43)

But Sarpedon's short speech makes a second important point for the reader or hearer of the Iliad, namely, that, due to the treacherous behavior of the Trojan kings, a Greek hero, Heracles, destroyed the city in the past; Troy, therefore, can be taken again by the Greeks. (44)

There is a third category of events of the past that have bearing on the present of the poem: events in which gods and humans interacted with each other. The Judgment of Paris is one of those events. Although mentioned directly only at XXIV.28-30, it nevertheless lies behind the support that Aphrodite lends to Paris and Helen, and more generally to the Trojans, and the resentment against Troy shown by Hera and Athena. (45)

These stories are mentioned at different moments of the plot but together greatly contribute to justifying the Achaean attack against Troy and the Greek mistrust of the Trojans. When the Trojans break the truce in Book IV (by a divinely inspired action), their behavior is, then, expected.

In the Odyssey too, past events of gods and humans extend their influence as a kind of mortmain over the present. The last stages of the Trojan War and its aftermath, the return of other heroes, are developed thematically and serve as justification for many actions and events in the poem. (46) We have already mentioned the song of Phemius in 1.325 ff. about the return of the Achaeans, and the return stories of Nestor, Menelaus, and other heroes (3.130-92, 4.351-586). The unfortunate homecoming of Agamemnon, who is killed upon arrival by his unfaithful wife Clytaemnestra and her lover Aegisthus, casts a permanent shadow over the outcome of Odysseus's return in the first part of the poem, and helps to justify Odysseus's carefully planned vengeance in the second. (47) Many events of the last moments of Troy are also touched upon throughout the poem, such as Achilles's death (5.308-10; at 24.36-92 his elaborate funeral and the games in his honor are also mentioned), (48) the Trojan Horse (4.271-89, 8. 499-520), the dispute of Ajax and Odysseus for the armor of Achilles (11.553-65), events narrated in the cyclic poems Ilias Micra and Ilioupersis. Odysseus's protracted return gives him experience and prepares him for the situation he will be facing at home. His past as ruler of Ithaca, as husband to Penelope, son of Laertes and father of Telemachus is precisely what moves this hero forward, to continue his voyage, to make it back home. Odysseus wants to return to that past situation that is continually evoked through the poem, and, paradoxically, as he desperately tries to get back to his past, he advances more toward his future. His is a collosal effort to get things back to the way they were, only to discover that things have dramatically changed. When Teiresias reveals his future in the underworld scene, Odysseus comes to terms with the changes and is himself changed: his past, as he remembered and wanted it, does not exist anymore. His mother is dead, his father is alienated from social life, and his wife, son, and household are under siege.

In spite of their similar scope, and their similar ambitions in the development of their plots and their inclusion of past events, the Iliad and the Odyssey also present major differences. One point in which the two poems behave very differently and which is not stressed enough in current scholarship is their treatment of the future. The Iliad often refers, through prophecies and anticipations, to events that postdate the end of the poem, above all to the death of Achilles and the fall of Troy and its immediate aftermath. There are also intimations of the future in the Odyssey, but all events that are predicted in the Odyssey, unlike the Iliad, come to full realization within the temporal framework of the poem. Projections of the future that go beyond the time covered by its own narrative are practically limited to the prediction of Odysseus's death, which has some bearing but whose importance cannot be compared with the weight attached to the predictions of Achilles's death in the Iliad.

The different behavior of the two poems in regard to the future may be founded on a difference of scope in their plots. The Iliad, centered on the episode of Achilles's dispute with Agamemnon and his subsequent wrath against the Achaeans, is also a poem about a collective enterprise: the war of Greeks and Trojans, which constitutes the last major episode in the Greek mythical tradition. In the character of Achilles the narrative of the Iliad binds together three different, and traditional, themes: the quarrel of the best warrior with the figure of authority in a war, the loss of a very close friend, and the fulfillment of a wish which, when granted, causes greater unhappiness than before. The quarrel with Agamemnon leads to Achilles's wish to see the Trojans defeated and to be himself honored by Zeus. Zeus grants it, but, at the Achaeans' worst moment, when Achilles's best friend, Patroclus, takes the hero's place in battle and is killed by the Trojan champion Hector, Achilles realizes what kind of price he has paid for that wish. When Achilles, in vengeance for the death of Patroclus, kills Hector, he is aware that he is accelerating his own death. In addition, the narrative has already made the point that Hector was Troy's only hope. Once he is dead, the city will fall. Thus, by making the plot turn in such complex ways, the narrator of the Iliad has produced a poem that contains a great deal of suspense and even despair. Because the connection between the three events of Hector's death, Achilles's death, and the fall of Troy has been carefully prepared through prophecies and anticipations of the future, the Iliad, although in fact ending with the funeral of Hector, brings to a close all the main lines of its narrative (Achilles's and Troy's stories).

