A second look at a possible Mycenaean reflex in Homer: phorēnai

Gregory Nagy, 2015.03.01


The original version of this article, Nagy 1994-1995, “A Mycenaean reflex in Homer: phorēnai” (Nagy 1994-1995), was published in Minos 29-30 (1994-1995) 171-175. The new online version published here, Nagy 2015, is a second edition, and that is why it has a new title: “A second look at a possible Mycenaean reflex in Homer: phorēnai.” Part I replicates the content of the original text, except for corrections. Part II is new.
Although, as I just said, Part I replicates the content of the original printed article, there are two big changes in formatting: (1) the paragraphs are numbered and (2) the footnotes have been reorganized. The original numbering of the footnotes has changed, since most of the bibliographical references have now been integrated into the prose of my argumentation. Also, wherever the remaining footnotes in this online version contain any specific arguments left over from the printed version, I indicate the relevant page- and footnote-numbers.

Part I

§1. This inquiry is about finding survivals of Mycenaean Greek in Homeric diction. I focus on the Homeric infinitive phorēnai (φορῆναι), which I argue belongs to a dialectal group commonly known as Arcado-Cypriote. The form itself is a linguistic innovation, but the innovation is old, very old. I can say this if I succeed in showing that this form φορῆναι is already very old in terms of Homeric diction. And my case would be even stronger if I also succeeded in showing that φορῆναι is attested already in Mycenaean Greek. The evidence of the Linear B texts written in Mycenaean Greek shows a form spelled po-re-na, and this form, in terms of my argument, actually corresponds to the Homeric infinitive phorēnai (φορῆναι).
§2. This infinitive phorēnai (φορῆναι) is attested four times in Homeric poetry (Iliad II 107, VII 149, X 270, Odyssey xvii 224). [1] The internal evidence of the formulaic system underlying Homeric diction shows that the form is old, deeply embedded in that system, and not a newer artificial creation of the Dichtersprache.
§3. In saying what I just said, I am reviving arguments I first presented over forty years ago (Nagy 1972). Arguing against the claim of Ernst Risch (1958:92) that φορῆναι is an artificial creation paired with φορήμεναι (as in XV 310), on the model of the athematic type μιγῆναι (ΙΧ 133, etc.) as paired with μιγήμεναι (VI 161, etc.), Ι pointed out (Nagy 1972:64-65) that no other Homeric verbs with present forms ending in -έω have -ῆναι for infinitive. Instead, we see -ήμεναι, as in καλήμεναι (X 125), πενθήμεναι (xviii 174), ποθήμεναι (xi 110), φιλήμεναι (XXII 265). Also, in the case of athematic aorist pairs like δαμήμεναι vs. δαμῆναι, δαήμεναι vs. δαῆναι, μιγήμεναι vs. μιγῆναι, φανήμεναι vs. φανῆναι, etc., “the type in -ῆναι regularly occurs in the archaic slot of line-final position, or in the secondary conversion-slot immediately preceding the trochaic caesura; the type in -ήμεναι, on the other hand, regularly occurs immediately preceding the bucolic diaeresis” (Nagy 1972:64); further, “the latter slot tends to suit a relatively greater proportion of innovated forms” (again, Nagy 1972:64).
§4. As for the dialect features of phorēnai (φορῆναι), they are clearly Arcado-Cypriote from the standpoint of reconstructing backward in time from the first to the second millennium BCE. We may compare such forms as Arcadian ἀπειθῆναι and Cypriote ku-me-re-na-i = κυμερῆναι (Nagy 1972:63, with reference to Thumb and Scherer 1959:133, 169). The two basic features are:
(1) athematic reshaping of contract-verb in -έω, thus *φόρημι instead of φορέω
(2) infinitive ending in -ναι, thus φορῆναι.
§5. Since the displacement of the type φορέω by the type *φόρημι is a linguistic innovation, the attestation of the form φορῆναι in Homeric poetry can be seen as a most precious criterion for establishing the dialectal affinities of the earliest recoverable dialectal layer of Homeric diction as reconstructed backward in time, from the first to the second millennium BCE. [2] I can say this because we have already seen that φορῆναι, as a linguistic innovation that is exclusive to Arcado-Cypriote, must have become part of Homeric diction at a very early stage in the evolution of that diction. In other words, Homeric φορῆναι has to be explained as belonging to the dialect family of Arcado-Cypriote. [3] And, if I can show that Linear B po-re-na- can really be interpreted as phorēnai (φορῆναι), then we have evidence that the standard dialect of Mycenaean Greek was most closely akin to Arcado-Cypriote.
