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KAKHN in Iliad 1.10

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KAKHN in Iliad 1.10

Postby swiftnicholas » Fri Apr 22, 2005 12:25 am

I found it interesting in "The Traditional Epithet in Homer" when Milman Parry says of A10:

NOUSON could not appear so often in poetry and in such a variety of circumstances that we could imagine a traditional device by which it and the epithet modifying it could be placed in the line in the position in which we see them here; nor can we suppose that the essential idea 'he sent a plague throughout the camp' would be so common that the bards would have created a traditional formula to express it in the space contained between the beginning of the line and the hephthemimeral caesura. The only possible reason for the presence of KAKHN in this line is the particular desire of the poet to introduce this word into his sentence; and therefore we must recognize that he wanted to say, not to be sure that the plague in question was worse than other plagues, but that at this time it was bad for the Achaeans.


The only other resource I have at hand is Thomas Seymour's note from Perseus, which seems to agree (?):

kakên: the adj. is explained by the following (paratactic consecutive) clause, the first word of which takes up the thought of the adj.


I always understood KAKHN to indicate that it was a particularly terrible plague (for no reasoned reason). But it seems possible to me that KAKHN could indicate both that it was a particularly terrible plague and that it was bad for the Achaeans at this time. Any ideas?
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Re: KAKHN in Iliad 1.10

Postby annis » Fri Apr 22, 2005 12:48 am

swiftnicholas wrote:I always understood KAKHN to indicate that it was a particularly terrible plague (for no reasoned reason).


I can accept this.

But it seems possible to me that KAKHN could indicate both that it was a particularly terrible plague and that it was bad for the Achaeans at this time. Any ideas?


This I think is more of a stretch, and I'm a little dubious of Parry's reasoning.

[face=spionic]nou=son a)na\ strato\n w=rse[/face] | [face=spionic]kakh/n, o)le/konto de\ laoi/,[/face]

In Homer there's nothing particularly unusual about an adjective being some distance from the word it modifies. It is also common for a N/Adj or N/Genitive-N pair to be split so that one element starts on hemiepes and one starts the other (which is why I marked the caesura above). That it was a bad plague, and people were dying, is clear. If anything the line emphasizes Apollo's lethal anger. It's not really clear to mean what it means to say that "at this time it was bad for the Acahaeans." What else would a plague be?
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Postby swiftnicholas » Fri Apr 22, 2005 1:29 am

annis wrote:It's not really clear to mean what it means to say that "at this time it was bad for the Acahaeans." What else would a plague be?


I'm not sure exactly what it means either. I thought perhaps he meant that the plague was a turning point in the war, or that it suggested the Greeks would soon fall to the Trojans---but that would indeed be a particularly terrible plague. I don't understand why he considered them mutually exclusive. I was hoping that somebody could explain it with an obscure grammatical rule. :wink:
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Postby Bombichka » Sat Apr 23, 2005 6:54 am

I think Parry is over-rationalising the situation.

we cannot say if the plague was meant by the poet to be worse than usual, or not. we just don't have enough evidence and must recur to pure speculations.

and what should we take for "usual" - usual for the plagues in Mycenaean times (when the court epic was estalished), or for the times of the later editor(s) of 8-7 cent. BC, or for some other time?
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Postby swiftnicholas » Sat Apr 23, 2005 1:57 pm

I think you're right that we can't prove what the singer had in mind when he was composing. But from my (admittedly inexperienced) reading of the poem, I can't help but see the plague as especially terrible, simply because it is the opening of a poem in the heroic tradition. The poet paints a horrific scene of a plague that can stop an army of heroes. I think the Wrath of Apollo (plague) is meant to heighten the subsequent effect of the Wrath of Achilles---which has no prescription for resolution.

Bombichka wrote:and what should we take for "usual" - usual for the plagues in Mycenaean times (when the court epic was estalished), or for the times of the later editor(s) of 8-7 cent. BC, or for some other time?


If Parry is right, and this is not a traditional formula, then I suppose it should be attributed to a singer rather close to the time when it was written down. But this still doesn't really help us understand what would be a "usual" plague. I think whether the line is early or late, it can be understood as part of an exaggerated traditional poetry.
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Postby swiftnicholas » Sat Apr 23, 2005 2:39 pm

I wrote:If Parry is right, and this is not a traditional formula, then I suppose it should be attributed to a singer rather close to the time when it was written down.


I take this back: it could be a line passed down in the tradition even if it isn't formulaic. (Right?)
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Postby annis » Sun Apr 24, 2005 11:28 pm

swiftnicholas wrote:I take this back: it could be a line passed down in the tradition even if it isn't formulaic. (Right?)


I would think so. But I've encountered no literature about this.
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