Rhythm without Beat: Prosodically Motivated Grammarisation in Homer

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6. General Conclusion

The rhythmical phrases prefer not to be evenly balanced, or similar in sound, or enslaved to forced repetitive sequence, no, rather to be rounded off, distinct, and freely formed.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus On Literary Composition 22

Throughout the history of literature, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey have always occupied a special position. The poet of the Iliad and the Odyssey, commonly referred to as Homer, fulfils an exemplary role in many respects. As soon as literary criticism started in antiquity, Homer’s position as the ideal literary craftsman was established, as was that of his extant works as hall-marks for imitation and emulation. But his works did not only elicit remarks concerning aesthetics: ample comments were made in Greek and Roman times with regard to his compositional technique, and the way he dealt with the restrictions of the material he worked with. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, for example, explicitly comments on the disparity of Homer’s syntactical and metrical phrasing. Modern research on the compositional technique of Homer, and the aesthetic evaluation of his Iliad and Odyssey, is only partly based on observations from antiquity. Not surprisingly, as the development of literary criticism on the Homeric epic did not end with the end of classical antiquity. On the contrary, criticism shows continuing development, and more recent insights, both from the study of Homer and from general linguistic and literary research have proven very valuable for a better understanding and appreciation of the Iliad and the Odyssey. The modern study of Homeric discourse as spoken language explains the persistent usage of metrically shaped formulaic material, and the looseness of Homeric syntax. The study of discourse as spoken language cannot ignore the phonological formalism of the metrical shape of the Iliad and the Odyssey, as it is omnipresent and rather restrictive. Still, the intuition of the reader and the analysis of the compositional technique of Homer give rise to the concept of developing grammatisation into smaller and larger scale syntactical units, often regardless of the repetitive metrical phrasing. In this study I show that this development was facilitated by prosody. The demarcative strength on phrases of phonetically realised pauses brings out a type of phrasing in the flow of dactyls that differs from metrical colometry. I have shown that audible punctuation, the distribution of stronger and milder audible pauses as realisations of, in principle, non-demarcative metrical boundaries, mirrors a patchwork of rather freely formed grammatical clauses and extra-clausal constituents. Distribution of audible pauses is the poet’s choice: he may choose to equalise the metrical and the grammatical phrase, or he may elicit the development of larger scale grammatisation by means of muting some metrical boundaries and marking others.

In chapter 1, Bakker’s analysis of Homeric discourse shows that the requirements from the descriptive analysis of written language turn out to be ill-fitted for the reconstruction of Homeric syntax. In the analysis of Homeric discourse, there is an abundance of discourse-unit structuring elements, of which the sentence appears to be least suited as a tool of study. Clark is right in stating that the grammatically complete clause proves to be the most useful instrument, but then we must accept, contra Higbie, that grammatical completeness is not per se determined by recurrent metrical boundaries like the verse end. Terminology like “enjambment” accounts for the mere acknowledgement of a visible disparity between metrical phrases and syntax: it cannot teach us anything about what the audience actually perceives—though the temptation to explain enjambment as a poetic effect is never far away, as recent commentaries on the Iliad and the Odyssey show. Syntactical phrasing or completion of “sense” is regularly enclosed within metrical cola. I have argued that there is a second type of grammatisation. Descriptions of Homeric syntax like Chantraine’s and Bakker’s, who both stress the compositional principle of appositional alignment of words and metrical phrases, do not account for this emergence of large scale grammatisation, reflected in the progressive movement that characterises Homer’s style. The fortuitous, paratactic alignment of “intonation units” or verses cannot explain the resulting level of syntactical coherence. Homeric syntax aims to retain the attention of the listening audience, without them having to rearrange previous “intonation units” along the way. In Homer, syntax develops from a progressive tendency. Listening to Homer, the audience must rely on their own ability to construct a mental picture of what is told from the order in which it is told, but this cannot be achieved without any aid from the side of prosody. As Bakker assumes, prosodic phenomena characterise the units into which spoken language naturally divides. Though progressive movement of Homeric discourse facilitates rather open-ended continuation, in chapter 2, I have shown that the open-ended character of Homeric clause formation is still subject to grammatical completeness. I used the model of the grammatical clause to analyse the syntax of Homeric discourse; the smallest grammatically coherent unit centred on a predicate. In Homer, the grammatical clause is open-ended, and framed by extra-clausal constituents. Its independence and lack of structuring function are reflected in Homer’s appositional style. The metrical shape of the Homeric grammatical clause is highly free and variable: the alternation and combination of grammatical clauses and extra-clausal constituents (with their specific shape) creates a metrical patchwork, despite the prosodically determined repetition. Transitional constituents (both within the clause and extra-clausal) occupy constantly changing metrical phrases between positions of frequent word end. Both the grammatical clauses and the extra-clausals take the shape of phonological phrases. As a working hypothesis, I assumed that metrical-colon minor phrases, many of them merely preparatory or additive, are somehow prosodically reorganised from independent phrases and combined into major phrases.

