Thursday, November 10, 2011

Paradigm Shifts

This post is inspired by an episode of The Engines of Our Ingenuity, a daily 4 minute radio broadcast produced by the University of Houston's radio station, KUHF. The episode, entitled "Revisiting Stirrups" explores the notion of the paradigm shift, as first articulated by Thomas Kuhn in his 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. As Dr. Lienhard notes in the episode, Kuhn demonstrated that "science develops, not by accretion, but by replacement -- by paradigm replacement." In other words, we can't make a scientific breakthrough unless we can somehow step out of our own paradigm and conceive of a new one. Lienhard goes on to talk about how many have attempted to point out flaws in Kuhn's bold assertions, but no one has been able to undermine their fundamental validity. In fact, "[a]s Kuhn's detractors have gone at him, and stripped him of his original hyperbole, they've left him much stronger." Finally, Lienhard compares the attacks on Kuhn's work to the criticism levied against Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution: "I'm astonished by people who try to refute natural selection by going back to Darwin himself. Never mind that we've spent a century and a half weaving the connecting tissue of evolution by natural selection. You'd think Darwin had written the last word on the subject, not the first."

As I listened to this episode, I could not help but think of the paradigm shift caused in Homeric studies caused by the fieldwork of Milman Parry and Albert Lord in the former Yugoslavia. Parry's 1928 doctoral dissertation on the traditional epithet in Homer is a brilliant demonstration of the economy and traditionality of Homeric diction, but even Parry himself did not grasp the implications of this work initially:

"My first studies were on the style of the Homeric poems and led me to understand that so highly formulaic a style could be only traditional. I failed, however, at the time to understand as fully as I should have that a style such as that of Homer must not only be traditional but also must be oral. It was largely due to the remarks of my teacher (M.) Antoine Meillet that I came to see, dimly at first, that a true understanding of the Homeric poems could only come with a full understanding of the nature of oral poetry. It happened that a week or so before I defended my theses for the doctorate at the Sorbonne, Professor Mathias Murko of the University of Prague delivered in Paris the series of conferences which later appeared as his book La Poésie populaire épique en Yougoslavie au début du XXe siècle. I had seen the poster for these lectures but at the time I saw in them no great meaning for myself. However, Professor Murko, doubtless due to some remark of (M.) Meillet, was present at my soutenance and at that time M. Meillet as a member of my jury pointed out with his usual ease and clarity this failing in my two books. It was the writings of Professor Murko more than those of any other which in the following years led me to the study of oral poetry in itself and to the heroic poems of the South Slavs." [The Making of Homeric Verse, 439]

It was only when Parry went to Yugoslavia to observe the still flourishing South Slavic oral epic song tradition that he came to understand that Homeric poetry was not only traditional, but oral—that is, composed anew every time in performance, by means of a sophisticated system of traditional phraseology and diction. For Parry, witnessing the workings of a living oral epic song tradition was a paradigm shift. Suddenly, by analogy with the South Slavic tradition, the workings of the Homeric system of composition became clear to him.

Parry planned a series of publications based on his observations and subsequent analysis of Homeric poetry which were never completed. His surviving writings have been incredibly influential, but he died at the age of 33, long before he had a chance to realize the many implications of his fieldwork. It became the work of his young undergraduate assistant, Albert Lord, to brings these ideas to the world. 

Albert Lord's The Singer of Tales, was published in 1960, just two years before Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, but nearly three decades after his and Parry's initial fieldwork. In the intervening years, Lord not only went to graduate school and became a scholar in his own right, he was undergoing his own paradigm shift.

Albert Lord (1912-1991) went to Yugoslavia for the first time at the age of 22, from June 1934-September 1935. Parry described his activities as follows:

"…my assistant, Mr. Albert Lord, is shortly leaving for a month in Greece. His help has been altogether indispensable to me, and I may say that I have done twice as much work since I had his very able assistance. He has relieved me altogether of the very long labeling and cataloguing of the manuscripts and discs, has helped me with the keeping of accounts and the presentations of reports, has typed some 300 pages of my commentary on the collected texts, and most particularly he has ably run the recording apparatus while we are working in the field, this for the first time leaving me free to be with the singer before the microphone, and to oversee and take part in the putting of questions to the singers […] I myself feel the greatest gratitude to him for the help which he has given me and the expedition is under the greatest obligation to him." (From M. Parry, “Report on Work in Yugoslavia, October 20, 1934-March 24, 1935,” Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature, p. 12. )

Albert Lord took photographs throughout the trip and kept a record of his experiences with a view to submitting them to a popular magazine such as National Geographic. The essay that he wrote, dated March 1937, was entitled “Across Montenegro: Searching for Gúsle Songs” and was never in fact published. We can see already in this early essay a fascination with two singers in particular that would shape much of Lord’s subsequent professional scholarship on the the creative process of oral tradional poetry and the analogy between the South Slavic and Homeric song traditions. The first is known as Ćor Huso (“Blind Huso”), a singer of a previous generation who was credited by many of the singers Parry interviewed as being the teacher of their teacher, and the source for all the best songs. Lord recounts one of these interviews (conducted by Nikola Vujnović) as he describes their initial attempts to find singers in Kolashin:

"In Kolashin we got to work. During the last century this was the home of one of the greatest singers. The name of old One-eye Huso Husovitch was a magic one in those days, and still is among the Turks (Moslems) in the region further east where the old masters of Kolashin now dwell. We sought eagerly for every trace of his tradition. What was he like? How did he sing? How did he make his living? How did he die? And so on. We had heard of him first from Sálih Uglian [sic] in Novi Pazar. From Huso Salih had learned his favorite song about the taking of Bagdad and its queen by Djérdjelez Aliya, hero of the Turkish border. In Salih’s own words, caught by our microphone, we have a bit of the tradition of the blind singer’s way of life.

Nikola: From whom did you learn your first Bosnian songs?
Salih: I learned Bosnian songs from One-eye Huso Husovitch from Kolashin.
N:     Who was he? How did he live? What sort of work did he do?
S:     He had no trade, only his horse and his arms, and he wandered about the world. He had only one eye. His clothes and his arms were of the finest. And so he wandered from town to town and sang to people to the gusle.
N:     And that’s all he did?
S:     He went from kingdom to kingdom and learned and sang.
N:     From kingdom to kingdom?
S:     He was at Vienna, at Franz’s court.
N:     Why did he go there?
S:     He happened to go there, and they told him about him, and went and got him, and he sang to him to the gusle, and King Joseph gave him a hundred sheep, and a hundred Napoleons as a present.
N:     How long did he sing to him to the gusle?
S:     A month.
N:     So there was Dutchman who liked the gusle that much?
S:     You know he wanted to hear such an unusual thing. He had never heard anything like it.
N:     All right. And afterwards, when he came back, what did he do with those sheep? Did he work after that, or did he go on singing to the gusle?
S:     He gave all the sheep to his relatives, and put the money in his purse, and wandered about the world.
N:     Was he a good singer?
S:     There could not have been a better."
(Trans. by Milman Parry)

Lord later wrote that for Parry Huso came to symbolize “the Yugoslav traditional singer in much the same way in which Homer was the Greek singer of tales par excellence.” He continues: “Some of the best poems collected were from singers who had heard Ćor Huso and had learned from him” (Lord 1948b:40). Interestingly enough, Parry and Lord do not seem to have questioned the existence of Huso, though, as John Foley has demonstrated, he is clearly legendary or “at most… a historical character to whom layers of legend have accrued” (Foley 1998:161).  So taken was Parry with the analogy between Homer and Huso that before his death he planned a series of articles entitled “Homer and Huso” which Lord completed based on Parry’s abstracts and notes.

The second singer highlighted in the essay is the one whose picture would grace the cover of The Singer of Tales, that is to say, Avdo Međedović. The Singer of Tales, which publishes the results of Parry and Lord’s investigation of the South Slavic song tradition and applies them to the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey, was Lord’s fulfillment of Parry’s own plan to write a book of that title. The singer referred to in the title is of course generic, because much of what was groundbreaking about Parry and Lord’s work was their demonstration of the system in which traditional oral poetry is composed, a system in which many generations of singers participate. But Lord’s essay makes clear (as does, to a lesser extent, The Singer of Tales) that there is also a particular singer behind the title that Parry and later Lord used to denote their work. That singer is simultaneously Avdo and Homer himself.

