The Epic Rhapsode and His Craft: Homeric Performance in a Diachronic Perspective

  González, José M. 2013. The Epic Rhapsode and His Craft: Homeric Performance in a Diachronic Perspective. Hellenic Studies Series 47. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

2. Dictation Theories and Archaic Art

Even as recently as 2001, when he published his Studies in the Text and Transmission of the Iliad, M. L. West remained guarded and somewhat vague in his speculations about the circumstances that accompanied the (first) writing of the Iliad. On a few matters he had forcefully stated his opinion: “[f]ixity could come only when a text was written down”; “[a]pparently each epic was written down only once”; “the process of writing [the Iliad] down was intermittent and extended over many years” (all three in West 2001:3). To be sure, these assertions represented a moderate departure from his earlier brief treatments of the topic, in which he had seemed to embrace a dictation theory of his own. [1] Still, West (2001:4) had left open the possibility that ‘Homer’ (whom, in a gesture evocative of Wellhausen, he now calls ‘P’) had used an amanuensis to record his performances. But, unless we are to imagine a long-term association between poet and scribe that spanned the “many years” of the Iliad’s writing, the hypothesis that an amanuensis had taken down the oral performances of the great bard could not long survive the conviction that the writing had been intermittent and long-drawn. [2] Accordingly, in his recent monograph on the making of the Iliad, [3] West has effectively disposed of the scribe and, with him, of the possibility that the poem may be an oral-dictated text. [4] In the process, West disowns his earlier speculations about the setting that made possible the recording of the poem in the context of a performance—a performance that would have been exceptional, because it was allegedly held for the recording of the poetry; but ordinary, because the bard was yet assumed to have composed in the presence of an admiring audience by resorting to his regular oral technique, however disadvantaged by the slow pace of the amanuensis and the interruptions imposed by the mechanics of recording.

2.1 M. L. West’s Dictation Theory

Only West 1990 details his preferred model for the writing of the poems. [9] West starts with the assertion that the Iliad had already been written down at least by the last quarter of the seventh century. [10] Early literary echoes of, and artistic references to, it dictate its existence “in einer einigermaßen fixierten Form” (33); [11] and fixity is accompanied by literacy. [12] To this fixed text attests the Panathenaic rule, which he credits to Hipparkhos (34). [13] Important to his model is the view that a tradition of oral verse need not be superseded by a written one when a people learns to write. This particular point motivates his cursory review of Lord’s work, which dwells on the oralist’s concession that there is a possibility, if remote, that the oral poet is literate and himself writes down a poem “at best” comparable in quality to the result of a successful dictation. [14] He then comes to Kirk 1960, who believed that “[t]he Greek tradition passed with astonishing and probably unique rapidity from its highest point to complete decline” (Kirk 1960:281), and that therefore Homer’s poems must have survived in the oral tradition substantially unchanged until they were finally written down some six generations later in sixth-century Athens (Kirk 1960:279). West is right to challenge this idiosyncratic view, although he does not seem principally troubled by the thesis that recomposition in performance was suddenly arrested shortly after it reached its zenith. Lacking a diachronic model of diffusion that could account for textual convergence, he regards oral recomposition strictly as centrifugal. [15] This and his belief in two monumental composers lead West to conclude that we cannot claim to have ‘Homer’s Iliad’ unless we have it from the pen of ‘Homer’: “[S]o gehört dieser Name [Homer] einzig dem Mann, der die Ilias zu dem Zeitpunkt komponiert hat, als sie schriftlich festgelegt wurde” (37).

Only on page 43 do we finally learn that West follows Lord’s dictation theory. A review of the difficulties faced by an oral bard who dictates privately to a scribe convinces him that the first recording of the Iliad must have been a public event, with a self-confident Homer who dictated day after day with the encouragement of an enthusiastic audience, while the scribe or scribes quickly took his verses down (46). The motivation for the undertaking must have come from an aristocratic patron in whose court he performed. Rich merchants may have also played a significant role that he does not specify. The end of the recording would have been to preserve the fine composition for the future (47). By now, these statements should sound familiar to the reader. As noted above, I join Lord in considering this argument anachronistic. And I find unconvincing West’s proposal that aristocratic forces lie behind the recording of the Iliad. [16] West concludes with the following scenario for the transmission of the written text (48): the manuscript was kept by the noble who commissioned it; since Homer remained at hand, only rarely would the text have been read or copied. With the passing of time copies, usually partial ones, were produced for two constituents: singers (who must have adopted the text for their own performances) and other aristocrats, who would sooner tender them to hired singers than read them. Once several complete copies are postulated, the fate of the original manuscript becomes largely irrelevant. West does not say so explicitly, but he must believe that one such copy reached Athens in the sixth century in time for the Peisistratean reforms of the Panathenaia.

2.2 Artistic Iconography

When seeking to correlate our Homeric poems [21] with depictions in vases, [22] the first question to ask is what kind of evidence could prove that, by a particular terminus, the Homeric tradition existed substantially in the form familiar to us (as regards thematic scope and plot line). [23] Thus posed, the investigation demands far more than establishing that any one particular depiction matches in the main an episode included in the poems. The qualification “in the main” allows for minor variations of detail but not for salient differences. Inevitably, one scholar will tolerate more or less divergence than another before he is led to conclude that a given vase cannot be harmonized with our poems. He might then ascribe it to another poetic tradition or else to an ‘Iliad’ or ‘Odyssey’ whose narrative shape was not what we know it to be now. [24] The evolutionary model of text fixation readily accounts for such deviations: they are simply multiforms that reflect the narrative fluidity still existent at the date of the vase. A more radically divergent depiction that is still best assigned to the Iliadic or the Odyssean traditions merely reveals a commensurately more fluid stage. Thus, a serious mismatch between our poems and the ancient pictorial evidence offers strong support for the evolutionary model. To survive, dictation theories must suppose that the written text failed to influence the artists. Unless we adopt the implausible assumption that the respective cultural spheres of singers and pictorial artists were disjoint—i.e. that they neither influenced each other nor drew on a common cultural stock of narratives—we must infer that there was, along with the hypothetical manuscript, a parallel living oral tradition of some vigor that disappeared eventually without a trace. This is a strange and incredible notion. In the face of divergent depictions, the conclusion seems inescapable: there was no written manuscript that can be substantially equated with our poems. Not all rhapsodes performed the stories in the same way, and, if we are not misled by the comparative evidence, no rhapsode ever performed a story twice in quite the same way. [25]

Potentially, then, vase painting is a strong ally of the evolutionary model and can only prove a weak partner of dictation advocates. For no one agreement is ever sufficient to prove their case, not even a detailed agreement—for what would prevent the currency of that version of the telling in a living oral tradition of recomposition in performance? This would only tell us that our poem’s version of an episode was already exampled in performance at that time. And if the depiction appeared in significant numbers, we could surmise that the particular episode in question, not the entire poem as we know it, had already become crystallized. [26] It seems to me that only under two scenarios could the artistic evidence serve the purposes of dictation advocates. If we should find that the surviving depictions, taken together, cover much of our poems’ plots; [27] and that, in the vast majority of instances, the textual and pictorial records substantially agree with each other—then we might have good reason to suppose that the vases provide a terminus ante quem for a cultural stock of heroic myth whose narrative shape might plausibly be that of our Iliad and Odyssey. It would be unreasonable to deny the parallel existence of a performance tradition largely in agreement with the art. This per se would not prove that the stories rhapsodes told and artists depicted had been written down at the dictation of a monumental composer. But at least the artistic record would not stand decisively in the way of the theory. One other scenario might also help dictation advocates. If we should find one or more extraordinarily detailed, early depictions that thoroughly matched our poems’ telling, it would be unreasonable to suppose that the oral tradition had either stumbled then upon the precise version of the vulgate, down to the minutest details; or else that it had crystallized the episode in its final form so early. I submit that neither of these two scenarios obtains.

There is therefore no probatory value in the ‘sudden’ appearance in the record at a particular point in time of numerous vases with heroic themes that can be more or less easily connected to the Iliad and the Odyssey. Unless either of the two scenarios above applies, such evidence would only indicate a correspondingly sudden rise of public interest in these themes. If so, we can fairly assume the currency of storytelling that included the episodes depicted. This would be as easily explained by a memorable performance that caught the imagination of the public and was emulated by many rhapsodes—a diachronic development—as by a dictated text that suddenly became popular and led oral traditional rhapsodes to exchange their performance habit for rote memorization and recitation of the text’s version—a historical accident. If such vases were of scattered geographic provenience, at an early stage diffusion by traveling rhapsodes is more likely than by proliferating copies which artists would be unlikely to acquire and read. The convergence of rhapsodes at a given festival, where one of them might sing a memorable episode to great success and public delight, would explain its adoption by the others. These may then travel on to other festivals, where they might reperform it in its basic outlines. This would suffice to motivate a similar depiction with a different provenience, if in fact one wishes to postulate a straightforward dependence of artists on performers. The influence might also be exerted by the artistic object directly: exported by merchants to another location, it might inspire local artists to more or less faithful reproductions in their own artistic language.

There is, on the contrary, probatory value in the persistence of depictions down to a late date that cannot be explained by anything other than by the cultural currency of ways of telling the story that do not match the poems we know. Now that I have discussed the promise and limitations of this kind of evidence, it is time to review the actual vases.

