Chapter 2. Formula, Context, and Synonymy

Milman Parry’s 1928 dissertation, [1] insofar as it drew upon and continued the work of earlier scholars, provided a functional dimension to the findings of such earlier scholars as Düntzer, Ellendt, Witte, and Meister. Parry pointed out that the coexistence of semantically equivalent but metrically different forms in the Homeric diction was not only the creation of epic verse (cf. the notion of the epic Kunstsprache as a “hexametric” language), [2] but was also due to the need of the epic poets to have metrical alternatives for the sake of easy versification. In other words, many peculiarities of the Homeric language and diction could be shown to have not only a cause, but also a motivation.
As is well known, Parry’s main concern was to show that by adding epithets to names or substantives, the epic poet had various, metrically different forms at his disposal for one and the same “essential idea.” [3] The regularity in the use of epithets, on the basis of which they form a system, could be shown to lie in their economy: for each relevant metrical form, there was one and only one noun-epithet combination, which suggested that the point of epithets was metrical differentiation in the first place, rather than to contribute to the content of the sentence.
The idea that epithets are used in systematic ways for the sake of metrical diversity could be added to the observations made by Parry’s predecessors, concerning the occurrence of morphologically and phonologically different alternatives (e.g. dialectal and even artificial forms) for a given word. To these, the same principle of economy applied. A third means to achieve metrical diversity was what can be called “functional synonymy,” that is, the use of synonyms, not so much for the sake of stylistic variation as, again, for the sake of metrical diversity. Parry was aware of the importance of synonymy and introduced the concept in his discussion of noun-epithet formulae for the Achaeans [4] and for the human race. [5] In both cases he followed Düntzer. [6]
The first systematic survey of synonymy in the Parryan context is offered by H. Paraskevaides. [7] Paraskevaides gives the term “synonymy” a very broad sense, applying it whenever a group of formulaic expressions conveys the same or a similar idea. Paraskevaides’ treatment of the issue is strictly Parryan, in that synonymy is consistently viewed as functional synonymy. This means that whenever in any given group of synonymous expressions two expressions occur with the same metrical form and prosodic characteristics they are considered to be a violation of the law of economy.
Paraskevaides has demonstrated the importance and scope of synonymy as a factor in Homeric formulaic diction, but in some cases more can be said about a given pair of “synonyms” than that they are either metrically different (and thus functional synonyms) or metrically equivalent (and thus a violation of economy). In other words, I will suggest that some of Paraskevaides’ alleged synonyms are, on closer inspection, not synonyms. The consequence of this is that in the case of metrically equivalent pairs the case for functional (i.e. formulaic) synonymy is strengthened: when two metrically equivalent expressions can be shown to have a different meaning, they cease to be a violation of the “law” of economy, which can only be favorable to the notion of functional synonymy. In the present chapter I present a representative instance of this phenomenon.
The case to be discussed is the subject of the previous chapter, the set of dative expressions for “spear.” This formulaic set, which in itself is based on functional synonymy, displays a number of metrically identical pairs. My argument to the effect that this duplication is motivated by various differences in meaning primarily applies, of course, to the expressions themselves, but in its general orientation it is applicable, it is to be hoped, to other aspects of Homeric diction.

