Introduction. Homeric Responses

Four Questions

Question 1: About synchronic and diachronic perspectives

The terms “synchronic” and “diachronic” stem from a distinction established by a pioneer in the field of linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure. [1] For Saussure, synchrony and diachrony designate respectively a current state of a language and a phase in its evolution. [2] I draw attention to Saussure’s linking of “diachrony” and “evolution,” a link that proves to be crucial for understanding the medium that is central to this book, Homeric poetry. [3]
Here I propose to add two restrictions to my use of “synchronic” and “diachronic.” First, I apply these terms consistently from the standpoint of an outsider who is thinking about a given system, not from the standpoint of an insider who is thinking within that system. [4] Second, I use “diachronic” and “synchronic” not as synonyms for “historical” and “current,” respectively. Diachrony refers to the potential for evolution in a structure. History is not restricted to phenomena that are structurally predictable. [5] {1|2}

Question 2: About the evolutionary model

In terms of an evolutionary model, there were at least five distinct consecutive periods of Homeric oral / written transmission – “Five Ages of Homer,” as it were – with each period showing progressively less fluidity and more rigidity: [7]
  1. A relatively most fluid period, with no written texts, extending from the early second millennium BCE into the middle of the eighth century;
  2. A more formative or “pan-Hellenic” period, still with no written texts, from the middle of the eighth century BCE to the middle of the sixth; [8]
  3. A definitive period, centralized in Athens, with potential texts in the sense of transcripts, at any or several points from the middle of the sixth century BCE to the later part of the fourth; this period starts with the reform of Homeric performance traditions in Athens during the regime of the Peisistratidai; [9]
  4. A standardizing period, with texts in the sense of transcripts or even scripts, from the later part of the fourth century to the middle of the second; this period starts with the reform of Homeric performance traditions in Athens during the regime of Demetrius of Phalerum, which lasted from 317 to 307 BCE; [10] {2|3}
  5. The relatively most rigid period, with texts as scripture, from the middle of the second century onward; this period starts with the completion of Aristarchus’s editorial work on the Homeric texts, not long after 150 BCE or so, which is a date that also marks the general disappearance of the so-called eccentric papyri. [11]
The point of reference in setting up a scheme of five periods of Homeric transmission is the dimension of performance, not of text. Keeping in mind this dimension, I have developed special working definitions for the otherwise purely textual terms “transcript,” “script,” and “scripture,” as assigned to the third, fourth, and fifth periods respectively. [12] By transcript I mean the broadest possible category of written text: a transcript can be a record of performance, even an aid for performance, but not the equivalent of performance. [13] We must distinguish a transcript from an inscription, which can traditionally refer to itself in the archaic period as just that, an equivalent of performance. [14] As for script, I mean a narrower category, where the written text is a prerequisite for performance. [15] By scripture I mean the narrowest category of them all, where the written text need not even presuppose performance. [16]
A further distinction must be made between transcript and script. A transcript merely records a given performance and has no direct bearing on the traditions of performance. A script, on the other hand, controls the performance, making it uniform and keeping it from becoming multiform.
The distinction I have just made leaves room for the historical possibility of multiform “transcripts” stemming from multiple recurring performances of Homeric poetry. In other projects, I have explored this possibility in some depth, concentrating on allusions made by Plato to the performances of Homeric poetry by rhapsōidoi ‘rhapsodes’ at the Athenian festival of the Panathenaia. [17] {3|4}

Question 3: About dictation models

No theory about Homeric dictation can be called a “keystone in the Parry-Lord model.” Even the most persuasive of all the dictation theories, the original formulation of Albert Lord himself, was not a “keystone” of his model of oral traditional composition. Rather, it was more of a parergon. [22] As for Milman Parry, he never formulated a dictation theory. [23]
My own evolutionary model for the making of Homeric poetry, is not at odds with dictation models per se. [24] I need to stress that I oppose not the idea of dictation but the application of this idea to various models posited by various scholars. In principle, my own model explicitly allows for a variety of historical contexts in which dictation could indeed have taken place, resulting in “a transcript, or a variety of transcripts, at various possible stages of the performance tradition of Homer.” [25]
Since Lord rigorously avoided any speculation about any unique occasion for Homeric dictation, I do not disagree with his model. On the other hand I do indeed disagree, in varying degrees, with others who posit various mutually irreconcilable dictation models. [26] My disagreement with one such {4|5} model in particular, that of Janko, will be elaborated in Chapter 3. [27] For the moment, however, I confine myself to addressing a central assumption underlying another of these models. [28]
Here is the formulation of this assumption: “The monumental labor and expense required to record the Iliad and Odyssey ensure for most Homerists that the poems were recorded a single time, that there was an original text. What is the problem with such an assumption?” [29] The problem is this: as soon as dictation takes place, in terms of such an assumption, Homeric poetry becomes an Ur-text, and it can only be disseminated as a text. [30]