The war's aftermath, the return of the Greek heroes to their homeland, is known, but very little more beyond this point. It is to that world of the aftermath of Troy that Odysseus's homecoming belongs. The Odyssey, then, unlike the Iliad, narrates an individual endeavor: the Return of Odysseus. Once Odysseus is restored to his household and has eliminated his rivals in town and regains power in Ithaca, the poem comes to a close. There is no further interest in anything else: nothing is said about the future of the Odyseus's lineage, nothing about Telemachus.

In this paper, I have tried to provide readers in the 21st century with some assistance in appreciating two great works composed not for readers but for listeners almost three millennia ago--works that in their own time, moreover, were heir to a long tradition of oral poetry and were two of many such compositions, all of which have been lost save for some few fragments and late summaries of their contents. Some understanding of the nature of oral composition, such as the role of formulas and the use of conversational syntax, may make the poems that we inevitably read as texts more accessible to students. In addition, we can recover to some extent the way the surviving epics interacted with other elements of the tradition, distinguishing, for example, allusions to known myths from spontaneous little stories created for the occasion of recitation, or the different functions of anticipatory prophecies in the two great epics themselves. In this way, by a patient and sympathetic engagement with these poems, we may gain some sense of how they were originally received as part of a network of oral poetry that made possible the inexhaustible richness of the poems we have.


(1) Although many other compositions were transmitted to us under his name, we tend to consider Homer the author of only the Iliad and the Odyssey, and this even though most scholars would agree that the two poems are not by the same author. But the truth is that, as R. Rutherford put it in a review of some recent titles on Homer, "We simply have no idea who, when and where Homer was." On the "creation" of the name and persona of "Homer" see West (1999).

(2) See Bakker (2005, ix). The Homeric texts, in addition, are much more regular and uniform than other known oral texts that have been also put into writing. Some critics see no other way to account for this striking uniformity than to postulate the dictation of the text in the VIII c. (see, among others, Janko [1992, 29]). Other scholars prefer a different vision of the facts and speak of a progressive textualization; see, especially, Nagy:
 The fundamental question here is the concept of multiformity itself.
 What is described as 'the remarkable uniformity' of the Iliad and the
 Odyssey could instead be viewed as a matter of relatively less
 multiformity in terms of these poems evolution.... Multiformity and
 'uniformity' as polar opposites cannot simply be mapped onto oral and
 written poetry respectively." (Nagy 2001, 113)

See a radical defense of oral composition in Pavese (1998, 72-73); others, even accepting a previous oral tradition, consider the composition of the Iliad or Odyssey impossible without the intervention of writing.

(3) The relationship of the Homeric texts to their oral traditional background is one of the thorniest questions of Homeric scholarship. It is connected to the issue of the use of writing in the composition of the poems, and to many complex questions about transmission. I am as skeptical as Foley, "I will make no special claim about the precise relationship between our texts of the Homeric poems and their oral traditional background, in part because I believe that the evidence is insufficient to support a confident final pronouncement...." (1999, 4). For an informed exposition of several possibilities, see Scodel (2002, 42-64).

(4) On the concept of textualization applied to Homer, see Nagy (2001, esp. 110-11) where he proposes five different stages of "textualization" for the Homeric poems. Cantilena (1997, 150-51) expresses his disdain for those who uncritically apply to the Iliad and the Odyssey the category of "text," which allows them to demonstrate and confirm the "unity" of poems which are, due to their origins, problematic in that respect.

(5) We cannot overstress the fact that the poems were born in the context of live performance. See Foley,
 In the case of a living oral tradition, the very act of performance
 bears special meaning.... In the case of an oral-derived, textualized
 tradition, performance can be keyed rhetorically, using some of the
 same signals, but now transposed to a written libretto that guides
 readers to the correct channel. In either situation the event of
 performance, real or rhetorical, enables the exchange. (Foley 1999, 6;
 see also Bakker 2005, 59-60)

(6) Repetitiveness is one salient characteristic of Homeric style, which will be mentioned several times in what follows. It operates at many different levels: words, groups of words, full verses, themes, epithets, full scenes, etc. On repetition in Homer see recently Clark (2004), with previous literature.