Synonymy and the Violation of Economy

The system of singular dative epithet-expressions for “spear” can be presented as follows, after Paraskevaides (1984:26):
ὀξέϊ δουρί   ⎯ ∪ ∪ ⎯ ∪
ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ   ⎯ ∪ ∪ ⎯ ⎯
ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ   ⎯ ∪ ∪ ⎯ ⎯
δουρὶ φαεινῷ   C ⎯ ∪ ∪ ⎯ ⎯
νηλέϊ χαλκῷ   C ⎯ ∪ ∪ ⎯ ⎯
αἰχμῇ χαλκείῃ   ⎯ ⎯ ⎯ ⎯ ⎯
ἔγχεϊ χαλκείῳ   ⎯ ∪ ∪ ⎯ ⎯ ⎯
ἔγχεϊ ὀξυόεντι   ⎯ ∪ ∪ ⎯ ∪ ∪ ⎯ ∪
χαλκήρεϊ δουρί   ⎯ ⎯ ∪ ∪ ⎯ ∪
ταναήκεϊ χαλκῷ   ∪ ∪ ⎯ ∪ ∪ ⎯ ⎯
ξυστῷ χαλκήρεϊ   ⎯ ⎯ ⎯ ⎯ ∪ ∪
The metrical diversity displayed by this set is effected by the use of epithets as well as by the functional synonymy of the two main words, ἔγχος and δόρυ, which are metrically unequivalent. In spite of their different archeological denotation, [8] ἔγχος and δόρυ are synonyms in the Homeric diction. [9] This appears, among other things, from the fact that the two terms can be used coreferentially. [10] A clear case of this is the following example that is also cited on p. # above:
τοῦ δὲ βάδην ἀπιόντος ἀκόντισε δουρὶ φαεινῷ
Δηΐφοβος· δὴ γάρ οἱ ἔχεν κότον ἐμμενὲς αἰεί.
ἀλλ᾿ ὅ γε καὶ τόθ᾿ ἅμαρτεν, ὁ δ᾿ Ἀσκάλαφον βάλε δουρὶ,
υἱὸν Ἐνυαλίοιο· δι᾿ ὤμου δ᾿ ὄβριμον ἔγχος
ἔσχεν· ὁ δ᾿ ἐν κονίῃσι πεσὼν ἕλε γαῖαν ἀγοστῷ.
Iliad XIII 516–520
and at him as he walked away he threw with the shining spear,
Deiphobos; he still had rancor unrelenting for him.
But he missed him then as well, and Askalaphos he hit with the spear,
son of Enualios; right through the shoulder the sturdy spear
it went; and he falling in the dust took a handful of earth.
In this passage, one and the same spear is referred to three times in succession, twice with δουρὶ, once with ἔγχος. This shows that the two words are synonymous in the sense that they may be used indiscriminately from a referential point of view. The interchangeability of the two lexemes lies at the basis of the datives being part of a formulaic system that in the previous Chapter is discussed as a case of “peripheral semantics.” It is on account of their function within this system that δουρί and ἔγχεϊ have their specific function in Homeric verse.
The metrical diversity displayed by the list cited above may be motivated by the formulaic purpose of the system of which the expressions are a part. But the list contains a number of metrically and prosodically identical pairs. The two main words form such a pair by the addition of metrically different epithets (ὀξέϊ δουρὶ ‘with the sharp spear’ vs. ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ ‘with the long lance’); furthermore, every instance of χαλκῷ ‘with bronze’ with epithet is consistently matched by an equivalent expression containing δουρὶ or ἔγχεϊ. Thus beside ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ ‘with the sharp bronze’ we have the two expressions just mentioned (ὀξέϊ δουρὶ and ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ (all three begin with a vowel); beside νηλέϊ χαλκῷ ‘with merciless bronze’ we have δουρὶ φαεινῷ ‘with the shining spear’ (both begin with consonant); and, finally, beside ταναήκεϊ χαλκῷ ‘with the sharpened bronze’ we have χαλκήρεϊ δουρὶ ‘with the bronze spear’. When we view the list as a formulaic system, that is, as a group of synonymous expressions conveying the idea “with the spear,” these pairs are mere duplicates and, as such, violations of the law of economy. This is the way they are treated by Paraskevaides (1984:23).
But Paraskevaides’ analysis is not immune to criticism, and in what follows, I challenge his view, offering some considerations on synonymy and metrical equivalence in Homer. These fall into three parts, covering three aspects of synonymy in Homer. The diachronic aspect (section 1) applies to the pair ὀξέϊ δουρὶ vs. ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ. It consists in the insight that two alleged synonyms may still be different in the diachronic dimension. The synchronic usage in Homer may reflect this former difference, in spite of the interchangeability of the expressions on other grounds.
Then follows the discussion of the semantic aspect (section 2), which applies to cases in which two allegedly synonymous expressions turn out, under closer investigation, not to be synonymous at all. The case here is ὀξέϊ δουρὶ vs. ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ. On the basis of a linguistic examination of the contexts in which they occur it can be shown that the two expressions conform to entirely different distributional patterns.
The poetic aspect (section 3), finally, lies in the significant addition of an epithet to a nuclear noun. The specific value of the epithet may preclude the equivalence in meaning of two allegedly synonymous expressions. This section will be concerned with the difference between νηλέϊ χαλκῷ and δουρὶ φαεινῷ.
It should be stressed that these three aspects of synonymy are not necessarily distinct, in that the presence of one of them excludes the other two. For example, the preservation of an older, metrically equivalent form may be motivated by semantic or poetic factors, and a semantic difference between two metrically equivalent expressions may be put to poetic use. The three aspects merely represent three vantage points from which to describe synonymy in Homer beyond the confines of formal analysis.