In terms of such an assumption, any performance of the Homeric poems, once they were dictated, was merely a matter of memorizing the dictated text. Such a model was rejected by Lord in formulating his own dictation theory. [31] Here are Lord’s own words: “The singer has no need of a mnemonic device in a manner of singing that was designed to fill his needs without such written aids. A mnemonic device implies a fixed text to be memorized, a concept unknown to the oral poet.” [32] Lord adds: “A written text would be useful to the reciter or rhapsode of a later period who is no longer an oral poet, but simply a mouthpiece.” [33]
It is clear, then, that Lord associates the idea of a fixed text only with rhapsodes “of a later period.” In terms of my evolutionary model, such a stage of evolution can be located at period 4 in my posited five-period scheme, which I date from the end of the fourth to the middle of the second century BCE. [34]
By contrast, according to the dictation model that we are now considering, a fixed text for performances of Homeric poetry must go all the way back to 800 BCE or thereabouts. With this early dating of Homer, it becomes easier for this dictation theory to detach Homeric poetry from the rest of Greek literature: “Aristocrats, who learned how to decipher texts that began as oral poetry, discovered how to create, in writing, new forms of poetry, lyric {5|6} and choral song (how do you train a chorus without a written text?); Sappho and Euripides composed for reperformance from a written prompt in just this way.” [35]
To assume that “new” forms of poetry like lyric and choral song were “discovered” through the technology of writing is to ignore the history and pre-history of ancient Greek song culture. [36] Albert Lord’s model of composition-in-performance applies not only to epic but also to lyric traditions. [37]
A related assumption is this: “an oral poem ceases to be an oral poem when it becomes a text.” [38] I disagree. Turning an “oral poem” into a text does not by itself stop the oral tradition that created the “oral poem.” [39] The oral traditions of composition-in-performance can be independent of a writing technology that turns compositions into texts. [40] This fundamental insight is evident throughout Albert Lord’s last book, The Singer Resumes the Tale. [41] It is supported by a wealth of comparative evidence drawn from a variety of historical contexts. [42]
Further, in the case of a complex performative form like Attic tragedy, the written text of the composition can indeed serve as a script for performances, but those performances are rooted in earlier traditions of composition-in-performance. To repeat, my evolutionary model does not rule out the concept of “script” in performative traditions, especially after the middle of the sixth century BCE. [43]
The concept of “script” does not depend, however, on the assumption that there is “an essential difference between the singer who composed in performance (the aoidos) and the reciter (the rhapsōidos), who memorized a written text for public reperformance.” [44] There is no evidence for making such a sharp distinction, at any given historical moment, between aoidos and rhapsōidos. It would be more realistic to say that these two words represent relatively earlier and later stages in the prehistory and history of performance {6|7} traditions. Only to that extent is it possible to make distinctions in form and function, over time, between aoidos ‘singer’ and rhapsōidos ‘rhapsode’. [45]
The reconstruction of these distinctions is a far cry, however, from a blanket assumption of an “essential difference” between aoidos and rhapsōidos. There are points of convergence as well as divergence between the two words, and my evolutionary model posits a historical continuum linking one to the other.
To think of the rhapsōidos merely as the “reciter” of the Homeric text, as if the portrayal of a figure like Ion in Plato’s Ion could serve to define the meaning of rhapsōidos throughout time, is to lose historical perspective. It is to ignore evidence for changes in the form and the function of the rhapsode in the course of historical time. [46] The history of Homeric rhapsodes needs to be correlated with the history of Homeric performance itself as a progressive movement from fluidity to rigidity in an ongoing historical process of re-composition-in-performance. [47]
Before I leave this question, I need to correct the claim that I reject “the Parry-Lord model.” [48] For the record, nowhere in my publications do I write that I oppose Lord’s theory, and I object to being portrayed as his opponent. [49] Since most of my scholarly life has been connected with Albert Lord, from my first year as a graduate student in 1962 all the way till the time of Lord’s death in 1991, it is with the utmost seriousness that I view the importance of setting the record straight. I appeal for a correction, sub specie aeternitatis. [50]

Question 4: About cross-references in Homer

Both arguments run into controversies. Some would assume that the very existence of cross-references in Homeric poetry justifies our thinking of this poetry as a product of textualization – or let us call it Verschriftlichung. [52] In other words, some would assume that cross-referencing is a cognitive process that depends on or even stems from the technology of writing. In terms of my twofold thesis, this assumption is unjustified.
In general, I contend that such thinking is symptomatic of a widespread semantic trend in current everyday usage: when we say that Shakespeare “wrote” Hamlet or that Mozart “wrote” The Magic Flute, we slip into the mental habit of equating the mechanical process of writing with the mental process of composing. [53] The pervasive metaphor of substituting the concept of writing for the concept of composing stems from a built-in metonymy: We tend to connect the whole process of composition with what we ordinarily assume to be an essential part of that process – the part that involves writing. In classical Greek usage, by contrast, the metaphor of writing as composing is not nearly as pervasive: in the usage of Aristotle, for example, Homer is said to ‘make’ poetry, poiein, not ‘write’ it, graphein. [54]
My twofold thesis is linked to my evolutionary model for the making of Homeric poetry. Such a model can be applied to the major question at hand, that is, how is cross-referencing possible within an oral medium?