2.2.1 Alleged illustrations of the Iliad

To explore the interpretive limits set by these vases, it is instructive to consider the Corinthian cup from the beginning of the sixth century cataloged by Friis Johansen 1967:245 as A.4.a and discussed at 70–75. [34] This cup is now at the Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, Brussels. It depicts two pairs of fighters facing off, flanked by their respective squires, and, under one of the handles, a running man. All the figures are labeled. Hektor is paired with Akhilleus; their squires are Sarpedon and Phoinix. Ajax and Aineias make the other pair; an Ajax and a Hippokles escort them. The running figure is called Dolon. This vase presents numerous interpretive difficulties. There is the otherwise unknown Hippokles and the obvious dislocation of Dolon, who cannot have anything to do with either engagement. Sarpedon and Phoinix make unsuitable squires, and that the artist should have used the name of Akhilleus’ old tutor for one of the young mounted squires is striking. But the greatest difficulty is the identity of the pairs and their inclusion on the same vase. The choices call into question the attempt to infer a particular version of the Iliadic tradition from archaic vases. When Hektor and Akhilleus face off in Iliad 22, Sarpedon is already dead. And Ajax never meets Aineias in battle. It is interesting to note how Friis Johansen (1967:73–74) argues that this cup betrays neither ignorance nor a cavalier disregard of the poem. He suggests that the unaccountable fight between Ajax and Aineias responds to the painter’s desire “to depict famous battles near Troy” (73). Here Friis Johansen is using “famous” in a loose sense: not ‘well-known,’ because it was narrated in a celebrated passage of the Iliad (we know this fight never occurred). He must therefore mean that the painter wished to choose famous fighters from the Iliad and depict their engagement near Troy, indifferent to whether the Iliad narrated them or not. But this rationale would permit the selection of any two famous heroes from either side. Taken seriously, it would block the inference that a paring of Ajax and Hektor in the previous aryballoi must refer to the duel in Iliad 7: Ajax and Hektor would seem eminently reasonable choices for a “famous battle near Troy” (with ‘famous’ in the sense elucidated above) even without narrative backing. At first, the reference to Ρ 752–754 seems to help Friis Johansen’s case: it mentions the Aiantes fighting together and holding off the Trojans, while Aineias and Hektor press upon them. These verses place Ajax and Aineias together, motivate the name Ajax for the squire, and mention Hektor. The Aiantes, however, often fight together. [35] In this regard, the passage is hardly exceptional and their joint appearance does not single it out for the attention of the scholar. But note what Friis Johansen has done with the text: an incidental association between the Aiantes and Aineias which does not feature a direct engagement of Ajax and Aineias is made into the inspiration for precisely such an engagement; and what was a melee over the body of Patroklos that involved many of the famous heroes from either side is offered as the textual motivation for a scene that Friis Johansen considers a natural counterpart of Akhilleus and Hektor’s duel. If we did not have the Iliad, the logic applied to the aryballoi above would lead us to conclude that the painter had illustrated a poem that narrated two duels: one between Hektor and Akhilleus, and another between Aineias and Ajax. This conclusion strongly suggests that the evidence cannot yield the proof that dictation advocates are looking for.

4. SB 78: the famous Rhodian plate in the British Museum (A 749) [38] that depicts the fight of Menelaos and Hektor over the body of Euphorbos (the figures are all labeled). It is dated to near the end of the seventh century. [39] Friis Johansen (1967:77–78) thinks it incontrovertible that the source of the names is Ρ 1–113. But there is an embarrassing problem: the narrative is emphatic that Menelaos does not confront Hektor. After pondering the odds of facing him victoriously, he decides to withdraw (Ρ 97–101). Our Iliad makes the plate unintelligible. This artifact would sooner make the case for a multiform in which the engagement comes to pass than for the vulgate text. Snodgrass (1998:106) observes that the artist hints at Menelaos’ eventual victory by using the Argive alphabet to write the Doric form of the heroes’ names. [40] Might this be a reference to a known Argive multiform? This proposal is supported by Pausanias’ report that Euphorbos’ shield, which Menelaos had brought from Troy, could be found at the Argive Heraion: “There was, then, an alternative tradition that somehow Menelaos had prevailed at this juncture. … [L]ocal pride … could still prevail over the authority of Homer in the time of Pausanias” (Snodgrass 1998:107). After ably disposing of some minor problems for this interpretation in 108, Snodgrass notes that we only have two options: we must consider the plate either of non-Homeric inspiration or an anti-Homeric Argive reaction. The latter alternative hinges on the unproven premise that the vulgate version of the episode was widespread and dominant at this early time and could serve as a foil to an epichoric counter-tradition. Snodgrass is right: in the absence of compelling support for the premise, the more economical (and, I might add, plausible) hypothesis assumes the existence of rival multiforms that are not derivative from the eventual canonical version. [41]

These are all the examples adduced by Fittschen. Some are inconclusive; others actually undermine the very point for which proponents of dictation would proffer them. To these, Snodgrass adds a discussion of the Chest of Kypselos (1998:109–116), dated by most to “around or, more likely, after 600 BC” (115). This is a complicated case because the artifact has not survived and we depend on educated guesses and the detailed testimony of Pausanias. The attendant uncertainty is hardly a foundation on which to support the factuality of an early-archaic dictated transcript as the source of our Iliad. But even if we allow this evidence, the verdict is decidedly disappointing to dictation advocates: at best we have a generic fight between Hektor and Ajax without any proof of detailed adherence to Iliad 7 (so Snodgrass 1998:112); and a vignette that represents Agamemnon fighting Koon (a possible reference to Λ 248–263). [43] Snodgrass views the latter as significant, because he thinks that it is an “obscure episode” (111) unlikely to exist in more than one source. But his judgment depends on the anachronistic notion that the multiform Homeric tradition already existed as more or less well defined poems, and that no more than one at a time is likely to have included episodes deemed “obscure.” It seems to me that his logic is self-contradictory: if the Chest, by his own admission “a prestigious work,” devoted a panel to this episode, what other independent evidence do we have to argue that the artist made the bizarre selection of an obscure episode for this work? If we must pronounce on the obscurity or fame of a particular episode, it would seem fairer to take its depiction on the Chest as proof of its popularity in the area in which it was produced. Otherwise we run the risk of misjudging the prominence merely on the basis of our own likelihood to recall a given passage from our Iliad! [44] And there is, moreover, the dissonant fact that the two verses that accompanied the panel cannot be found in our Iliad: [45] Ἰφιδάμας οὗτός τε Kόων περιμάρναται αὐτοῦ; and οὗτος μὲν Φόβος ἐστὶ βροτῶν, ὁ δ’ ἔχων Ἀγαμέμνων. It is not hard to imagine a narrative that would accommodate the first hexameter. The present tense of περιμάρναται and the deictic οὗτος require that it be part of a direct speech. They might be the words of some Trojan, rallying the forces on his side to help Koon as he fights for his brother’s corpse: ἔνθ’ ὅ γε δειλὸς κεῖται ἐπὶ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ | Ἰφιδάμας οὗτός τε Kόων περιμάρναται αὐτοῦ. [46] The two names, Iphidamas and Koon, render unlikely the existence in our poems of close parallels for these verses. But we find οὗτος with the same metrical shape in this very sedes in Θ 358 Π 30 χ 49 (οὗτός γε). Concerning περιμάρναται, ἐμεῦ πέρι μάρναο is attested at Π 497. περιμάρναται shares with πέρι μάρναο prosodic shape and sedes; the scholia ad loc. make clear that it could just as well be read with Aristarkhos as περιμάρναο and be construed with the genitive. This shows that the diction of the first verse quoted by Pausanias is arguably traditional, and my purpose in supplying it with a hypothetical setting is only to show that the inscription might be well taken as evidence of a traditional multiform that departs from the version in our Iliad. [47]

2.2.2 Alleged illustrations of the Odyssey

I turn now to possible depictions of the Odyssey. Fittschen (1969:192–193) lists five. [48] We can deal with these rather more summarily than with the alleged illustrations of the Iliad. Three of them portray the blinding of Polyphemos. Two of them are dated to the second quarter, and one to the middle, of the seventh century. As Snodgrass (1998:90) observes, these are all large, ambitious vases from three different parts of the Greek world (Eleusis, Argos, and Etruria) that appear within some twenty years from each other before 650 BC. There is a fourth depiction, not in Fittschen 1969, on a large Etruscan storage pithos that Snodgrass judges not much later in date. [49] Those who consider the Odyssey manifestly younger than the Iliad may be startled that it should seem to make its appearance in the artistic record “when the impact of the Iliad can only be dimly perceived” (Snodgrass 1998:90). To advance my conclusion: not one of these vases suggests by a preponderance of the evidence—let alone demand that we accept—that our Odyssey has inspired the depiction. As a self-contained episode in Odysseus’ nostos, one may readily imagine that some version of the hero’s encounter with Polyphemos would have been part of the Odyssean tradition from a very early stage. However, there is not the degree of correspondence between the details of the paintings and of the narrative as we know it to commend the theory that a transcript substantially identical to our Odyssey had been dictated by a monumental composer and—having reached Attika, Argos, and Etruria—inspired these illustrations.