(7) "A group of words regularly employed under the same metrical conditions to express an essential idea", according to Parry's definition (1971, 13).
 The litmus test for deciding whether or not a poem is oral in
 character is the formula -a method of analysis developed with exacting
 standards by Parry. In addition, other criteria emerged from Parry's
 work, namely, composition by traditional theme, a paratactic structure
 which is the by-product of oral composition; the presence of such
 typological patterns as recurrent type-scenes, catalogues,
 genealogies, similes, ring-composition. (Notopoulos 1964, 19)

For a recent reappraisal of these tenets see Pavese (1998, 66-71). Cantilena (1997) offers a strong criticism of most current trends in Homeric studies, and a radical defense of "hard" Parryism. See further modifications of Parry's approach (below p.37).

(9) Clark (2004) offers a good survey of these different conceptions of the formula, and a clear introduction to the question.

(10) In what follows I am heavily indebted to Bakker's work (especially 1997 and 2005, passim, but especially p. 48 with further references).

(11) "If, though, we consider a listening audience who did not know this story already, the beginning of the Iliad is extremely demanding. The hearer must follow the story while reconstructing its antecedents" (Scodel 2002, 40).

(12) Alden defines the term as follows, "secondary narratives related by the poet's characters and also the interludes related in the voice of the poet himself which do not advance the progress of the main narrative" (2000, 1).

(13) Aristarchus (mid-second century B.C.) used the termed saphenizein "make clear, clarify." This saying of his is mentioned by Porphyry in his Homeric Questions (Iliad) 297.16. See also Scholion D to Il. 5. 385.

(14) Scodel (2004, 48). I agree with Danek, "I believe this to be something which applies to every kind of good literature" (2002, 3-4).

(15) The dating of Homer is as problematic as other questions such as the use or not of writing in the composition of these poems or the exact location where this took place. Positions vary within the extremes of dating the composition of the Iliad from as early as the IX c. B.C. (Ruijgh) to as late as the first half of VI c. B.C. Most mainstream critics, though, tend to consider a date around the end of the VIII c. B.C. or the beginning of the VII c. B.C. as the most likely on account of many arguments from archaeology, realia, language, the Greeks' own tradition, etc. For criticisms of a dating in the VIII c. see Burgess (2001, 3 and chapter 2); Burgess is among the proponents of a late date for the Homeric poems (VI c. B.C.). He bases his argument in the complete absence of representations of Homeric scenes in the plastic arts before the end of the VII c. B.C. and their scarcity before 550. Whatever the exact date of composition of the Iliad and Odyssey such as we know them, the tradition that gave rise to them was much older, going back even to Mycenaean times.
 To judge by what has been transmitted, the heroic poems were
 concerned with three legendary cycles only: the Trojan cycle (Kypria,
 Ilias, Aithiopis, Ilias Mikra, Iliou Persis, Nostoi, Odysseia,
 Telegonia), the Theban cycle (Amphiaraou exelasis, Oidipodeia,
 Thebais, Epigonoi), and the Heracles cycle (Amphitryonos pros Teleboas
 mache, Oichalias halosis, Keykos gamos, Aigimios, Aspis, Herakleia).
 (Pavese 1998, 85)

Hesiod, whose transmitted works do not include heroic epic, says that the race of heroes died in either Thebes or Troy, fighting for Helen (Works and Days 650-57), which shows that he and his audience were familiar with epic stories (Scodel 2002, 47). It is safe to assume that another cycle existed around the Argonaut story, "if the ship Argo is 'famous to all' (Odyssey 12.69), and that must be where our Odyssey got the Clashing Rocks and even the whole Circe story" (Dowden 2004, 197). West (2002) speculates on the possibility of a Corinthian epic cycle formed by poems such as the Titanomachy, the Corinthiaca, and the Europia, transmitted to us under the name of Eumelos of Corinth.