§6. In the part of their jointly-written book that goes back to the first edition, Michael Ventris and John Chadwick (1956:285) had entertained the possibility that phorēnai (φορῆναι) is attested in the component po-re-na- of the Linear B expression do-ra-qe pe-re po-re-na-qe a-ke in Pylos tablet Tn 316, to be interpreted as dōra-kʷe pherei phorēnai-kʷe agei. [4] We may “translate” thus into classical Greek: δῶρά τε φέρει φορῆναί τε ἄγει. This possibility was rejected by Leonard Palmer (1963:53, 63, 267, especially p. 63), who argued that po-re-na- is a noun and that a-ke is not to be interpreted as ἄγει.
§7. Palmer’s judgment about po-re-na- (but not about a-ke) has in general prevailed. In the “Additional Commentary” of the second edition of the Ventris-Chadwick book (1973:461), Chadwick interprets po-re-na- as an accusative plural designating “the ten persons who are led to the rite.”
§8. My inquiry returns, with modifications, to the possible reading, first mentioned by Ventris and Chadwick, of po-re-na- as phorēnai. A relevant piece of evidence, I suggest, is the syntax of the following Homeric passage:
|509 αὐτὸς δ’ ἐκ δίφροιο χαμαὶ θόρε παμφανόωντος, |510 κλῖνε δ’ ἄρα μάστιγα ποτὶ ζυγόν· οὐδὲ μάτησεν |511 ἴφθιμος Σθένελος, ἀλλ’ ἐσσυμένως λάβ’ ἄεθλον, |512 δῶκε δ’ ἄγειν ἑτάροισιν ὑπερθύμοισι γυναῖκα |513 καὶ τρίποδ’ ὠτώεντα φέρειν· ὃ δ’ ἔλυεν ὑφ’ ἵππους.
|509 He [Diomedes] jumped from the splendid chariot to the ground |510 and leaned his whip against the yoke. Nor was he idle, |511 that powerful Sthenelos [the charioteer of Diomedes]. He quickly took hold of the prize [aethlon] |512 and he gave [dōke] over to the superb companions, for taking away [agein], the woman, |513 and the tripod with a handle [he gave it over to them] for carrying away [pherein]. Then he [Sthenelos] unharnessed the horses.
Iliad XXIII 509-513
§9. The hero Diomedes has just won first prize in a chariot race that is featured as the first athletic contest of the Funeral Games honoring the dead Patroklos. Earlier, at Iliad XXIII 263-265, Achilles had determined that the first prize in this contest would be bipartite: to be given away will be a slave woman (263) and a tripod (264). In the text of the consequent narrative as I have just quoted it, the chariot driven by Diomedes is the first to reach the finish line, and we see the victorious hero jumping down from the platform of the chariot (509) and leaving the task of unharnessing the horse team to his companion Sthenelos (513), a hero who elsewhere functions as the chariot driver of Diomedes whenever the two of them together engage in chariot fighting, as in Iliad V. Here in Iliad XXIII, Sthenelos is left with the task of taking hold of the first prize (511), which is bipartite: there is a slave woman to be taken away, agein (512), and there is a tripod to be carried away, pherein (513). [5]
§10. The collocation of dōke (δῶκε) ‘gave’ plus agein (ἄγειν) ‘to take away’ and pherein (φέρειν) ‘to carry away’ in this Homeric passage is comparable with another collocation that we find in four other Homeric passages. This other collocation involves (1) the same word for ‘give’ (δῶκε / δῶκε / δοίης / δῶκ᾿) and (2) the word phorēnai (φορῆναι), already cited, which is a derivative of pherein ‘carry’ and which likewise means ‘to carry’ - or ‘to wear’. In §2 above, I have already listed the four Homeric attestations of the form phorēnai, but now I will also list the direct objects indicating what is being ‘carried’ - or ‘worn’: a scepter to carry (Iliad II 107), a set of armor to wear (VII 149), a helmet to wear (X 270), and fodder for a herdsman to carry for feeding a herd of goats (Odyssey xvii 224).
§11. Now that I have these Homeric comparanda in place, I am ready to consider the text written in Mycenaean Greek:

