Nostos, Nestor: a theme, a character. What connects them? The concept of return, underlying the etymology of the oldest Homeric hero’s name, which will be further explored throughout this volume. In the trajectory of Douglas Frame as a researcher, νόστος, νόος, and Nestor summarize more than thirty years of walking with Homer. Two books, two milestones: The Myth of Return in Early Greek Epic (1978), Hippota Nestor (2009). One thousand two hundred pages crafting innovative ways to read Homer, with the clear intention to attain the unspoken, to look for the moments where—to paraphrase a famous Homeric line—the poet “… hides one thing in his mind and says another.”
Mission Impossible? Frame does not seem to fear challenges. For one, he is well equipped to face them. He is a comparative linguist, a Homerist, with a strong interest in history and archeology. Furthermore, he is not alone in this long and arduous journey, and this matters because he has always been swimming against the tide: it is Gregory Nagy who delivers Frame’s intellectual biography in this volume, a most valuable testimony, as it is told by a first-hand witness and “accomplice,” one of the three members of the so called “Thursday Group,” otherwise known as “the Three Amigos.” The Thursday Group was founded in the early ’70s by Frame, Leonard Muellner, and Gregory Nagy, young students at Harvard, classicists and linguists in the making, evolving in the intellectual environment of an Albert Lord and a Roman Jacobson.
The Thursday group worked and works on the principle that Homeric language is formulaic. To say it with Lord’s words, “there is nothing in the poem that is not formulaic.” [1] The “Three Amigos” inscribe themselves within the Parry-Lord legacy. [2] However, there is an important element that this volume effectively drives home thanks to the coexistence of articles from de de Lamberterie, Nagy, Muellner, and Frame himself; this legacy needs to be perceived through its full sequence: ← Lord ← Parry ← Meillet ← Saussure. In the field of Homeric Studies, this is not yet common knowledge, and it is not without consequences on the way we practice philology, as Charles de Lamberterie, a renown linguist himself and heir of Meillet and Chantraine has stressed repeatedly in his work. His offering to Frame in this volume discusses an open question, the etymology and the history of the word ἑορτή ‘feast’ adducing Mycenaean and Homeric evidence. In addition to this offering, the translation of another article by de Lamberterie, this time on the word ἄσμενος, is included in an annex to the present volume, as an important illustration of shared methodology between linguistics and philology. This is the key principle that connects all the aforementioned authors: linguistics and philology can provide a fuller understanding of the history of words and their use in different phases of Greek language and literature. When it comes to studying Homeric language and the mechanics of oral composition, the synergy between linguistics and philology is indispensable.
Of this synergy, Frame’s work is a brilliant example. Through the use of comparative linguistics, comparative philology, and a close thematic reading of the poems, Frame shows that there is a (double) etymological correspondence between noos ‘mind’, Nestōr ‘he who brings back’, and the Vedic Twin Gods, the Aśvinā (horsemen) Nāsatyā (saviors), Dumezil being an important step in this path. Frame’s work substantiates on every level the hypothesis that “a ‘return to life’ could (or can) be the etymological meaning in Greek of noos as well as nostos, both etymologically related to Nestor and the Aśvinā Nāsatyā.” Frame’s method stays faithful to the principle of studying “l’histoire des mots,” [3] where philology is the necessary complement to formal linguistic analysis. A brilliant example: ἄσμενος. Influenced by the meaning ‘pleasant’, linguists connected ἄσμενος with a hypothetical, unattested stem of ἥδομαι; to Frame goes the credit of having shown the link between ἄσμενος and νέομαι/νόστος in the Homeric vocabulary. [4] As noted repeatedly by de Lamberterie, what works on the synchronic level (connection with ἥδομαι) might not be valid diachronically.
Return then is more than “going back.” Words have their history. This is Frame’s journey, from the beginning, to open the path towards hidden layers of meaning. There is no doubt, the comparatist’s eye sees things differently … That is why sometimes Frame’s linguistic reconstructions evoke Plotinus: Alexis Pinchard, a historian of philosophy and a comparatist himself, shows the path. His article in this volume throws us in the middle of (what Plato calls) the “old quarrel” between poetry and philosophy, but with a new comparative perspective. From the Homeric journey of Odysseus to the Neoplatonic Odyssey of the soul, Pinchard explains how Vedic India and the Asvina Nasatya offer the missing link. Plotinus does not create the concept of an Odyssey of the soul ex nihilo. There is an undeniable relation between the mind and the notion of Journey and Return, traceable on different levels in Homer, Parmenides, Plato, Plotinus … As Frame puts it, the thematic level in the poems preserves a sacred meaning that is lost or obscured on the lexical level. We cannot know if Homeric bards were conscious of this very ancient background, but Parmenides and Plotinus were. After all, Odysseus’ story about nostos goes well beyond the seafarer-returning-home level, his ultimate choice being not between two women but between mortality and a problematic immortality.
