Short Writings: I. Table of Contents

The Origins of Greek Poetic Language: Review of M. L. West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (Oxford 2007)

Gregory Nagy
[This online 2010 edition is a revised, expanded version of a review first published in Classical Review 60 (2010) 333–338. The original page-numbers of the printed version are embedded within brackets in this electronic version: for example, {333|334} marks where p. 333 stops and p. 334 begins.]
West’s book is most useful for researchers in the Classics and in the newer academic discipline of Indo-European studies. I have produced two different and mutually complementary reviews of it, one for Classicists and one for Indo-Europeanists, with the collegial permission of the book-review editors of Classical Review and Indo-European Studies Bulletin. In the review for IESB (published in 2008, vol. 13 no. 1, pp. 60–65), I concentrate on the usefulness of West’s book for those who are already well-versed in Indo-European studies. In the present review for CR, I concentrate on its usefulness for Classicists.
The greatest accomplishment of this book is to make readily available for Classicists a wealth of insights that have up to now been unrecognized or at best only barely recognized in the field of Classics. These insights, gleaned from the field of Indo-European linguistics, now need to be integrated into the ongoing work of Classicists. In the interest of promoting such integration, this review highlights page by page some salient points made by West, which I will summarize, with comments, in the style of an inventory. West’s pages will be cited with a prefixed “W”; occasionally, I will refer to relevant points to be found in some of my own works, abbreviated here as BA, GM, PH, and HTL. [1]
W 34. It is shown here that the noun Μοῦσα derives from the Indo-European root *men-, the basic meaning of which is ‘put in mind’ in verb formations with transitive function and ‘have in mind’ in those with intransitive function (cf. BA 17 n.). This etymology is reflected in the mythological relationship of the divine Muses with μνημοσύνη in the sense of ‘poetic recall’, personified as their divine mother, Mnemosyne. Relevant is the translation of Homeric Μοῦσ’ ἐδίδαξε by Livius Andronicus (fr. 21 Blänsdorf) as Diua Monetas filia docuit.
W 37 (in combination with W 31, 34). Three different possibilities are considered for the Indo-European origins of the noun ὕμνος.
W 38–39. In the light of the fact that the root of Latin texō, with reference to (1) the weaving of fabrics and (2) the building of ships and of other forms of woodwork, is cognate with the root of Greek τέκτων in the sense of ‘carpenter’ and of τέχνη in the sense of ‘craftsmanship’, it is argued here that the prototypical Indo-European root of all these forms was applied as a metaphor for the craft of making song and poetry. This metaphor is still reflected in a phrase of Pindar, Pythian 3.113|114: ἐπέων κελαδεννῶν, τέκτονες οἷα σοφοὶ | ἅρμοσαν ‘resounding verses such as skilled carpenters have joined together’ (cf. BA 300).
W 43. In the proem of Parmenides fr. 1.1–25 DK, the speaker pictures himself as flying off in a chariot drawn by mares that take him as far as his desire reaches, and this image of transcendence is found to be cognate with a comparable image in Indic poetry, where ascetes are described as having the power to take off in chariots that fly wherever they desire. With reference to the Indo-European poetic theme of flying chariots as the equivalent of “flying carpets,” I draw attention to a forthcoming book that analyzes two relevant passages: (1) the mystical transformation, in Iliad 24, of the mule-cart of Priam into a “dream chariot” that traverses the hostile space standing in the way between Troy and the tent of Achilles; and (2) {333|334} the chariot-ride, in Odyssey 3, of Telemakhos and Peisistratos from Pylos to Sparta, somehow traversing the Taygetos mountain range that stands in the way. [2]
W 60. The semantics of Latin uersus are found to be cognate with the semantics of Greek στροφή. This finding looms large for experts in comparative metrics.
W 61–62. An Indo-European prototype is found here for the literary form known as prosimetrum, where higher-register poetry or song is embedded within lower-register prose. I add that there are traces of prosimetrum style in Greek narrative traditions, such as the life of Archilochus narrative recorded on the Mnesiepes inscription found at Paros (PH 363). [3]
W 67. The expression κλέα ἀνδρῶν ‘glories of men’, as applied for example to Achilles when he sings to himself the glorious songs of heroes in Iliad 9.189, is shown to be cognate with corresponding expressions in Indic poetry. I add that the genitive in such Indo-European constructions can be subjective as well as objective in function, reflecting a presumed state of reciprocity between the laudator who glorifies the laudandus and is in turn glorified by the glory of the laudandus: thus the κλέα ‘glories’ are sung not only of glorified men but also by the men thus glorified for giving glory (PH 200–202, 204–206). Such reciprocity is expressed explicitly in a song of Ibycus (PMG S151.47–48), where the κλέος ἄφθιτον ‘imperishable glory’ (47) of the laudandus, here the tyrant Polycrates of Samos, is said to depend on the κλέος ‘glory, glorification’ of the laudator, here the poet Ibycus (PH 187–188; the relevant wording is actually quoted by W 403–304).
W 69. Shown here is the Indo-European background of a genre featuring erotic dialogues in song between men and women, boys and girls. The striking example of Sappho fr. 137 is mentioned. [4]
W 85. A brief survey is given here of concepts of eternity as reflected in Indo-European languages. To be added is the fact that the Greek adverb αἰεί ‘for eternity’ is etymologically the old locative case of the noun αἰών ‘life-cycle’ (Benveniste 1937).
W 86. In Indo-European languages, the world can be pictured as everything that is seen by the all-seeing sun. That is why, it is shown here, the Lithuanian and the Latvian words for ‘world’, pasaulis and pasaule, mean literally ‘under the sun’. I add that this traditional visualization is relevant to the Greek compound noun pan-Hellēnes ‘all Greeks’ (GM 37), which is attested in the Hesiodic Works and Days (528 πανελλήνεσσι) in the sense of referring to ‘all Greeks under the sun’ (526–528 ἠέλιος … πανελλήνεσσι φαείνει).
W 88. The Greek noun μένος, conventionally understoo