The text of PY Tn 316 transcribed

recto: [6]
|r1 po-ro-wi-to-jo |r2+3 pu-ro |r2 i-je-to-qe pa-ki-ja-si do-ra-qe pe-re po-re-na-qe |r3 a-ke po-ti-ni-ja GOLD CUP [type *215] 1 WOMAN 1 |r4 ma-ṇạ-sa GOLD BOWL [type *213] 1 WOMAN 1 po-si-da-e-ja GOLD BOWL [type *213] 1 WOMAN 1 |r5 ti-ri-se-ro-e GOLD CUP [type *216] 1 do-po-ta GOLD CUP [type *215] 1
verso: [7]
|v1+2+3 pu-ro |v1 i-je-to-qe po-si-da-i-jo a-ke-qe wa-tu |v2 do-ra-qe pe-re po-re-na-qe a-ke |v3 GOLD CUP [type *215] 1 WOMAN 2 qo-wi-ja [--] ko-ma-we-te-ja |v4+5+6+7 pu-ro |v4 i-je-to-qe pe-re-*82-jo i-pe-me-de-ja-qe di-u-ja-jo-qe |v5 do-ra-qe pe-re-po-re-na-qe a<-ke> pe-re-*82 GOLD BOWL [type *213] 1 WOMAN 1 |v6 i-pe-me-de-ja GOLD BOWL [type *213] 1 di-u-ja GOLD BOWL [type *213] 1 WOMAN 1 |v7 e-ma-a 2 a-re-ja GOLD CUP [type *216] 1 MAN 1 |v8+9+10+11 pu-ro |v8 i-je-to-qe di-u-jo do-ra-qe pe-re po-re-na-qe a-ḳẹ |v9 di-we GOLD BOWL [type *213] 1 MAN 1 e-ra GOLD BOWL [type *213] 1 WOMAN 1 |v10 di-ri-mi-jo di-wo i-je-we GOLD BOWL [type *213] 1 [ ]
Pylos tablet Tn 316, r(ecto) lines 1-5 and v(erso) lines 1-10

A working translation of the transcribed text

|r1 (In the month of) Plōwistos. |r2+3 Pylos: |r2 and makes-sacrifice [i-je-to-qe] at pa-ki-ja-ne; and carries [pherei] gifts [dōra] and takes-along [agei] |r3 for the carrying [phorēnai] (of the gifts): to the Potnia, GOLD CUP 1 [type *215] WOMAN 1; |r4 to ma-na-sa, GOLD BOWL [type *213] 1 WOMAN 1; to Posidāeia, GOLD BOWL [type *213] 1 WOMAN 1; |r5 to the Tris-hērōs, GOLD CUP [type *216] 1; to the Dospotās, GOLD CUP [type *215] 1.
|v1+2+3 Pylos: |v1 and makes-sacrifice [i-je-to-qe] at the precinct-of-Poseidon [= po-si-da-i-jo]; and the city [wastu] takes-along [agei] (the gifts); |v2 and carries [pherei] gifts [dōra] and takes-along [agei] for the carrying [phorēnai] (of the gifts): |v3 GOLD CUP [type *215] 1 WOMAN 2 qo-wi- ja [--] ko-ma-we-te-ja. |v4+5+6+7 Pylos: |v4 and makes-sacrifice [i-je-to-qe] at the precinct-of-pe-re-*82 [= pe-re-*82-jo] and of i-pe-me-de-ja, and at the precinct-of-Diwya [= di-u-ja-jo]; |v5 and carries [pherei] gifts [dōra] and takes-along [agei] for the carrying [phorēnai] (of the gifts): to pe-re-*82, GOLD BOWL [type *213] 1 WOMAN 1; |v6 to i-pe-me-de-ja, GOLD BOWL [type *213] 1; to Diwya, GOLD BOWL [type *213] 1 WOMAN 1; |v7 to Hermes a-re-ja, GOLD CUP [type *216] 1 MAN 1. |v8+9+10+11 Pylos: |v8 and makes-sacrifice [i-je-to-qe] at the precinct of Zeus [= di-u-jo]; and carries [pherei] gifts [dōra] and takes-along [agei] for the carrying [phorēnai] (of the gifts): |v9 to Zeus, GOLD BOWL [type *213] 1 MAN 1; to Hera, GOLD BOWL [type *213] 1 WOMAN 1; |v10 to Drimios the son of Zeus, GOLD BOWL [type *213] 1 [ ].
Pylos tablet Tn 316, r(ecto) lines 1-5 and v(erso) lines 1-10
§12. Focusing on the expression do-ra-qe pe-re po-re-na-qe a-ke, at lines r2-r3 of the recto and at lines v2, v5, and v8 of the verso, I highlight the following formal correspondences with the Homeric passage that I already quoted:
- The form do-ra, to be read as the noun dōra in the accusative plural, corresponds to Homeric dōra (δῶρα).
- The form pe-re, to be read as the verb pherei in the third-person singular, corresponds to Homeric pherei (φέρει).
- The form a-ke, to be read as the verb agei in the third-person singular, corresponds to Homeric agei (ἄγει).
- The form po-re-na-, if it could be read as the infinitive phorēnai, would correspond to Homeric phorēnai (φορῆναι).
§13. Of these four correspondences, the first three are straightforward. Only the fourth one involves uncertainties and calls for debate.

