Thursday, March 8, 2012

Homeric Questions

In a recent post, Stephanie Lindeborg explores certain red markings in the margins of the first few folios of the Venetus A manuscript of the Iliad. She discovers that they are in fact abbreviations. The first of these that she explores looks like ερώ άπ and seems to be an abbreviation for ἐρώτησις ἀπόκρισις ("question" and "answer," so Dindorf). Stephanie surmises that the very first scholion in this manuscript in fact comes from the Ὁμήρικα ζητήματα, Homērika Zētēmata, or in its more commonly given Latin translation, Quaestiones Homericae of the third-century CE scholar and philosopher Porphyry.

The Ὁμήρικα ζητήματα exists only in a fragmentary state; the first book survives in a single manuscript, written in 1314 and now in the Vatican Library (Vaticanus Graecus 305), and the rest of what we know of its contents comes from close reading of various scholia on Homeric manuscripts, scholia which are presumed to have been excerpted from Porphyry. (In Escorialensis Ω.I.12 [E4], such excerpts are often explicitly labeled as such, though not always.) Porphyry’s work is an example of the late-antique genre of Ζήτηματα, which is generally translated “Questions,” consisting of inquiries into various topics with (often) varying and debatable answers. Ancient works on ζήτηματα covered ethical, legal, and historical topics, and Porphyry’s work on Homer is one of the few examples of literary “Questions.” The scholiastic material that comes from this work is valuable for a number of reasons, although its value has not always been appreciated. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars have dismissed Porphyry as telling us little about Homeric poetry itself, but much about the literary “parlor games” played by intelligent aristocrats in antiquity. But these scholia preserve some observations on Homeric poetry made by Aristotle and Plato, which in turn can tell us about the particular vocabulary those ancient thinkers used when they discussed epic poetry, and thus much about the ancient experience of listening to this poetry. (See the chapter by Blackwell and Dué in Recapturing a Homeric Legacy.)

In her post, Stephanie speculates about why the scribe of the Venetus A chose to explicitly mark the "Homeric Questions" on the first few folios of A, but did not do so throughout. I recently discovered, with help from my fellow editors Mary Ebbott and Neel Smith, that the scribe of E4 has likewise marked the initial "Homeric Questions" of that manuscript with a special sign.

On folio 3v of E4, we find a hypothesis for the whole Iliad, followed by a hypothesis for book 1. After this comes a set of scholia with red lemmata on the first few lines of the poem. This combination of hypotheses and scholia with lemmata resembles what we find elsewhere in E4. Each book of the Iliad in E4 begins on the recto side of a folio. On the adjacent verso side, the scribe writes usually two hypotheses, and, in the same text block, scholia with red lemmata. These scholia with lemmata will fill the remainder of the text block, and the amount of scholia seems to be determined solely by how much space is left in the block after the hypotheses have been written. A different set of scholia is then written in the available space in the margins all around. (These scholia do not, for the most part, have lemmata, and when they do, they are not red.) Here on 3v the scribe has followed this same pattern, but while studying the folio I noticed a sign that I initially did not recognize from the other folios. This sign looks like a capital upsilon above a lambda with a slash, and we find it in four places in the text block, each time after one of the read lemmata.

The sign does not follow every single lemma, however, so my fellow editors and I immediately wondered what the notes that do have the sign have in common. Here is how each note begins:

1. ζητοῦσι, διὰ τί ἀπὸ τῆς μήνιδος ἤρξατο...

2. διὰ τί εὐθὺς ἀπὸ τῶν τελευταίων τοῦ πολέμου ἤρξατο...

3. διὰ τί ὁ Χρύσης οὐ κατ‘Ἀγαμέμνονος  ηὔχετο τοῦ ὑβρίσαντος αὐτὸν ἀλλὰ κατὰ πάντων τῶν ἑλλήνων;

4. διὰ τί δὲ ἀπὸ τῶν κυνῶν, καὶ τῶν ἡμιόνων, ὁ λοιμὸς ἤρξατο, οὐκ ἀπὸ τῶν Ἑλλήνων δὲ, οὐδὲ ἀπ' ἄλλου τινὸς ζώου;

Each of these notes is in fact a question, which is followed by the sign and then the answer to that question. So for example question 1 asks why the poet began with the word "wrath," which is such an "ill-famed" word. We then find the sign, followed by the answer: "For two reasons. First, because..." This question and answer combination is in fact the same one that begins the scholia in the Venetus A, the very passage that Stephanie just described in her post.

The sign in E4 must be, as we have already seen in A, an abbreviation, but instead of ἀπόκρισις it must be λύσις, which is the word used in the scholia and elsewhere for a "solution" to a Homeric Question.Therefore what we see in E4 is similar to what Stephanie describes for A, a set of "Homeric Questions" and answers within the body of scholia that have been marked explicitly as such. Once I understood what I was seeing on folio 3v, I realized that we find this sign/abbreviation elsewhere in E4, including, for example, on folio 27r, where we find not only two signs for in λύσις in crimson ink, but also two examples of a crimson ἀπό alongside the accompanying Questions. The ἀπό is no doubt an abbreviation for ἀπόρημα, another common way (in addition to ζήτημα) of referring to problems of Homeric interpretation in antiquity.

Because E4 contains so many excerpts from Porphyry, it is only natural to assume that these four questions on folio 3v are derivative of Porphyry's work, but we cannot be certain, because these particular questions do not survive in the the one independent manuscript containing a portion of Porpyry's Ὁμήρικα ζητήματα. These questions may have a different source altogether. As we have seen, the first question in E4 is the very first scholion on the Venetus A (folio 12r), and also survives in the "D" scholia manuscripts, such as the ninth-century manuscript known as Z (Romanus, Bibl. Naz. Centr. Gr. 6 + Matrit. B. N. 4626). As Stephanie notes, another version of this same question and answer survives in the Venetus B, where it is attributed to Zenodotus. The second question in E4 is written in the harp that decorates the top right corner of folio 12r of the Venetus A (adjacent to where question 1 is written.) Question 3 is not in A, but is preserved in the "D" scholia manuscripts. Question 4 can be found written as part of a decorative column on folio 12v of the Venetus A, and is also preserved in the "D" scholia. It is likely that there was a tradition of composing and answering such questions in schools and/or among scholars, and there may have been multiple scholarly works in antiquity devoted to these types of questions. In fact we know that Aristotle composed such a work. (See the introduction to G. Nagy's Homeric Questions [Austin, 1996].)

As always when I think about the similarities between such manuscripts as A and E4 and Z, I begin to try to imagine the ancient exemplars from which the scribes were drawing their material. What was the ultimate source for these questions? Was it a complete manuscript of Porphyry's Ὁμήρικα ζητήματα? Or might the students of Aristotle have made a compilation of his "solutions" (λύσεις) to the ἀπορήματα of his day? Close examination and comparison of multiple manuscripts allows us to see back in time, and speculate about where all of this material came from. And once these manuscripts have been fully transcribed and edited, future scholars may well be able to test such speculations and find concrete answers.