A New Companion to Homer

Are you reading Homeric Greek? Whether you are a total beginner or an advanced Homerist, here you can meet kindred spirits. Besides Homer, use this board for all things early Greek poetry.
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jeidsath
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A New Companion to Homer

Post by jeidsath » Tue Nov 29, 2016 1:33 am

I just got my copy of A New Companion to Homer. All of the articles in it seem exciting. Is anyone familiar with it? Do you have any favorite essays?
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Re: A New Companion to Homer

Post by jeidsath » Tue Nov 29, 2016 4:23 pm

Barry B. Powell, "Homer and Writing": The suggestion that the Nestor's Cup inscription refers to the story from the Iliad is not believable to me.

Νέστορος [....] εὔποτ[ον] ποτήριο[ν]·
ὃς δ’ ἂν τοῦδε π[ίησι] ποτηρί[ου] αὐτίκα κῆνον
ἵμερ[ος αἱρ]ήσει καλλιστ[εφάν]ου Ἀφροδίτης.

That the third line is a reference to certain rather well-known effects of alcohol, and not to Powell's wild interpretation, seems obvious enough to me

That aside, Powell's argument -- that the Phoenician script was adapted into a real phonographic script, including vowels, for Greek with the original intention of transcribing poetry -- is oddly compelling.
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Re: A New Companion to Homer

Post by Timothée » Tue Nov 29, 2016 5:56 pm

Poetry effecting the development of vowels (from original Phoenician consonants): This proposition seems to me to be quite unverifiable, but why not: there is space in the field of science for all kinds of articles. The Semitic languages do pretty well without vowels as their structure is somewhat different. Greek needs them clearly more. (Also many Semitic writing systems are related: once the alphabet was developed, it was immediately noticed to be superior to all previous writing systems and then borrowed from one Semitic language to another and another, as the languages themselves are closely related and also closely on the map. Of course any language can be written with any writing system.) Ergo, the Greeks developed vowel letters, A from ʾalpa (Hebrew ʾalæf), a glottal stop (in English uh-oh). Greeks didn’t hear it the consonant, but it often preceded [a]. O from Semitic ʿayin (meaning ‘eye’).

I find it hard to see any reason to presume poetry here. We have poetry in Akkadian as well as in Ugaritic.

This would belong to the Civilisation forum, but I wonder whether I remember correctly that relatively recently the oldest known examples of Greek writing were found, from Northern Greece, maybe Macedonia? I cannot have imagined it, can I?

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Re: A New Companion to Homer

Post by Hylander » Tue Nov 29, 2016 7:46 pm

You'll definitely want to read "Homeric Papyri and the Transmission of the Text."

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Re: A New Companion to Homer

Post by Paul Derouda » Tue Nov 29, 2016 8:23 pm

I most emphatically agree about "Homeric Papyri and Transmission of the Text". Together with some work by West this article has taught me more than anything else about the origin of the texts.

West's article is probably as good as ever, but I suppose the same material can be found in his work elsewhere.

I remember Powell's article was pretty fun to read, but I'm not convinced by his rather fanciful idea that the alphabet was invented for the express purpose of writing down Homer. I propose a new thread on the adoption/creation of the alphabet on the Civilisation forum!

As for the rest, I'm not sure what I've read and what I haven't, which probably shows that none of it has left a very permanent impression on me. Probably there are some gems at least among those that I haven't, but I can't tell which ones they are!

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Re: A New Companion to Homer

Post by jeidsath » Wed Nov 30, 2016 3:30 pm

Robert Lamberton, "Homer in Antiquity." This was a little dreary, but I suppose that many of our sources for this sort of information are scholastic. Hints of a very strange world shine through. For example, Homer's use in religious celebration, or poetry contests. Plutarch's stories about Alcibiades punching one instructor for not being able to produce a book of Homer, and insulting another for being able to correct Homer, but still being stuck teaching children. A Roman world where educated writers were familiar with the entire poem, and quoted from it in a way that not even the Victorians did later on. I would like to see a more Humanist approach to this information, if one exists.

Michael Haslam, "Homeric Papyri and Transmission of the Text." Even with all of the buildup, I wasn't disappointed by this article. My biggest complaint is that it isn't book length. It would also, of course, be nice to have the author update the last section about modern editions, to cover West together with the others.