(17) The Chrestomathy by Proclus contained a resume of the poems of the Cycle. The Chrestomathy was unfortunately lost. All we know about it comes from the description of this work given by Photius (XI c. A.D.). But a few excerpts from the Chrestomathy were reproduced in early manuscripts of the Iliad, including the summary of the Trojan War section of the Epic Cycle. Probably the best recent survey on the Epic Cycle and the tradition of the Trojan War is Burgess (2001), who analyses in detail all the information available. Not only Proclus's resume of the poems included in it, but also the imprint left by the Cycle on many literary works and authors beyond Homer, such as the tragedians, Pindar, or that comprehensive collection of myths known as the Library, which is attributed to Apollodorus (Burgess 2001, 45). Burgess examines also the evidence of artistic representations of Trojan War motifs and explains how the Cycle itself came into existence as such (2001, 12-19).

(18) "The Greek epic tradition was voracious, and singers knew not only the stories of the great wars of Thebes and Troy, but many others. Indeed the epics borrowed materials from other stories to expand their own tales" (Scodel 2004, 47). On the difficulties of defining references in Homer to pre-Homeric traditions, Danek comments that they "can, of course, never be defined with any certainty since from a plethora of songs, the Iliad and the Odyssey are the only two long epics which have survived" (2002, 12). On the other hand, not only what Homer mentions from the tradition, but also what he keeps silent about is relevant. On Homer's silences see Dowden (1996, 52-53) who mentions the case of Iphigeneia's sacrifice, omitted in Iliad 1.
 There are two extreme views on this issue. According to one, the
 poems of the Epic Cycle are based entirely on the Homeric poems and
 not on any genuine tradition. This view is very unlikely for many
 reasons. We have seen that the Homeric poems extensively allude to
 "Cyclic" material that apparently existed in a widely developed
 tradition that preceded them. Not all of these allusions can be
 condemned as interpolations ... and artistic evidence in particular
 gives ample testimony that "Cyclic" material existed at early date.
 According to a second extreme view, the poems of the Epic Cycle
 influenced the Homeric poems. Such an argument necessarily depends on
 dating the poems before the Homeric poems. (Burgess 2001, 132-33)

 Notably, the two most recent editors of the fragments, Bernabe and
 Davies, follow different extreme positions on dating. This variance
 should underscore the need to avoid dogmatism on the matter. Most
 scholars either take an agnostic stance or vaguely settle on a
 seventh-century date. Rather than seek a specific date, I conceive of
 their composition as developing in oral performance traditions over a
 period of time in the Archaic Age. Such a circumstance for poetic
 composition not only defies precise dating but also challenges the
 need for it. (Burgess 2001, 11)

(21) Danek (speaking of the oral poetry of Muslim Bosnia): "it is, in fact, true that no one-to-one relationship between concrete texts can be discovered. This is confirmed by Lord and Foley, and even I myself ... have never come across anything which could be interpreted as a reference between two passages of two different texts, or even between two stories" (2002, 12). He contrasts this with the situation observable in the Serbian Christian epic, in which "there are impressive examples where an audience is assumed to be acquainted with a myth which lies outside the text. Here, then, we have a constellation analogous to that which we find in Homer as mythological exemplum--even the method of presentation is the same" (13).

(22) This "firm and standard sense of how the story goes," is what Kullmann, one of the most outspoken representatives of Neo-analysis (1960 and 1984) calls Faktenkanon, that is, a list of facts or events that take place according to an established order.

(23) By comparing the contents of the Iliad with the matter narrated in the Cypria as we know it from Proclos's resume, Dowden concludes that "any reading of the Cypria will show it preparing events in readiness for (specifically) the Iliad, to refer back to them.... Therefore, in the form in which it is reported to us by Proklos, it is later than Homer, in dialogue with Homer, and presupposes Homer as text" (1996, 48). But see the criticisms of Burgess (2001, 149-52). On the other hand, another cyclic poem, the Aethiopis, has been considered a predecesor and inspiration for the Iliad (Pavese n.16 above).

(24) "And just as the epic performance as a whole is the actualization of the tradition, that is, a whole that is larger than the here and now shared between the performer and his audience, so a noun-epithet expression ... evokes something that vastly exceeds the importance of the specific function of the epithet in a particular context" (Bakker 1995, 102).

(25) See also Foley, "To read behind Homer's signs is to tap into their idiomatic and traditional implications, to take into account the otherwise hidden associations for which they stand pars pro toto, the part for the whole." This is what he calls "traditional referentiality" (1999, 7).