1. SB 111: the first vase is the celebrated Protoattic Eleusis amphora at the Eleusis Museum, dated to the second quarter of the seventh century. [50] A bearded Polyphemos sits leaning against the right frame of the neck, holding a cup in his right hand, while three figures (the front one in white, with shading, must be Odysseus) drive a spear horizontally into his eye. But the narrative of our Odyssey states clearly that Odysseus used a large stake, not a spear, which he carefully fashioned out of a section a fathom’s length that he cut from a great ‘club’ or ‘staff’ (μέγα ῥόπαλον ι 319) used by the Cyclops. It was made smooth, and its tip was sharpened and hardened in the fire (ι 319–328). The fashioning of the weapon receives great attention, and it makes the use of the spear in this vase unaccountable with reference to the vulgate. I do not consider determinative, however, the discrepancy in the number of men who drive the stake into Polyphemos’ eye; ι 335 gives a count of five, but the space on the neck would have certainly encouraged the painter to abridge it as necessary, even if he had intended to portray the vulgate version. Another disagreement with our text is that the Cyclops is not lying supine, as ι 371 notes (ὕπτιος). That on the amphora Polyphemos holds a cup can be excused by the principle of synoptic depiction, according to which the temporal axis of the narrative is represented by a collapse of two or more sequential stages into one representation. The cup points to the drunkenness that makes the Cyclops vulnerable; it does not imply an attempt by the artist to paint him drinking even as the spear is being thrust into his eye. [51] Finally, since the Cyclops was lying on the floor in a drunken stupor, the stake was driven down into his eye: [52] ‘[My companions] took and thrust (ἐνέρεισαν) the stake of olivewood (μοχλὸν … ἐλάϊνον) … into his eye; and I, putting my weight upon it (ἐφύπερθεν ἐρεισθείς), whirled it’ (ι 382–384). [53] This action is arguably harder to depict on a vase than a near horizontal thrust, but the poem devotes such painstaking attention to it that one cannot compare text to vase and endorse with any confidence the notion that the latter is inspired by the former. The additional difficulty that the vase seems to depict a two-eyed being is not decisive: the Homeric text speaks of one eye whose gouging renders the Cyclops blind. But how could the vase painter depict this anatomical feature in a figure shown in profile?

3. SB 113: a western Greek kratēr dated to ca. 650 BC, in the Musei Capitolini, Rome. [56] Significantly, this vase depicts five identical figures driving the stake into the eye of the Cyclops. The one farthest away from him braces his foot against the left frame of the picture. The weapon is still too thin and long, the thrust strictly horizontal, and Polyphemos sits on the floor to the right, propping himself up with an arm. An object that looks like a box in wickerwork stands on a pole behind the Cyclops. The pole features another, smaller object halfway up. The numerical agreement with our Odyssey is undeniable, and the two objects on the pole have been identified with a milk pail and a cheese rack. One may also argue that the elements that are not in agreement (the horizontality of the thrust, a sitting Polyphemos, the dimensions of the stake) all respond to the pictorial limitations imposed by the fabric. These considerations are not easy to dismiss. I do not wish to espouse the prejudicial notion that, on balance, every surviving vase demonstrates that episodes from the Homeric poems as we know them did not exist or were not current as early as the seventh century. After all, they must have come into existence at some point; why should a vase not agree occasionally in one or more details with what became the final vulgate version? The number of assailants in this kratēr may evince precisely that kind of agreement. The narrative, with its strongly marked folk elements, is memorable and seems to have been famous by the end of the seventh century. [57] Although it was probably a self-standing episode, we should reckon its multiforms among the potential constituents of the Odyssean nostos poetic tradition. Whether it had been integrated with other such episodes into a larger performance unit is doubtful (see below). If the evolutionary model of Homeric poetry is right in its understanding of textual fixation, we have every reason to assume a differentially early fixation of those episodes that were performed most often. The blinding of Polyphemos provides a good candidate for this early fixation, and this fact may lie behind the striking numerical agreement which may be accidental but cannot be gainsaid. There is no need for a dictation theory, with its myriad difficulties, to explain it. On the other hand, I am not so sure about the import of the objects on the pole. Even if they have been correctly identified, a narrative that portrayed Polyphemos as a shepherd, living off his flock, would suggest these details both to the performer and the artist. If there is anything exceptional in their inclusion on the kratēr, it is the artist’s desire to particularize the setting by the addition of ‘stage’ props. [58] This vase by itself cannot bear the burden of a dictation theory, especially in the light of its own, and the other vases’, divergences of detail.

There are two engraved bronze reliefs, one from Samos dated to ca. 625 BC [62] and another, slightly later, from Olympia, and dated to the sixth century. [63] More important than these additional survivals is a fact of great significance, noted by Snodgrass (1998:98), which suggests that, insofar as these depictions were inspired by poetry, the Cyclops episode was a self-standing performance unit that was not integrated with other episodes and themes that we would recognize as Odyssean. This fact is the startling circumstance that the Olympia bronze relief is followed by fifty years of iconographic silence: “So whatever this phenomenon represents, it is not the dawn of a great age of Odyssean iconography.” [64] It is unlikely that we meet here with a short-lived burst of interest in a recently dictated poem, whose written text makes its way across the Aegean and into Etruria, only to disappear shortly thereafter. Why the sole apparent interest in this episode? Why should the other memorable passages—the Sirens, Kirke, etc.—fail similarly to capture the imagination of the public? And what could have caused the hiatus? Furthermore, if disinterest is to blame, why the sudden and sustained resurgence later in the sixth century? The likeliest explanation, I believe, is that this story had not been integrated with any other of the memorable episodes from the Odyssean tradition and that it was correspondingly known as an self-standing lay and performed more frequently than competing themes which were not selected by the artists. Admittedly, this still does not explain the hiatus (more on this immediately below), but it lessens the puzzle in that it does not assume an inexplicable neglect during the seventh century and the ensuing hiatus of every other episode from an existing, more or less unitary Odyssey. Assuming arguendo the artist’s dependence on epic poetry for his themes, the temporal hiatus and geographic scatter of the illustrations are easier to understand if the vagaries of where and when traveling rhapsodes performed and of their interaction with artists are responsible for where and when these five objects were manufactured. [65] Plausible explanations are harder to formulate if the leading cause of these depictions was a dramatic irruption into the Greek world of an unprecedented cultural artifact, a dictated text of the Odyssey.

Lowenstam (2008:15–16) has suggested, in fact, a historical rationale for what we perceive to be a somewhat sudden appearance of the Cyclops episode in the artistic record in such disparate locations. His proposal also explains why the episode would have been a preferentially performed item of the rhapsodes’ repertoire. Society as a whole, and hence artists and rhapsodes, must have been responding to the changed circumstances in the Greek world of the time. A significant development, and itself an important contributor to the dynamic of Panhellenism, was the greater mobility that had accompanied the increase in trade, colonization, and a growing and vigorous cultural contact during the eighth century. [66] Travel, exploration, and contact with non-Greek societies—evidenced by the fact that two of the surviving vases, the kratēr and the pithos, are Etruscan—must have aroused hopes for profit and anxieties about reception not unlike the ones that frame the story of Odysseus and the Cyclops. [67] It is not hard to see the parallel between Odysseus the wanderer and the traders and colonists who were setting out into new lands. [68] To this, we should add the use of this episode on funerary vases, which reveals its import as a narrative of victory over death. [69] That the knowledge and performance of a story so relevant to central cultural concerns should have accompanied travelers into the new world is only to be expected. [70] The seventh-, rather than eighth-century date must have something to do with developments in pictorial technique. It is probably not an accident, as Lowenstam (2008:13) astutely noted, that these artists were all using relatively new techniques. Only when the impetus from cultural change and these technological innovations converged did the story, already in circulation both as a folk motif and as a part of the rhapsodic repertoire, become a favorite of vase painters. The hiatus that ensued after the end of the seventh century might be tentatively attributed to the more settled circumstances of the sixth century, when the old anxieties were no longer keenly felt.

The picture I have reviewed above is unchanged if we add the only other few objects that could possibly derive from our Odyssey: [71] a mid-seventh-century Protoattic oinokhoē, [72] a bronze relief from a tripod leg from Olympia, [73] and two ivory pyxides in Florence, [74] all dated to the end of the seventh century. All depict the escape from Polyphemos’ cave. None seriously departs from the vulgate except in such details as we might fairly think conditioned by the fabric. [75] It is hard to escape the conclusion that we simply do not have the kind of evidence that would suggest that the Odyssey, even in oral performance—let alone written form—had suddenly become available in the seventh century. The dictation theory fails to receive any support. It is, rather, seriously contradicted. If all we have is a long-standing oral tradition of composition in performance, we need not assume that the complex of Odyssean myth had reached any particular overall textual shape or stage as a performance tradition. Under such circumstances, the artists’ thematic selectivity simply need not speak with specificity to the repertoire and practice of the Homeric rhapsode. The dictation advocate who seeks in illustrations evidence for a terminus ante quem does not enjoy this freedom to dissociate the vagaries of the artistic record from the availability and diffusion of the written manuscript. As Snodgrass (1998:99–100) concludes: “It might be possible for a literary scholar to mount an argument that a much shorter lay, corresponding to what was later defined as Book 9, began to be recited over a wide area of the Greek world and beyond, towards the middle of the seventh century BC; but that would be an argument in which the artistic evidence could not possibly be decisive.”