Just as Ćor Huso embodied for Parry the Yugoslav traditional singer, Avdo was for Lord on a practical level a living, breathing example of a supremely talented oral poet to whom Homer could be compared. Lord’s Singer of Tales is remarkable for its straightforward expostion of the practical workings of the traditional system in which poets like Avdo composed their songs; it is no surprise therefore that he found a great deal of power in the concrete example that Avdo provided.  Avdo dictated songs, was recorded on disk, and was even captured on a very early form of video called “kinescope.” After their initial encounter in the 1930’s, Lord found him and recorded him again in the 1950’s. He was in many ways the test case for Lord’s theories about the South Slavic (and by extension the Homeric) poetic system.

The photograph of Avdo that was featured on the cover of The Singer of Tales was one that Lord had taken on his first trip to Yugoslavia and was included among the images that were to accompany his unpublished essay (see image above). The caption reads: “Avdo Medjedovitch, peasant farmer, is the finest singer the expedition encountered. His poems reached as many as 15,000 lines. A veritable Yugoslav Homer!”

Here is Lord’s fuller description of Avdo in the essay:

"Lying on the bench not far from us was a Turk smoking a cigarette in an antique silver “cigárluk” (cigarette holder). He was a tall, lean and impressive person. At a break in our conversation he joined in. He knew of singers. The best, he said, was a certain Avdo Medjédovitch, a peasant farmer who lived an hour way. How old is he? Sixty, sixty-five. Does he know how to read or write? Nézna, bráte! (No, brother!) And so we went for him… Finally Avdo came, and he sang for us old Salih’s favorite of the taking of Bagdad in the days of Sultan Selim. We listened with increasing interest to this short homely farmer, whose throat was disfigured by a large goiter. He sat cross-legged on the bench, sawing the gusle, swaying in rhythm with the music. He sang very fast, sometimes deserting the melody, and while the bow went lightly back and forth over the string, he recited the verses at top speed. A crowd gathered. A card game, played by some of the modern young men of the town, noisily kept on, but was finally broken up. The next few days were a revelation. Avdo’s songs were longer and finer than any we had heard before. He could prolong one for days, and some of them reached fifteen or sixteen thousand lines. Other singers came, but none could equal Avdo, our Yugoslav Homer."

In these excerpts I think we can see how important Avdo was for Lord’s earliest conception of Homer as oral poet. Whereas Parry’s never completed articles comparing the South Slavic and Homeric traditions focused on the hazy figure of Ćor Huso, Lord, when invited to give a lecture on La poesia epica e la sua formazione, entitled his talk “Tradition and the Oral Poet: Homer, Huso, and Avdo Medjedović.”(See Lord 1970.) As early as his 1948 article, “Homer, Parry, and Huso,” Lord links Avdo directly with Parry’s Huso: “During the summer of 1935, while collecting at Bijelo Polje, Parry came across a singer named Avdo Međedović, one of those who had heard Ćor Huso in his youth, whose powers of invention and story-telling were far above the ordinary.”

Lord’s comments about Avdo, especially in these earliest descriptions of him, focus on his excellence as a composer (despite the weakness of his voice), his superiority to other poets, and the length of his songs. It is not insignificant that in his unpublished essay Lord misestimates the length of Avdo’s song at 15,000 to 16,000 verses, the approximate length of the Iliad, whereas in fact the longest song that Avdo recorded was 13,331 verses long. By 1948 Lord was careful to report the accurate total of Avdo’s verses, but he was also careful to point out how extraordinary the length of Avdo’s songs were in comparison with his fellow singers, whose songs averaged only a few hundred lines. Clearly it was Lord’s first impression that Avdo provided the answer to the still hotly debated Homeric Question.

It would be easy to criticize Lord's youthful essay, and few people would find it necessary to do so. And even if we jump forward, decades later, it seems obvious that Lord conceived of the paradigm of a dictating oral poet Homer because he was imagining him in Avdo’s image. The technology used to record Avdo was cutting edge at that time, and Lord would never have been so anachronistic as to suggest that Homer was recorded on audio disk. But to assume the technologies required for writing (pen, ink, loose or bound sheets of readily available paper, skilled scribes, etc) for “Homer’s time” is an equally anachronistic projection. As much as Lord’s work is responsible for the paradigm shift in Homeric studies that has allowed many scholars to abandon the Homer as original genius genre of criticism, he himself had his blind spots on this crucial point. Lord could have his Homer and his oral tradition too.

Few people seem to be aware, however, that Lord all but retracted his dictation thesis in his 1991 collection of essays, Epic Singers and Oral Tradition. There, together with the 1953 article, he included an addendum, from which I quote here:

"As I reconsidered very recently the stylization of a passage from Salih Ugljanin’s “Song of Bagdad” that was found in a dictated version but not in two sung texts, I was suddenly aware of the experience of listening to Salih dictate… the pause interrupted neither Salih’s thought nor his syntax… One might think that dictating gave Salih the leisure to plan his words and their placing in the line, that the parallelism was due to his careful thinking out of the structure. First of all, however, dictating is not a leisurely process… I might add that not all singers can dictate successfully. As I have said elsewhere, some singers can never be happy without the gusle accompaniment to set the rhythm of the singing performance."

Lord himself as far as I am aware never, in print, discussed the implications of this important revsion of his 1953 argument. (Lord died in the same year that Epic Singers and Oral Tradition was published.) But it is also true that Lord never speculated about the historical circumstances under which the Iliad and Odyssey might have been dictated. For Lord, the question of the text fixation of the Homeric poems was not essential; rather he was concerned with the dynamic process, that is to say their on-going recomposition in performance.

Parry, on the other hand, did not get the chance to rethink his earlier work, or to conduct further fieldwork or spend decades studying the the South Slavic tradition and the Homeric poems as Lord did. His early writings on the economy of Homeric diction are a brilliant first step towards an entirely new way of conceiving of the composition of the Homeric poems, but they are only the beginning. Like Kuhn or Darwin, Parry's work has been assailed by many as mistaken in this or that particular, or not sufficiently thorough so as to have worked out all aspects of the system it seeks to describe in detail. As Mary Ebbott and I discuss in our recent book, Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush, much scholarship has been devoted to refining Parry’s initial findings about the economy of Homeric diction and the nature of the Homeric formula. There is strong resistance among those who feel that Parry’s work somehow minimizes the artistry of the poems or that the principles he outlined restrict the creativity of poets composing in this medium. Thus even those who accept Parry’s findings often seek to amend significant aspects of his arguments. We feel that the scope of Parry’s and Lord’s insights has been ignored, misread or misrepresented, or dismissed too quickly. Some (though certainly not all) efforts to revise Parry and Lord are built on a misunderstanding of the principles they documented in their fieldwork and a lack of awareness of, or at least appreciation for, the kind of meaning made possible by an oral poetic tradition. That is not to say, however, that our approach and interpretations in our book have not also greatly benefited from the work of scholars who have sought to better understand such essential concepts as the Homeric formula and the complex relationship between orality and literacy in ancient Greece. There is, however, a significant difference between scholarship that expands the central insights of Parry and Lord’s work, even while modifying certain notions or definitions, and scholarship that sets out to “prove” Parry (more often than Lord) “wrong” in order to conclude, usually with no further justification, that Homer wrote, or somehow “broke free” of the oral tradition of these epics.

These criticisms, like those cited by Dr. Lienhard against Kuhn and Darwin, seem to me to react to Parry as if he had "written the last word on the subject, not the first." As Dr. Lienhard concludes at the end of the episode:

Kuhn, White, and Darwin are fine reminders that nothing is finished in its first incarnation. Did the Wright Brothers get it wrong because they put the tail in front? Was Edison wrong to record sound on a wax cylinder instead of a CD? I suppose if we need only to be absolutely right we'll shy away from any of our important progenitors. But, if we want to see creative change in full flower, we have to go to the delicious flawed beginnings.