(26) Dowden speaks of the whole of Greek mythology as constituting an "inter-text," formed by all the tellings and retellings of the story that each person has ever encountered (1992, 7-9). All previous retellings inform, and give sense to, every instantiation of a story.
 Of course, regarding this kind of repetition one can not speak of a
 reference, direct quote, or allusion. Yet on the other hand it should
 be clear that what we have here is nothing other than a type of
 intertextuality--a type of intertextuality, however, as it has been
 defined by Julia Kristeva, namely, as an infinte relationship among
 texts, as a relationship of texts to a world which is itself read as a
 text. (Danek 2002, 8)

(27) Finkelberg has demonstrated that in the Homeric language truthful narrative is associated with chronological sequence and point-by-point telling (1998, 131-60). The chronological order of the main events in the outline of a story is a fundamental datum; cf., Kullmann's Faktenkanon.

(28) This view was already sponsored by Aristotle, who highlights the superior quality of Iliad and Odyssey.
 Herein, then ... we have a further proof of Homer's marvellous
 superiority to the rest. He did not attempt to deal even with the
 Trojan war in its entirety, though it was a whole with a definite
 beginning and end.... As it is, he has singled out one section of the
 whole; many of the other incidents, however, he brings in as
 episodes.... As for the other poets, they treat of one man, or one
 period; or else of an action which, although one, has a multiplicity
 of parts in it. This last is what the authors of the Cypria and Little
 Iliad have done. (Bywater 1984, 2335)

(29) On Homer's originality see Dowden (1996, 53-55). Burgess expresses his conviction that the Trojan war poems of the Cycle represented the traditional story of the war (2001, 44).

(30) This was already Aristotle's view,
 One sees, therefore, the mistake of all the poets who have written a
 Heracleid, a Theseid, or similar poems; they suppose that, because
 Heracles was one man, the story also of Heracles must be one story.
 Homer, however, evidently understood this point quite well, whether by
 art or instinct, just in the same way as he excels the rest in every
 other respect. In writing an Odyssey, he did not make the poem cover
 all that ever befell his hero ... instead of doing that, he took as
 the subject of the Odyssey and also of the Iliad, an action with a
 unity of the kind we are describing. (Bywater 1984, 2322)

(31) "People, surely, always give more applause to that song / which is the latest to circulate among the listeners" (Odyssey 1.351-52).

(32) Ford perceives irony in this passage, "The fundamental character of epic as poetry of the past is reversed when it appears in the looking glass of epic. What were the 'fames of men' for Homer's audience were fresh rumor and recent news for the heroes" (1992, 109). But, as I explain in what follows, the passage rather serves to highlight the Odyssey's self-presentation as "the final word" on the aftermath of Troy. It is also important to bear in mind that the people who enjoy this song are the suitors (that is the 'bad guys" of the poem) and the one stopping it is Penelope (the "good wife"), whereas Telemachus, as the young man he is, is trying to establish his authority over her. See further my paper "Penelope's absent song" (Nieto Hernandez forthcoming), and Crielaard (2002, 241-42).

(33) The Homeric poems have also been often described as more Panhellenic in their scope than the poems of the Cycle. See Burgess (2001, 162) with further bibliography.

(34) There are interesting observations concerning the treatment of time in Homer in Crieelard (2002, 266-82), a paper whose aim is very different from mine. The author concentrates on whether epic is poetry of the past or of the present, to show that there are no clear-cut divisions between the two in Homer; instead, we are presented with a cyclical conception of time.

(35) See Basset (1938-2003, 93-94).

(36) "Because of the expansive nature of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the creation of untraditional detail was probably more typical for Homeric poetry than it was for Cyclic poetry" (Burgess 2001, 155). Elsewhere he remarks that these "ad hoc" creations in Homeric poetry are always limited to details and do not involve important myths (49). What is important to note is that, even if the story is created for the occasion and has no existence outside the limits of the Iliad, the poets include them and use them in traditional ways. These cases exemplify again the basic principle of Homeric composition that we mentioned earlier: meaning is created through variation within repetition (Scodel 2004, 49).

(37) All Homeric passages are quoted in Lattimore's translation.

