Thursday, June 13, 2013

Wake up! A return to Iliad 10 and the poetics of the night

At the end of this month our third annual Homer Multitext undergraduate summer seminar will take place at the Center for Hellenic Studies. This year it just so happens that we will be working on book 10 of the Iliad, otherwise known as the Doloneia. This coincidence of timing in our workflow will allow Mary Ebbott and me to revisit a book to which we have a devoted a great deal of thought, resulting in our 2010 book, Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush (available for purchase here and published on-line here). As I reacquaint myself with what we have published about this particularly controversial book of the Iliad, it occurs to me that is worth stating that even though the inclusion of this book in our Iliad has been contested since ancient times, the book received no less attention from ancient commentators than any other book of the Iliad, and likewise numerous very ancient texts of the book survive (in fragmentary form) on papyrus. As a result, book 10 is just a fertile a book for exploring the multiformity of the Homeric tradition as any other. Indeed, Mary and I chose to use Iliad 10 as a starting point for exploring the poetics of oral poetry precisely because its multiformity illustrates so well how oral poetry works. We felt that the book's contested status (in fact the entire book is bracketed as an interpolation in Martin West's 1998 edition of the Iliad) gave us a wonderful opportunity to question why scholars have perceived the book to be unusual since ancient times, and to demonstrate what unites the language and poetry of Iliad 10 with other surviving archaic epic poetry, including the rest of the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Epic Cycle.

A small example serves as a good reminder of why a multitextual approach to editing and publishing the Iliad is superior to more traditional forms of textual criticism. At Iliad 10.159, the tenth-century Venetus A manuscript of the Iliad reads:

ὄρσεο Τυδέος υἱέ· τί πάννυχον ὕπνον ἀωτεῖς;

"Wake up, son of Tydeus. Why do you slumber the whole night through?"

The other surviving manuscripts are in fact divided, however, between this reading (ὄρσεο) and ἔγρεο (which also means something like 'wake up' or 'rouse yourself'). Some of our oldest manuscripts, including the Venetus B (and those in that family), the Townley, and Escorial Ω.1.12, as well as a fourth-century CE papyrus (481) read ἔγρεο, while the vast majority of other manuscripts read ὄρσεο. The scholia, moreover, indicate that Aristarchus, the premier editor of Homer in Ptolemaic Alexandria, knew both readings. In the intermarginal scholia of the Venetus A (which seem to derive from a very ancient source) we find this note:

διχῶς ὁ Ἀρίσταρχος, ἔγρεο καὶ ὄρσεο

The eleventh-century manuscript known as T likewise records that Aristarchus know both:

γράφεται καὶ ὄρσεο. διχῶς αἱ Ἀριστάρχου

As we note here in our published commentary, this is possible because two separate editions or ekdoseis of the text of Homer were attributed in antiquity to Aristarchus (= αἱ Ἀριστάρχου in the scholia), both of which were known to his student Didymus. From Didymus’ scholarly work many of the scholia derive. Rather than choose between these equally attested readings, the Venetus A itself takes a multitext approach by noting, right next to the line in question, that multiple ancient readings are known for this verse.

Moreover, if we look at these two readings from the perspective of the system of composition-in-performance that generated them, we find that both verbs are well attested in the formulaic diction. ἔγρεο occurs here and in two places in the Odyssey; ὄρσεο is attested four times in the Iliad and once in the Odyssey. Clearly, both verbs could be generated by a poet composing in performance. Here is a perfect illustration of the difficulty a modern editor of Homer faces when trying to choose between two or more equally Homeric (= formulaic) variations. When we convene in Washington, DC on the 24th, we hope to wake the students up to the advantages of exploring the history of the Iliad from a multitextual perspective, in which both readings can be understood and appreciated as witnesses to the workings of formulaic diction and in which one need not be chose at the expense of the other.

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