I will have to re-read it again, but it has got me thinking about the following questions: What were the first texts of Homer like? What was responsible for pre-2nd century B.C. accretions? What was responsible for the 2nd century "transmissional watershed"? And what have we got now?

My guess is that instead of thinking about editors and publishers, there might be some profit to approaching the questions from what we know about the audience for Homer. It seems that the Iliad existed as a coherent whole from the earliest days -- the Odyssey clearly seems aware of a whole Iliad. I find it likely that our best models for the very first Homeric texts would be "performance texts" like sheet music or a script for a dramatic performance. The text wasn't meant to be read aloud, but performed aloud.

After the period of the earliest texts, there seems to be a long period (of centuries!) where the performance (not the "text") of Homer remained extremely popular. This was also the age of Homeric fan-fiction, of which the Odyssey would have been the very earliest and best example. The original container -- the original words -- could not have been adequate for this period. Haslam suggests looking to the English ballad tradition. But I think that the length and textual completeness of Homer argues against too close a parallel there. Instead, just considering motivations, I would guess that much of the "wild" variance of this period must come from editions that attempt to add explanation to parts that had become hard for audiences to comprehend. Also, the original performance texts likely included considerable innovative scope for performers in parts, and these parts were wholly fleshed out during this period. A good model to understand this period may be to look at how and why something like a Broadway musical changes over time (compare the 1981 Cats to the 2015 Cats in London).

In our text of the Iliad (but not so much the Odyssey), I see at least two, sometimes opposed, authorial concerns. The first, and earliest, is entirely focussed on the human drama. The other concern seems to be an entirely different set of characters, the gods, who are sometimes brought in to explain weaknesses in the original dramatic element. Athena shows up and tells Achilles not to draw his sword. Nobody but the character whose motivation she is fixing can see her. And this sort of thing happens again and again throughout the text. The Gods are mostly additions to a central story about people hacking each other up. Thinking of audiences again, it seems clear that we have an Iliad that has been adapted from early performances for people who were primarily interested in the action to now include religious elements. But this early adaptation must predate the Odyssey and the earliest text versions (or be coterminous with them).

At some point Homer died as popular performance. In the imagination (but perhaps not in reality) "Homer" has now entirely become a fixed thing from a certain age. We still aren't in the age of editors yet, but the demand for good reading texts -- to be read aloud to small groups rather than performed for large -- now comes to the fore. Reading comprehension is probably more important than preservation at this stage, but annotation is beginning to be preferred to innovation.

And eventually Homer goes the way of all great books, and heads off to academia to be embalmed in formaldehyde. As Homer become the basic text for all Greek education, the impulse for preservation must have won entirely. Thus Zenodotus and the edition of Aristarchus.

I hope that the above work of wild imagination is sufficient tribute to the well-grounded and evidence-based scholarly article that Haslam wrote.
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Re: A New Companion to Homer

Post by jeidsath » Thu Dec 01, 2016 4:21 pm

Gregory Nagy, "Homeric Scholia." I had been expecting something similar to a very much expanded version of Dickey's discussion of Homeric Scholia in chapter 2 of "Ancient Greek Scholarship." I didn't get that, unfortunately (because I still need something like that). This article turned out to be in many ways a response to Haslam. While Nagy claims that it is impossible to get close to the original Homer (because no such thing existed), he does have some real disagreements with Haslam in how to interpret the evidence. The most fundamental is that he claims that we can actually know a great deal about how Aristarchus and Zenodotus operated. Unfortunately there is very little in the way of detail or examples from the scholia to support anything. Nagy has done better elsewhere with similar material. I do have the strong impression after reading this article, that trying to explain everything by just the two mechanisms of rhapsodical intervention and editorial intervention, is just too simplistic a model for dealing with the text. Nagy is correct, I think, to through up his hands at trying to square that circle.
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Re: A New Companion to Homer

Post by jeidsath » Sun Dec 04, 2016 8:14 pm

Frank Turner, "The Homeric Question." I was disappointed by this essay. I feel like I didn't get much more of a grasp of the ideas being raised than I did from Monro's introduction to the Iliad, which covers much of the same ground, but from the theoretical standpoint. The focus here is on motivations, which is interesting and important, but I found that it was written with a lack of self-awareness. To say that the Homeric Question was fueled by 19th-century Philological careerism is part of the truth, of course. But to end your essay with a variation of "isn't it funny that we don't care about all this today" is automyopic.
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