Part II

§14. That said, I focus here on my reading of do-ra-qe pe-re po-re-na-qe a-ke at lines 2-3 of one side and at reverse lines 2, 5, and 8 of the other side of the tablet Tn 316. I read dōra-kʷe pherei phorēnai-kʷe agei, the equivalent of which in classical Greek would be δῶρά τε φέρει φορῆναί τε ἄγει. I translate ‘carries [pherei] gifts [dōra] and takes-along [agei] for the carrying [phorēnai] (of the gifts) …’. In terms of this reading, the subject of the verbs pherei ‘carries’ and agei ‘takes-along’ here is impersonal, in line the prescriptiveness of the ritual instructions. Similarly, I read i-je-to as a prescriptive impersonal statement, translating it as ‘makes sacrifice’. [8]
§15. Although the verbs pherei (pe-re) ‘carries’ and agei (a-ke) ‘takes along’ and hietoi (i-je-to) ‘makes sacrifice’ are all impersonal, deprived of a personal subject, they all nevertheless share what I call an impersonal subject. The verb i-je-to at lines r2 and v1 and v4 and v8 is correlated with the place-name pu-ro that we read at lines r2+3 and v1+2+3 and v4+5+6+7 and v8+9+10+11. This is the name for the city of Pylos, pu-ro, which would be Pulos in the nominative case. As García-Ramón observes, a nominative Pulos at lines r2+3 and v1+2+3 and v4+5+6+7 and v8+9+10+11 could in theory function as the subject of the verb i-je-to at lines r2 and v1 and v4 and v8. [9] And here is where I apply the idea of an impersonal subject.
§16. In support of this idea, I note that the formatting of the word pu-ro as a headline, as it were, at lines r2+3 and v1+2+3 and v4+5+6+7 and v8+9+10+11, written in larger characters than the rest of the text, could indicate that it functions as the subject not only for i-je-to but also for do-ra-qe pe-re po-re-na-qe a-ke at lines r2+3 and v2 and v5 and v8. As we will see in a moment, an essential piece of evidence in favor of this syntactical interpretation is the expression a-ke-qe wa-tu at line v1.
§17. The ritual procedure of taking gifts to divinities is well known from the evidence of fifth-century Greek: an ideal example is ἄγειν … δῶρα ἐς τὰ ἱρά ‘to take [agein] gifts [dōra] to the sacred precincts [hiera]’ in Herodotus 1.53.1. In the text of the Pylos tablet, however, we see that the ritual of agein or ‘taking’ the offerings to a sacred precinct is subdivided into ‘carrying’ objects, as expressed by way of pherein, and ‘taking’ persons, as expressed by agein. We see a comparable subdivision in the Homeric passage that I cited, Iliad XXIII 512-513, where the prize that is given as a gift consists of a tripod for the recipient ‘to carry away’, pherein (513), plus a slave woman for the recipient ‘to take away’, agein (512).
§18. The fact that the recipients of the gifts are divinities in the text of the Pylos tablet helps us understand the status of the persons who are being taken to these divinities. In this text, the gift of a votive object or objects is optionally supplemented by the gift of a votive person or persons. And this person or these persons must be votive gifts just as the corresponding objects are votive gifts. So, in terms of my interpretation, these persons are slaves who can be given away as consecrated property, just as the objects are being given away as consecrated property. In the case of the persons who are being given as consecrated gifts, the consecration itself is indicated by the fact that the gender of the persons given consistently matches the gender of the divine recipients.
§19. Still to be explained is the expression a-ke-qe wa-tu at line v1 of Pylos tablet Tn 316, which I have translated ‘and the city [wastu] takes-along [agei] (the gifts)’. This way of referring to the idea of offering gifts would be the least specific way of expressing such an idea. In other words, agei ‘takes-along’ would be an unmarked way of referring to the act of offering gifts; by contrast, pherei ‘carries’ would be the marked way. [10] In the prescriptive formula a-ke-qe wa-tu, I argue, wastu ‘city’ functions as a common noun in apposition to the proper noun Pulos ‘Pylos’. In terms of my argument, wastu ‘the city’ is an impersonal subject of agei ‘takes along (the gifts)’, just as Pulos is the subject of hietoi ‘makes sacrifice’. And the use of the noun wastu (wa-tu) ‘city’ as the impersonal subject of the verb agei ‘takes along’ here at line v1 is parallel to the juridical use of dāmos (da-mo) ‘district’ as the impersonal subject of the verb phāsi ‘says’ at line 5 of the Pylos tablet Ep 704.
