Preface to the Edition of 1990

This study was written in 1975–76 as my doctoral dissertation. In preparing it for publication 13 years later, I made such revisions as seem to me to render the text clearer and more readable. This new edition does not, however, incorporate recent work on the Homeric poems or new ways of thinking about semantic problems.
My object was to develop an understanding of some part of Homeric vocabulary through close attention to the Homeric language. I proceeded on the assumption that the Iliad and Odyssey are meaningful unities as we have them and that (supplemented by the texts of the Homeric Hymns and the Hesiodic corpus) they can be treated as a language—that is, a system in which words and groups of words have meaning in relation to other words and groups of words within the same system.
My method was to seek the meaning of the word nēpios through detailed analysis of its contexts within the Iliad and Odyssey. I started by noting all appearances of the word and its derivatives (using the Concordances of Dunbar and Prendergast [1] ). I then observed the elements of the immediate context of each occurrence, noting words, phrases, thematic material, and types of discourse. By classifying the types of contexts and looking for interrelationships among them, I attempted to come to an understanding of the meaning of nēpios. At that point, I began to look at etymology, and the phonological possibilities helped to shape my presentation of what my contextual study had revealed.
Chapter One sets forth the problem that was my starting point: that the traditional definition of nēpios (“child,” and, metaphorically, “childish,” or “foolish”) does not provide a totally satisfactory explanation of its meaning in the Homeric poems. Chapter Two discusses contexts of ēpios, a word that may be a positive expression in Homeric Greek of a root of which nēpios is the negative. Chapter Three contains my analysis of the contexts of nēpios that include children, and Chapter Four covers contexts where adults are called nēpios. Despite this distinction (between children and adults), I argue that the word can be understood as having a single sense in the Homeric poems, whether it is applied to adults or children.
Needless to say, this study itself arose from a context, and whatever is of value in it owes much to my teachers and fellow students in the Harvard Classics Department in the early 1970’s. Unfortunately, I cannot thank them all individually, but for their particular help on this manuscript, I owe special thanks to John Finley, Jr., Calvert Watkins, and Amy Johnson. Also, more than I can say to Lowell Edmunds, who keeps me connected to this kind of philology, and to Gregory Nagy who not only inspired this work and directed its development but refused to let it lie unpublished. [2] May none of them be implicated in its shortcomings!
Note: For this electronic edition, I have corrected whatever errors in the text I was able to find. Otherwise, it is not changed from the edition that appeared in the series Harvard Dissertations in the Classics, edited by Gregory Nagy and published by Garland Press in 1990.


[ back ] 1. Prendergast, GL. A Complete Concordance to the Iliad of Homer, New edition by B. Marzuilo, Darmstadt 1962; and Dunbar, H. A Complete Concordance to the Odyssey of Homer, New edition by B. Marzuilo, Darmstadt 1962.
[ back ] 2. Thanks are also due to Michael Connelly of Boston College for the use of the type fonts “Library” and “ΣΜΗΡΝA” (Smyrna).