2.2.3 A fluid sixth-century Homer

I turn now to two examples that illustrate the fluidity of the Homeric tradition in the sixth century. [76] The first is the depiction of the funeral games for Patroklos on the François Vase (cf. Ψ 262–652). The identification of the frieze is ensured by the presence of Akhilleus as umpire. The chariots competing are five, which agrees with the five contestants in the Iliad. They are, however, driven by four horses apiece. Although the Iliad knows of four-horse chariots (Θ 185 Λ 699), the regular practice, followed at the funeral games, called for two horses. Kleitias’ depiction of four appears to be an anachronism driven by the star equestrian event at the Panathenaia [77] (the vase is Attic black-figure). Except for Diomedes, who is shown in third position, the names of the contestants do not match the account in the Iliad. Odysseus(?) is shown as the winner (spelled Olyteus), followed by Automedon; the fourth and fifth contestants, Damasippos and Hippothoon, are unknown to the Iliad as Akhaian names. [78] It is perhaps not coincidental that the name Ἱππόθοος is borne by a son of Priam (Ω 251) and by a Trojan ally, the leader of the Pelasgians (Β 840 etc.); incidentally, this proves that the name fits epic poetry and its meter. The name Δαμάσιππος is not exampled in the Homeric poems, but is attested in Apollodoros Bibliothēkē 3.10.6 (§126) as the brother of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife. It too suits the epic meter. Diomedes’ position and Kleitias’ choice for the other contestants seems inescapable evidence that he is following another version of the race. [79] It is unlikely at this late date (ca. 570) that the race existed as a self-standing performance unit which to the mind of performer and audience bore no organic relation to a poetic tradition substantially like our Iliad in shape. It is unlikely, too, that it belonged to an independent myth, whether we imagine this myth as poetry or as a prose narrative that was current beyond the circles of professional performance. The race is not easily conceivable as an element of a folktale; what would the subject of that unattested myth be? Furthermore, that the additional names readily lend themselves to epic treatment seems to me significant. Arguably, the additional representation in Shapiro (1994:37 figs. 21–22) follows the familiar version more closely; this further supports the notion that variant representations should be considered in the specific context of Iliadic performance. Lowenstam suggested that, by his choice and order of contestants, Kleitias deliberately sought to articulate the rivalry between Odysseus and Akhilleus. [80] This view depends on an over-subtle interpretation of Akhilleus, who stands as umpire by the finish line, as an implicit contestant and victor in the race. And it appears particularly improbable if the vase was intended for export to Etruria. The vase stands largely as a mute object. It is hard to imagine that it could convey this clever reading to a patron, even one familiar with traditional myth and sensitive to the possibilities of narrative elaboration. A depiction whose theme approaches the topical and makes a simple point lends itself to mythic treatment: the painter need only choose an episode that illustrates the relevant topic. Such illustrations might depart from the more familiar form of the myth, if the disparities are easily grasped in the topical context of the theme. This is what Lowenstam proposes here. That he should call his reading of Kleitias’ version “[the painter’s] own interpretation” (1992:177, my emphasis) shows that it is hardly intelligible apart from (an almost certainly poetic) narrative. The competing explanation that Kleitias was ignorant and lacked informed advice or else simply did not care what names he used seems implausible considering the effort expended in naming numerous figures on the vase and the accuracy of the other names. [81] Another Athenian vase from the first decades of the sixth century, a fragment from a dinos by Sophilos, supports the view that we are dealing with Iliadic multiforms. The illustration states the subject, ΠATΡOϘΛΥΣ ATΛA. Only the horses of one chariot are preserved; they race towards bleachers full of viewing public. We cannot be certain that this is the winning chariot, although the assumption seems plausible. Over the chariot are found the remains of a name, which Immerwahr (1990:21 no. 62) reads as ]ι̣ος. Neither as the beginning nor as the end of a word does this match our Iliad; and if this is the winning chariot driver, neither does it match Kleitias’ choice.

Another important example, reviewed at length by Lowenstam (1997:35–39, with figs. 3–5 at 75–76), concerns a fragmentary hydria at the Vatican dated to 560/50. [82] It depicts in unusual detail the fight around a fallen Sarpedon (all figures are labeled). A striking departure from our Iliad, however, is that Pyraikhmes is shown alive and under attack by a figure whose label is not preserved, and whose identity might be Patroklos. [83] Pyraikhmes, the leader of the Paionians, is Patroklos’ first casualty when he joins the fight (Π 284–292). As Eustathios long ago noted [84] and Lowenstam (1997:36) writes, the felling of ‘Fire-spear’ and the consequent scattering of the Trojans verbally reenacts Patroklos’ success in averting the attempt to burn the ships. [85] This gives peculiar significance to his death at the opening of Patroklos’ aristeia and makes implausible the view that the vase painter was mistakenly attempting to reproduce our Iliad. [86] The degree of detail renders the explanation of a “folk transmission” unlikely: such non-professional tellings tend toward simplification. [87] And the suggestion that the painter was trying to develop his own alternative timeline, independently of a competing performed version, assumes a naive estimate of the power of images. In all likelihood, from the point of reception, the painter’s deliberate attempt to contradict so blatantly a known poetic version would have met with a “baffled or censorious” response from a potential patron. [88] The best and most economical explanation is that of an Iliadic multiform. [89] With adequate modifications to the plot familiar to us, a rhapsode in performance could motivate the alternative sequence of events. I must emphasize, however, that this hypothetical alternative must not be seen as derivative from our Iliad; we can only guess which version was more popular in Athens at any one time. From the point of view of traditional oral recomposition in performance, neither version is primary or derivative, even though, in actual historical fact, a rhapsode might have deliberately composed the one in competition with a previous performance of the other.

Similarly fatal to dictation theories are Snodgrass’s numerical estimates. Surveying the number of epic depictions of the Trojan saga down to the 530s, he observes that, despite the increase in absolute number, the proportion of scenes with ‘Homeric’ subjects has not risen compared to the seventh-century. The 30% for the period that ends ca. 600 BC drops slightly to 29% for 600–530 BC: “This constitutes another blow against the theory … that some major expansion of the Homeric epics took place in the earlier sixth century, and resulted in a sudden extension of the range of Homeric subjects in art.” [92] With reference to this same period of 600–530 BC, Snodgrass (1998:147) adds: “[O]f those artists who choose a subject from the Homeric epics, perhaps one in twelve or fifteen shows signs of having actually used Homer as his source. Among the much larger group who depict any legendary episode, there is apparently a higher ratio than before, but still perhaps only one in 40 or 50.” These calculations lie behind this summary: [93]

First, if a picture has legendary or mythical but otherwise equivocal subject-matter and we are uncertain whether or not it portrays an event narrated in the Iliad or the Odyssey then, other things being equal, there is perhaps a one-in-ten chance, perhaps slightly better, that it does so.

Secondly and more debatably, when we are sure that the subject-matter is taken from the events narrated in the Iliad or the Odyssey then, other things being equal, there is appreciably less than a one-in-ten chance that they demonstrably reflect a knowledge of the poem.

2.3 Homer, a Writing Poet?

As I noted at the beginning of this chapter, West (2011a) has radically reconceived the process that resulted in the writing of the Iliad. In this monograph, he takes principal aim at “the Oralists” and their “dogma that the Homeric epics are ‘oral dictated texts’” (West 2011a:4). With “oralist” he seems to refer to scholars like Albert B. Lord and Richard Janko. For reasons best known to him, West refuses to engage with the evolutionary model. [94] I do not know if his silence is one of indifference, contempt, or ignorance, but it is a pity that those of us who believe in the model’s essential correctness have not been able to profit from the productive opposition of his learned argument. [95] At any rate, his Making of the Iliad labors under the fallacy of the excluded middle, as if the only alternatives were an intermittently writing and revising Homer and a one-time, linear dictation of an oral performance. Whether or not “the Oralists … are helpless in the face of [the poem’s discontinuities]” (2011a:5), this is certainly not the case with the evolutionary model, which features no “sequential dictation” and allows for “second thoughts” (13) on the part of a long array of recomposing bards. I suspect that West deliberately neglects the evolutionary model, because he is unable to accept that a gradual textual fixation might issue from the converging forces of competitive and cooperative performance at the heart of rhapsodic poetics. [96] According to him, one can only account for the many structural problems of the Iliad by embracing the “essential point” that Homer “made insertions in parts of the poem that were already fixed; and fixed means written, because if they were only fixed in his head they would naturally have moulded themselves round the insertions more pliably than they have done” (West 2011a:3). As an example of such structural problems he offers the famous crux of the duals in the embassy to Akhilleus: Homer originally conceived the episode with only two envoys. Once he decided to add Phoinix to it, “[h]e ought … to have rewritten the following passage [after Ι 168] to get rid of the duals, but he neglected to do so” (13). In González 2015, a work on the diachrony of epic performance, I discuss the ‘solution’ that follows from the evolutionary model—a solution, I believe, not only more respectful than West is of the oral culture of archaic Greece but also more psychologically realistic. For now, I need only draw attention to the intrinsic implausibility that Homer should have cared so much about his poetry as to make a prodigious effort to write it down, and yet, when a revision made grammatical nonsense of his written text, he should have failed to emend it to reflect his (we must assume) grammatically correct oral version. [97] Or are we to imagine that Homer recited his revised poem with the addition of Phoinix and the duals, if in fact (as West intimates) he must have held the duals as manifestly out of place in this new version? There is little comfort to be had in the thought that “[p]robably he did not read through his whole text with a view to ensuring that it flowed smoothly, but simply made additions as they occurred to him” (14). The incongruity between the herculean effort to write down the poem and the alleged neglect to read or properly to revise it is remarkable and, I submit, psychologically inconceivable.