1. The Diachronic Aspect: ὀξέϊ δουρὶ vs. ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ

We saw that δόρυ and ἔγχος are functional synonyms in the Homeric diction. But on this basis, the co-occurrence of ὀξέϊ δουρὶ and ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ would be entirely dysfunctional and would disrupt the economy of the system: both expressions have exactly the same metrical form and localization (at the end of the verse, after the bucolic diaeresis).
Ὀξέϊ δουρὶ and ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ seem to be wholly interchangeable in the following pair, where they are used as periphery to one and the same verb of wounding:
βεβλήκει κεφαλῆς κατὰ ἰνίον ὀξέϊ δουρί·
Iliad V 73
he hit him on the head on the occiput with the sharp spear
Τληπόλεμος δ᾿ ἄρα μηρὸν ἀριστερὸν ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ
βεβλήκειν, αἰχμὴ δὲ διέσσυτο μαιμώωσα
Iliad V 660–661
Tlepolemos, on the left thigh with the long spear
he hit him, and the point went right through in furious zeal
There does not seem to be a specific reason why ὀξέϊ δουρὶ should have been used specifically in the one case and ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ in the other. [11] Consequently, examples like this one seem to suggest that the phrases ὀξέϊ δουρὶ and ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ are just as interchangeable as the lexemes δόρυ and ἔγχος in general (see Iliad XIII 516–20 above, p. #). In the following pair, however, there is a difference:
τόνδε δ᾿ ἐγὼν ἐπιόντα δεδέξομαι ὀξέϊ δουρί.
Iliad V 238
I will receive his attack with the sharp spear

ὅς τις δὲ Τρώων κοίλῃς ἐπὶ νηυσὶ φέροιτο
σὺν πυρὶ κηλείῳ, χάριν Ἕκτορος ὀτρύναντος,
τὸν δ᾿ Αἴας οὔτασκε δεδεγμένος ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ·
Iliad. XV 743–745 [12]
whoever of the Trojans came close to the hollow ships
with the blazing fire, due to Hektor’s urging,
him Aias would wound, receiving him with the long lance
The wider context of V 238 makes it clear that the spear mentioned will be used by its owner (Pandarus) for throwing (V 280 προΐει ‘hurled’; 281 βάλε ‘hit’; 282 πταμένη ‘flying’), [13] whereas at XV 745 Aias is keeping the Trojans away from the ships (XV 730–731 ἔγχεϊ δ᾿ αἰεὶ | Τρῶασ ἄμυνε νεῶν ‘each time he warded off the Trojans with his lance'), thus using his spear as a defensive weapon rather than as a missile.
Cases like XV 745 suggest what was already stated by Trümpy and Lorimer: [14] originally, δόρυ and ἔγχος did not designate the same type of weapon. Ἔγχος, the older word, [15] is the term for the long Bronze Age thrusting-spear, whereas δόρυ, the normal term for “spear” in post-Homeric Greek, refers to the lighter throwing-spear that came into use in the late Mycenaean era. The terms are (functional) synonyms in the Homeric diction, for reasons specified above, but when it comes to describing what one actually does with a spear, [16] or to singling out a truly heroic weapon, handled only by a special class of heroes (viz., Achilles and Aias), [17] ἔγχος can still have its proper, original meaning, which fully justifies the presence of the epithet μακρῷ ‘long’. This would seem to be the case in the following example:
τόν ῥ᾿ υἱὸς Τελαμῶνος ὑπ᾿ οὔατος ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ
νύξ᾿, ἐκ δ᾿ ἔσπασεν ἔγχος· ὁ δ᾿ αὖτ᾿ ἔπεσεν μελίη ὣς
Iliad XIII 177–178
him Telamon’s son under the ear with the long lance
he stabbed, and drew his lance out; and he fell like an ash-tree.
Here a typical ἔγχος-bearer does what one typically does with an ἔγχος in its historically correct denotation: he thrusts (νύξ᾿) the weapon into his opponent’s body. [18]
The original difference between ἔγχος and δόρυ can be said to have two linguistic reflexes. First, δόρυ, and not ἔγχος, has an affinity with verbs denoting throwing (e.g. ἀκοντίζω ‘throw ’). [19] Thus it would seem that the use of ὀξέϊ δουρὶ in the following example is no more accidental than that of ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ in the previous one: [20]
τοῦ δ᾿ ῎Αντιφος αἰολοθώρηξ
Πριαμίδης καθ᾿ ὅμιλον ἀκόντισεν ὀξέϊ δουρί.
Iliad IV 489–490
And at him Antiphos of the flashing breastplate,
Priam’s son, among the crowd he made a throw with the sharp spear
Second, as Trümpy has noted, [21] δόρυ is regularly used in the dual form (δύο δοῦρε ‘two spears’, ἄλκιμα δοῦρε ‘two strong spears’), explicitly designating a pair of light throwing-spears. Also, warriors regularly have a second δόρυ at their disposal when they have used their first one. None of these facts applies to the ἔγχος: ἔγχος never appears in the dual form, and it typically refers to a single weapon. The distinction is clearly brought out in the arming scene of Patroklos:
εἵλετο δ᾿ ἄλκιμα δοῦρε, τά οἱ παλάμηφιν ἀρήρει.
ἔγχος δ᾿ οὐχ ἕλετ᾿ οἶον ἀμύμονος Αἰακίδαο
βριθὺ μέγα στιβαρόν· τὸ μὲν οὐ δύνατ᾿ ἄλλος Ἀχαιῶν
πάλλειν, ἀλλά μιν οἶος ἐπίστατο πῆλαι Ἀχιλλεὺς
Iliad XVI 139–142
He took the two strong spears, which fitted him in his hand palms
But only the lance he did not take of the blameless Aiacid,
heavy, large, sturdy: no one else of the Achaeans could
wield it; no only Achilles knew how to wield it
The unusually clear distinction between δόρυ and ἔγχος in this passage is due, of course, to the particular significance of Achilles’ ash spear. [22]
We may conclude, then, that even though ὀξέϊ δουρὶ and ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ may be used as genuine metrical duplicates, owing to the extensive functional synonymy of δόρυ and ἔγχος, they are not interchangeable without further ado: sometimes the original technical distinction between two kinds of weapons plays a role. The need to use ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ, in full accordance with the meaning of its epithet, to designate a specific kind of spear, still motivates its occurrence in the diction, as the metrical equivalent of ὀξέϊ δουρὶ. A detail of past heroic warfare belongs to the present of the epic tradition. In later chapters we will see that such pointing to the past is not limited to epic realia, but applies no less to epic language itself. [23]