Lord, A. B. 1936. “Homer and Huso I: The Singer’s Rests in Greek and South Slavic Heroic Song. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 67:106–113.
–––. 1938. “Homer and Huso II: Narrative Inconsistencies in Homer and Oral Poetry.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 69:439–445.
–––. 1948a. “Homer and Huso III: Enjambement in Greek and South Slavic Heroic Song. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 79:113–124.
–––. 1948b. “Homer, Parry, and Huso.” American Journal of Archaeology 52:34–44.
–––. 1953. “Homer’s Originality: Oral Dictated Texts.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 94:124–34.
–––. 1960/2000. The Singer of Tales. Cambridge, Mass. 2nd ed., ed. S. Mitchell and G. Nagy.
–––. 1970. “Tradition and the Oral Poet: Homer, Huso, and Avdo Medjedovic.” Atti del Convegno Internazionale sul Tema: La Poesia Epica e la sua Formazione (eds. E. Cerulli et al.) 13–28. Rome.
–––. 1991. Epic Singers and Oral Tradition. Ithaca, N.Y.
–––. 1995. The Singer Resumes the Tale. Ithaca, N.Y.

Parry, A., ed. 1971. The Making of Homeric Verse: The Collected Papers of Milman Parry. Oxford.

Parry, M. 1928. L’épithète traditionelle dans Homère: essai sur un problème de style homérique. Paris. [Repr. and trans. in A. Parry 1971:1–190.]

Monday, September 26, 2011

Review of Poetics of Ambush

An incredibly kind review of Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush appeared in Bryn Mawr Classical Review today. I was particularly pleased that the reviewer commented on the multitextual aspect of the book and linked to the HMT.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Papyri · A New Edition of the Bankes Homer (B.M. Papyrus cxiv)

We have published on the Homeric Papyri Canonical Text Service a new edition of the so-called Bankes Homer, a long papyrus fragment (B.M. Papyrus cxiv), containing Homer, Iliad 24.127–24.804. The work of transcription was done by David Creasey, Kylie Elliott, Talley Lattimore, and Brett Stonecipher, undergraduates at Furman University, working from facsimile images of the papyrus. The resulting text can be seen, in a human-readable format, here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Metrical Book-Summaries on Two Byzantine Manuscripts

Metrical Book-Summaries on Two Byzantine Manuscripts

Book 1 (“Alpha”) Summarized with one line of Greek in dactylic hexameter,
on the Venetus A and the Escorialensis 4
Each Byzantine manuscript of the Homeric Iliad that the Homer Multitext has digitized represents a complex juxtaposition of many complementary texts. Each contains a text of the poem, in Greek, along with other texts that contain commentaries, summaries, biographies of Homer, or other additional materials. The editors of the HMT divide these texts into two categories: primary texts, which stand alone, and secondary texts, which refer explicitly to primary texts. The text of the Iliad is a primary text, of course, but so is a biography of Homer or a summary of another, lost epic poem such as the Ilioupersis (the “Sack of Troy”). The inter-linear scholia constitute a secondary text, because each note, or “scholion”, refers to a word, phrase, line or passage in the primary text.

One of the most interesting secondary texts that appears on several of these manuscripts is the collection of one-line summaries of each book of the Iliad, from Book 1 (“Alpha”), to Book 24 (“Omega”). After some thought, we have decided to consider these a secondary text, since they accompany and refer to the poetic text. Each of the summaries is written in Greek and in dactylic hexameter, the same poetic meter as the Iliad itself. With this posting on the Homer Multitext Blog, we are pleased to announce a publication of the metrical summaries from two manuscripts, the Venetus A (Marcianus Graecus Z.454 [=822]), and the Escorialensis 4 (Escorialensis ω.I.12 [513 = Allen E4]).


This publication consists of an XML document that contains the following fields for each book-summary for each manuscript:
  • a label
  • a CITE-URN that identifies a region-of-interest on a digital image of a manuscript page
  • the text of the metrical summary
  • a translation of the metrical summary
The CITE-URN is a canonical reference to a defined section of an image; these concise strings can be resolved to show the image data itself, which is exposed through the CITE Image Service.

Of the twenty-four pairs of summaries, no two are completely identical in every respect. The Venetus A and E4 follow different conventions for punctuation, for example. But eighteen of the twenty-four books are substantially similar from one manuscript to the next.

Six of the summaries have more significant differences in the texts preserved on the Venetus A and the E4.

For Book Γ (3), the two manuscript have:

Venetus A
Text: γάμμα δ’ ἄρ. ἀφ’ Ἑλένης. οἴοις μόθος ἐστὶν ἀκοίταις·
Translation: And then Gamma is from the point of view of Helen; the pitch of battle is only for husbands.
Escorialensis 4
Text: γάμμα δ’ ἄρ’ ἀμφ’ Ἑλένηι· οἴοις μόθος ἐστὶν ἀκοίταις·
Translation: And then Gamma is around Helen; the pitch of battle is only for husbands.

The one-letter difference between the prepositions ἀφ’  and ἀμφ’ is intentional, because the scribes used the correct case for the object-nouns (genitive in the VA and dative in the E4).

In both Books Δ (4) and Θ (8), the summaries consist of the book number (i.e. “Delta”, “Theta”), which serves as the grammatical subject of the sentence. In these two instances, the predicate of the sentence is either in the nominative or the accusative. We read the VA says that “Delta [contains] an assembly [accusative] of the gods,” while E4 says that “Delta [is] an assembly [nominative] of the gods.” Interestingly, in Book 8 this usage is reversed even though the words in 8 are the same as in 4, an “assembly of the gods” (ἀγορ- θεῶν): VA has “Theta [is] an assembly [nominative] of the gods,” and E4 has, “Theta [contains] an assembly [accusative] of the gods.”

The summaries for Book Ζ (6) are subtly different. We translate both of them:
“And then Zeta is the fond discourse of both Andromache and Hektor.”
The Greek for each is:
VA - ζῆτα· δ ὰρ. Ἀνδρομάχης τὲ καὶ Ἕκτορός ἐστ’ ὁαριστύς·
E4 - ζῆτα· δ’ ἄρ’ Ἀνδρομάχης καὶ Ἕκτορός ἐστι ὀαριστύς.
Venetus A · folio 89 verso
The most obvious difference is in VA’s τὲ καὶ … ἐστ’, versus E4’s καὶ … ἐστι. The result is equally valid dactylic hexameter. More interesting is the presentation of the word ὀαριστύς on the Venetus A.

We see what looks like an intentional space between ὁ and αριστύς, but the scribe is meticulous about using breathings, so we conclude that he intended this to be one word. The word is, as we have translated it, ὀαριστύς, “fond discourse”. It should properly have a smooth-breathing, as it does on the E4, but the scribe of VA has written a very clear rough-breathing. Did the scribe, unfamiliar with this exclusively epic word, guess wrong at the (no longer pronounced in the 10th century) breathing?

In Book Η (7), between E4 and the Venetus A, the words translated here “one-on-one” are reverse: μόνος μόνωι (in E4) versus μόνωι μόνος (in the Venetus A). The two versions are equally correct, grammatically and metrically.

Taken together, these differences, while minor, do not seem to us likely to be attributed to “scribal error”. It seems more likely that we have two different presentations of traditional material, with its own tradition that includes a certain amount of variation. The differences in Books 4, 6, 7, and 8 might suggest that the scribes were not in fact looking at a written source, but knew this material – perhaps as aids to navigating the 24 books of the poem reduced to a jingle committed to memory. This is purely speculation.

Katie Phillips, a Sophomore at Furman University, is editing the metrical summaries on the Escorialensis 3, which we will look forward to adding to our publications, and to our analysis of this interesting secondary text on the Byzantine witnesses to the Iliad.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Composition of the Venetus A: numbered similes

The following guest post by Holy Cross student Christine Roughan shows how careful observation of a largely overlooked feature of the Venetus A can help us reconstruct something about both the process of creating the manuscript, and the sources available to the scribes who worked on the Venetus A.