In earlier work, I offered the following formulation about cross-references in the earliest attested stages of Greek poetry: “When we are dealing with the traditional poetry of the Homeric (and Hesiodic) compositions, it is not justifiable to claim that a passage in any text can refer to another passage in another text.” [55] I have added italics here to emphasize the inapplicability of {8|9} the word “text.” [56] Granted, Homeric poetry must have eventually reached a point of textual fixation. Still, I apply this notion of textual fixation to oral traditions with an emphasis on gradual patterns of fixity in an ongoing process of recomposition in diffusion, and without presupposing that the actual composition of the “text” required the medium of writing. [57] My point is that cross-referencing does not presuppose a written text. In other words, I suggest that the notion of “cross-reference” is indeed workable in the study of oral poetics, provided we understand that any references to other traditions in any given composition / performance would have to be diachronic in nature. [58]
I draw attention to the use of the term “tradition” instead of “passage” in this formulation, revealing an intent to transcend the literal meaning of “textuality.” By contrast, Pietro Pucci explicitly privileges the word “text,” to such an extent that he even invokes the term “intertextuality” in the subtitle of a book on Homeric poetry. [59] Norman Austin, in a somewhat strained one-on-one contrast, has juxtaposed Pucci’s approach with my own:
For Pucci Homer is, beyond all considerations of oral composition, a text, or two texts (at least) reading and reflecting each other. For Nagy Homer is all tradition, and even to speak of the text is anachronism. The two scholars would seem diametrically opposed yet they have more in common than appears at first sight. Pucci’s “text” is much more fluid than the text we associate with the written word, and Nagy’s “tradition” is so conservative as to be itself a text, though a text without an author. Or rather, tradition itself is the author: Nagy refers to the Homeric poems as “the culmination of perhaps a thousand years of performer-audience interaction.” [60] Pucci would seem more sympathetic to the idea of an individual author yet, given his concept of the fluidity of the texts reading each other, it would be difficult to {9|10} locate any one moment when the individual poet, Homer himself, emerged from the collective tradition. [61]
I disagree with many aspects of this formulation, though I find it useful for pursuing the topic at hand. I disagree especially with the presuppositions at the end of the statement, as italicized. For similar reasons, I disagree even more with this statement by J. S. Clay:
I am not convinced that the Tradition, with a capital “T,” can bear the heavy burden Nagy assigns to it. In and of itself, the appeal to Tradition smacks a little of questionable Romantic notions. While it may be able to expand or compress, modify or recombine older material, and even introduce novel motifs and conceptions, can the Tradition make cross-references where the precise context of the allusion carries the point? Or, finally, can the Tradition make jokes? Nagy himself speaks rather uncomfortably of the self-consciousness and self-reflectiveness of the Tradition. [62] But do such practices not require the existence of a closed tradition, one that has become fixed into a text? [63]
Clay follows up with this description of my method:
But Nagy’s general approach solves – or at least circumvents – a very sticky problem in Homeric studies. It permits us to accept all the apparent allusions and cross-references between the Homeric Epics without, however, demanding our acceptance of literal cross-references between fixed texts. In other words, an apparent allusion in the Odyssey to an incident in the Iliad need not mean an allusion to the Iliad as we have it, but rather to that repertory of traditional motifs incorporated into our Iliad. In short, we can remain good Parryists and still allow ourselves to interpret the Homeric texts. [64] {10|11}
What is missing in this description of my method is the most essential aspect: I insist on the need to find a poetic rationale, a teleology of meaning, in the process of cross-referring over time. In other words, there is a poetic system involved in the very act of Homeric cross-reference.
Further, I call into question the assumption that a “closed tradition” is to be equated automatically with “one that has become fixed into a text.” I resist the absolutism inherent in such a description. It is as if we could find some kind of absolute distinction between “closure” and “open-endedness,” corresponding to a surface distinction between written and oral traditions.
It seems to me that we could easily think of any given tradition, written or oral, as relatively “closed” – once we see it becoming internalized by the person who controls it. In other words, the concept of “closure” is relative to start with, not absolute. Any tradition can be considered “closed” to the extent that it becomes internalized by its practitioner. But the point is that the same tradition can be considered “open-ended” to the extent that it remains externalized for other potential practitioners. Even a relatively fixed tradition, notionally closed, cannot necessarily prevent successive reopenings of that same tradition by new practitioners.
We may expect to see varying degrees of closure and openendedness in any tradition, oral as well as written. There are in fact extreme cases of relative closure in some living oral traditions as recorded by ethnographers. [65] Conversely, there are extreme cases of relative open-endedness in written traditions, where a notionally closed system of thinking becomes available for systematic reopenings. I propose to call this phenomenon the “Nostradamus effect.”
