Bakker, Egbert J. 2005. Pointing at the Past: From Formula to Performance in Homeric Poetics. Hellenic Studies Series 12. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BakkerE_Pointing_at_the_Past.2005.
Chapter 6: Storytelling in the Future
Tense and Reference
Tense and Consciousness
Storytelling in the Present
Evidence and Interpretation in Homeric Discourse
ἔγχος μὲν τόδε κεῖται ἐπὶ χθονός, οὐδέ τι φῶτα
λεύσσω, τῷ ἐφέηκα κατακτάμεναι μενεαίνων.
ἦ ῥα καὶ Αἰνείας φίλος ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσιν
ἦεν· ἀτάρ μιν ἔφην μὰψ αὔτως εὐχετάασθαι.
This is his spear lying on the ground, but the man himself
I don’t see, whom I was throwing myself at in my killing frenzy.
So in fact Aineias too was then dear to the immortal gods.
But I said that his boasts were vain.
This is Achilles speaking. Somewhat earlier in the narrative he has met with Aineias on the battlefield and they have exchanged a series of insults, boasts, and claims about their ancestry and genealogy. When Achilles is at the point of killing Aineias, Poseidon intervenes (XX 291); he puts a cloud before Achilles’ eyes (XX 321), drops Aineias’s spear before Achilles’ feet (XX 324), and lifts Aineias from the scene (XX 325). When the cloud is dispersed and Achilles regains his vision and consciousness (XX 341), he begins to verbalize what is going on in his mind, characterizing what he sees as a “big miracle” (μέγα θαῦμα) that is marked for proximal deixis (τόδε). The verb he uses (ὁρῶμαι) is a verb in the middle voice, which means that Achilles is not a detached observer of an external “fact,” but that he is part of what he sees—in other words, the miracle takes place in his mind no less than in reality. The miracle, of course, is the spear-without-warrior that is lying there. In Achilles’ mind this spear acquires the status of a sign pointing to the past and leading to a correction of an opinion which he held in the past: now he understands that Aineias’s boasts and claims were not in vain and that Aineias and his race are in fact under the protection of the gods.
ἦλθε κακόν· νῦν αὖτέ σ᾿ ἐρύσατο Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων
ᾧ μέλλεις εὔχεσθαι ἰὼν ἐς δοῦπον ἀκόντων.
very close to you. But now again Phoibos Apollo has saved you,
he to whom you must be praying when you go into the thunder of spears thrown.
This situation is not very different from that in the previous extract. Diomedes came close to killing Hektor and concludes from Hektor’s escape that his intended victim must be protected by Apollo (ᾧ μέλλεις εὔχεσθαι, “[Apollo], to whom you must be praying”), who has saved him once more. We see again that there is an interpretation of speaker’s immediate surroundings, which creates a “fact” in the mind of the speaker. In this case the fact does not involve the past; it pertains to the present; both μέλλειν itself and the infinitive it governs have present tense marking.  But let us now look at the next example:
ὣς ἄρ᾿ ἐμέλλετε τῆλε φίλων καὶ πατρίδος αἴης
ἄσειν ἐν Τροίῃ ταχέας κύνας ἀργέτι δημῷ.
So in this way, , you were going, far from your friends and your fatherland,
to glut the swift dogs of Troy with your shining fat.
In the sequence of events leading up to these words, Patroklos has left the tent of Nestor, who has given him the advice to enter the battle as a substitute for Achilles himself. On his way back to Achilles he meets the badly wounded Eurypylos. He takes pity on the wounded man in an exclamation that is a striking co-occurrence of tenses. First we note that the complement of μέλλειν, the infinitive ἄσειν (‘to glut’) is not present tense, as in the previous extract, but future. Second, unlike the earlier example, μέλλειν itself as used in the extract has not present but past tense. And thirdly, it co-occurs with ἄρα. Since ἄρα applies to the immediate here and now, we have past, present, and future coming together in one utterance.
Epic Discourse as Recognition
ἤντετο γάρ τοι Φοῖβος ἐνὶ κρατερῇ ὑσμίνῃ
δεινός· ὁ μὲν τὸν ἰόντα κατὰ κλόνον οὐκ ἐνόησεν,
ἠέρι γὰρ πολλῇ κεκαλυμμένος ἀντεβόλησε·
στῆ δ᾿ ὄπιθεν, πλῆξεν δὲ μετάφρενον εὐρέε τ᾿ ὤμω
χειρὶ καταπρηνεῖ, στρεφεδίνηθεν δέ οἱ ὄσσε.
For Phoebos came against you in the strong battle,
terrible. And he did not see him as he was moving through the mêlée.
For covered in much mist he came in against him, and he stood behind him, and struck his back and broad shoulders
with a flat stroke of the hand, and his eyes spun.
The narrator directly addresses a major character from the epic tale;  but he does not use present tense. He does not address Patroklos as if the latter is involved in the action itself at the moment of speaking. It is as if the poet is watching a movie, together with the character, who is both “near,” in the cinema, and “distant,” in the movie. But the very presence of the character in our here and now turns the narrative into “truth,” a reexperience enriched by an understanding that was not available in the original experience. Thus the poet can announce the scene as the βιότοιο τελευτή, “the end of your life,” and add, in a series of phrases marked by the explanatory particle γάρ, that the victim, who has now become a third grammatical person, “has not perceived” (οὐκ ἐνόησεν) how the dreadful god appeared.  The recognition in the present, in fact, gives the narrative its significance, and whereas other traditions may stage their performers as eyewitnesses, who verbalize what they see, in Homeric epic the performer is more like one who understands what he remembers, as a trustworthy interpreter, at the same time a proud master of truth and a humble servant of the Muses.
Narrative without Tense
Storytelling in the Future
βουλῇ Πουλυδάμαντος ἀμωμήτοιο πίθοντο·
ἀλλ᾿ οὐχ Ὑρτακίδης ἔθελ᾿ Ἄσιος ὄρχαμος ἀνδρῶν
αὖθι λιπεῖν ἵππους τε καὶ ἡνίοχον θεράποντα,
ἀλλὰ σὺν αὐτοῖσιν πέλασεν νήεσσι θοῇσι
νήπιος, οὐδ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἔμελλε κακὰς ὑπὸ κῆρας ἀλύξας
ἵπποισιν καὶ ὄχεσφιν ἀγαλλόμενος παρὰ νηῶν
ἂψ ἀπονοστήσειν προτὶ Ἴλιον ἠνεμόεσσαν·
the council of blameless Polydamas they followed.
But not Asios son of Hyrtakos, leader of men: he did not want
to leave his chariot there and his charioteer servant.
No, with horses and all he drew closer to the swift ships,
nēpios : he was not to escape the evil spirits of death,
indulging as he was in his horses and his chariot,
and to return from the ships back again to windy Ilion.
ὣς φάτο λισσόμενος μέγα νήπιος· ἦ γὰρ ἔμελλεν
οἷ αὐτῷ θάνατόν τε κακὸν καὶ κῆρα λιτέσθαι.
he was begging for ugly death and destruction to himself.
In the first example Asios does not listen to the advice of Polydamas to leave the chariots at the ditch, so that these will not hamper the Trojans in their attack on the Greek camp. This behavior provokes the exclamation νήπιος (commonly translated as “foolish”) on the part of the narrator, a word to which we shall return. The same word is used in the second extract to characterize Patroklos when he begs Achilles to send him into the battle as his substitute, with Achilles’ armor on. The usual explanation of μέλλειν in such cases, as we have seen, is destiny, fate in the past. On the destiny-in-the-past reading, what happens in the two examples is the reference to a future event that is still unknown to the character, a future locked up in the past. To this reading I oppose an account in which this future is the present, the moment of truth and understanding in the performance.
νηῒ πολυκλήϊδι πλέων ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον·
ἀνδρὸς μὲν τόδε σῆμα πάλαι κατατεθνηῶτος,
ὅν ποτ᾿ ἀριστεύοντα κατέκτανε φαίδιμος Ἕκτωρ.
ὥς ποτέ τις ἐρέει· τὸ δ᾿ ἐμὸν κλέος οὔ ποτ᾿ ὀλεῖται.
sailing on a many-benched ship on the wine-colored sea:
“This here is the tomb of a man who died long ago,
whom, as he excelled, glorious Hektor killed.”
So someone some day will say. And my fame, it will never perish.
The projected “someday someone will say” (ποτέ τις εἴπῃσι) will turn into a real person confronted in real time with a concrete reality: “this tomb here” (τόδε σῆμα). The victim’s tomb, Hektor thinks, will serve as sign pointing to his own achievements. As a mortal he does not know what will happen in his life, but as a hero he does know that that his life, if successful, will come back to life in the decoding of what is left behind. The future sailor’s speech at the sight of the tomb of Hektor’s victim, as critics have pointed out, bears a close resemblance to the actual sepulchral verse inscriptions from the archaic age,  whose written durability epic may want to appropriate in order to assert its own superior commemorative power. His victim’s armor which Hektor intends to hang in the temple of Apollo as a dedication to the god (VII 82–83) may well have been associated by the audience with dedicatory inscriptions of the following type:
Ηέραι τε, hος καὶ κε̃νος ἔχοι κλέϝος ἄπθιτον αἰϝεί
and Hera, in order that that one too has fame imperishable each time anew.
The dedication projects the moment of its reception in reading, the moment of the enactment of its kleos. The object dedicated, durable and also sacred since it now belongs to the gods, will ensure kleos for its dedicator even in the absence of epically recorded achievements: there will always be a new reader of Phanaristos’s act. 
ἀνθρώποισι μέλω, καί μευ κλέος οὐρανὸν ἵκει.
am in the mind of all the people, and my fame reaches into heaven.
Unlike Hektor’s and Phanaristos’s, Odysseus’s kleos is not a projection or an intention, but an accomplishment; Odysseus is oriented not to the future but to the present. This means that Odysseus, as Charles Segal has argued,  is outside the heroic action. In terms of the present argument, he is in the future, listening to poetry that celebrates his own kleos. In addition to this striking element of Odyssean poetics there is the verb that Odysseus uses: μέλω, which I translate here as “I am on the mind of all the people.” If Ruijgh  is right in his suggestion that the root of this verb, mel-, is connected with our verb μέλλειν—and given the mental nature of the meaning of both verbs this seems plausible—then we have an interesting starting point for our return to μέλλειν as used by the Homeric narrator.