One fascinating thing about Hippota Nestor is the way results from different subject areas are drawn together in support of the main argument: Frame’s research on the Indo-European twin myth, which is central to his argument in Hippota Nestor, leads from linguistics to history, or more precisely, to how Greeks make history from myth. In this path Frame engages fully, starting from the discrepancy between the Iliad (11.689-693) and the Odyssey (11.285-287) about Nestor’s brothers, Neleus’ sons. According to Frame the Homeric epics had to suppress Nestor’s variant of the Indo-European twin myth—Nestor and Periclymenos—in the depths of their structure, because it had to adopt a newer version that gave Neleus not twins but twelve sons, the more recent tradition representing “the Ionian dodecapolis in a symbolic way”; the dodecapolis and the Panionia, the recurring festival celebrating the spirit of Panionism, is where the Homeric epic developed in its monumental dimensions. Every Homerist knows how difficult it is to go from poetics to history. Frame does it brilliantly.
Two more authors offer precious insights in this direction: a Homerist, Gregory Nagy, and an archaeologist, Alexander Herda, who has worked for years on the site of ancient Miletos. Nagy offers two articles in this volume, both focused on Athens as another important step in the formation of the epics. In the first one, “The Panathenaic Bottleneck …” he takes us from Asia Minor and Frame’s Panionic Homer to Athens (via Chios) and from the 8th century to the classical period, with a special focus on this other festival that unites all the Ionians with their mother city, the Panathenaia.
The same pattern of tracing Panionic and Panathenaic elements in the Homeric text underlies Nagy’s second contribution. Focusing on a key element in Frame’s approach, the Catalogue of women in the Nekuia, Nagy gives his own definition of what is Orphic in relation to Homeric Poetry, tracking in the text two different performance traditions, thus redefining the “Pisisitratean recension.”
Herda’s article is a precious complement to Frame’s model of a Panionic Homer, as it takes us to the sacred precinct of the Panionion, on the Aegean coastline opposite the Greek island of Samos, where the Panionian dodekapolis assembled for the festival “of all the Ionians,” in honor of Poseidon Helikonios. As he did with Frame himself, along with Leonard Muellner, in 2017, Herda walks us through the site where the Panionia were celebrated, founded, suspended, refounded, following the vicissitudes of Ionia’s history. As Herda notes, Homer could not refer to the Panionion of his time directly: “Homer and his Ionian audience knew of the cult of Poseidon Helikonios in Achaean Helike (see Iliad 8.203), as well as of its true origin from Boeotian Mount Helikon (see Iliad 20.404), and he plays with this relationship on purpose … The chronology of Greek myths that bound his epics prevented him from doing so.”
This is one more excellent example of how in Homeric poetry meanings can be “deliberately disguised and intentionally withheld,” as Frame puts it, which is exactly what Muellner’s article is about. Muellner, the other member of the “Thursday group,” brings us back to philology and linguistics, in a different way, through Ferdinand de Saussure’s theory of the linguistic sign, in order to decipher how an absent signifier functions within the pattern “signifier-signified.” Saussurian linguistics proves a powerful way to illustrate that “expression by way of the absent sign is a ubiquitous habit of thought and expression in Homeric epic.”
The presence of linguistics in this volume could not but be strong. Through their etymology, words tell a story. Inspired by Frame’s close reading of Athena in the epics, Garcia-Ramon paints a broad picture of the goddess through an extended presentation of her cultic epithets, which show how multifaceted a deity Athena is. Athens and Athena are present in an important way in Frame’s work; detailed analysis shows the Athenian hand in the Homeric text and leads to a theory about Athena’s transformation from a Mother Goddess of Minoan origin to a—Homeric-Athenian—Virgin Warrior Goddess, a theory that connects the Homeric representation of Athena with the political evolution of Athens.
Létoublon and McShane take us back to the twin theme, from different perspectives. As a result of his twin brother Periklymenos’ death, Nestor inherits his skills and notoriety and makes them part of himself … Reviewing the twin theme within the general thematic structure of Hippota Nestor, Létoublon explores how powerful the theme is in expressing simultaneously identity and difference. Greek mythology offers a vast array of thematic combinations around twins, going from supernatural complementarity, as with the Dioscuri, to murderous opposition, as with Atreus and Thyestes.