But how about the mechanics of West’s scenario, what he calls “the practicalities” (14)? The great scholar asserts that “it boggles the mind”—and well it might, for what he suggests is utterly implausible, even in a much later period that enjoyed an abundance of papyri and ample acquaintance with the technology of writing; all the more is it out of place in the Greece of the seventh century BC. No matter. West disposes of this impassable obstacle with a rhetorical question and a summary non-answer: “How did P, or any patrons who assisted in the matter, obtain all the necessary papyri or whatever material was used? We might judge [getting the poem down in writing] scarcely possible, not worth attempting; yet we know for certain that it was done” (14). For West, then, we must set aside our skepticism, for “we know for certain that it was done.” Thus he shrugs off the fatal reefs that would run his theory aground. But how are we to think that Homer made his rather substantial insertions into the written text? “[I]f the book was a papyrus or leather roll, the easiest assumption is that it was done by cutting and pasting, not in the figurative sense … but by literally cutting the roll in two and pasting in extra sheets” (14). With this astonishing proposal, West achieves no small feat: in his hands, Homer becomes a literal ‘rhapsode’—especially if the substrate was leather!—laboriously pasting or stitching his new verses onto the old rolls. I imagine that West would rather have Homer use papyrus—think how the weight of bulky leather rolls might encumber his itinerancy! If so, since the new sheets would have been pasted to the old at the intercolumn (cf. Johnson 2004:x), after the interpolation the resulting flow of the text would be awkward at best (all the more awkward, the more numerous and smaller they were). And I wonder how rolls that featured an increasing number of secondary seams might have fared with the passing of time, whether they would not tend to disintegrate under the stress of use. But such pedantic minutiae need not give us pause: “we know for certain that it was done.” [98]


[ back ] 1. I review this and his earlier work in the next section.

[ back ] 2. Less plausible still would have been the alternative of many different scribes, each putting down in writing at various times over many years some one portion of the Iliad (presumably, in the same scrolls, which Homer would have kept with him).

[ back ] 3. West 2011a. Some of his recent speculations are anticipated by West 2000, where he yet remains more open to alternative scenarios. Thus, for example, he allows for one or more poets of the Odyssey (485); he regards as “probable enough that the poets responsible for the poems we have were oral poets … accustomed to perform their works orally and, to some extent, to recompose them in the course of each performance” (486); and, crucially, he concedes that “the texts may have been reduced to written form by dictation, … not as line-by-line dictation but rather as a process by which the poet recited a whole episode and the scribe (perhaps another poet), or the author-poet himself, then wrote out from memory what he had just heard (or said)” (486). West takes aim at what he calls the “fashionable opinion” that the Homeric poems were “dictated from beginning to end by oral poets and subject to no subsequent editorial redaction” (486). In its remarkable historical and psychological implausibilities, his argument in this article fully anticipates the treatment in his monograph, presupposing (among other things) “operations performed on a written text, as it were with scissors and paste.”

[ back ] 4. Although he still leaves open the possibility that Homer “used an amanuensis or a series of amanuenses” (West 2011a:3), the creative process he envisions makes this alternative both impracticable and improbable in the extreme. West elides the intellectual distance that separates his 2001 Studies from his 2011 Making of the Iliad by repeatedly referring to the former in the latter, as if both were singing from the same hymn sheet.

[ back ] 5. West 2011a:16, in rather compressed fashion, where he refers to West 1995:207.

[ back ] 6. Although the Odyssey is occasionally mentioned, the Iliad is its clear focus.

[ back ] 7. West 1995:207.

[ back ] 8. West1995:206. West 1988:172 suggests that the Odyssey was a Euboian poem, whereas the author of the Iliad appears to have lived in Asia Minor.

[ back ] 9. In this section, unless otherwise stated, all unattributed quotations come from this article.

[ back ] 10. In West 1995:218 he confines this date to 670–640 BC, with a preference for the decade of 660–650. West 2011a:19 in turn dates to “between 680 and 640” the extended period during which the alleged writing of the Iliad took place. “P will have been born around 700, give or take a decade.”

[ back ] 11. The once popular search for echoes of the Iliad and the Odyssey in lyric poetry, and the attempt to prove Homer’s priority from such echoes, has now been largely abandoned (cf. Davison 1955). West does not illustrate his claim here with specific examples. To accommodate his contention that Hesiod is older than Homer, he downdates the Iliad to a time that makes claims of Iliadic echoes in early lyric impossible or implausible. Thus, it is hardly surprising to find him dismissing alleged parallels in Tyrtaios and Mimnermos, and claiming that only in Alkaios do we at last find a credible literary echo (West 1995:206). His sole concern is to find echoes of Hesiod in the Iliad (1995:208–209). Lately, however, West (2011a:16) has changed his mind about Mimnermos, and he now embraces the view that frr. 2.1–4 and 14.1–3 present “reasonably clear echoes of the Iliad.” To accommodate this revision to his preferred dates he must posit that the Iliad became widely known across Greece and “started producing observable effects in art and literature within a generation or so of its creation.” However implausible, this assumed explosion of the poem into the awareness of Greek artists everywhere ca. 650 BC is necessary, if a Mimnermos “active sometime in the last third of the seventh century” was to reflect it in his own poetry. Given West’s conviction that the writing of the Iliad was intermittent and took place over many years, one must wonder what point of time he has in mind when he speaks of “its creation” in the quotation above.

[ back ] 12. The Odyssey followed somewhat later.

[ back ] 13. See below, §

[ back ] 14. Lord 1960:149.

[ back ] 15. West summarizes Parry 1989 thus: “[D]ie Identität und die Qualität einer Ilias [wäre] sehr bald verlorengegangen … aufgrund der Umformulierungen, die im Lauf einer Zeit der mündlichen Überlieferung unbedingt zustande gekommen wären” (37).

[ back ] 16. This case has been made, for example, by Morris 1986. The motivation he offers for the aristocrats’ need to record the poem in writing reveals a deficient understanding of performance in an oral culture: “Oral poetry is by its nature a two-edged sword; since it is constantly changing, there is no guarantee that the poet will continue to represent the ‘right’ sort of society among the heroes and gods. Written down, it is a different matter. It is there for everyone to see: the greatest of all the poets, and therefore by definition the man most inspired by the Muses and knowing most about the ‘truth,’ says it was so. Therefore it was so” (Morris 1986:126). Unexplained is why Homer should adopt an aristocratic viewpoint if, as Morris thinks, he is performing at a panēgyris that includes a broad cross-section of society; or why a written transcript should control performance and preclude a change to the alleged aristocratic texture of the poem. I find puzzling his belief that eminently traditional poetry would be open to radical shifts in its portrayal of society (especially, when such a portrayal is the outcome of a rather complex compositional architecture); and that the aristocrats would be so anxious at the prospect of such a change that they would take the unprecedented step of providing themselves with the safeguard of a written version. Implausible, too, is the further notion that the resulting manuscript would be widely available and frequently consulted (“for all to see”). This involves peculiar assumptions about literacy in the archaic period. Morris does not tell us whether his estimate of Homer as “the greatest of all the poets” is supposed to be local or Panhellenic. If the latter, one may wonder how this surpassing reputation could have been achieved so early and so conclusively; if the former, the need for the written script is questionable where the singer himself could place upon the poem the authoritative stamp of his performance. At all events, the aristocratic ideals of heroic warriors are not easily mapped onto the aristocratic ideology of landed citizens, although a reading of the Iliad that emphasizes the hoplite ideals of a middling citizenry is possible (cf. Graziosi 2002:175–177, 240). Assessing the ideological cast of the Homeric poems is an exceedingly difficult matter that I cannot enter upon here. To summarize my view: the reception of Homeric poetry throughout the archaic period was decisively tied with the development of the polis in a Panhellenic context. This commends the assumption that their depiction of ‘society’—whatever its disparate strands—is susceptible of an integrated reading that accommodates and appeals broadly to the citizens of the rising polis across space and time (to wit, a reading that is Panhellenic and diachronically valid), even if sometimes it echoes the internal tension that obtained between its social classes. (This integrated reading does not correspond to the “unitary and historical” Homeric society that Whitley 1991:34–37 opposes.) A middle-class member of the demos striving for social advancement might even read aristocratic ideals through the lens of meritocratic achievement, embracing them as his roadmap for upward mobility. Cf. Nicolai 1983; Donlan 1999; and Duplouy 2006.

[ back ] 17. It is worth noting that many of the valid arguments marshaled in West 1995 for a textual fixation in the seventh century are easily accommodated by the evolutionary model, which allows for the diachronic layering and integration of material from time periods all the way down to the classical era. This includes, for example, alleged references to seventh-century weaponry (209), hints of phalanx formations (209), or the Gorgon on Agamemnon’s shield (210). The evolutionary model further accounts for alleged Athenian interpolations as diachronically organic recomposition, albeit within a narrow range characteristic of the last creative phase of the oral tradition. The destruction of Egyptian Thebes by Assurbanipal, which West (following Burkert) offers as a terminus post quem, is entirely indifferent to the evolutionary model, for which only a terminus ante quem, as the end of the tradition, is of significance. So is the (to my view, fanciful and textually unsupportable) connection with the fall of Babylon that West advocates in pp. 211–216.