2. The Semantic Aspect: χαλκῷ vs. δουρί

We now turn to the discussion of the meaning of ὀξέϊ (ταναήκεϊ) χαλκῷ ‘with the sharp(ened) bronze’ with respect to that of ὀξέϊ (χαλκήρεϊ) δουρὶ ‘with the sharp (bronze) spear’ and ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ ‘with the long lance’. Of course, χαλκός ‘bronze’ may come to mean “spear” only by a possible metonymical extension of its meaning; there are cases where the use of χαλκός is irrelevant for our purposes. At Iliad XXIII 118, for example, it is used to refer to an axe, and it may also just denote the bronze of which the spear point is made (Iliad X 135; XIV 12; XV 482). In these cases, obviously, even the alleged synonymy of χαλκός and the corresponding δουρὶ- or ἔγχεϊ-expression is ruled out.
But in the cases where the reference to a spear is not ruled out, an investigation of the contexts suggests that ὀξέϊ (ταναήκεϊ) χαλκῷ and ὀξέϊ (χαλκήρεϊ) δουρὶ are used under entirely different circumstances. ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ typically combines with predicates that denote states, such as (medio-) passive participles, for instance:
ὅς τις ἔτ᾿ ἄβλητος καὶ ἀνούτατος ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ
Iliad IV 540
whoever is still not hit and unhurt by the sharp bronze

ἂψ ἀναχαζόμενον βεβλημένον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ
Iliad XVI 819
drawing back, hit by the sharp bronze

ὡς ἴδε Πάτροκλον δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ
Iliad XIX 283
when she saw Patroklos lacerated by the sharp bronze

καὶ γάρ θην τούτῳ τρωτὸς χρὼς ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ
Iliad XXI 568
he too has skin that is vulnerable to the sharp bronze
The verbs of the δουρὶ-expressions, by contrast, denote less “time-stable” phenomena, such as actions (consisting of killing, thrusting, hitting, or throwing), rather than states, for example:
οὔτασεν ὦμον ὕπερθεν ἐπάλμενος ὀξέϊ δουρί
Iliad XI 421
jumping toward him he wounded him from above on the shoulder with the sharp spear

λαιμὸν τύψ᾿ ἐπὶ οἷ τετραμμένον ὀξέϊ δουρί·
Iliad XIII 542
he struck the neck that was turned to him with the sharp spear

τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ προσιόντα βάλον χαλκήρεϊ δουρί
Iliad XI 742
him as he came to me I hit with the bronze spear
Χαλκῷ-expressions are not impossible with this kind of verb, but when they occur with it, the expression as a whole is still different from the examples just quoted, in which an action in combat is reported: instead of being factual and declarative, describing one specific killing or wounding, the context in which a χαλκῷ-expression occurs with an action-denoting verb is either nonfactual or generic in the sense that it does not describe one particular event. Typical environments for a χαλκῷ-expression used in this way are conditional clauses, which are by definition nonfactual, in describing what may happen or what has not yet happened: [24]
εἰ καὶ ἐγώ σε βάλοιμι τυχὼν μέσον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ
Iliad XVI 623
if I too would hit you right in the middle with the sharp bronze