I coin this term as a response to the meditations of Georges Dumézil on the oracular poetry of Michel de Nôtredame, better known as Nostradamus, who flourished in the sixteenth century CE. [66] From the opaque verses of Nostradamus, Dumézil reconstructs, in broad strokes, the Classical formation of this mystical poet, which he compares with the formation of elite readers in the era of Louis XVI, toward the end of the eighteenth century. [67] This shared {11|12} knowledge, as reconstructed by Dumézil from the verses of Nostradamus and from accounts of the final days of Louis XVI, produces an illusion of self-fulfilling prophecy. When a prophetic moment becomes internalized in the mind of Nostradamus and, two and a half centuries later, in the mind of Louis XVI, the stage is set for an illusory effect to take hold: it now appears as if the opaque oracular verses of Nostradamus had prophesied what was actually going on inside the head of Louis XVI in the fatal moments that marked the cataclysmic end of royalty, and of a whole way of life, in revolutionary France.
We see at work here the communicative power of tradition. Even if a given tradition is closed to outsiders, it will remain open to insiders. Further, even if such a tradition is kept internalized by one person, it can become externalized by some other person who has also already internalized it. That is what I mean by the “Nostradamus effect.”
By examining externalized forms of written tradition, as analyzed through comparative approaches, we can study empirically the opportunities for analogous reactions by different minds to analogous historical contingencies – reactions motivated by an analogous mental processing of tradition. In the case of Nostradamus and Louis XVI, for example, we see a convergence of two different minds in two different eras as they internalize – independent of each other – a shared written tradition, derived from an earlier era. [68] In such a situation, a comparative approach can trace the renewals of the earlier tradition in its externalized forms.
Such an illustration of independent internalizations by way of written tradition can help us appreciate all the more the relative open-endedness of oral traditions, which are generally not constrained by ideas of fixity suggested by the very existence of a written text.
Having outlined my overall approach to questions of “text,” “tradition,” and “cross-reference,” I now offer a direct application, focusing on a specific passage taken from Homeric poetry. As a way of introducing the passage I have in mind, I quote what Austin has said about my approach, with specific reference to a theme signaled by this same passage. The reference concerns a quarrel between Odysseus and Achilles, as narrated briefly in Odyssey 8.72-83: {12|13}
Perhaps we should read the quarrel as representing the ramifying process whereby the same Mycenaean history crystallized into two separate epics evolving concurrently and synergistically, celebrating two kinds of hero, each noting and evaluating his rival’s charisma as their reputations grew. [69]
Let us take a close look at this Homeric passage:
72αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ πόσιος καὶ ἐδητύος ἐξ ἔρον ἕντο,
73Μοῦσ’ ἄρ’ ἀοιδὸν ἀνῆκεν ἀειδέμεναι κλέα ἀνδρῶν,
74οἴμης, τῆς τότ’ ἄρα κλέος οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἵκανε,
75 νεῖκος Ὀδυσσῆος καὶ Πηλεΐδεω Ἀχιλῆος,
76ὥς ποτε δηρισαντο θεῶν ἐν δαιτὶ θαλειῃ
77ἐκπάγλοις ἐπέεσσιν, ἄναξ δ’ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων
78χαῖρε νόῳ, ὅ τ’ ἄριστοι Ἀχαιῶν δηριόωντο.
79ὣς γάρ οἱ χρειων μυθήσατο Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων
80 Πυθοῖ ἐν ἠγαθέῃ, ὅθ’ ὑπέρβη λάϊνον οὐδὸν
81χρησόμενος. τότε γάρ ῥα κυλινδετο πήματος ἀρχὴ
82Τρωσι τε καὶ Δαναοῖσι Διὸς μεγάλου διὰ βουλάς.
83ταῦτ’ ἄρ’ ἀοιδὸς ἄειδε περικλυτός· αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσεὺς ...
72But when they had their fill of drinking and eating,
73The Muse impelled the singer to sing the glories [ kleos plural] of men,
74from a story-thread [70] which had at that time a glory [ kleos ] reaching the vast heavens:
75the quarrel [ neikos ] of Odysseus and Achilles son of Peleus,
76how they once upon a time [ pote ] fought at a sumptuous feast of the gods,
77with terrible words, and the king of men, Agamemnon,
78rejoiced in his mind that the best of the Achaeans were fighting.
79For [ gar ] thus had oracular Phoebus Apollo prophesied to him, {13|14}
80at holy Delphi, when he [Agamemnon] had crossed the stone threshold
81to ask the oracle. For [ gar ] then [ tote ] it was that the beginning of pain [ pēma ] started rolling
82upon both Trojans and Danaans, on account of the plans of great Zeus.
83These things, then, the singer sang, whose fame is far and wide. But Odysseus...
Odyssey 8.72-83
I see in these verses an Odyssean cross-reference to the Iliadic tradition. [71] My focus is on the wording of verse 81, tote gar ‘for then it was...’, where the gar ‘for’ refers back to the time of the neikos ‘quarrel’ at verse 75, not to the time of Agamemnon’s consultation of Apollo’s oracle at verse 79. The pēma ‘pain’, prophesied by Apollo, kulindeto ‘started rolling’ at the precise moment when the neikos ‘quarrel’ got under way. The wording of verse 81, I must stress, cross-refers not only to the mention of the quarrel at verse 75 but also to the precise moment of that quarrel: “By virtue of cross-referring to a specific point in epic time, the wording tote gar ‘for then it was...’ at verse 81 cross-refers also to a specific point in a notionally total and continuous narration extending into the current narrative.” [72] What we see at work here is “the essential notion, inherent in oral poetic traditions, of a total and continuous narration, of {14|15} which any given performance is but a part.” [73] The tote ‘then’ of verse 81 is a precise cross-reference to the pote ‘once upon a time’ of verse 76. [74] The tote ‘then’ marks a “return to the time-frame introduced by the earlier temporal adverb [pote].” [75]
In terms of my argument, such a return to an earlier time-frame is a matter of performance, not just composition. That is, the cross-reference represented in this story-within-a-story is performative as well as compositional. To put it yet another way, the blind singer is here being represented as cross-referring by way of performance.