[ back ] 18. In other words, a development that cannot be diachronic and can only be an accident of history.

[ back ] 19. On my emphatic use of ‘our,’ see immediately below.

[ back ] 20. Depictions on vases are put to similar use, albeit with less discrimination, by Powell 1991:210–211.

[ back ] 21. When I refer to our Homeric poems I mean the poems as transmitted to us by classical antiquity (i.e. the ‘ancient vulgate’ text). But for matters of detail and the occasional interpolation, the advocates of dictation equate these with the ipsissima verba of the monumental composer.

[ back ] 22. For important treatments of this topic see Friis Johansen 1967; Fittschen 1969; Kannicht 1982; Cook 1983; Carpenter 1991; Schefold 1991; Ahlberg-Cornell 1992 (not particularly incisive, but a wonderful collection of images); Schefold 1992; Lowenstam 1992; Lowenstam 1993; Schefold 1993; Shapiro 1994; Lowenstam 1997; Snodgrass 1998; Burgess 2001:53–114 (55 for an overview); and Lowenstam 2008. Mackay 1995 studies formulaic elements and traditional composition in vase-painting.

[ back ] 23. Cf. Lowenstam 1997: “[P]ostulating ignorance of the Homeric poems works conversely too, as Cook asserts: there is no evidence that the painters did not know our Iliad and Odyssey, nor is it possible to imagine what sort of evidence one might adduce in order to demonstrate that” (54).

[ back ] 24. Notice that I prefer the fastidious expression ‘poetic tradition’ to the simpler and more elegant ‘poem.’ ‘Poetic tradition’ makes clear that the poetry I have in view is traditional and allows for multiforms within a sufficiently well-defined thematic scope and narrative sequence. A multiform tradition gives the performer a measure of flexibility in the telling. It also precludes the existence of a canonical text that could rule particular versions ‘in’ or ‘out.’ But performer and audience can still ascribe a given telling to the ‘story of such and such,’ even if it diverges somewhat from previous similar tellings. Such judgments are neither fixed nor incontrovertible (cf. Ford 1997:85–86). In particular, I take the point in Burgess 2001:59 that one must not assume what seems a multiform of an episode of our Iliad or Odyssey eo ipso to be a multiform of an inferred Iliadic or Odyssean tradition. Instead, it might just be an expansive treatment of a minor part of the broader Trojan-War tradition. The adoption of either alternative depends on what view we take of the entire tradition at the relevant chronological stage: was there a narrower tradition that by reason of performance practice and audience reception was felt to be recognizably distinct from its parent and sibling(s)? Eventually, with the rise of the notion of authorship, literary judgments about poetic traditions could be, and eventually were, phrased as assessments of authorial authenticity. When this rise coincides (as it did in ancient Greece) with a drastic reduction of the range of multiforms (i.e. when it happens at a time when variants are being strongly marginalized), traditions are reduced to, and equated with, the final version attained by their evolving narratives. It is then, and only then, that we can substitute ‘poetic tradition’ by ‘poem.’ When that stage is reached, literary judgment first distinguishes authorship and, under author, one or more poems. In the case of ‘Homer,’ the further we go back in time the more inclusive the ascription of Homerica to him. Cf., for example, the statement of Herodotos at 2.116.6–2.117. Some have argued from Herodotos 5.67 and Pausanias 9.9.5 the ascription to Homer of a Theban epic (e.g. Cingano 1985, with the agreement of Nagy 1990c:22n22 and Burkert 1987:45; contra Scott 1921 and 1922). The text of Pausanias 9.9.5 has been doubly emended (see the section below on the name ‘Homer’) and the ascription to Kallinos of Ephesos must be rejected, but on balance Cingano’s inference seems sound. What is not in question is that the canon of works attributed to ‘Homer’ grows more inclusive the earlier the time considered (cf. Scott 1921:20; Nagy 1990c:22n22, 78–79; and Burgess 2001:8, with bibliography at 8n4). At an early enough date, the poetic traditions represented by the entire cycle (including the Iliad and the Odyssey) might have been thought of as a grand and all-encompassing Homeric tradition. As particular narrative threads of this grand bundle were woven together into more or less discernible independent narratives, their distinctive and respective scopes would mark them as performance traditions in their own right. Rhapsodes might specialize in some, and not in others.

[ back ] 25. That oral performance involved recomposition, and not simply the oral delivery of a premeditated and memorized text, is made clear by the extension and economy of the formulaic system of Homeric poetry. This is the sense in which I use ‘oral’ throughout. Finnegan (1977:73–86) has emphasized the existence of poetry that is not orally composed in performance and yet is composed without the aid of writing. Although such poems as a category of ‘oral poetry’ are not without interest, when compared with poetry not only composed for, but also in, performance, it is ‘oral’ in a relatively trivial sense. This is what Lord (1995:197–198) is getting at when he calls such poetry, paradoxically, “written composition without writing.” Cf. Janko 1998a:5.

[ back ] 26. Different parts of the poem (language, subject matter, and narrative sequence) will have crystallized at different times. The more often an episode was performed under similar conditions of reception, the sooner we can expect it to have adopted a standard version.

[ back ] 27. Snodgrass (1998:130) notes that this is certainly not the case with the Odyssey, at least down to the middle of the sixth century. Until that time, even assuming the dubious dependence of artists on our Odyssey, we only find depictions of the Sirens and of the Polyphemos episode (intoxication, blinding, and escape). This amounts only to a dismal 2% of the poem’s verses! Only with the addition of the Kirke episode does the picture begin to change.

[ back ] 28. ‘SB’ stands for ‘Sagenbild,’ and the numbers are Fittschen’s.

[ back ] 29. Payne et al. 1940:146 no. 1555 and pl. 61 fig. 1555. Also, with a convenient line drawing to facilitate the reading of the faint image, see Ahlberg-Cornell 1992:60 and 309 figs. 87a–b.

[ back ] 30. Cf. van Wees 1997 and Raaflaub 2006:457.

[ back ] 31. Discussed by Friis Johansen 1967 at 66, and cataloged as A.2.b at 245. Also Ahlberg-Cornell 1992:59–60 and 310 fig. 88.

[ back ] 32. Fittschen 1969:173 prints the name as ]KTΠO[, but the label is not fragmentary. Friis Johansen 1967:66 prints it as ETϘO. Ahlberg-Cornell 1992:176n4 gives it as HETϘOΡ. The only image of the inscription I know of is in the CVA Louvre ⅵ (France fasc. 9) Ⅲ C a (Style Corinthien) pl. 6, fig. 11 (figs. 9–12 are all from this aryballos). The descriptive catalog (pp. 7–8) reports it as KTΡO. My own reading from the picture is ETΡO (in the Corinthian script BTΡO). (Might the first letter be a K corrected to a B?)

[ back ] 33. Cf. van Wees 1994:147.

[ back ] 34. For the date, see Friis Johansen 1967:75.

[ back ] 35. That they appear together “time and again” in our Iliad hardly justifies Friis Johansen’s assertion that “[t]he very fact that they are united on the vase is felt to be a reminiscence of the Iliad” (1967:73). Why must we assume that this was peculiar to our version of the poem? It may be a very old association, valid for early multiforms of the Iliadic tradition, long before it had crystallized in the form of our current poem.

[ back ] 36. Cataloged by Friis Johansen 1967:245 as A.2.a and discussed at 64.

[ back ] 37. Snodgrass refers at 176 to Cook (1983:2n11), who puzzled by Friis Johansen’s mistake writes, “though the surface is worn, it is quite evident on inspection that the surface between Hector’s fingers and thumb was never painted.” Ahlberg-Cornell (1992:60n23) perpetuates Friis Johansen’s error, resting the false inference contra Cook merely on the shape of the hand. This simply will not do.

[ back ] 38. Cataloged by Friis Johansen 1967:279 as C.10 and discussed at 77–80. Also in Snodgrass 1998:105–109.

[ back ] 39. Snodgrass 1998:105. For Friis Johansen (1967:79), whom Fittschen follows, it is from the last quarter of the seventh century.

[ back ] 40. Cf. Jeffery 1990:154.

