Homeric Responses

  Use the following persistent identifier: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Homeric_Responses.2003.


[In this on-line version, the page-numbers of the printed version are indicated within braces (“{” and “}”). For example, “{69|70}” indicates where p. 69 of the printed version ends and p. 70 begins. These indications will be useful to readers who need to look up references made elsewhere to the printed version of this book.]

Most of this book comes from work already published in a variety of far-flung settings. Some parts were commissioned for various projects distinct from my own. Most other parts, however, were originally conceived as ultimate components of the present book. What unites all the parts is a sustained interest in Homeric poetry as a unified poetic system.

In this light, the expression Homēron ex Homērou saphēnizein ‘clarify Homer by way of Homer’ can be taken further. Aristarchus is oracular, that is, mantic like a seer, in clarifying the meaning of Homer because Homer himself is oracular in clarifying his own meaning. But how can we imagine Homer as oracular in his own right? Is it because his meaning is made clear by his critics? No, it is because he makes his own meaning clear to them. In the language of Homeric poetry, a seer has the power to clarify meaning. Just as the generic seer knows sapha ‘clearly’ the meaning of an omen, as we see later when we take a close look at relevant passages in the Iliad (such as XII 228-229), so also Homer seems to know that meaning – as well as all the meanings of all things considered in the overall poetry.

The metaphor of clairvoyance can be taken even further. My translation of Homēron ex Homērou saphēnizein as ‘clarify Homer by way of Homer’ is pertinent to the title of this book. Homeric Responses is after all a set of Homeric responses to questions, Homeric questions. Some of these Homeric {x|xi} “responses” can be understood in the sense of the word hupokrinesthai, which means more than simply ‘respond to a question’ in Homeric usage. As we see in Chapter 1, this word conveys the idea of oracular response, that is, of responding in the same way as a mantis or ‘seer’ would respond to a question about an omen. Moreover, this word conveys the idea of responding, responsiveness, in performance.

There are also other kinds of “responses” offered by Homeric poetry. This poetry not only lays claim to a meaning made absolute by oracular authority, iy also leaves room for meanings that are relativized. As we see in Chapter 4, even the overall meaning of Homeric poetry remains in question, depending on an audience imagined as ever different, ever changing.

This act of imagining a Homeric audience happens in a world of verbal art pretending to be visual art, the world as pictured on the Shield of Achilles in Iliad XVIII. Inside this world of pictures on the Shield, Homeric poetry makes room for the world outside itself, reaching beyond its own heroic frame of time. In the world of the Shield, Homeric poetry looks at other worlds in its own future, the era of the polis or city-state and, virtually, even beyond. The art of the Shield, which is Homeric art, envisions an ever-expanding outer circle of listeners. This vision conveys, again, the idea of responding, responsiveness, in performance.

When oral poetry is being performed, it responds to the occasion of performance. Such responsiveness is comparable to that of a seer, since the poetry provides potential answers to questions raised in the process of its performance. The actual responses, however, are decided not only by the seer-like authority of poets. The ultimate decision is left up to the audience at large, that ever expanding outermost circle of listeners pictured on the Shield of Achilles. The responsiveness of Homeric poetry is mediated by whoever performs for such a generalized audience. Such a performer, in terms of Lord’s model, is the singer of tales.

The driving idea of this book is that Homeric poetry, as a system grounded {xi|xii} in oral traditions, responds to questions raised not only by ancient Homeric audiences but even by today’s readers of the Homeric texts. To that extent, Homeric Responses offers immediate answers to questions posed in my earlier work, Homeric Questions, as also to questions posed by critics of that work and other related works. The ultimate responses, however, must be sought – and found – in the panorama of oral poetic insights revealed by the Homeric texts themselves, echoing words once sung by singers of tales. {xii|1}


[ back ] 1. When I say “Homer,” I intend it as a metonym for Homeric poetry. By “metonym” here I mean, as a working definition, the expression of meaning by way of connection – as opposed to “metaphor,” by which I mean the expression of meaning by way of substitution. For an introduction to the poetics of Homeric and Hesiodic metonymy, see Muellner 1996. See also Martin 2000 on Homeric framing, juxtaposition, and mise en abyme.

[ back ] 2. HQ 38.

[ back ] 3. Still, I could never have written this book without first having rethought my way through HQ and PP. The extensive cross-references to these two earlier books in the footnotes here reflect that fact. These cross-references, regularly placed at the beginning of footnotes, are not meant to be seen as markers of final formulations. Rather, they point to earlier pathways of inquiry that have led to formulations found in the present book.

[ back ] 4. Although HQ covers the earlier phases of the Homeric tradition and PP the later, HQ is marked 1996b in the bibliography because it was published several months after PP, which is marked 1996a. HQ cross-refers extensively to PP, while the original PP has no direct cross-references to HQ as a book version, only to earlier versions published as separate articles (Nagy 1992a, 1992b, 1995a).

[ back ] 5. In BA 2 (=Nagy 1999a), the new edition of BA (=Nagy 1979), I incorporate changes prompted by important new research. See, for example, BA 2 380, with reference to the dissertation of Wilson 1997 (see now also Wilson 2002). The present book tracks most of the changes summarized in BA 2 vii-xviii.

[ back ] 6. The wording comes from Porphyry Homeric Questions [Iliad] 297.16 (Schrader 1890); see also Scholia D to Iliad 5.385. On the Aristarchean provenance of the wording, see Porter 1992: 70-74 (which effectively addresses the skepticism of Pfeiffer 1968: 225-227).

[ back ] 7. Pfeiffer 1968: 232; cf. HQ 3-4.

[ back ] 8. Lord 1960; new ed., 2000.


I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all who have given me advice about various parts of this book, especially to Egbert Bakker, Graeme Bird, Timothy Boyd, Jonathan Burgess, Miriam Carlisle, Erwin Cook, Olga Davidson, Stamatia Dova, Casey Dué, Mary Ebbott, David Elmer, Douglas Frame, Madeleine Goh, José González, Ryan Hackney, Albert Henrichs, Carolyn Higbie, Alexander Hollman, Marianne Hopman, Thomas Jenkins, Olga Levaniouk, Kevin McGrath, Richard Martin, Leonard Muellner, Blaise Nagy, Corinne Pache, Timothy Power, Laura Slatkin, Jed Wyrick, and Dimitrios Yatromanolakis.

The index was prepared by Keith Harris and Garnetta Lewis, whom I thank for their valuable work.

I dedicate this book to my son, László, with deep gratitude for his cheerful support.{viii|ix}

Abbreviations in footnotes

BA/BA 2 Best of the Achaeans = N 1979/1999 [with new Introduction]

GM Greek Mythology and Poetics = N 1990b

HQ Homeric Questions = N 1996b

PH Pindar’s Homer = N 1990a

PP Poetry as Performance = N 1996a