§20. Although I have replicated in Part I most of my argumentation in the original printed version of my work in Nagy 1994-1995, I have left out, until now, what I said in footnote 10 on the printed page 173 there. In that footnote, I attempted to counter some possible objections to my argumentation about po-re-na-. Here I repeat my wording:
We need to reckon, however, with the form po-re-si in the Theban tablet Of 26. For the text, see Spyropoulos and Chadwick (1975:99). This form may be unrelated to po-re-na-. If it were related, however, I would raise the possibility, albeit remote, that it stands for *phórensi, third person plural of *phórēmi. Such an interpretation of po-re-si in the Theban tablet Of 26 as *phórensi ‘they carry’ might help explain the collocation with do-de, occurring at lines 2 and 3, which Chadwick (1975:104; see also his p. 88) interprets as ‘to the house of’. There remain major obstacles, though. For one thing, the word po-re-si occurs immediately before the entry ku WOOL 1, and we may expect a dative. Chadwick (1975:105) interprets po-re-si as a dative plural meaning ‘victims’. Still, I would point out that the expression do-de, which is not a dative either, precedes ku WOOL at both lines 2 and 3. As for the attestation of Linear B po-re-no-zo-te-ri-ja (Pylos Un 443), I suggest that the element po-re-no- may also be unrelated to po-re-na-.
§21. The wording that I have just quoted here in §20 leaves room for further disagreement. In fact, this wording anticipates some important points made by Thomas G. Palaima in an article printed in Minos 1996-1997. In that article, Palaima disagrees both with my interpretation of po-re-na- and with that of Andreas Willi, who likewise reads po-re-na- as phorēnai in an article published back-to-back with my article (Willi 1994-1995). Before publishing my article, I had already consulted Tom Palaima about po-re-na-, and so I knew about our mutual disagreement. [11] Actually, in the paragraph I have just quoted, I was attempting to address some of his counterarguments as I had understood them. But now that I have read the printed version of these counterarguments, I see that I need to rethink further my own argumentation. And there is a serious need for me to do so, since, as we can see from remarks offered in passing by some linguists (such as Haug 2002:45n11), the counterarguments of Palaima have supposedly invalidated the arguments presented by myself and by Willi.
§22. While I have the greatest respect and admiration for the analysis done by Palaima 1996-1997 (also 1999) on Tn 316, I think that the case is not yet closed concerning the interpretation of do-ra-qe pe-re po-re-na-qe a-ke, and that is why I continue the debate here.
§23. For now, however, I offer only one of my many reasons for believing that the debate does need to be continued. I concentrate here on my skepticism concerning the idea, which goes all the way back to Chadwick, that po-re-na is the accusative plural of a third-declension noun that would look like *phorēn in the nominative singular, supposedly meaning something like ‘sacrificial victim’. The idea of such a noun *phorēn, which is considered by Palaima (1996-1997; also 1999:454-455), would require us to accept as a reality a form that has no viable morphological parallel throughout the history of the Greek language in all its attested phases.
§24. With regard to the Theban tablet Of 26, where we see the form po-re-si juxtaposed with the ideogram for WOOL, Palaima reads this form as a dative plural indicating that the hypothetical *phorēnes are “recipients” of wool. He cites in this connection the compound formant po-re-no-zo-te-ri-ja WOOL 3 at Un 443.2, suggesting that -zo-te-ri-ja may be interpreted as zōstēria, having to do with ritualized girding. Then he cites po-re-no-tu-te[-ri-ja] at Un 1413, suggesting that the restored -tu-te[-ri-ja] may be interpreted as thutēria, which could mean ‘sacrificial victims’, as in Euripides (Iphigeneia in Tauris 243: θυτήριον). But the problem is, the morphology of po-re-no- remains to be justified.
§25. Before closing for now, I return one last time to the text of footnote 10 on page 173 in Nagy 1994-1995, as quoted in this online version at §20 above. Granted, I would now say things differently in the light of the counterarguments of Palaima 1996-1997. But I stand by my serious reservations about the morphological validity of positing the existence of a noun shaped *phorēn.