[ back ] 41. After a discussion steered by neoanalysis, Burgess (2001:81) concludes that “the Rhodian plate and Argive tradition are actually ‘Iliadic-derived’ phenomena.” His argument is based on the assumption that Euphorbos appeared for the first time in the Iliad’s version of the death of Patroklos, a version that he deems an innovative expansion of the traditional, rather minor narrative of this event (80). The allegation of innovation, in turn, is justified by the premise that Euphorbos never had a mythological role outside his participation in the death of Patroklos (80). In other words: Euphorbos must be strictly Iliadic (as opposed to traditional)—for Burgess, the Iliad at many points is an innovative departure from the tradition—because we cannot find him in any other context but the one the Iliad presents, viz. Patroklos’ death. Hence a variant Argive telling must be a derivative reaction to the Iliadic. Burgess does not consider that his argument can be inverted. If strict priority must be posited, could we not assert just as well that Euphorbos must be an original Argive element (whether innovated upon a traditional version or not) because he had no mythological role outside his participation in the death of Patroklos as told by Argive poetry? And that, therefore, the canonical Iliadic version must be a derivative reaction? Against my inversion Burgess might insist that “[l]ocal traditions do not usually arise unless they serve the interests of a certain place” (Burgess 2001:78). But the same can be said of the version that ultimately attained Panhellenic status. It is naive to suppose that only local, and not Panhellenic, versions serve specific interests. The portrayal of Menelaos in either case (confronting or failing to confront Hektor) makes a point of characterization and possibly ideology. My critique points out a general weakness of neoanalysis: its view of sources, if superior to the rigid Quellenkritik of the old analysts, is still insufficiently sensitive to the vibrant dynamics of recomposition that mark long-lasting Homeric performance traditions. (This limitation also renders problematic neoanalytic attempts to identify Homeric innovations of traditional myth.) I submit that it is ultimately impossible to ascribe precedence to either the Argive or the Iliadic version. We can only characterize one as epichoric and the other as Panhellenic. These labels speak to their differential diffusion and reception, not to their chronological priority. One should allow for the likelihood of interactive recomposition, namely, that over a period of time rhapsodes in performance recomposed one multiform in more or less deliberate competition with the other. I would only add that a putative Argive tradition need not be thought of as a “shadow of the Iliad” (to use Burgess’s term at 80; cf. 60). We simply do not know, and cannot guess, the thematic scope of the Argive tradition, its degree of coherence, and the extent of its agreement with our Iliad. But, reciprocally, neither can we in the absence of specific evidence assume any particular stage of development (as to thematic scope, plot sequence, etc.) for other divergent local versions and for what eventually became the Panhellenic canonical one. At best we can only oppose an Argive multiform of this particular episode (‘Menelaos confronts Hektor over the body of Euphorbos’) to another, ultimately Panhellenic multiform (‘Menelaos does not confront Hektor over the body of Euphorbos’). Further inferences about the reason for Euphorbos’ demise in the Argive tradition and how this episode contributes to the overall plot of a presumed unitary Argive poem remain speculative. That Burgess’s review of the artistic record does not so much inform, as it is accommodated to, his neoanalytic premises is clear from his conclusion that the fight over Patroklos’ body is traditional, while the funeral games are a Homeric invention, despite the lack of correspondence between the Iliadic account and two early-sixth-century representations of the chariot race (Burgess 2001:83–84).

[ back ] 42. Cataloged by Friis Johansen 1967:247 as A.13 and discussed at 75–76. Cf. Snodgrass 1998:104–105.

[ back ] 43. It is doubtful whether the verse inscription ‘Koon is fighting for Iphidamas’ is compatible with the narrative that unfolds there.

[ back ] 44. Why else does Snodgrass regard it as obscure, except that the Iliad involves Koon only once in action? But does not the mention at Τ 52–53 in fact argue against the perception that this is an obscure episode?

[ back ] 45. Pausanias 5.19.4. Since what Pausanias describes does not seem to fit the Iliad’s version, it is not possible to find a single verse (or even two) from our text that would have served as label. If the chest had depicted Koon’s dragging of Iphidamas, the following two (both from our text, with only one slight modification to the second) would serve: ἤτοι ὃ Ἰφιδάμαντα κασίγνητον καὶ ὄπατρον | ἕλκε Kόων μεμαώς, καὶ ἀΰτει πάντας ἀρίστους (cf. Λ 257–258).

[ back ] 46. ‘There he lies, wretched, on the bounteous earth | Iphidamas, and Koon there is fighting about him!’ ἔνθ’ ὅ τε δειλὸς appears at Ν 278; an exchange of τε for γε follows readily from verse-initial ἔνθ’ ὅ γε at Β 314 724 Δ 293 Ε 155 etc. That δειλός can be applied to the fallen as an expression of pity in the sense of ‘unlucky’ is clear, for example, from Ε 574. κεῖται ἐπὶ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ is found at Γ 195; Φ 426 shows that the adjective πουλυβότειρα is allowable for the context of a vanquished foe lying on the ground. For οὗτος as deictic for ‘there’ cf., for example, Κ 341 477 (the former proves that the proximity denoted by ἔνθα is compatible with οὗτος).

[ back ] 47. Two other possible representations are dismissed by West 1995:207n21: SB 74 (Fittschen 1969:172–173), a Cycladic relief amphora from the second quarter of the seventh century, which may depict (cf. Snodgrass 1998:127), but almost certainly does not, a procession of women with a peplos that could be connected with Ζ 286–300 (cf. Friis Johansen 1967:272–275). And a Melian neck amphora from the middle of the seventh century, whose neck (only partially preserved) seems to depict a naked man and a robed female, facing each other, with a shield in the middle. Scholars have identified these as Thetis and Akhilleus and suggested that this may be the arming of Iliad 19. Friis Johansen (1967:104–122) accepted the identification of the figures but countered that this was not the Iliadic arming; rather, the amphora depicted an earlier arming before the departure for Troy. Lowenstam 1993 subjected Friis Johansen’s arguments to searching criticism. He states that “doubts about whether these two vases [the Melian neck amphora and an Attic lekanis] represent Achilleus and Thetis” are in fact legitimate (213). At any rate, he rejects the notion that arming scenes with Akhilleus in early vases have their setting in Phthia, but this “does not necessarily indicate that the vases illustrate the scene in the nineteenth book of the Iliad” (214). The episode is important and must have existed in some version at early textual stages of greater fluidity. There is simply nothing in this Melian amphora (even granting the doubtful identities) that points us to our Iliad. Cf. Lowenstam 1993:216.

[ back ] 48. Burgess (2001:101–102) cautions us against assuming too readily that these images reflect an Odyssean tradition. If we grant the existence of an independent (perhaps older) folk story (with multiforms), in the absence of labeling or accompanying illustrations that are arguably Homeric, a Homeric interpretation is not the only alternative. I will assume the best case scenario for the advocates of dictation, namely, that the images that have been adduced as illustrations of the Odyssey actually have a connection to the Odyssean tradition. Hurwit has recently tried to revive the ascription to the Odyssey, now largely abandoned (2011:2n6; cf., for example, Ahlberg-Cornell 1992:27–28), of a shipwreck on a late-geometric Athenian oinokhoē (Munich, Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek, inv. no. 8696). Whatever one thinks of the merits of his argument—I myself disagree with it often in matters of detail and think that the scene is best interpreted as a metaphorical restatement of elite symposiastic values; cf. Slater 1976, with Arkhilokhos’ fr. 13 W—the careful qualifications with which Hurwit accompanies his attribution are surely significant. The severe discrepancies between the image and the story as we know it from μ 415–425 lead him to emphasize that “the Odyssey of Homer was not the only telling of the tale”; the vase’s background may be a story of Odysseus “that we know nothing about” (2011:4). Had ‘our’ Odyssey been in existence at this early date, one must admit that “[it] was not authoritative or canonical in the seventh century” (5). At any rate, for my own argument surely the crucial point is that the vase’s failure to illustrate the putative shipwreck of Odysseus with any degree of faithfulness—rather, its striking divergence from the known text—rob it of any probative value for a poetic text allegedly fixed in the eighth century BC.

[ back ] 49. All these are discussed in Lowenstam 2008:13–17 and, though less incisively, at greater length in Giuliani 2003:96–112.

[ back ] 50. Cf. Ahlberg-Cornell 1992:221 no. 74.

[ back ] 51. For the synoptic technique, see Snodgrass 1987:135–146, 153–156; Lowenstam 1992:173–174; Snodgrass 1998:57–58, 61–66; and Stansbury-O’Donnell 1999:5–7.

[ back ] 52. I do not mean a strict vertical, which would preclude five men from simultaneously grasping the stake. But the thrust cannot be a near or strict horizontal. ι 372 fastidiously details that Polyphemos bent his thick neck sideways (i.e. he drooped his head to one side). This exposed his eye to a thrust from above at some angle from the vertical. This realistic detail facilitates his vomiting and the joint thrust of the four companions. It does not, as Snodgrass (1998:93) thinks, imply a horizontal thrust inconsistent with the remaining diction of the passage, allegedly betraying an earlier version that assumed verticality. Odysseus’ action and the simile rule this out.

[ back ] 53. Aristarkhos read ἐρεισθείς, for which the vulgate offers ἀερθείς, ‘lifted up’ or ‘aloft’. Whichever the reading, the language and the simile that follows make clear that the stake is driven from above. Cf. Heubeck in Heubeck and Hoekstra 1989:34 and Snodgrass 1998:94.

[ back ] 54. Cf. Ahlberg-Cornell 1992:221 no. 75.

[ back ] 55. Of the third figure, only the leg is partially preserved.

[ back ] 56. In Latacz et al. 2008:417 no. 170, Claudia Braun remarks on its stylistic similarity to the Protoattic Eleusis amphora (see above, SB 111). She accordingly revises its date to 680/670. But the Protoattic amphora itself is usually dated only to the second quarter of the seventh century BC. Therefore, placing SB 113 at the upper boundary seems unwarranted. Snodgrass (1998:91) speculates that it was “probably made in Etruria by a Greek exile who signs his name on this very picture, Aristonothos.” On the interpretation of this vase, see Dougherty 2003.