In mythical thought the twinship model can push the boundaries between natural and supernatural; it broadens the limits of characters by opening a space beyond kinship and companionship. To explore this perspective, the reader is invited to take a bold—albeit fascinating—leap from Homer to Shakespeare, in McShane’s approach of the theme of twinship in King Lear. By transposing the relation of Edmund and Edgar from naturalistic realism to the mythic order, McShane is able to follow Shakespeare beyond the contrast of good and evil and show the shared psychological space between the two brothers; as Mcshane puts it, “on the psychological plane Edmund functions as a darker, unacknowledged and temporarily emancipated part of Edgar.” What both McShane and Frame essentially tell us is that, great authors being artists above all, they push expression to its limits, they can handle the space beyond formal logic. This is a major characteristic of great poetry according to Aristotle, who considers Homer to be a master of the inexplicable and the Absurd (Poetics 1460a).
An important part of Nestor’s obscurity is the story of his unspoken twin, but it is not the only one. This tendency to blur Nestor’s biography is an important part of my own contribution in this volume, which focuses on the particularities of Homeric characters closely connected to noos. The deliberate archaism in the handling of temporality in general is one more proof of the tactics of dissimulation, but despite the intentional blurring and distortion of time and context, Homer is for the Greeks the everlasting source of reference when it comes to questions of Greek and non Greek cultures and their modes of expression and coexistence. In his article, Petropoulos starts his dialog with Frame with the “ultracivilized Phaiakians” as an illustration of how complex the process of defining culture and civilization is, in different ways, throughout genres, be it history, philosophy, or poetry: “… the Homeric poems presuppose the currency of ethnographic constructions—and, I should like to stress, methods—particularly in the wake of centuries-old ‘cultural contact, conflict, and colonisation’.”
However, the Homeric epic is constructed as an enigma when it comes to historical or, sometimes, even geographic accuracy. Inscribed in the very project of Homeric poetry is the intention to separate content and context. Frame patiently works to peel off the layers of dissimulation and proposes a coherent model about the context in which the formation of the monumental epics took place. It is arguably the most difficult task for a Homerist to marry history and poetics, because the epics consistently omit any specific reference that would allow referring them to a specific society or period. Frame does give himself the monumental task of connecting “the content of the two poems with the context in which they arose.” “Connecting the content” here means, as every reader of Hippota Nestor will experience, staying very close to the text. Nevertheless, Frame’s work is far from being a Homerist’s soliloquy; it is built in a way to offer a broad basis for an interdisciplinary dialog. In this spirit the readers of the present volume are offered a text from Frame “introducing Hippota Nestor,” an overview of his magnum opus. This text, written 4 years after the publication of the book itself, and published here for the first time, offers the main arguments of Hippota Nestor “at a glance” (εὐσύνοπτον, Aristotle would say), in a generous effort to facilitate this interdisciplinary dialog. I wish to conclude the present Introduction with an excerpt from this text, an example of the endeavor to connect content and context, a token of research that leaves no path unexamined:

Homeric epic can be understood as having arisen with Panionism. The Panionia, a festival whose origins date to the late eighth century BC at the latest, was where the twelve cities of the dodecapolis formed a new community and where this community was celebrated. Homeric epic must have developed at a recurring festival of some sort, for only such a context will account for the growth of the two epics to monumental proportions before an audience which was able to take all of it in from start to finish … The twelve performance-units for the two poems together should be correlated with the twelve cities that celebrated the Panionia … If this model for the composition of the two monumental poems is right it should be possible to connect the content of the two poems with the context in which they arose. I do not claim to have thought this question through for either poem, but I do find a thought-provoking parallel between the formation of the Panionic league, the common enterprise of many cities in Asia minor with quite different origins in mainland Greece, and the similar situation of the Greeks at Troy. Is it valid, or at least interesting, to see the Greek enterprise at Troy that is depicted in the Iliad as reflecting the process of Ionian community formation? [5]
Ioanna Papadopoulou

Footnotes

[ back ] 1. Lord, A. B. 1960: The Singer of Tales. Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature 24, Cambridge MA, 1960, p. 47.
[ back ] 3. The subtitle and the spirit of Chantraine’s Dictionnaire étymologique.
[ back ] 4. De Lamberterie, C., “L’adjectif grec ἄσμενος: étymologie et histoire du mot”, in Fumaroli, M., Jouanna J., Trédé M., Zink, M., Hommage à Jacqueline de Romilly. L’empreinte de son œuvre, Paris, 2014.
[ back ] 5. Frame, “Introducing Hippota Nestor” (in this volume).