In chapter 3, I investigated metrics and phonology of the grammatical clause. Without harming the structural framework that meter provides, I focused on the way grammatical clauses and transitional constituents occupy minor and major phonological phrases. I showed that the phonological phrase is the domain for Homeric clausal grammar, and argued that the Homeric epics benefit from a clausal grammar that is in accordance with phonological phrasing. The free clause-formation that follows from this observation is reminiscent of prose, and of the freedom that prose-rhythm offers when compared to most metrical text. Grammatisation makes syntactically hierarchical wholes start and stop at positions other than the metrical boundaries of the verse; phonology is our only clue to the phonetic disruption that may make the start and ending of syntactically hierarchical wholes and their subphrases audible.

In chapter 4, I have discussed recent theories on visible and audible demarcation in Greek poetry, in order to find modern proof for the intuition that larger-scale grammatisation in Homer is facilitated by prosody. I have shown that metrical boundaries demarcate syntactical unities only when combined with another type of realisation. This other type of realisation is evidenced in phonetics, the clues taken from submoraic adjustment for audible termination. Devine and Stephens deal with phonetic disruption to the continuous flow of metrical feet as an indicator of termination. One of the cross-linguistic phenomena they identify in ancient Greek on empirical evidence is final lengthening. Dealing with dactyls and anapaests in relation to the “perfect” and the “immeasurable” heavy syllables in Greek, Ruijgh shows that word-final lengthening is actually final-syllable lengthening. Combined with observations by Dionysius of Halicarnassus and his own proof for the foot-internal proportion thesis-arsis as A ≤ T, Ruijgh defends the position that the “perfect” long syllable is the word-final heavy syllable as the result of final-syllable lengthening, the “immeasurable” the non-final heavy syllable. Starting from Ruijgh’s theory, I identified the audible pause in Homer. Whereas I deviate from existing studies in looking for metrical-phonological indicators for pause instead of purely metrical, purely phonological, or semantic indicators, I accept the notion of terminal lengthening and the foot-internal proportion as defended by Ruijgh. Phonologically identified pauses do contribute to the identification of phonetic disruption: audible pause can only stem from realisation of the phonological segment as a syllable. I took phonetic adjustment due to final-syllable lengthening as the indication of pause, accepting that this has consequences for the possibilities meter offers to pause: the thesis allows for considerably more adjustment than the arsis. Therefore I have identified two types of audible pause depending on the amount of adjustment the word-final syllable allows: the primary pause on the thesis or the metarrhythmisised arsis, and the secondary pause on the arsis. Audible realisation of the secondary pause depends on rates of speech. The variety in pauses and their localisation functions as audible punctuation, creating a patchwork of phrases. This patchwork shows remarkably little repetitive patterning since pause is a choice in Homeric prosody. Both within the verse, and at the verse end, the phonetic realisation of syllables reflects the choices made. As an arsis, the verse end occupies a special position: it can be realised as a stronger pause, a milder pause, or as no pause at all. The rhythmical possibilities of the metrical anceps element at verse end are applicable, though only partially, to a few other positions in the line. Audible punctuation shows that minor phrases are reorganised into major phonological phrases, leading to a type of phrasing, even a kind of rhythmical repetition, that audibly differs from metrical colometry. The mismatch between phonological phrases and metrical cola avoids any “beat” in Homeric performances.

In chapter 5, I presented examples to show that the variance and choice in phonetic demarcation, that suggested some sort of prosodic hierarchy, facilitated the further development of grammatical governance and syntactical hierarchy. Audible punctuation brings clauses and extra-clausals together in major phrases, often saving the transitional constituent for last. That way, continuation is prosodically determined; the progressive tendency is an aural reality. Before taking the opportunity to take a breath, the performer has already indicated that he takes a breath “in transition”, to prepare for more to come. The sample in the Appendix shows that both the Iliad and the Odyssey allow for the progressive tendency, elicited by prosody, to reorganise grammatisation on a larger scale through the linking and combining of grammatical clauses. The Appendix also shows that the Iliad and the Odyssey are different in this respect: the audible pauses of the Odyssey are significantly more restricted to fewer metrical boundaries. Finally, the Appendix shows the infrequency of “true” enjambment: the mismatch between syntactical and metrical-phonetic demarcation.

Homer’s success stemmed from performance. The characteristics of spoken language characterise Homer’s work. In spoken language, phonetics are more important than meter. At the same time, for us Homer may have been the last trace of performance-based written-down spoken language. As performance for a listening audience fades, the specific features of spoken language, suited for aural reception, loose some of their importance and weight in composition as well. Other restrictions take their place. In the development of hexametric poetry, metrical shape gradually overpowered free phonological phrasing. As a result, syntactical phrasing follows its new guide: it tends to align, more and more, with the repetitive metrical phrases. Breaking the measure gradually becomes more noticeable, and hence more suitable for usage to poetic effect. In Homer we witness a stage in the development of grammatisation despite, though with the aid of, meter, only to conclude that what we see is actually the final stage of this development.