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