[ back ] 57. For the folk elements see Hansen 1997, esp. 449–450; and Burgess 2001:95, 97, with bibliography at 227nn170–176.

[ back ] 58. As Burgess (2001:101) notes, sheep are common in the folk versions of the blinded ogre and items peculiar to shepherds cannot therefore establish direct dependence on the Odyssean tradition, let alone our Odyssey. Cf. Cook 1983:4.

[ back ] 59. Getty 96.AE.135, dated by the Museum staff to 650–625 BC.

[ back ] 60. Burgess (2001:229n198) thinks that the Protoattic amphora might feature not a spear but a spit. This is possible, perhaps probable; ordinarily there would not be any way to tell the difference. I do not think that what looks like a spearhead can be a flame. Also interesting is his response to critics who argue that the long and thin stakes may be fairly taken as the artists’ rendering of what the Odyssey envisions as a rather thick staff: “if we relax our demands on the artists, why should we not view the weapons as inexact renderings of a spit rather than inexact renderings of the Homeric narrative?” (106).

[ back ] 61. For a downward thrust against a Polyphemos lying on his back, see Carpenter 1991:238, fig. 341, a red-figure kalyx kratēr that may have been inspired by Euripides’ Cyclops 455–463 (but the Cyclops on the kratēr seems to have three eyes, not the one that Euripides mentions in line 21).

[ back ] 62. SB 114, Archaeological Museum in Vathy, Samos, B 1680. In Ahlberg-Cornell 1992:221 no. 77 and 343 fig. 153. It preserves two warriors and part of a third advancing leftward, holding up a horizontal stake above their heads.

[ back ] 63. Olympia Museum M 108, Ahlberg-Cornell 1992:221 no. 78 and 344 fig. 154. The fragment depicts one warrior advancing towards the left, sword by thigh, holding up high by his head a horizontal stake.

[ back ] 64. This was already remarked upon by Cook 1983:4.

[ back ] 65. Cook (1983:4) suggests what he calls a “possible, but rather creaky explanation” that relies solely on the exportation of wares. Noting the report of a Corinthian skyphos or kotylē that perished in World War Ⅱ, he argues that the motif might have been popularized by exported Corinthian pottery.

[ back ] 66. See, for example, Osborne 1996:104–129, esp. 119–127.

[ back ] 67. Osborne (1996:125) writes that “contact with Etruria did not mean simply access to desirable minerals, but also meant contact with a different people, differently organised and offering a model for emulation.”

[ back ] 68. Cf. α 2–3 in our Odyssey. Hurwit (2011:5n14) complains that “the Getty pithos fits the paradigm [of Greeks exploring foreign lands and dealing with non-Greek ‘Others’] a little awkwardly (since the Etruscans were some of the ‘Others’ the Greeks were encountering).” But Dougherty 2003 explores precisely the tension between the kratēr’s iconography of cultural conflict and the “cooperative, bicultural circumstances of its production” (36; see esp. 48–49). Even if one does not fully embrace her conjectural argument, she successfully highlights the potential complexity of the Etruscan elite reappropriation of Greek culture. Despite Dougherty’s agreement with scholars who place the production and circulation of the Odyssey in the second half of the eighth century, she still emphasizes that our “Odyssey is but one historically contingent inflection of … the ‘ur-myth’ of Odysseus’ return” and “[is] not the only way that the story of Odysseus’ return could be told” (49).

[ back ] 69. See Burgess 1999 and Burgess 2001:110, 112 (bibliography in 232n228). Cf. Smith 2005, who remarks on the use of the blinding of Polyphemos on the funerary amphora of Eleusis and on a Corinthian alabastron dated to ca. 560, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (76.12.6). The escape from the cave is often depicted on funerary lēkythoi.

[ back ] 70. Lowenstam 2008:17.

[ back ] 71. A further illustration on a middle Protocorinthian skyphos apparently perished during World War Ⅱ. Cf. Fittschen 1969:193n915. Cook (1983:4n23) calls it a “Corinthian kotyle” (cf. Herbert 1977:14n7).

[ back ] 72. SB 115, in the Museum of Aigina (inv. 10824).

[ back ] 73. SB 116 (B 7000).

[ back ] 74. Museo Archeologico 82193 and 73846.

[ back ] 75. Snodgrass (1998:99) writes about the Protoattic jug that “here we are not dealing with a unique Homeric version: the correspondence with the Odyssey is pleasing, but does not prove dependence on it.”

[ back ] 76. For other possibilities, see Lowenstam 1992; Lowenstam 1997; and Snodgrass 1998.

[ back ] 77. Neils 1992:34 and Kyle 2007:160–161.

[ back ] 78. Besides Diomedes, the other contestants in Iliad 23 are Antilokhos, Menelaos, Meriones, and Eumelos.

[ back ] 79. It would have been perverse of Kleitias to choose somewhat arbitrary horse compound filler names in the face of the (ex hypothesi) well-known Iliadic narrative that had inspired his depiction, a narrative that should have readily supplied him with ‘Homer’s’ own different choices.

[ back ] 80. Lowenstam 1992:176 and 189.

[ back ] 81. This is Beazley’s reaction: “These are all good heroic names, but Kleitias, left to himself, did not remember the field, and could not find anyone who did; his learned friend was not at hand” (Beazley 1986:32). Snodgrass (1998:120) adds: “[T]he ‘learned friend’ is the person assumed by Beazley to be responsible for the otherwise generally accurate distribution of name-inscriptions on the vase.” Like Beazley, Giuliani (2003:143–146) believes that Kleitias remembered the basic outline of ‘Homer’s’ version (available only at the occasional oral performance) but not the detailed names, and he had no recourse but to reach into the “nomenklatorische Vorratskiste” (146).

[ back ] 82. Vatican 35617.

[ back ] 83. “[His] name was probably inscribed in the missing area near his head” (Lowenstam 1997:36).

[ back ] 84. Van der Valk 1971–1987:3.851.17.

[ back ] 85. Note Π 293: ἐκ νηῶν δ’ ἔλασεν, κατὰ δ’ ἔσβεσεν αἰθόμενον πῦρ.

[ back ] 86. Lowenstam 1997: “This explanation might be more cogent for simple vases, but our painter has shown remarkable knowledge of the myths associated with our Iliad and Odyssey” (37).

[ back ] 87. Lowenstam 1997:37.

[ back ] 88. Lowenstam 1997:38.

[ back ] 89. So also Burgess 2001:61, cautiously.

[ back ] 90. Lowenstam 1997:52.

[ back ] 91. Lowenstam 1997:54. Also: “This study suggests that the Iliad and Odyssey either were not composed in a form recognizable to us before the end of the sixth century B.C.E. or, if earlier, did not gain authority until that date or slightly later” (1997:66).

[ back ] 92. Snodgrass 1998:145. He adds that at least until the end of the sixth century there was no artistic wave that favored Homer as a source for the Trojan story.

[ back ] 93. Snodgrass 1998:150, his emphasis.

[ back ] 94. His bibliography in West 2011a:332–334 does not include a single exponent of the evolutionary model. Although, judging from his earlier publications, this seems to be West’s long-standing practice, in this case at least one might ascribe his peculiar selection to the rhetorical effort to show, by deliberate reference only to “[scholars] not generally read nowadays” (v), that the work of Milman Parry and Albert B. Lord has now been finally superseded. West seeks to obviate the writings of the “Oralists” with the rediscovery that whichever limited matters they had correctly ascertained were, after all, “what everyone believed in the eighteenth century and many in the nineteenth” (1). One may therefore happily dispense with their comparative studies of oral epic traditions and return to the long overlooked insights of a pre-Parryan scholarship. Note the telling section heading on page 55: “Most of this was seen long ago.” Cf. West 2011b.

[ back ] 95. Does he have this model in view where he notes that “[t]he assumption of plural authorship cannot solve the difficulty [of the embassy duals]”? (West 2011a:14).

[ back ] 96. See below, §

[ back ] 97. Here I pass over the untenable and unexamined assumption that a seventh-century performer’s appreciation of the unique value of his poetry—itself a problematic notion—should take the form of a desire and concern to write it down. I am reduced to inferring this as the motivation for the writing (cf. West 2011a:69), because West never directly addresses the ‘why’ as he does the ‘who,’ ‘when,’ ‘where,’ and ‘what.’ To a possible memorializing impulse one might add the well-worn judgment that a poem of the complexity of the Iliad could only have come into existence through the aid of writing (hence proposition 4 on page 10 that Homer composed “with the aid of writing”). But, once again, we are left to guess that this motivation underlies West’s model of the written making of the Iliad, for he never tells us how writing was combined with (premeditated) oral composition in Homer’s performance practice (see West 2011a:10–11). Did he memorize what he wrote down and subsequently only perform the written version? Just as West reproves “the Oralists” for “fail[ing] to engage seriously with the question of how [the Iliad and the Odyssey] came about [as written texts],” he too must face the reproach that he never explicitly considers why a performer of oral traditional poetry should have thought to write down his verses in the first place.

[ back ] 98. West (2011a:431) anticipates the reaction of some of his readers when he imagines their dismissal of his analysis “as a self-indulgent bacchanal of the imagination (‘West thinks he knows …’).” Although I do not share this judgment, at times I am perplexed by the combination of naiveté and sophistication.