(38) Some scholars believe that Thetis and Achilles have a further motivation to feel they have a strong case with Zeus. Zeus avoided marrying Thetis and having a child with her on account of a prophecy that her son would be stronger than his father. In consequence he married Thetis off to a mortal, Peleus, and deprived her son, Achilles, of immortality (Slatkin 1991). This story, though, is never explicitly mentioned in Homer.

(39) See n. 43 infra on the expression "evil word" (my highlighting). Laomedon horses were of great value. "These are from that strain which Zeus of the wide brows granted once to Tros, recompense for his son Ganymedes, and therefore are the finest of all horses beneath the sun and the daybreak; and the lord of men Anchises stole horses from this breed, without the knowledge of Laomedon putting mares under them" (V.265.69).

(40) Poseidon touches tangentially upon this issue again at VII. 452-53, but there he says the two gods, Apollo and himself, built the wall of Troy.

(41) Menelaus expresses the violation of hospitality, "you haughty Trojans, never to be glutted with the grim war noises, nor go short of all that other shame and defilement wherewith you defiled me, wretched dogs, and your hearts knew no fear at all of the hard anger of Zeus loud-thundering, the guest's god, who some day will utterly sack your steep city" (XIII.621-25).

(42) This embassy is mentioned also in III.205-24: Antenor, the man who hosted them in Troy, tells the story but omits the attempted murder.

(43) The formulation kakoi muthoi "evil word" is unique. No other muthos is ever characterized in the Iliad as kakos. The word is used with a determination in the genitive on several occasions, with the following distribution. Among the Trojans, in addition to the passage about Laomedon which we are discussing (kakoi enipape muthoi/, end of the line, V.649) it is used only for Alexander (three times, muthos Alexandroio, beginning of the line (III.87;VII.374, 388). Among the Greeks, we find it used in of the whole group once (muthon Akhaion, VII.406), of Odysseus (once, muthon epainesantes Odysseos theioio, 11.335), and of Diomedes (three times, muthon agassamenoi Diomedeos hippodamoio VII.404 = IX.51 = 711). It is also used for three gods: Zeus (once, Dios de sph' ennepe muthon end of the line, VIII.412); Athena (once, beginning of the line muthoi Athenaies 1.221); and Apollo, (once, peithomenos muthoisin Apollonos hekatoio" XX.295). It is interesting to see that this type of expression, then, is used of the Trojans only in the case of characters about whom we are certain that their muthoi are not to be trusted. In the case of Laomedon the text confirms this fact by the unique addition of the adjective kakos.

(44) The sack of Troy by Heracles is also mentioned at XIV.250-51.

(45) On this passage see Davies (1981).

(46) It is often mentioned that no event of the Iliad is repeated in the Odyssey. The thought was formulated by Monro (1901). J. Maitland (1999), in a study of Poseidon, proposes rather continuitity between the two poems, at least in the treatment of this divine figure. I have myself explored elsehwere connections of this type between the two poems.

(47) From the time of Odysseus's visit to the Underworld the readers know that in all likelihood he will triumph in the end. But in the first books of the poem, Agamemnon's story increases the suspense of the action, whereas in the second part it is an important factor in building identification of the reader with the hero's final victory. Thus, it helps to create the joyful mood of the last books.

(48) Achilles's death was narrated at length in the Aethiopis.

Works Cited

Alden, M. 2000. Homer Beside Himself. Para-Narratives in the Iliad. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bakker, E. J. 1997. Poetry in Speech. Orality and Homeric Discourse. Ithaca-London. Cornell University Press.

______. 2005. Pointing at the Past. From Formula to Performance in Homeric Poetics. Cambridge, Mass. Center for Hellenic Studies and Harvard University Press.

Bywater, I., trans. 1984. Poetics. In The Complete Works of Aristotle. The revised Oxford Translation. Vol. 2, ed. J. Barnes. Princeton: Princeton UP: 2316-2340.

Basset, S.E. 1930. "The Pursuit of Hector" TAPhA 41: 130-49.

______. 2003. The Poetry of Homer. 1938. Reprint. The Poetry of Homer. New ed. Ed. with an Intro, by Bruce Heiden. Lanham-Boulder-New York and Oxford: Lexington Books.

Burgess, Jonathan S. 2001. The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Cantilena, M. 1997. "Gli studi omerici oggi: una situazione in movimento" ARID 24: 147-57.