Epic simile numerals in the Venetus A

Christine Roughan

The reader of Homer has undoubtedly encountered what is called the 'epic simile': a comparison made in the poem that is multiple lines long. One example appears early in Book 2 of the Iliad:

ἠΰτε ἔθνεα εἶσι μελισσάων ἁδινάων
πέτρης ἐκ γλαφυρῆς αἰεὶ νέον ἐρχομενάων.
βοτρυδὸν δὲ πέτονται ἐπ᾽ ἄνθεσιν εἰαρινοῖσιν·
αἱ μέν τ᾽ ἔνθα ἅλις πεποτήαται· αἱ δέ τε ἔνθα·
ὡς τῶν ἔθνεα πολλὰ νεῶν ἄπο καὶ κλισιάων
ἠϊόνος προπάροιθε βαθείης ἐστιχόωντο
εἰλαδὸν εἰς ἀγορὴν. (Iliad 2.87-93)

Just as the companies of thick bees go
from a hollow rock, always newly coming.
And fly in clusters over spring flowers;
some flit crowded together here, some there;
even so the many companies from the ships and huts
before the low shore marched
in troops to the gathering space.

In the Venetus A manuscript, we observed Greek numerals in the exterior margins of folios, starting with 1 (Α) on 26r and reaching 193 (ΡϞΓ) on 322r. They appeared consecutively (except where numerals would be missing, causing the count to skip: see below), and we found that across from wherever these numerals appeared, an epic simile was present in the main text. The extended simile above is the first to appear in the Iliad, and so it was marked in the Venetus A with the Greek number for 1.
[NB: all images are linked to interactive views of the relevant folio highlighting this area. Click to see the region in a fuller context.]

Epic similes did not go unnoticed by the ancient scholars of Homer: a scholion on the lines above, for instance, describes their content as one of “τοὺς εἰκαζομένους,” or similes. Other manuscripts, such as the Venetus B and the Escorial Υ.1.1, also have this scholion (in a slightly longer form; however, the first part discussing “τοὺς εἰκαζομένους” is the same) and so acknowledge the presence of the epic simile. But neither of them, nor the Marciana 841, follow the Venetus A in numbering or otherwise marking each epic simile as it appears. [[This paragraph was revised on July 5, 2013, to clarify the reference to similes in the scholia and to update the names of the manuscripts.]]

The presence of these numerals raises a few questions. When were they added to the manuscript, and by whom? Were they included by the original hand responsible for the main text and much of the scholia, or were the numerals a later addition, perhaps during something like the scribe’s second pass Thomas W. Allen described in “On the Composition of Some Greek Manuscripts: The Venetian Homer” (Journal of Philology 26 [1899])?

Furthermore, what was the purpose of marking the extended similes with these numerals? Was the numbering merely a whim of their author, or does it point to a tradition of scholarly interest in these similes? Might it perhaps suggest a lost work on Homeric similes which the scribe expected his reader to know? The numerals may have been intended to index each simile as it appeared in the Iliadic text so that the manuscript's reader could find it in the hypothesized lost work. Or perhaps they were simply intended to call the reader's attention to the simile as something worthy of note. In that case, however, why would the similes be numbered rather than marked with some sign? (Compare the manicula of Latin manuscripts, for instance.) Naturally, conclusively determining the intention behind these numerals is even trickier than the already difficult task of determining when and by whom they were added.

What we have observed about the epic simile numerals – where they appear, their ink, and where they fail to appear – does point to some answers. Furthermore, findings drawn from our examination of these numerals even suggest possible conclusions about the sources and construction of the manuscript itself. Taken together, the observations detailed below suggest an early revision process in which a scribe worked through the manuscript adding material from at least one outside source.

What can be said for certain about these numerals? In our analysis of the ink, we found alternating strengths (instead of a gradual fade) for the numerals 82 (ΠΒ), 83 (ΠΓ), 84 (ΠΔ), 85 (ΠΕ), and 86 (Πϛ) between folios 165r and 167v. This might help answer at least one of our questions, suggesting that their author did not move through the manuscript solely marking similes. The numerals were probably added at the same time as other material was. The color of the ink also seems to match the ink of the main text and scholia.

We observed that the numerals never appeared on the replaced folios, even when an extended simile did appear in the text. Thus the numerals would date from before Bessarion’s fifteenth century restorations. A second hint regarding their date: on 90v we found a faint exterior scholion squeezed into the space between the numeral 41 (ΜΑ) and the edge of the page, which suggests that the numeral was written in first.

The Missing Numerals

While the numerals did progress in ascending order, we observed that some were missing. Of the 193 numerals expected, 35 were nowhere to be seen on the folio, though epic similes were present in the main text. The following is a description of what we observed concerning the missing numerals:

-The first break occurs after 12 (ΙΒ) on 33v; there is a gap of sixteen numerals between lines 2.488-4.434, and the sequence continues again with 29 (ΚΘ) on 60r. This first lacuna is notable for how many numerals are missing: where later gaps usually consist of one or a couple, this gap has sixteen unmarked epic similes.

-The next break occurs after 34 (ΛΔ) on 65v; there is a gap of four numerals between lines 5.186-5.760, and the sequence continues again with 39 (ΛΘ) on 77v. In this case folios 69-74 are restorations. We found that all of the unmarked similes here appear on those folios.

-A break occurs after 43 (ΜΓ) on 92r; there is a gap of two numerals between lines 7.76-8.297, and the sequence continues with 46 (ΜϜ) on 106v.

-A break occurs after 121 (ΡΚΑ) on 211r; there is a gap of one numeral between lines 16.276-16.350, and the sequence continues with 123 (ΡΚΓ) on 213r.

-A break occurs after 141 (ΡΜΑ) on 226r; there is a gap of six numerals between lines 17.151-17.653, and the sequence continues with 148 (ΡΜΗ) on 236v. Folios 229-234 are restorations, and we observed that five unmarked similes appear on those folios. One unmarked simile, however, does appear on an original folio: what would be simile 142 appears on 228v.

-A break occurs after 150 (ΡΝ) on 237v; there is a gap of four numerals between lines 17.729-18.150, and the sequence continues with ΡΝΕ (155) on 242r. Folio 238 is a restoration, and again all of the unmarked similes appear on that folio.

-A final break occurs after 190 (ΡϞ) on 311v; there is a gap of two numerals between lines 24.55-24.554, and the sequence resumes with the final numeral 193 (ΡϞΓ) on 322r.

In cases where replacement folios cannot explain the absence of these numerals, explanations such as ink fading, losing the edge of the folio, or human error might. The ink of 7 (Ζ) on folio 32r, for instance, is extremely faint.

it is not impossible to imagine that in some cases the ink faded even further to invisibility. On folio 60r, the loss of part of 29 (ΚΘ) shows how numerals could have been lost with trimming to the edge of the page. If neither of these are the case, the writer of these numerals was human: he may have occasionally missed some, especially if he worked with another source and did not number the similes himself.

But while these reasons might account for the occasional missing numeral, such as 122, it seems extremely unlikely that the ink faded to invisibility for all sixteen numerals absent between folios 33v and 60r.

The Sixteen Missing Numerals

The observations detailed so far help us consider answers to the questions the numerals’ presence raised in the first place. The numbers must have been a part of the manuscript before the fifteenth century, when lost folios were restored without them. Analysis of the ink hints at an early date, as its hand and color is similar to that of the main text and scholia, and its changing strengths would suggest it was added along with other material. The one example where a numeral and an exterior scholion share the same space also points to an early date. The simile numerals were certainly in place before the fifteenth century; there is nothing yet to rule out that they may be as early as the manuscript’s initial construction. Additionally, the fact that the similes are numbered rather than simply marked makes it more likely that the numerals were meant as a reference, rather than just an indication that the extended similes were worthy of note.

The sixteen missing numerals are even more informative, since this lacuna might be explained by considering how the manuscript was originally constructed.

Much of the codex is constructed from quaternions: gathers (or "quires") of four bifolios each. Folios 12-19, for instance, form the first quire. Interestingly, we observed that for the missing sixteen numerals, the corresponding unmarked similes appear between folios 39v and 59v, and thus only within the fourth, fifth, and sixth quires. None of these quires contain a numeral. The sequence ends with the last extended simile in the third quire and picks up again with the very first simile to appear in the seventh.