Precisely because the “return” to the time-frame is performative, it can work not only from the present to the past but also from the present to the future. As we will see in Chapter 1, the prophecy of an event in the plot of Homeric narration can “repeat” in advance the wording of that given event. In the case of Odyssey 8.79-81, which signals the prophecy of Apollo about the future quarrel between Achilles and Odysseus, we can imagine a hypothetical performance where the prophecy becomes a retelling of the story already at the moment of the prophecy. In other words, the “return” to the time-frame of the quarrel can be previewed by “retelling” it in advance.
From an evolutionary point of view, the actual sequencing of themes in the oral poetics of composition-in-performance becomes a tradition in and {15|16}of itself. [76] Such a tradition affects the phenomenon of cross-reference. Once the sequencing of Homeric “episodes” becomes a tradition in its own right, it stands to reason that any cross-referencing from one episode of the sequence to another will also become a tradition. It is from a diachronic as well as synchronic perspective that I find it useful to consider the phenomenon of Homeric cross-references, especially long-distance ones that happen to reach for hundreds or even thousands of verses: it is important to keep in mind that any such cross-reference that we admire in our two-dimensional text did not just happen one time in one performance - but presumably countless times in countless reperformances within the three-dimensional continuum of a specialized oral tradition. The resonances of Homeric cross-referencing must be appreciated within the larger context of a long history of repeated performances. [77]
From the standpoint of oral poetics in general, the referent of a reference is not restricted to the immediate context but extends to analogous contexts heard in previous performances. [78]
By contrast, some have interpreted the story-within-a-story at Odyssey 8.72-83 as an ad hoc invention, an Augenblickserfindung. [79] Bryan Hainsworth’s commentary on the Odyssey accepts such an interpretation, further describing this story-within-a-story as an “allusion” that is “invented to meet the needs of the moment.” [80] I disagree, contending that there is in fact no need to posit an ad hoc invention, that is, something that has never been narrated before. The “needs of the moment” are actually being met by a cross-reference to traditional themes that are part of the oral poetics of composition-in-performance. [81]
In Hainsworth’s commentary, although he speaks of an “allusion” that is “invented” in Odyssey 8.72-83, we find that he accepts the traditionality of at least one of the themes in this Homeric passage:
Yet the exaltation of Odysseus into an opponent of Achilles (he has no such stature in the Iliad) is not without significance. Achilles was the {16|17} last and greatest of those heroes who solved their problems by excess of violence: Odysseus represents a newer idea (though we might see the germ of it in Odysseus’ rational admonition of the impatient Achilles in Il. 19.155-83), probably congenial to many in the Homeric audience, the cool opportunist, valiant but prudent, and not ashamed to stoop to conquer. [82]
The problem is, this summary of a traditional theme makes that theme appear to be more of side-effect than a driving force of traditional Homeric narrative. I will not repeat here my arguments for the presence of this particular driving theme as revealed by the diction of the Iliad itself. [83] Instead, I turn to a related theme that happens to reveal more overt matches, on the level of diction, between the microcosm or micro-narrative of Odyssey 8.72-83 and the macrocosm or macro-narrative of the Iliad. This driving theme is made evident by the word pēma ‘pain’ in Odyssey 8.82, described as some colossal boulder that has just started rolling downward from the towering heights above, heading straight at the doomed Achaeans down below. This ‘pain’ signals an Iliadic theme, which can be summarized as follows: “Achilles is a pēma for the Trojans when he is at war and a pēma for the Achaeans both when he withdraws from war and when he dies.” [84]
In our Iliad, this pēma ‘pain’ is realized in the death of Patroklos, which prefigures the “offstage” death of Achilles:
Ἀντίλοχ’ εἰ δÕ ἄγε δεῦρο διοτρεφὲς ὄφρα πύθηαι
λυγρῆς ἀγγελίης, ἣ μὴ ὤφελλε γενέσθαι.
ἤδη μὲν σὲ καὶ αὐτὸν ὀΐομαι εἰσορόωντα
γιγνώσκειν ὅτι πῆμα θεὸς Δαναοῖσι κυλίνδει,
νίκη δὲ Τρώων· πέφαται δÕ Êριστος Ἀχαιῶν
Πάτροκλος, μεγάλη δὲ ποθὴ Δαναοῖσι τέτυκται. {17|18}
Antilokhos! Come, so that you may learn
of the ghastly news, which should never have happened.
I think that you already see, and that you realize,
that a god is letting roll a pain [ pēma ] upon the Danaans,
and that victory belongs to the Trojans; the best of the Achaeans has been killed,
Patroklos, that is; and a great loss has been inflicted on the Danaans.