εἰ μέν κεν ἐμὲ κεῖνος ἕλῃ ταναήκεϊ χαλκῷ
Iliad VII 77
If he takes me with the sharp bronze
Another typical environment for ὀξέϊ (ταναήκεϊ) χαλκῷ is the following generic (“iterative”) sentence, which does not refer to a particular killing:
τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ μάλα πολλὰ μάχῃ ἔνι κυδιανείρῃ
ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὄπωπα, καὶ εὖτ᾿ ἐπὶ νηυσὶν ἐλάσσας
Ἀργείους κτείνεσκε δαΐζων ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ·
Iliad XXIV 391–393
him in the battle that gives men kudos, very often
with my eyes I have seen him, also when drawing close to the ships
he would kill the Archives, lacerating them with sharp bronze
Thus we see that ὀξέϊ δουρὶ is at home in contexts that describe one particular, factual killing, while ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ typically occurs in contexts that are characterized either by a stative verb, denoting a time-stable phenomenon, or by a nonfactual or generic modality. [25] Now what these contexts have in common in opposition to the sentences describing one particular killing or hitting is that they are less transitive.
Following an influential article in modern discourse linguistics, [26] I define “transitivity” as “the degree to which an action is ‘carried over’ from one person or entity to another.” The notions “transitive” and “intransitive” are thus not the members of a binary pair, [27] but the two extremes of a continuum of increasing transitivity. Transitivity is what may be called a “cluster-concept” in that it consists of a number of independent parameters. One of these is individuation of the object. By this criterion “Odysseus killed Pidytes” is higher in transitivity than “Odysseus killed fifty Trojans.” A second parameter is reality (or factivity): real events are more transitive than events that have as yet not occurred; by this criterion “Odysseus killed Pidytes” is higher in transitivity than “Odysseus will kill Pidytes.” A third parameter is volitionality: “Odysseus jumped” is more transitive than “Odysseus fell,” even though neither is transitive in the traditional definition. [28]
The degree of transitivity may be reflected by properties of the sentence, and this insight is, I suggest, the appropriate basis to differentiate ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ from ὀξέϊ δουρὶ. The contexts in which ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ typically occurs consistently display a lower degree of transitivity by one or more of Hopper’s and Thompson’s parameters than the contexts in which ὀξέϊ δουρὶ occurs. The examples with medio-passive participles cited above represent states with only one (nonvolitional) participant, a typical case of low transitivity. The conditional clauses are less transitive by the factivity criterion: no transfer of energy has yet taken place. The generic (“distributive-iterative”) sentence, finally, is less transitive, too. This is obvious, because a repeated act performed on new victims all the time, belonging to the same class (“every time he was killing Greeks”), has a considerably less individuated object than a specific act that occurs only once. [29]
The preference for ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ in these contexts is now easy to explain in the light of the argument above. Being less specific by its lexical value (which denotes only the material), and as such not necessarily referring to a particular weapon, this dative for “spear” has a natural affinity with less transitive contexts that favor noun phrases with a less specific denotation. [30] Consequently, ὀξέϊ δουρί, being more specific, is blocked from these contexts, occurring instead in the highly transitive sentences that report an actual killing. [31]
Returning, after this linguistic investigation, to the system of dative expressions for “spear” (see the list on p. #), we have to conclude that on account of their different distributional patterns the χαλκῷ-expressions in fact do not belong to this system at all; they form a mini-system of their own. To realize that the χαλκῷ-expressions are not synonymous with the δουρὶ-expressions, but have a different function in the language, enhances the economy of the system in Parry’s sense, since a number of violations have disappeared. In the new χαλκῷ-subsystem, metrical diversity is realized by the choice of different epithets (ὀξέϊ, ταναήκεϊ, νηλέϊ). Metrical-prosodic considerations, however, are not always sufficient to account for the presence of these epithets, as appears from the use of νηλέϊ to which we now turn.

3. The Poetic Aspect: δουρὶ φαεινῷ vs. νηλέϊ χαλκῷ

It might seem tempting to assume that the relation between δουρὶ φαεινῷ and νηλέϊ χαλκῷ is analogous to that between ὀξέϊ δουρὶ and ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ, so that νηλέϊ χαλκῷ would be the prosodic counterpart of ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ (having an initial consonant instead of a vowel). In a system of functional synonyms in which each item has a reason for being precisely because of its metrical and prosodic properties this is to be expected and it is the reason which Paraskevaides gives for the coexistence of the two expressions. [32] It is indeed true that νηλέϊ χαλκῷ may function as what seems to be the prosodic duplicate of ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ in less transitive contexts where an initial consonant is needed, as in:
πολλοὶ δ᾿ οὐτάζοντο κατὰ χρόα νηλέϊ χαλκῷ
Iliad XII 427
Many were being wounded on the skin by the pitiless bronze