If the scribe completely finished adding certain material to one quire before starting to add it to the next, it might explain why entire quires are missing numerals: he accidentally neglected to add them when he was working on those quires. This would mean that while adding the simile numerals the scribe worked, not folio-by-folio or book-by-book, but rather quire-by-quire.

A clue concerning how simile numerals in these quires were skipped might be that the Catalogue of Ships begins on 34r, the end of the third quire. Throughout the Catalogue of Ships, the scribe includes numerals in the interior and intermarginal sections of the folio that mark how many ships are specified in the line. For example, where line 2.576 reads that Agamemnon brought 100 ships, a capital rho appears to the left of the line as the Greek number 100. The color of the ink and our observation that intermarginal scholia will wrap around the Catalogue numerals (see 38v) point to their early inclusion in the manuscript.

The fact that these Catalogue numerals start where the simile numerals disappear could be purely coincidental, or it could offer a reason why the scribe forgot to number the sixteen Homeric similes. A hypothesized scenario: the scribe works through his manuscript quire-by-quire, adding simile numerals, Catalogue numerals, and other material (perhaps intermarginal and interlinear scholia, as in Allen’s hypothesis). He includes simile numerals up to 33v and starts adding Catalogue numerals on 34r in the third quire. In the start of the fourth quire there are no similes to be marked, but he includes Catalogue numerals up to 39r. When he finishes the Catalogue of Ships, the scribe considers his work adding numerals finished, and accidentally neglects to resume marking similes when they start up again on 39v. He continues with whatever other material he was adding at the time, but does not remember to include simile numerals again until he begins the seventh quire.

This scenario is purely conjecture. The proximity of the Catalogue numerals to the missing simile numerals could simply be a coincidence; even the proposed link between the sixteen unmarked similes and the three quires they appear on could be a coincidence. Still, the possible explanation of adding simile numerals in a later pass during the manuscript's initial construction, quire-by-quire, does match up with other observations: the ink possibly being the same as that for the main text and scholia; the simile numerals being added at the same time as other material. And the missing sixteen numerals are difficult to explain otherwise, unless for that entire stretch the scribe either wrote with extremely faint ink, or placed the numerals at the very edge of the page.

If the simile numerals were added at the same time as the Catalogue numerals, they would date no later than the intermarginal scholia: the fact that these intermarginal scholia wrap around Catalogue numerals indicates that the scholia were added after the numerals. Admittedly, the hand changes between simile numerals and Catalogue numerals, a difference most pronounced in how the scribe writes the letter mu (compare simile 43 (ΜΓ) on 92r to forty ships marked on 34v, for example). Vertical strokes on the Catalogue numerals are often deliberately thickened and sometimes not even filled in, as in 12 (ΙΒ) on 36v. Perhaps, however, this difference in style reflects a difference in the sources the scribe drew the Catalogue and simile numerals from.

That the writer of the simile numerals did not notice when he overlooked multiple similes further suggests that he copied the numerals from another source rather than generate them himself. Otherwise, if he read through the manuscript marking similes as they appeared, when he accidentally missed one (let alone sixteen), why would he skip ahead in his numbering? The simile numerals most likely came from another source, then, either the scribe's exemplar for the manuscript (if he had one) or –the more likely option if he is adding material during a later pass– directly from a lost source on Homeric similes.

So our findings allow for a reconstruction in which the Venetus A’s scribe completed the main text and main scholia, then worked through his manuscript again, quire-by-quire, adding additional material beyond the manuscript’s exemplar. Whether this is the same pass when the scribe added intermarginal scholia, or when he added the Catalogue numerals, is difficult to determine conclusively, but it was a step likely done before exterior corrections were added in the margins. During this pass the scribe drew on new material, leading to the inclusion of the epic simile numerals in the manuscript: numbers intended to refer readers to their source. Where once the reader of the Venetus A perhaps had an entire text he could refer to when he encountered an epic simile, helpfully numbered in the margins, today we only have left the cryptic Greek numerals which hint at what is lost to us.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Updates to Homeric Papyri

We have updated the Homer Multitext’s library of homeric papyri with editions of fifteen new documents. These include the Hawara Papyrus in a new edition by Amy Koenig of Harvard University. This text contains 547 lines of the Iliad, from Books 1 and 2.

The remaining fourteen documents are the results of editorial work by Alexander Loney and Bart Huelsenbeck of Duke University, and Lia Campbell, Andrew Corley, David Creasy, Kylie Elliott, Talley Lattimore, Brett Stonecipher, and Blake Williams, undergraduate students of Greek at Furman University.

In all, the Homeric Papyri Digital Library now contains 30 edited texts, containing 3,142 lines of Homeric poetry. These lines include 2,706 unique citations.

The Homeric Papyri library is exposed via the Canonical Text Services protocol (CTS). Its website offers two different human-readable presentations of each document, as well as direct access to the raw TEI XML.

Work on these papyri continues, and we are looking forward to increasing the holdings of this open-access digital library in the near future. We are grateful for the support of the Center for Hellenic Studies of Harvard University.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

υπ Mystery Scholion (Stephanie Lindeborg guest post)

by Stephanie Lindeborg, College of the Holy Cross Class of 2013, Homer Multitext Research Fellow summer 2011.

On 15r of the Venetus A, next to line 1.169 the scribe wrote two letters: υπ with the π written above the υ. It is one of the interior scholia. Although another interior scholion is located almost immediately below it, the two do not appear connected in any way. The letters appear to be written in the same hand as the other interior scholia, but are somewhat larger than normal. This writing is captured in neither Dindorf's nor Erbse's edition of the scholia.

We read this abbreviation as υπ instead of πυ for two reasons. First, this is the order in which abbreviations are typically read in the Venetus A (i.e. the superlinear letter(s) after the letter(s) in the line). Second, υπ looks very much like the ὑπό abbreviations we have observed in the scholia text. Our first guess is that υπ is an abbreviation of ὑπό, but is it more than just ὑπό? Perhaps something like ὑπόθεσις or ὑποθέτικος? Or are these guesses the entirely wrong direction to take? We know that there are other scholia commenting on this line. A main scholion talks about hyperbaton in lines 1.169-171. Is υπ an abbreviation for ὑπερβατόν, glossing the general idea of the main scholion?

A decent argument can be made for ὑπερβατόν simply because it is the focus of the main scholion on this line. However, if that is the focus of the main scholion, then why is it necessary to refer to it in another abbreviated interior scholion? While it is true that sometimes one scholion will continue or refer back to the idea of another scholion, this conjecture seems too unclear to be certain.

Based on what we have observed of the abbreviations, it is quite likely and reasonable to suggest that the mark is more along the lines of ὑπό. The question is whether it should be further expanded or not. If it is just ὑπό, the meaning is not particularly clear as the word has a variety of meanings. As an adverb (which is the most likely use as it is unaccompanied by any other word), it can mean under, below, beneath, behind, somewhat, and secretly (among other things). None of these meanings, however, seem to make any sense in context of the lines and the other scholia on this line.

Therefore, it seems likely that if we're on the right track with ὑπό, then it needs to be further expanded. Our possible suggestions are not entirely exhaustive, but we can guess based on our general knowledge of the scholia and ancient Greek scholarship thus far. In prior scholia, we have observed ὑπὸ abbreviations like this one. In the first Venetus A scholia on 12r there is in fact a ὑπὸ abbreviation that is part of the larger word ὑπόθεσις. The "ὑπὸ" is written out exactly like the abbreviation we find on 15r, followed by the rest of the word "-θεσις". ὑποθεσις, can mean a variety of things including proposed action, intention, suggestion, purpose, pretext, assumption, cause, etc. ὑπόθεσις is a tempting solution to our predicament. The 12r scholion discusses mainly why the first line of Iliad begins with μῆνιν. ὑπόθεσις is used here to mean "cause," saying that the poem begins with μῆνις because it becomes the cause of actions (ἤρξατο μὲν ἀπὸ μήνιδος ἐπείπερ αὕτη τοῖς πρακτικοῖς ὑπόθεσις γέγονεν·). 1.169 and the lines both preceding and following it are part of Achilles' speech/reprimand of Agamemnon for his poor behavior and treatment of his comrades. 1.169 itself begins Achilles' threat to leave the war and return home rather than continue to acquire riches for Agamemnon. It is possible then that υπ scholion on 15r is referring back to the ideas of the first scholion on 12r, namely that μῆνις is causing the action, driving the plot, and at this particular moment in line 1.169, we see this happening. If it is too much to assume that these two scholia are connected so closely, then we might suppose that υπ is still ὑπόθεσις, but is generally noting that line 1.169 establishes the circumstances around which the plot is to move forward. The word ὑπόθεσις could also refer to a plot summary of classical dramas. These were frequently copied as a prefaces in Medieval manuscripts. This idea fits at least loosely within the context of the lines.