Iliad 17.685-690
I find it essential to compare the words spoken by Menelaos [85] in referring to any mortal who dares to fight Hektor and thus undertake a confrontation with Apollo himself:
ὁππότ’ ἀνὴρ ἐθέλη πρὸς δαίμονα φωτὶ μάχεσθαι
ὅν κε θεὸς τιμᾷ, τάχα οἱ μέγα πῆμα κυλ ί σθη.
Whenever a man willingly, in defiance of a daimōn, fights a mortal
whom a god honors, surely a great pain [ pēma ] rolls down upon him.
Iliad 17.98-99
Patroklos had dared to confront Apollo, thus prefiguring Achilles, but Menelaos dares not (Iliad 17.100-101).
On the basis of these two Iliadic passages, we can better appreciate the significance of the first song of Demodokos in Odyssey 8.72-83 as a cross-reference to a central Iliadic theme:
Like some colossal boulder that has just broken loose from the heights above, the pain is now rolling precipitously and inexorably downward, heading straight at the doomed Iliadic warriors below. This powerful metaphor of epic doom, resonating through the fine-tuned words of Homeric song, evokes the grand images that link the first song of Demodokos with the ultimate song of Achilles, the Iliad. [86]
In the first song of Demodokos, Odyssey 8.72-83, we are looking at a micro-narrative framed by the macro-narrative of the overall Odyssey. In this {18|19} micro-narrative, we see the oracular god Apollo engaged in the act of prophesying the macro-narrative of the Iliad – or, better, an Iliad. This micro-Iliad, framed by the macro-Odyssey, is ominously encapsulated in a single word, pēma ‘pain’, a superhuman force that threatens to crush the heroic ancestors of Hellenism (Odyssey 8.81-82).
Before leaving this question, I find it fitting to repeat an earlier formulation, most relevant to this book, about the first song of Demodokos:
An Iliad composed by Demodokos would have been a poem with a structure more simple and more broad, with an Achilles who is even perhaps more crude than the ultimately refined hero that we see emerging at the end of our Iliad. I have little doubt that such an Iliad was indeed in the process of evolving when it was heard in the Odyssey tradition which evolved into our Odyssey. Demodokos had heard the kleos and passed it on in song. [87] {19|20}


[ back ] 1. Saussure 1916: 117.
[ back ] 2. Saussure, ibid.: “Est synchronique tout ce qui se rapporte à l’aspect statique de notre science, diachronique tout ce qui a trait aux èvolutions. De même synchronie et diachronie désigneront respectivement un état de langue et une phase d’évolution.”
[ back ] 3. The paragraph that just ended and the one that follows are an abridgment of my longer formulation in the new introduction to BA 2 (= Nagy 1999a), paragraphs 23-25. In the first edition of BA (= Nagy 1979), I had decided to avoid using the terms “synchronic” and “diachronic” altogether (though I had used them earlier in Nagy 1974, esp. pp. 20-21). Part of the reason for my return to Saussure’s usage has to do with the remarks of Lord 1995:196-197 on the term “diachronic.”
[ back ] 4. PH 4.
[ back ] 5. PH 21 n. 18, following Jacopin (1988: 35-36), who adds: “Both synchrony and diachrony are abstractions extrapolated from a model of reality.”
[ back ] 7. The scheme that follows is based on the outline in HQ 41-42, with details in HQ ch. 3; also in PP 110, with details in PP ch. 5- ch. 7. I originally used the term “Ages of Homer” as a tribute to Emily Vermeule (Nagy 1995a). The HQ and PP discussions, as I have just cited them, emphasize respectively the earlier and later phases of my evolutionary model.
[ back ] 8. For this period, I do not insist on the absence of texts; my point is simply that there is no compelling evidence for the existence of Homeric texts at such an early date. Cf. HQ 31-32. In a new project, I plan to rework my definition of “period a” in the light of a forthcoming work by Douglas Frame on the Ionian cultural contexts of epic performance traditions.
[ back ] 9. HQ ch. 3; cf. PP 69-71.
[ back ] 10. PP 153-186.
[ back ] 11. PP 107-152, 187-206.
[ back ] 12. PP 112.
[ back ] 13. HQ 34-36, 65-69.
[ back ] 14. HQ 34-36, with bibliography.
[ back ] 15. PP 153-186, HQ 32-34.
[ back ] 16. PP 187-206.
[ back ] 17. Nagy 1999c, 2000b, 2001b; book version: Nagy 2002a.
[ back ] 22. The original theory appeared in an article, Lord 1953, which was later reprinted in Lord 1991 (pp. 3-48, with an appendix), a book published in the “Mythology and Poetics” series that I have edited.
[ back ] 23. For elaboration on this point, see below, Chapter 3.
[ back ] 24. The first formal version of my evolutionary model was published in a Festschrift for Albert Lord (Nagy 1981). For an earlier informal version, see Nagy 1974:11. See also in general above, “Question 2.”
[ back ] 25. HQ 100.