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[ back ] 1. Here and hereafter, I indicate “books” of the Iliad/Odyssey with upper-/lower-case roman numerals.
[ back ] 2. My use of the word “layer” here in the printed version of this article (p. 172) was certainly not meant to imply that I rule out the possible coexistence of earlier and later dialectal phases in the evolution of the Dichtersprache. On this point, I can now refer to Nagy 2011.
[ back ] 3. In the printed version of this article, Nagy 1994-1995:172n6, I noted that there is no need to assume that such an innovation could take place only after the contraction of vowels, e.g. *φορη as a new stem derived from *φορεε. See Ruijgh 1995:56n200.
[ back ] 4. In the printed version of this article, Nagy 1994-1995:172, I had said that Ventris and Chadwick “suggested” this possibility. My wording there needs to be corrected, since Ventris and Chadwick had merely entertained the possibility. Hence my rewording in this online version.
[ back ] 5. This whole paragraph, §9, is new to the online version. It provides contextual background for Iliad XXIII 509-513, my translation of which has been slightly revised. In my online version of the translation, I correct a careless mistake that I had made in the printed version, Nagy 1994-1995:173, where I rendered the line about the unharnessing of the horses as if that action had been performed by Diomedes instead of Sthenelos.
[ back ] 6. The heading pu-ro is written in larger characters for recto lines 2+3 and 5.
[ back ] 7. The heading pu-ro is written in larger characters for verso lines 1+2+3 and 4+5+6+7 and 8+9+10+.
[ back ] 8. I am persuaded by the analysis of García-Ramón 1996:262, who connects híetoi (i-je-to) with the adjective hierós ‘sacred’. In Nagy 1994-1995:175, I had entertained the possibility that i-je-to may be interpreted as impersonal (prescriptive) híetoi ‘a procession takes place’. In terms of this reading, híetoi would correspond to classical Greek ἵημι ‘send’, and the meaning would be comparable to that of πέμπω ‘send’ in the special sense of ‘arrange a procession’.
[ back ] 9. García-Ramón 1996:267-268.
[ back ] 10. I use here the terms marked and unmarked along the lines formulated by Jakobson (especially 1957); details in Nagy 1990 Introduction §§12-16.
[ back ] 11. In Nagy 1994-1995:173n11, I wrote: “I am grateful to Thomas G. Palaima and to Andreas Willi for their advice. What mistakes remain are clearly mine.” See also Palaima 1996-1997:304n5, who helpfully dates our friendly dialogue (via e-mail) about the Pylos tablet Tn 316 to January and February 1996.