If instead we are expanding to ὑποθέτικος, meaning hypothetical or conditional, it fits the context of the lines in a different way. Here perhaps the scholia is indicating that Achilles' claim is hypothetical or conditional. Achilles does not actually leave for home. His threat is not acted upon. There is an element of condition to his claim that he would rather go home than serve Agamemnon. His continued participation in the war is conditional based on Agamemnon's behavior.

Another possibility is that υπ is supposed to offer a multiform replacement in the line. Line 1.169 of the Venetus A reads:

νῦν δ᾽ εἶμι Φθίην δ᾽· ἐπειὴ πολὺ φέρτερόν ἐστιν

A possible substitution could be ὑπέρτερον instead of φέρτερον. If so the line would read:

νῦν δ‘ εἶμι Φθίην δ’· ἐπειὴ πολὺ ὑπέρτερόν ἐστιν

In terms of meaning there is little variation in how we read the text. φέτερον means "better" and ὑπέρτερον can also mean "better", as we can see in several other occurrences of the word in the Iliad. For example, in 11.786 ὑπέρτερον is used to describe Achilles as a greater, more noble man. There are problems with this alternate reading. First, ὑπέρτερον for φέρτερον in this line, without any additional changes renders it unmetrical. Second, alternate readings are often presented either superlinear to the main Iliadic text or in the exterior margin. This theory, by that reasoning then, seems highly unlikely.

My personal preference is to expand this abbreviation as ὑπόθεσις. It makes sense based on other ὑπὸ abbreviations we have observed and the context of the lines. It does not fit the context of the other scholia that comment on this line. However, as ὑποθέσις, it serves almost like a gloss of the 1.169 and the lines that follow as well as a reminder of the first scholion and the role of μῆνις.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Notes on Iliad 5 (2)

The following guest post by summer workshop participants Amy Koenig and Annalisa Quinn implies an interesting question: is the addition of a line a 'correction' of a scribal error, or evidence of revision resulting from comparison of multiple sources?

Marginalizing Homer: An Anomaly in the Venetus A, Iliad 5

Amy Koenig and Annalisa Quinn

While inventorying and creating a digital edition of pages from the Venetus A, we came across this odd bit of marginalia:

ὤμων μεσσηγὺς δια δὲ στήθεσφιν ἔλασσεν

[NB: the image inserted above is linked to an interactive view of folio 63 recto highlighting this area. Click to see the region in a fuller context.]

What at first glance looked like another scholion appears, upon closer inspection, to be the work of the same pen and hand as the original scribe, supplying a line omitted in the main body of the text (5.57). Slightly smaller than the main text, it spans nearly the entire width of the right margin, not confining itself to the area normally reserved for the main scholia.

The line is written in a minuscule script matching the body of the text, although the scribe employs majuscule forms in writing nu, eta, and one delta.

It is possible that the initial omission of the line was due to scribal error, but we could see no obvious reason for such a slip of the eye. (There are already 25 lines in the body of the text, consistent with the number of lines on other pages of the manuscript.) In fact, this line is omitted in a number of medieval manuscripts, such as the Venetus B, as well as in P.Oxy. 223 (3rd century C.E.). An identical line appears at 5.41, earlier on the same page of the Venetus A, and this may have been a reason for scribal or scholarly uncertainty, leading to its marginal placement here.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

More on the Grief of War: Mother Ajax

The discussion that Casey and I had about Petry’s interview on The Daily Show and especially her beautiful consideration of the similes featuring mothers in these passages of the Iliad (see her post) has also led me to reconsider another such simile that I had previously examined in my published work. In Iliad 8, the coordinated fighting method of the half-brothers Ajax and Teucer is described, and that description includes a compressed simile of a child and his mother (Iliad 8.266–272):

Τεῦκρος δ’ εἴνατος ἦλθε παλίντονα τόξα τιταίνων,
στῆ δ’ ἄρ’ ὑπ’ Αἴαντος σάκεϊ Τελαμωνιάδαο.
ἔνθ’ Αἴας μὲν ὑπεξέφερεν σάκος· αὐτὰρ ὅ γ' ἥρως
παπτήνας, ἐπεὶ ἄρ τιν’ ὀϊστεύσας ἐν ὁμίλῳ
βεβλήκοι, ὃ μὲν αὖθι πεσὼν ἀπὸ θυμὸν ὄλεσσεν.
αὐτὰρ ὃ αὖτις ἰὼν πάϊς ὣς ὑπὸ μητέρα δύσκεν
εἰς Αἴανθ’· ὃ δέ μιν σάκεϊ κρύπτασκε φαεινῷ.

Teucer came ninth, bending back his curving bow,
and he stood under the shield of Ajax, son of Telamon.
Then Ajax was lifting his shield up and out. And then the hero
once he looked around, when he shoots someone in the crowd
and has hit him, that man falling down on the spot loses his life.
And then Teucer goes back, like a child runs behind his mother,
to Ajax. And Ajax hides him with his shining shield.

In my examination of the ways in which Teucer’s illegitimacy (his mother was the war captive of Telamon, Teucer and Ajax’s father, while Ajax’s mother was Telamon’s wife) is portrayed, I connect this simile to other images we find in Greek literature in which the nothos (‘bastard’) is pictured as a perpetual child (Ebbott 2003: 39–40) and then I explore other Indo-European myths of twins or pairs to think about how Teucer’s identity is connected to that of his brother (Ebbott 2003: 41–44). But considering this simile in conjunction with the other similes depicting mothers and their children (see Muellner 1990 for how studying the similes as a system reveals much more about their meaning), I now am wondering whether the mother-child simile here, especially in light of the obvious role Ajax is playing as his brother’s protector on the battlefield, is connected with the special relationship not only between these two, but between soldiers who fight together on the battlefield together generally. The fact that Teucer will end up as the protector when he protects Ajax’s corpse after Ajax kills himself out of shame (his suicide happens after the events of the Iliad but the audience would have been aware of it) adds poignancy to this image, but also reflects the possibility that the role of “mother” can change depending on the circumstances of battle.

We can’t know whether “real-life” ancient Greek warriors would have specifically used the analogy of being a “mother” to their comrades, but I think we can plainly see that the emotions the Iliadic warriors express about one another and the way that American soldiers feel about their comrades has much in common. As Casey mentioned, those poetics and the emotional connections they can evoke are the reasons why Homeric epic is meaningful to us still today. But the close and careful work on the epics that the Homer Multitext involves leads to a deeper appreciation of these poetics—realizing both how the poetry in its multiformity creates meaning, but also what meaning it carries in our lives and our world.

Ebbott, M. 2003. Imagining Illegitimacy in Classical Greek Literature. Lanham, MD.

Muellner, L. 1990. “The Simile of the Cranes and Pygmies: A Study of Homeric Metaphor,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 93: 59–101.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Grief of War: Special Homeric Poetics Edition

This blog is primarily devoted to new research and developments connected with the Homer Multitext project. Moved by a recent interview, however, I was inspired to revisit a poetic topic that, while not directly connected to the multiformity of the Iliad, is nevertheless a testament to why we continue to find Homeric poetry so fascinating. 
              In book 9 of the Iliad, Achilles uses a striking simile to describe his feelings about the situation in which he finds himself. Believing that he has been disrespected and stripped of honor by Agamemnon, he has withdrawn from battle. The Greeks, now losing without him, beg him to return. He says:

ὡς δ’ ὄρνις ἀπτῆσι νεοσσοῖσι προφέρῃσι
μάστακ' ἐπεί κε λάβῃσι, κακῶς δ’ ἄρα οἱ πέλει αὐτῇ,
ὣς καὶ ἐγὼ πολλὰς μὲν ἀΰπνους νύκτας ἴαυον,
ἤματα δ' αἱματόεντα διέπρησσον πολεμίζων
ἀνδράσι μαρνάμενος ὀάρων ἕνεκα σφετεράων.
(Iliad 9.323-327)

Like a bird that brings food to her fledgling young
in her bill, whenever she finds any, even if she herself fares poorly,
so I passed many sleepless nights,
and spent many bloody days in battle,
contending with men for the sake of their wives.