[ back ] 26. See again Janko 1982:191; Jensen 1980:92; West 1990:34; Powell 1991:221-237.
[ back ] 27. See also HQ 31-34, 36-37, 100.
[ back ] 28. Powell 1991:221-237 (his chapter title is “Conclusions from Probability: How the Iliad and the Odyssey were written down”) and 1997.
[ back ] 29. Powell 1997.
[ back ] 30. Powell 1991:232-233.
[ back ] 31. Lord 1953 = 1991:44; see further in HQ 32-34.
[ back ] 32. Lord 1991:44.
[ back ] 33. Ibid.
[ back ] 34. PP 110; ch. HQ 42. See “Question 2” above.
[ back ] 35. Powell 1997.
[ back ] 36. Cf. [M.] Parry MHV [1932]: 347-361.
[ back ] 37. Lord 1995:22-68.
[ back ] 38. Powell 1997.
[ back ] 39. PP 26-27.
[ back ] 40. Ibid.
[ back ] 41. Lord 1995, esp. chs. 1, 8, and 10.
[ back ] 42. Ibid.
[ back ] 43. See HQ 34-43. For more on the semiotics of “writing” as “composition,” see “Question 4” below.
[ back ] 44. Powell 1997.
[ back ] 45. PP 59-78.
[ back ] 46. Cf. HQ 75-76, esp. n. 37, with bibliography. Clarke (1999:179) observes that my argumentation in HQ, as a “sustained hypothesis,” can “offer a clear and manageable alternative to the now weary guess that transcripts of Homer’s oral performances were handed down and used as secret cribs by generations of rhapsodes.”
[ back ] 47. Ibid. See also HQ chs. 2-3, esp. pp. 111-112.
[ back ] 48. Powell 1997.
[ back ] 49. For a stance similar to Powell’s, see Janko 1998c, whose rhetoric I confront in Chapter 3 below.
[ back ] 50. In the original version of this section, Nagy 1997b, I offered further comments that I omit here.
[ back ] 52. For the hermeneutics of the term Verschriftlichung ‘textualization’ as opposed to Verschriftung ‘transcription’, I turn to the engaging work of Oesterreicher 1993.
[ back ] 53. On the semiotics of writing and composing in general, I find Habinek 1998 particularly helpful.
[ back ] 54. See, for example, Aristotle Poetics 1451a25 (Ὀδύσσειαν γὰρ ποιῶν οὐκ ἐ ποίησεν ἅ παντα ὅσα αὐτÓ συνέβη). The usage of graphein in referring to poetic composition is a relatively late phenomenon: see for example Pausanias 3.24.11, where he speaks of Homer as “writing” (Ὅμηρoς δὲ ἔγραψε μὲν τῆς ποιήσεως ἀρχόμενος ὡς Ἀχιλλεὺς;...) cf. also 8.29.2.
[ back ] 55. BA 40.
[ back ] 56. I disagree with Rutherford (1991-1993:42), who adds different italics to my formulation, thereby distorting it: “When we are dealing with the traditional poetry of the Homeric (and Hesiodic) compositions, it is not justifiable to claim that a passage in any text can refer to another passage in another text.”
[ back ] 57. PH 53.
[ back ] 58. PH 53-54 n. 8, with examples from both Homeric and Hesiodic poetry. More on this point in what follows.
[ back ] 59. Pucci 1987 (see esp. p. 29 n. 30); see now also Pucci 1995.
[ back ] 60. Reference here to BA 15.
[ back ] 61. Austin 1991:229; the italics are mine.
[ back ] 62. Clay (see next note) refers here to BA 20-21. I disagree with the idea that my pages there reflect a discomfort with the concept of artistic self-consciousness in Homeric poetry. The point was, and always has been, that such self-consciousness is different from what we find in written literature. Also, I call into question the vague reference to “questionable Romantic notions.” On such negative uses of the term “romantic” in polemics about the making of Homeric poetry, see PH 1-2, where I point out that the negativity cuts both ways: those who assume an individual genius called “Homer” can be just as naïve as those who envision some kind of collective self-expression by the ancient Greek “Volk.”
[ back ] 63. Clay 1983:243. At this point, she refers to Pucci 1979:125.
[ back ] 64. Clay 1983:243.
[ back ] 65. See examples in PH 54-55, 80.
[ back ] 66. Dumézil 1984/1999. My first attempt at a formulation of the “Nostradamus effect” appeared in Nagy 1999d.
[ back ] 67. The focus of interest is on Nostradamus’s vision of a blackfriar in gray, as quoted in the title of Dumézil’s 1984 book (“…Le moyne noir en gris dedans Varennes”). In Nagy 1999d:vii, I drew attention to Dumézil’s success in isolating a passage from the Roman historian Livy (first century BCE and CE) as a point of convergence in the readings of Nostradamus and, indirectly, of literati in the era of Louis XVI.
[ back ] 68. See especially Dumézil 1984:93-94.
[ back ] 69. Austin 1991:233-234. At the end of this statement, he refers to my formulation in BA 21-25. On the semiotics of “crystallization,” see HQ 109 and PP 108-109. With reference to Austin’s wording, I distance myself from the notion of “history” in the expression “Mycenaean history,” though I welcome the notion of a poetic tradition that can be traced back historically to the Mycenaean era.