ἀλλ᾿ εἴ μιν ἀεικισσαίμεθ᾿ ἑλόντες,
τεύχεά τ᾿ ὤμοιιν ἀφελοίμεθα, καί τιν᾿ ἑταίρων
αὐτοῦ ἀμυνομένων δαμασαίμεθα νηλέϊ χαλκῷ.
Iliad XVI 559–561
but if we maltreat him after his death,
and take away the armor from his shoulders, and one of his friends
defending him, if we subdue him with the pitiless bronze
The first example (Iliad XII 427) is less transitive because the agent of the act is not expressed and also because the subject is unspecified; in the second example, we have again a conditional environment. In these cases, then, the reasons for using νηλέϊ χαλκῷ instead of its metrical and prosodic doublet δουρὶ φαεινῷ seem to be the same as those for preferring ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ to ὀξέϊ δουρὶ in the less transitive contexts cited earlier.
However, whereas ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ and ὀξέϊ δουρὶ differ only with respect to the main word, νηλέϊ χαλκῷ and δουρὶ φαεινῷ have different epithets as well. And it is due to the force of its epithet that νηλέϊ χαλκῷ is not equivalent to δουρὶ φαεινῷ. In the context of functional synonymy and Parryan economy, when an alleged violation of the law of economy involves epithets, extra caution is in order: the epithets are more likely to have a specific “poetic” meaning precisely because they do not serve to differentiate two expressions metrically from each other. [33] In a number of instances, in any case, the metrical duplication seems to be motivated by the lexical value and expressive potential of the epithets.
In a case not unlike the present one, for example, Eide successfully describes the (poetic) difference between the metrical duplicates χειρὶ παχείῃ ‘with his/her thick hand’ and χειρὶ βαρείῃ ‘with his heavy hand’: [34] the former is used in more or less neutral contexts where the instrument expression can be said to have, in terms of the previous chapter, a peripheral function, while χειρὶ βαρείῃ is used when the hand of someone is referred to as a frightening, threatening instrument. Likewise, within the set of nominative-accusative expressions for “spear,” the metrically equivalent pair μείλινον ἔγχος ‘ash spear’ vs. χάλκεον ἔγχος ‘bronze spear’ seems to be a violation of economy,” [35] but Évelyne Cosset plausibly argues against the treatment of the pair as merely equivalent: [36] χάλκεον ἔγχος is used to refer to a spear as a dangerous and heroic weapon with high killing power, whereas μείλινον ἔγχος is used when a spear misses its goal or when a given action is not forceful or heroic. [37]
In a similar way, νηλέϊ χαλκῷ may add an overtone of menace and imminent terror to the context that would be absent if the more neutral δουρὶ φαεινῷ were used, for example:
ὁ δὲ Κύπριν ἐπῴχετο νηλέϊ χαλκῷ
Iliad V 330
and he, he went after Kupris with pitiless bronze

ἵεντ᾿ ἀλλήλων ταμέειν χρόα νηλέϊ χαλκῷ
Iliad XIII 501, XVI 761
they were eager to cut each other’s skin with the pitiless bronze

Τρῶες δὲ περισταδὸν ἄλλοθεν ἄλλος
οὔταζον σάκος εὐρὺ παναίολον, οὐδὲ δύναντο
εἴσω ἐπιγράψαι τέρενα χρόα νηλέϊ χαλκῷ
Iliad XIII 551–553
All around the Trojans, each from his own position
they were hitting the broad flashy shield, but did not succeed
in scratching the tender skin inside with the pitiless bronze
One might argue here that νηλέϊ χαλκῷ is used, not because of the epithet νηλέϊ, but because of χαλκῷ, in view of the nonfactual context (in the case of XIII 501 and XVI 761 the spear-expression occurs within the complement of ἵεντ᾿ ‘they wished to…’, and in the case of XIII 551–553 the context is negated, as complement of οὐδὲ δύναντο ‘they could not …’). It is true that these contexts are different from factual contexts like “He killed/hit him with the spear,” but that does not mean that νηλέϊ χαλκῷ is a mere prosodic alternative to ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ. Again, the difference between δουρὶ φαεινῷ and νηλέϊ χαλκῷ lies both in the opposition between “pitiless” and “shining” no less than between “spear” and “bronze.” Besides, νηλέϊ χαλκῷ is sometimes used in factual contexts that seem to be the domain of the δουρὶ-expressions:
Ἰδομενεὺς δ᾿ ᾿Ερύμαντα κατὰ στόμα νηλέϊ χαλκῷ
νύξε· τὸ δ᾿ ἀντικρὺ δόρυ χάλκεον ἐξεπέρησε
νέρθεν ὑπ᾿ ἐγκεφάλοιο, κέασσε δ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ὀστέα λευκά·
ἐκ δ᾿ ἐτίναχθεν ὀδόντες, ἐνέπλησθεν δέ οἱ ἄμφω
αἵματος ὀφθαλμοί· τὸ δ᾿ ἀνὰ στόμα καὶ κατὰ ῥῖνας
πρῆσε χανών· θανάτου δὲ μέλαν νέφος ἀμφεκάλυψεν.
Iliad XVI 345–350
Idomeneus, Erumas in the mouth with pitiless bronze
he struck; and the bronze spear pierced right through,
from below under the brain, and it crushed the white bones:
the teeth were shattered out, and both were filled
with blood, the eyes; and through his mouth and nostrils
he blew out gaping. And the black cloud of death enveloped him.
The force of the epithet νηλέϊ as opposed to that of φαεινῷ, is particularly suited to the gruesome detail in which the hit is described, which is another way of saying that νηλέϊ χαλκῷ is not just a prosodic alternative to ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ, or a doublet of δουρὶ φαεινῷ.