In a previously published book and article (Dué 2005 and 2006), I argued that here Achilles is drawing on the suffering of mothers in order to articulate his own sorrow, as he struggles against his mortality and the pleas of his comrades that he return to battle. By using a traditional theme of women’s lament traditions, that of the mother bird who has toiled to raise her young only to lose them, Achilles connects on a very visceral level with the women that he himself has widowed, deprived of children, and enslaved in war.
One of the many passages that bring together the imagery of mother birds with the grief of war (and especially the lamentation of a mother for her fallen son) in Greek literature comes from Euripides’ tragedy the Trojan Women. This play tells the story of the women of Troy after the Greek victory, and it is structured as a series of laments by the principal characters and the chorus. In Hecuba’s opening monody, she compares herself to a mother bird, screaming over her lost young (Trojan Women 138-150):

μοι, θάκους οἵους θάσσω,/σκηναῖς ἐφέδρους Ἀγαμεμνονίαις./δούλα δ' ἄγομαι/γραῦς ἐξ οἴκων πενθήρη/κρᾶτ' ἐκπορθηθεῖσ' οἰκτρῶς./ἀλλ' ὦ τῶν χαλκεγχέων Τρώων/ἄλοχοι μέλεαι,/καὶ κοῦραι ‹κοῦραι› δύσνυμφοι,/τύφεται Ἴλιον, αἰάζωμεν./μάτηρ δ' ὡσεί τις πτανοῖς/ὄρνισιν, ὅπως ἐξάρξω 'γὼ/κλαγγάν, μολπάν, οὐ τὰν αὐτὰν/οἵαν ποτὲ δὴ/σκήπτρῳ Πριάμου διερειδομένα/ποδὸς ἀρχεχόρου πληγαῖς Φρυγίους/εὐκόμποις ἐξῆρχον θεούς.

Alas what sort of seat is this that I have taken, I who am seated before the tents of Agamemnon? As a slave I am led away from my home, an old woman, my head shorn piteously in grief. Ah! wretched wives of the Trojans with their bronze spears and maidens, unfortunate brides, Ilium is smoldering, let us cry out! Like some mother-bird that over her fledglings screams, so I will lead off the shout, the song and dance; not the same as that I once conducted, as I leaned on Priam’s scepter and with loud-sounding beats led the dance for the Phrygian gods.

In large part because of passages like these, I have argued that Achilles’ comparison of his own feelings to those of a mother bird would have resonated with ancient audiences as a particular kind of grief, the grief of a mother who has lost her son in war. What I did not realize when I made those arguments initially is that the emotions conveyed by Achilles in that moment are shared by our soldiers fighting today in Iraq and Afghanistan.
            Last night on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Stewart interviewed a medal of honor winner from Afghanistan named Sgt. First Class Leroy Petry. Stewart asked Petry how it was possible for him, after being wounded in both legs (and later after his hand was blown off by a grenade), to be able to maintain his leadership role and continue to protect the other men and also communicate back with his commanders. In his spontaneous response he almost choked up, saying that his fellow soldiers were like brothers to him, but that it was even more than that. He said that the way he felt about the other guys is like how a bird cares for its young.
Sgt. Petry’s experience is in many ways the opposite of the situation of Achilles in Iliad 9. Sgt. Petry did not retreat, whereas Achilles has, to the extreme detriment of his comrades. But I’m fascinated that Sgt. Petry would use the same metaphor to describe war. Moreover, as my friend and colleague Mary Ebbott points out to me, Jonathan Shay has described the relationship between combat soldiers in similar terms in his book Achilles in Vietnam (p.42): “While the kin relationship of brother seems to be the most frequent symbol of the relationship between combat soldiers who are closest comrades, in our culture the powerful territory of feeling and symbolism of mother often seems to apply just as well.” He also writes (p. 49): “The terror and privation of combat bonds men in a passion of care that the word brother only partly captures. Men become mothers to one another in combat. The grief and rage that they experience when the special comrade is killed appear virtually identical to that of a child suddenly orphaned, and they feel that the mother within them has died with the friend.”
These accounts have caused me to reexamine Achilles’ words. I think what Achilles is trying to say, in his own soldierly way, is that he has experienced the same intensity of war that Sgt Petry attempts to describe, but that he has not gotten anything for it. He has been dishonored even so—he has not been awarded a medal of honor. He wants out. He wants to go home and live a normal life. Looking at it this way, we understand even better what it means for Achilles to return to battle after Patroklos’ death later in the epic. Achilles withdrew from battle, and the person who did not get protected as a result was his closest companion in the world.
Carroll Moulton has noted that the relationship between Achilles and Patroklos is several times described in the Iliad by similes that involve the parent/children motif, and Achilles is usually in the role of the protector. (See Moulton 1977, 100-104 as well as Mills 2000.) I think especially of a passage in Iliad 16, where Patroklos begs to be allowed to impersonate Achilles and return to battle, if Achilles won’t go himself. Achilles compares Patroklos here to a child:

“Why ever do you cry, Patroklos? (You are) like a
silly girl, who running along with her mother begs to be picked up,
grabbing onto her robe, and she hinders her as she is trying to go,
and tearfully she looks at her, in order that she be picked up.’ 

This pattern makes it all the more significant that Achilles draws on traditional imagery from women’s laments for children to describe himself in Iliad 9, given the central importance of Patroklos’ death (and Achilles’ avenging of that death) in the Iliad. As so often happens in Homeric poetry, larger themes and events of the poem are articulated by a character who should not have the omniscience to foretell them. The truncated mother bird simile of Iliad 9 foreshadows future events for an audience that knows all too well what is to come. In this way the simile unites Achilles’ grief for Patroklos with the grief of the mothers he himself has put in mourning.
The toil of the mother bird is, traditionally speaking, only half the story, however. The simile of Iliad 9 comes to an end just where we would expect it to narrate the subsequent loss of the nestlings and the bird’s lamentation. By leaving out this crucial segment of the bird’s story, Achilles does not yet seem to threaten the vengeance that is very often associated with lament. And yet I have to wonder whether the vengeance theme (that I have traced in my 2005 article and 2006 book) is any way relevant to this much earlier passage from epic about the mother bird. I believe that it is, and if you are interested in this question, I invite you to read my book (see especially chapter 5). I mention the theme of revenge because it is the next stage of grief, not only for the Homeric warrior, or for the ancient Greek mother to whom he is likened, but also today's soldiers, and it is just one more way that the grief of war transcends time or place. I mention it because I’d like to close this post by noting an incredibly moving interview that aired on NPR last year with Tim Hetherington, the creator of the documentary Restrepo
In the interview, Hetherington describes what it was like to be an imbedded reporter in Afghanistan with a platoon of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. Hetherington starts sobbing when telling the story, and in fact the whole point of his documentary had been to see war through the soldiers' eyes. It became his experience too—even though, as he says, he felt protected in a way by the camera. So there was a barrier between him as a narrator and his story, but it was a permeable one—which of course makes me the think of the Homeric narrator as well.
When talking about last night’s Daily Show interview of Sgt. Petry with Mary Ebbott, she too recalled Restrepo (and she was the one who first made me aware of the NPR interview of Hetherington last year). Mary reminded me that the thing that made Hetherington cry in the NPR interview was when he began describing what it was like when one of their comrades was killed in an attack and the enemy tried to drag his body away. In fact, Hetherington said it was the one time any of the soldiers told him to turn the camera off. Mary wrote to me about the documentary:

You see how distraught one soldier becomes when he learns that his comrade has been killed, and the captain of the unit goes into a cold and quiet revenge mode (you see him saying, “kill them all”). In later interviews, they talk about how he was their “best” soldier. I have told students that it was “okay” for Greek heroes to cry and that we have to understand the cultural differences, but now that I have seen this, we instead have to realize that it is just a true reaction of soldiers facing the loss of their comrades.