[ back ] 70. On oimē in the sense of the ‘story-thread’, see PP 63 n. 20; see also PP 63 n. 19 on the use of the genitive of this word here to mark the point of departure for the performance of the blind singer.
[ back ] 71. Cf. BA 22.
[ back ] 72. For a valuable analysis of the syntax that drives the wording of verse 81, see Pelliccia 1985:185-186 n. 18: [ back ] Nagy ... understood line 81 τότε γάρ [‘for then it was…’] to refer back to the time of the νεῖκος [‘quarrel’], with the γάρ [‘for…’] clause [of verses 79-80] taken as an isolated parenthetical aside reporting events prior to the quarrel. R. Fowler [1983:125] called this “a shaky interpretation of Greek,” and corrected it thus: “The second γάρ depends on χρησόμενος (for successive γάρ’s in Homer cf. J.D. Denniston [1954] p. 58); lines 81-82 thus imply that troubles are already besetting Agamemnon, probably at Aulis.” – But the matter is not so simple. Fowler is referring to Denniston’s entry on “successions of γάρ clauses or sentences, each clause dependent on the previous one” (loc.cit.); he does not mention Denniston’s entry six pages later (64f.) on “successive γάρ’s [that] have the same reference,” nor the comment within that entry (65): “We must distinguish from the above passages others in which the first γάρ clause is parenthetical, and the references in the two γάρ clauses are therefore not parallel” (citing Od. 20.30506 [sic]). The arguments from γάρ are therefore inconclusive.
[ back ] 73. BA 2 xvii paragraph 30 n. 2. See also HQ 77-82. By italicizing notion, I am stressing that the continuity and the totality are merely notional, not necessarily “real” for the empirical observer on the outside looking in, as it were. For comparative evidence on notional totality, see Flueckiger 1996:133-134.
[ back ] 74. See again Pelliccia 1985:185-186n18: [ back ] It might further be argued against Nagy that τότε in 81 most naturally refers to what immediately precedes it; but in fact it can with equal ease refer back to ποτε̠ [‘once upon a time’] in 76; cf. [Hesiod] Th. 58-68, where between correlated ὅτε (58) and τότε (68) there intervenes a passage (63-67) whose time reference is completely different from that of the correlated clauses: τότε here serves (as per Nagy it does in Od. 8.75-82) to dismiss the parenthesis (corresponding to 79-81 in Od. 8) and to return to the time-frame introduced by the earlier temporal adverb with which it is correlated. This point has been repeatedly misconstrued by W. J. Verdenius [1972] 225-60; 247 esp. [ back ] Italics mine. Pelliccia (ibid.) adduces further examples, quoting from West 1985:129: “In Th. 68 τότε is resumptive, looking back to the account of the Muses’ birth in 60 after the digression on their present-day activities.” The scholia to Odyssey 8.75, we need to add, claim that the quarrel between Achilles and Odysseus took place after the killing of Hektor.
[ back ] 75. I am quoting again the italicized part of the formulation by Pelliccia in the preceding footnote.
[ back ] 76. HQ 77-82.
[ back ] 77. Most of this paragraph is excerpted from HQ 82.
[ back ] 78. HQ 82 n. 53; cf. Foley 1991 and my review in Nagy 1995b. For an important study of Homeric Fernbeziehungen, with conclusions different from mine, see Reichel 1994.
[ back ] 79. See Marg 1956:21. For a similar position, see Clay 1983:241-246.
[ back ] 80. Hainsworth 1988:351.
[ back ] 81. I disagree also with Clay 1983:243.
[ back ] 82. Hainsworth 1988:351. At the end of this statement, he refers to Rüter 1969:247-254 (also to BA 42-58).
[ back ] 83. BA 45-49.
[ back ] 84. BA 64. This theme is linked to the name of Achilles, which can be explained morphologically as *Akhi-lāwos ‘he who has akhos [“pain”] for the laos [“host of fighting men”]’. For more on the morphology and on the semantics of that morphology, see Nagy 1994a, where I develop arguments that anticipate the objections of Létoublon 1995:289-290. In a separate work, I criticize her general assumptions about the semantics of naming heroes.
[ back ] 85. “Agamemnon” has been corrected to “Menelaos” in BA 2 63n.
[ back ] 86. BA 2 xviii.
[ back ] 87. BA 65. I have added italics in order to highlight “evolving” and “evolved.” This formulation is quoted by Clay (1983:242), but she omits the final sentence, through which I had meant to convey the idea that the Iliadic cross-reference, as we have it, is a highly sophisticated artistic device. Clay’s omission is symptomatic, I think, of her tendency to flatten out the diachronic dimension of my argumentation: see also Clay pp. 244-245, for her objections to my formulation of “Monro’s Law,” quoted from BA 21. From this quotation, I repeat my own wording: “Or rather, it may be a matter of evolution [emphasis added]. Perhaps it was part of the Odyssean tradition to veer away from the Iliadic.” One last time, I stress the diachronic perspective of cross-reference.