Structuralism vs. Functionalism

Insofar as the preceding discussion of the “doublets” in the system for “spear” in the dative has implications beyond that system, it shows that the issue of synonymy in Homeric diction involves more factors than metrical-prosodic ones only. The Parryan approach to synonymy is functional insofar as it is concerned with the similarity in function of two or more expressions with different metrical forms. But to the extent that this similarity is subservient to a system, the Parryan approach had better be called structuralist, in that the emphasis is on the function of expressions within the system to which they belong rather than to their actual contexts.
To recognize the existence and importance of formulaic “systems” in Homeric diction is of course wholly legitimate and indeed one of the ways to make progress in understanding Homeric discourse. [38] Formulaic systems are indispensable for oral verse-making, but essentially they are no more than the adaptation of language to the verse, not language itself. The function a given element has in a given system does not tell us anything about the function of that element in actual contexts, for the simple reason that “context” is much more than “metrical-prosodic environment.” The discussion of the set of dative expressions for “spear” has shown that the structural and “systematic” discussion of a set of synonyms can never replace the study of its constitutive members in actual contexts. Not only may a closer study of “context” be necessary for determining, on a linguistic basis, the extension of the set (as in the case of δουρὶ vs. χαλκῷ), it can also reveal that “context” may acquire the value of “poetic significance.” Both aspects, the meaning of language and the meaning of poetry, cannot be captured by the rigor of any system, but it cannot be anyone’s intention to rule them out.


[ back ] 1. Parry 1928, translated and reprinted in Parry 1971.
[ back ] 2. Cf. Witte 1913; Meister 1921.
[ back ] 3. Parry 1928:105 (= 1971:84).
[ back ] 4. Parry 124–125 (= 1971:100–101).
[ back ] 5. Parry 141–142 (= 1971:114–115).
[ back ] 6. Düntzer 1872:538.
[ back ] 7. Paraskevaides 1984.
[ back ] 8. See Trümpy 1950:51–52; Lorimer 1950:254–258, as well as below.
[ back ] 9. See Whallon 1966:16–18, who contrasts the interchangeability of δόρυ and ἔγχος with the clear distinction between ἀσπίς and σάκος.
[ back ] 10. See also Trümpy 1950:53; and Chapter One above.
[ back ] 11. In the context of the second case the other lexeme is actually used: V 656: δούρατα μακρά, and V 664/666: δόρυ. Notice that the spear mentioned in V 660 is used for throwing, not thrusting (cf. V 657 ἐκ χειρῶν ἤϊξαν); this is a further indication that ἔγχεϊ μακρῷ is used arbitrarily here (see below).
[ back ] 12. Notice that Eustathius reads ὀξέϊ δουρὶ here, and that ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ is a variant. The latter can be explained on the basis of the juxtaposition with the middle perfect participle, see section 2 below.
[ back ] 13. It testifies to the general functional synonymy of ἔγχος and δόρυ that in the spear-throwing formula (δολιχόσκιον) ἔγχος is used: ἦ ῥα, καὶ ἀμπεπαλὼν προΐει δολιχόσκιον ἔγχος.
[ back ] 14. Trümpy 1950:52–54; and Lorimer 1950:258–261.
[ back ] 15. Ἐγχος is attested in Mycenaean: e-ke-si (PY Jn 829), see Ruijgh 1957:91–93.
[ back ] 16. A passage where the long spear is probably meant is XIX 47–49, where wounded warriors use an ἔγχος to lean on.
[ back ] 17. See Trümpy 1950:53. It is precisely these two heroes, especially Aias, that are also σάκος-bearers. Σάκος, the long shield, reaching to a warrior’s feet, is another relic from the Mycenaean age. It may be used indiscriminately to some extent with ἀσπίς, which designates the younger type (ibid., pp. 20–36), again for the sake of functional synonymy, but the difference between the two terms is never far away, owing among other things to the strong association of the σάκος with Aias (see Whallon 1966:5–36).
[ back ] 18. This is not to say that δουρὶ does not or cannot occur with νύσσω. See for example XI 95–96 τὸν δ᾿ ἰθὺς μεμαῶτα μετώπιον ὀξέϊ δουρὶ | νύξ᾿ (said about Agamemnon).
[ back ] 19. See also Chapter One, p. # above. Δουρὶ combines with ἀκοντίζειν sixteen times in the Iliad (out of twenty-two occurrences of the verb) and ἔγχεϊ two times. With the finite aorist form βάλ(ε)(ν), δουρὶ combines twenty-eight times (out of 100 occurrences of the verb), and ἔγχεϊ four times. Notice that, conversely, ἔγχεϊ cannot be shown to have an affinity with verbs for thrusting: both ἔγχεϊ and δουρὶ combine five times with νύσσειν (out of eighteen occurrences of the verb).
[ back ] 20. This is in fact the only instance of ἀκόντισεν ὀξέϊ δουρὶ: normally ἀκόντισε δουρὶ φαεινῷ is used. Apart from historical linguistic reasons (in the Aeolic phase, n-mobile being absent, *ἀκόντισε ὄξεϝι δόϝρι was prosodically undesirable), the synchronic, poetic explanation for this preference seems to be the value of the epithet φαεινός: a spear in its quality of being thrown (i.e. not yet entering a body) is typically “shining,” and not “sharp.” See Chapter One above, for reflections on the meaning of ornamental adjectives, as well as section 3 below.
[ back ] 21. Trümpy 1950:54.
[ back ] 22. On which, see Shannon 1975:31–86.
[ back ] 23. See in particular the study of the demonstrative οὗτος in Chapter Five and of verbal augment in Chapters Seven and Eight.
[ back ] 24. At XVI 623 and VII 77, the χαλκῷ-expression occurs in the conditional clause proper (protasis); it may also occur in the apodosis, which, its truth depending on the fulfillment of a condition, is equally nonfactual: (ἀτὰρ εἴ κε Διὸς θυγάτηρἈφροδίτη | ἔλθῃσ᾿ ἐς πόλεμον, τήν γ᾿ οὔταμεν ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ (V 131–132, 820–821).
[ back ] 25. For “time-(in)stability” as a criterion on the basis of which predicates may be differentiated, see Givón 1979:14, 320–323; Bakker 1988a:125–131. For “factual,” “non-factual,” and “generic” as sentential modalities in Greek, see Bakker 1988b; and in general, Givón 1973; 1984:321–351; 387–435.
[ back ] 26. Hopper and Thompson 1980; citation: p. #.
[ back ] 27. As in traditional grammar, where a verb’s (in)transitivity is determined on the basis of its having, or not having, a direct object.
[ back ] 28. In all, Hopper and Thompson distinguish ten transitivity parameters: number of participants (the exclusive traditional parameter), kinesis, aspect, punctuality, volitionality, affirmation, mode (reality), agency, affectedness of object, individuation of object. Obviously, the cases of highest transitivity are those in which most or all of the parameters converge. The clustering of parameters, furthermore, may have as a consequence that a sentence that is transitive by the traditional definition, in that it has an object (e.g. “Odysseus likes wine”) may be much less transitive than a one-participant event (“Odysseus jumped”): the object of the former is entirely unaffected (in fact, it will not be coded as object at all in many languages), whereas the latter is transitive by at least four of Hopper and Thompson’s criteria (kinesis, aspect, punctuality, volitionality).
[ back ] 29. Note that the verb in question, κτείνεσκε, has the suffix -σκ-, which is the morphological reflex of this detransitivization. See below, Chapter Seven, p. #, for a discussion of the lack of augmentation of verbs with this suffix.
[ back ] 30. In less transitive, generic and/or nonfactual contexts, indefinite noun phrases tend to have a non-referential interpretation: in “Every time I entered, he was reading a book” the constituent “a book” is most naturally read as not referring to any particular book. On the other hand, in “When I entered, he was reading a book,” the same constituent refers to a specific book. See also XXIV 391–393 cited on p. # above.
[ back ] 31. It is important to note, though, that the converse does not always hold: ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ occasionally occurs in transitive sentences, for example, τόν ῥ᾿ ἔβαλεν κεφαλὴν ὑπὲρ οὔατος ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ (XV 433), where the context makes it clear that a spear is involved (line 429: ἀκόντισε δουρὶ φαεινῷ); see also XIII 561.
[ back ] 32. Paraskevaides 1984:24.
[ back ] 33. This is not to say that when two epithet-expressions are prosodically or metrically different, the epithet is entirely subservient to this difference. It is more correct to assume, it seems, that an epithet is used for its specific (poetic) value as long as the metrical-prosodic context does not require its use. Thus δουρὶ φαεινῷ typically refers to spears as gleaming objects and combines “poetically” with ἀκόντισε. But it can also be used in contexts that poetically favor “sharp” spears but prosodically require an initial consonant (e.g. VI 32 ἐνήρατο δουρὶ φαεινῷ).
[ back ] 34. Eide 1986. Note that χειρὶ παχείῃ belongs to the so-called “illogical” epithets in Homer. See note 29 in Chapter One (p. #).
[ back ] 35. Paraskevaides 1984:23. See also Page 1959:276–277.
[ back ] 36. Cosset 1983; see also Schmiel 1984.
[ back ] 37. Notice, however, that Page’s 1959:276–277 diachronic treatment (the two formulas being prosodically different: χάλκεον vs. [μ]μείλινον) remains valid in that Cosset’s “semantic” approach is strictly synchronic: it deals only with the use of the pair in Homer, but it does not follow that this use also motivates the existence of the pair as such.
[ back ] 38. The systems consisting of peripheral material with respect to a given nucleus are especially important in this respect. See the discussion of ἔγχεϊ/δουρὶ as a peripheral element in Chapter One.