When Patroklos gets killed in the Iliad, the Greeks immediately move in to protect his body. Amazingly, Menelaos is compared in this moment to a cow protecting her first-born calf (Iliad 17.4-5). In Iliad 9, Achilles has only begun to experience the grief of war. It is only when his “child” Patroklos gets killed by the Trojans that his need for vengeance takes over. He cries and mourns and then he returns to battle, full of cold fury.
            Sadly, Tim Hetherington, the narrator that became so indistinguishable from his “characters” that their grief became his, is united with the soldiers he chronicled in more ways than one. This past April he was killed covering the fighting in Libya.

Dué, C. “Achilles, Mother Bird: Similes and Traditionality in Homeric Poetry.” Classical Bulletin 81 (2005): 3-18.
–––. The Captive Woman’s Lament in Greek Tragedy. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.

Mills, S. “Achilles, Patroclus and Parental Care in Some Homeric Similes.Greece and Rome 47 (2000): 3-18.

Moulton, C. Similes in the Homeric Poems. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1977.

Shay, J. Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character. Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Notes on Iliad 5: Comparetti and Venetus A

In 2007, just over a century after Domenico Comparetti published a photographic facsimile of the Venetus A manuscript (Homeri Ilias cum scholiis. Codex venetus A, Marcianus 454 phototypice editus, Leiden: 1901), the Homer Multitext project published new digital photography of the manuscript. The text of the manuscript is, literally, more legible from the digital images than from the manuscript itself, and far clearer than in Comparetti's volume.

At the recent CHS Summer Workshop, however, we were reminded of the continuing value of Comparetti's facsimile. Participants compared the copy of Comparetti in the library at the Center for Hellenic Studies with the digital images of a folio they had edited. The scholia were dauntingly dim and small in Comparetti, but first one team, then another noticed that external scholia they had not seen in the digital images were visible in the 1901 reproduction. In a brief library session, examples surfaced on folio 68 recto (noted by Kathleen O'Connor and Melissa Browne), 76 recto (Tucker Hannah and Leah Elder) and 79 recto (Melanie Steinhardt and Katie Phillips).

In the past hundred years, the minute notes at the extreme edge of the manuscript's folios have evidently been particularly susceptible to fading and damage. Comparetti's publication gives us a chance to recover readings no longer preserved on the manuscript.

The external scholia often consist of a single word or short phrase. T.W. Allen suggested that they reflect an unparalleled editing process in three “reprises” (T. W. Allen, “On the Composition of Some Greek Manuscripts,” Journal of Philology 26 [1898] 161-181). Their proposed “corrections” to the Venetus A text may often reflect genuine Homeric multiforms, and are potentially more precious than their brevity might suggest.

One more addition to the list of projects waiting for a volunteer.

CHS Summer Workshop 2011

From June 27 to July 9, students and faculty collaborators took part in a workshop on the Homer Multitext project. As part of the workshop, five teams worked on a collaborative edition of Iliad 5 in the Venetus A, with each team assuming responsibility for a section of the book. Teams prepared a diplomatic edition of the Iliadic text, and created a comprehensive inventory of the scholia with citations tying each inventory entry to visual evidence. Upon completion of the inventory, they then edited the scholia. In the span of two weeks, the participants completed nearly all of book 5; we hope to have a complete edition before the end of July.

On several occasions, the new editors noticed features of the text or manuscript that have not been published or have not been completely published before. Some of these observations raise interesting questions about the preparation of the Venetus A manuscript, the sources available to the scribe(s) of the Venetus A, and the Homeric multiforms preserved in those sources. We can look forward to seeing postings on this blog with some of their observations in the near future.

The 2011 workshop participants were:

Christopher Blackwell
Melissa Browne
Peter Collins
Matthew Davis
Casey Dué
Mary Ebbott
Leah Elder
Tucker Hannah
Francis Hartel
Amy Koenig
Katie Phillips
Lenny Muellner
Kathleen O'Connor
Annalisa Quinn
Emily Schurr
Neel Smith
Melanie Steinhardt

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New Work on Homeric Papyri

(above: Ὣς οἵ γ᾽ ἀμφίεπον τάφον Ἕκτορος ἱπποδάμοιο, “Such was their burial of Hector, breaker of horses.” Iliad 24.804, from the Bankes Papyrus)

Four undergraduates at Furman University have begun their summer’s work as Editors for Homeric Papyri, a project of the Center for Hellenic Studies of Harvard University. David Creasy, Kylie Elliott, Talley Latimore, and Brett Stonecipher have begun preparing a new edition of the Bankes Papyrus (B.M. Papyrus cxiv). This document, a seven-foot-long fragment from the 2nd Century C.E., contains the majority of Book 24 of the Iliad.

A description of this document in an article by E. Maunde Thompson in the 1887 issue of The Classical Review (vol. 2, p. 39) describes it thus:
This papyrus is in one piece, measuring upwards of seven feet, and containing sixteen columns of writing. It was bought by Mr. W. J. Bankes at Elephantine, in 1821, and passed into possession of the British Museum in 1879. The text is book xxiv of the Iliad, wanting the first 126 lines; well known by the collation published by George Cornewall Lewis in the Cambridge Philological Museum, in 1832. This is one of the few surviving MSS. which contain stichometrical notes, every hundred lines being numbered in the margin. From its first discovery the Bankes Homer has taken high rank as a most ancient MS., and has been quoted with veneration in palaeographical and other works. In the Museum Catalogue, however, it is assigned to the second century of our era. This later date will probably prove in the end to be much nearer the mark than the more remote century before Christ in which it has been placed. The writing is round uncials and miuch more nearly resembles the book-hand of the early Biblical Codices of the fourth and fifth centuries than the writing of the Ptolemaic period.
This papyrus figures largely in the chapter by Gregory Nagy, in C. Dué’s edited volume on the Venetus A: Recapturing a Homeric Legacy: Images and Insights from the Venetus A Manuscript of the Iliad. Center for Hellenic Studies, 2009 (link to PDF).

These students will produce two XML editions of this text. The first will present the Greek “normalized”, with conventional diacritical marks. The second will be a “diplomatic edition”, preserving only those diacritical marks that appear on the papyrus. These marks are unique among early witnesses to the contents of the Iliad, providing clues to how ancient readers experienced and understood the text.

These XML editions will be available through the project’s Canonical Text Service.

Brett, Talley, Kylie, and David will be joined in June by other collaborators, who will work on texts and images of Homeric and Biblical manuscripts.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Representing scholia in a digital edition

As we start the process of creating digital editions of the scholia in the Iliad manuscripts, one of our goals is to represent what is on the page as faithfully as possible, so that readers using the digital editions will know exactly what is there and what is not. But we also want to the Greek to be not unduly difficult to read. So one editorial decision we have made is to render the punctuation and accentuation exactly as we read it on the folio page. We have noticed that when a conjunction makes it clear that a new clause or sentence is beginning (say, a δέ clause after a μέν clause), punctuation is often absent.

While I (Mary Ebbott) was reviewing yesterday with my colleagues Casey Dué and Neel Smith some of the scholia from Iliad 3 in the Venetus A (folio 42 recto) that one of our undergraduate researchers, Melissa Browne, had edited, I noticed that although punctuation was missing in these types of cases, in some places (like the two images below) the scribe had left what looks like extra space between these clauses, perhaps to aid readability. So then we were faced with the editorial question of whether we should try to represent that extra space, and if so, how. That might seems like a silly question, but it is the kind of question that crops up time and again in making a digital edition from a handwritten document. After some discussion, and considering that the determination of "extra" space might be a very subjective one, we decided that we should simply leave the digital edition without punctuation and with no indication of that space.

(The images below are linked to full-resolution zoomable images for closer viewing. Thanks to Neel for creating these!)
Example 1: Note the space between ὡς καλλίμαχος and οἱ δὲ βαρυτόνως.

Example 2: Spacing between ἢ περισπᾶται ἢ βαρύνεται and πάντες δὲ οξύνονται