Clark, M. 2004. "The Poet's Craft. Formulas, Metre and Type-Scenes." In The Cambridge Companion to Homer, ed. Robert Fowler. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Crielaard, J.P 2002. "Past or Present? Epic Poetry, Aristocratic Self-representation and the Concept of Time in the Eight and Seventh Centuries B.C." In Omero tremila anni dopo, ed. F. Montanari. Atti del Congresso di Genova 6-8 Iuglio 2000. Con la collaborazione di P. Ascheri. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura.

Danek, G. 2002. "Traditional Referentiality and Homeric Intertextuality." In Omero tremila anni dopo, ed. F. Montanari. Atti del Congresso di Genova 6-8 Iuglio 2000. Con la collaborazione di P. Ascheri. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura.

Davies, M. 1981. "The Judgement of Paris and Iliad Book XXIV." The Journal of Hellenic Studies 101:56-62.

Dowden, K. 1992. The Uses of Greek Mythology. London and New York: Routledge.

______. 1996. "Homer's Sense of Text," Journal of Hellenic Studies 116:47-61.

______. 2004. "The epic tradition in Greece." In The Cambridge companion to Homer, ed. Robert Fowler. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Fitzgerald, R., trans. 1975. Homer. The Iliad. Garden City, New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday

Foley, J. M. 1991. Immanent Art. From Structure to Meaning in Traditional Oral Epic. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

______. 1999. Homer's Traditional Art. University Park: Pennsylvania University Press.

Ford, A. 1992. Homer. The Poetry of the Past. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Janko, R. 1992. The Iliad: A Commentary. Vol. 4: Books 13-16. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kullmann, W 1960. Die Quellen der Ilias. Wiesbaden: F. Steiner.

______. 1984. "Oral Poetry Theory and Neoanalysis in Homeric research." GRBS 25: 303-23.

Lateiner, D. 2004. "The Iliad: An Unpredictable Classic." In The Cambridge Companion to Homer, ed. Robert Fowler. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lattimore, R. 1951. The Iliad of Homer. Trans. with an Intro. R. Lattimore. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Maitland, J. 1999. "Poseidon, Walls, and Narrative Complexity in the Homeric Iliad" CQ 49.1: 1-13.

Monro, D.B., ed. 1901. Homer's Odyssey. Vol. 2, Books 13-24. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Nagy, G. 2001. "Homeric Poetry and Problems of Multiformity: The Panathenaic Bottleneck", Classical Philology 96.2: 109-19.

Nieto Hernandez, P. forthcoming. "Penelope's Absent Song."

Notopoulos, J.A. 1964. "Studies in Early Greek Oral Poetry." HSCP 68: 1-77.

Olson, S. D. 1990. "The Stories of Agamemnon." TAPhA 120: 57-71.

Parry, M. 1971. The making of Homeric Verse. Ed. A. Parry. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pavese, C.O. 1998. "The Rhapsodic Epic Poems as Oral and Independent Poems." HSCP 98: 63-90.

Rubin, D. C. 1995. Memory in Oral Traditions. The Cognitive Psychology of Epic, Ballads, and Counting-Out Rhymes. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rutherford, R. 2006. "Note and Query." TLS (10 February): 26-27.

Scodel, R. 2002. Listening to Homer. Tradition, Narrative and Audience. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

______. 2004. "The Story-Teller and His Audience." In The Cambridge Companion to Homer, ed. Robert Fowler. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Slatkin, L. 1991. The Power of Thetis: Allusion and Interpretation in the Iliad. Berkeley: University of California Press.

West, M.L. 1999. "The Invention of Homer." CQ 49.2: 364-82.

______. 2002."'Eumelos': A Corinthian Epic Cycle?" JHS 122: 109-33.

Pura Nieto Hernandez obtained her Ph.D. in Classics at the University of Salamanca (Spain). She is currently a Lecturer in Classics at Brown University
COPYRIGHT 2007 West Chester University
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Hernandez, Pura Nieto
Publication:College Literature
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2007
Previous Article:"Reading" Homer through oral tradition.
Next Article:Res agens: towards an ontology of the Homeric self.

Related Articles
Worrying efficiently.
Letter: Call the city by its proper name.
Letter: Stand down the old guard.
City's pounds 150m dream that could come true.
City message goes to Cannes.
American Poets in the 21st Century.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters