Homeric Imagery and the Natural Environment

  Brockliss, William. 2019. Homeric Imagery and the Natural Environment. Hellenic Studies Series 82. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BrocklissW.Homeric_Imagery_and_the_Natural_Environment.2019.


Elenei, soţiei mele scumpe

But Athena daughter of Zeus made him
Taller and broader to look at; and from his head
She sent down curly locks, like the flower of the hyacinth.
As when some man pours gold around silver,
A skilled man, whom Hephaestus and Pallas Athena taught
Every kind of craft—he achieves graceful works—
So she poured grace on his head and shoulders.

Odyssey 6.229–235 ≈ 23.156–162

This book, which offers a study of Homeric metaphor and of its engagements with the Greek natural environment, arose from an interest in the multifarious and highly developed vegetal imagery of archaic Greek poetry. Many of the relevant images from non-Homeric genres demand close analysis and discussion—and I have drawn on a number of such images in the chapters below. But I found myself time and again being struck by the vegetal imagery of Homeric poetry and, in particular, by its floral images, such as the image of hyacinthine hair quoted above. Seeking explanations for these striking images, I found that they could, in part, be traced to characteristics of the Greek flora. But of course, the characteristics of a given flora do not determine the kinds of vegetal images that poets of a given region will develop. Rather, as we can see from comparison with other archaic Greek genres, the vegetal images of Homeric poetry reflect particular choices on the part of the Homeric poets: in forming their imagery these poets drew on particular aspects of the Greek natural environment, such as the sudden, colorful blooms of the Greek spring.

A full investigation of Homeric imagery and of its cultural and natural milieux would not have been possible without the assistance and advice of a very large number of friends and experts. Though it is impossible to name them all here, I take the opportunity now to thank Victor Bers, Ann Hanson, Pauline LeVen, and Irene Peirano for their help with the initial stages of the project; Verity Harte for her guidance on Presocratic philosophy; Jay Fisher, Brian Joseph, Douglas Adams, and James Mallory for their thoughts on historical linguistics; Dimitri Gutas (on Theophrastos), Michael Donoghue (the natural environments of Greece and the Mediterranean), and Emily Greenwood (literary theory). Discussions with Fabian Horn and Richard Buxton have refined my understanding of cognitive approaches to metaphor and of metaphor more generally.

I have also benefited greatly from interactions with colleagues and students, both at Brigham Young University and at my current home, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My analysis of gender in the Homeric poems and in other archaic Greek poetry (Part I) has been significantly strengthened through discussions with colleagues in the Classics department at UW-Madison, including Alex Dressler and Laura McClure. I have learned much from the ecocritics George Handley and Chip Oscarson at Brigham Young, and from my colleagues in the UW-Madison Center for Culture, History, and Environment. At UW-Madison I have had the opportunity to develop some of my ideas further through discussions with students in my classes on Classics and the natural environment, and ancient monsters—the latter having particular relevance to my discussion of death in Part III of this study.

I am particularly grateful to the Loeb Classical Library Foundation, whose generous support helped me to complete this project; to Elizabeth Minchin, who has twice read and offered advice on versions of it at short notice; to Jonathan Burgess for his comments on my Introduction; to Egbert Bakker, whose wise and insightful guidance was indispensable both during the first stage of this project (its incarnation as a Yale PhD thesis, 2011) and in its later instantiations; to Patricia Rosenmeyer, who has very generously given of her time in looking over a number of different versions of this text; to Jeff Beneker, for his assistance with the latter stages of the project; to Amy Hendrix and Claire Trivax for their help in preparing this manuscript; to Kerri Cox Sullivan (production); and to Jill Curry Robbins, Casey Dué Hackman, Mary Ebbott, Leonard Muellner, and Gregory Nagy at the Center for Hellenic Studies. But most of all, I would like to thank my wife, Elena, to whom this book is dedicated, for her support, patience, and love.

For the most part, I have used the more common, Latinized versions of Greek names: Achilles rather than Akhilleus, Hera rather than Herē. I have however retained Greek forms where Latinized versions would appear awkward (I refer, for instance, to Aphrodite and Helios).

Madison, WI
May 2019