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PostSubject: The Odyssey Mon Aug 17, 2015 2:59 pm

Homer wrote:
Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns …
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,
many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.
But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove—
the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,
the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun
and the Sungod blotted out the day of their return.
Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
start from where you will—sing for our time too.
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PostSubject: Re: The Odyssey Mon Aug 17, 2015 3:00 pm

Bernard Knox wrote:
Odyssey" is a familiar English word, meaning, according to Webster,
"a series of adventurous journeys usually marked by many changes of
fortune." The Greek word Odusseia, the form from which the English
word is derived, means simply "the story of Odysseus," a Greek hero of
the Trojan War who took ten years to find his way back from Troy to his
home on the island of Ithaca, off the western coast of mainland Greece.
Homer's Odyssey does indeed present us with "adventurous journeys"
and "changes of fortune," but it is also an epic tale of a hero's return, to
find at home a situation more dangerous than anything he faced on the
plains of Troy or in his wanderings over uncharted seas.
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PostSubject: Re: The Odyssey Mon Aug 17, 2015 3:00 pm

Bernard Knox wrote:
Back to 1488, then, there is a continuous history of the printed text of
Homer, differing a little from one editor to another but essentially fixed.
Before that, Homer existed only as a handwritten book. Such hand-
written copies had been in circulation in Italy for a hundred years or so
before the first printed edition. Petrarch had tried to learn Greek but gave
up; Boccaccio succeeded and also, in 1360, had a chair of Greek founded
in Florence. But before Petrarch, Dante, though he put Homer in his
limbo of non- Christian poets, had never read him, and could not have
read him even if he had seen a text. For the best part of a thousand years,
since the end of the Roman Empire, the knowledge of Greek had been
almost lost in Western Europe. In the fourteenth century it was reintro-
duced into Italy from Byzantium, where a Greek-speaking Christian
empire had maintained itself ever since Constantine made the city the
capital of the eastern half of the Roman Empire.

The knowledge of Greek and the manuscripts of the Greek classics,
Homer included, came to Italy just in time; in May 1453 Byzantium fell
to the Ottoman Turks, and the Greek empire of the East came to the end
of its thousand-year career. During its long life it had carefully preserved,
copied and recopied a select number of the Greek masterpieces of pre-
Christian times, Homer prominent among them. The immediate prede-
cessors of the printed edition of Florence were bound manuscript books
written on vellum or on paper in a cursive minuscule script complete
with accents and breathings. These books were the final phase of the
process of copying by hand that went all the way back to the ancient
world. The new minuscule handwriting had been adopted in the ninth
century; since it separated words, it was easier to read than its prede-
cessor, a hand consisting of freestanding capital letters without word
division — the standard writing of the ancient world. In the second to fifth
centuries a.d., the form and material of the books had changed: parch-
ment, with its longer life, had replaced papyrus, and the codex form, our
book form— folded quires of paper sewn at the back— had replaced the
roll. In the ancient world, the Iliad consisted of a number of papyrus
rolls, the text written in columns on the inside surface. The rolls could not be too big (or they would break when opened for reading); a long
poem like the Odyssey might require as many as twenty-four — in fact, it is
possible that the so-called books of our text represent an original division
into papyrus rolls.
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PostSubject: Re: The Odyssey Mon Aug 17, 2015 3:02 pm

Bernard Knox wrote:
In this form the poem was known to the scholars who edited and
wrote commentaries on it in Alexandria, the city founded by Alexander
before he set out on his epic march to India in the late fourth century b.c.
And it was in this form — though, before the Alexandrian scholars made a
standard edition, with many variations from one text to another — that
copies were to be found all over the Greek world of the fourth and fifth
centuries b.c. There must have been texts in circulation in the sixth cen-
tury too, for we hear of official recitations at Athens and find echoes of
Homer in sixth-century poets. By the seventh century b.c, we are
moving back into the dark. In the poets of this century (whose work sur-
vives only in fragments) there are epithets, phrases and even half -lines
that are also common in Homer. Though these poets — Tyrtaeus, Callinus,
Alcman and Archilochus — may be using tags common to a general epic
tradition, it seems more likely that these echoes betray acquaintance
with the work we know as Homer's. There is also a vase, discovered on
the island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples, and dated to before 700 b.c,
which has an inscription that seems to refer to the famous cup of Nestor
described in the Iliad (11.745-53).* And echoes in art are also found in
the early seventh century — illustrations of scenes from the Odyssey, for
example, on vases dated in the 670s.

But back beyond about 700 b.c we cannot go. Evidence for this pe-
riod is rare; in fact, we know very little about Greece in the eighth cen-
tury, still less, if possible, about Greece in the ninth. We have only the
archaeological record — geometric pots, graves, some weapons. It is the
era of Greek history known, because of our almost total ignorance about
it, as the Dark Age.

All we have is the tradition, what the Greeks of historical times
believed they knew about Homer. Herodotus thought that he lived four
hundred years, not more, before his own time; that would put him in the
ninth century. The great Homeric scholar Aristarchus of Alexandria
believed that he lived about one hundred forty years after the Trojan
War; since the Trojan War was generally dated (in our terms) around
1200 b.c, Aristarchus' Homer was much earlier than the Homer of
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PostSubject: Re: The Odyssey Mon Aug 17, 2015 3:02 pm

Bernard Knox wrote:
The language of Homer is the "creation of epic verse" in a strict sense
too: it is created, adapted and shaped to fit the epic meter, the hex-
ameter. This is a line, as its name indicates, of six metrical units, which
may, to put it crudely, be either dactyls (a long plus two shorts) or
spondees (two longs) in the first four places but must be dactyl
and spondee in that order in the last two (rarely spondee and spondee,
never spondee followed by dactyl). The syllables are literally long and
short; the meter is based on pronunciation time, not, as in our language,
on stress. But unlike most English verse, the meter does not allow depar-
tures from the basic norms — such phenomena as the Shakespearean
variations on the basic blank verse line, still less the subtleties of Eliot's
prosody in The Waste Land.

Bernard Knox wrote:
Yet though it is always metrically regular, it never becomes monoto-
nous; its internal variety guarantees that. This regularity imposed on
variety is Homer's great metrical secret, the strongest weapon in his
poetic arsenal. The long line, which no matter how it varies in the
opening and middle always ends in the same way, builds up its hypnotic
effect in book after book, imposing on things and men and gods the same
pattern, presenting in a rhythmic microcosm the wandering course to a
fixed end which is the pattern of the rage of Achilles and the travels of
Odysseus, of all natural phenomena and all human destinies.

The meter itself demands a special vocabulary, for many combinations
of long and short syllables that are common in the spoken language
cannot be admitted to the line — any word with three consecutive short
syllables, for example, any word with one short syllable between two
longs. This difficulty was met by choosing freely among the many varia-
tions of pronunciation and prosody afforded by Greek dialectal differ-
ences; the epic language is a mixture of dialects. Under a light patina of
Attic forms (easily removable and clearly due to the preeminence of
Athens as a literary center and then of the book trade), there is an indis-
soluble mixture of two different dialects, Aeolic and Ionic. But the
attempts of the linguists to use this criterion for early (Aeolic) and late
(Ionic) ran into the dilemma that Aeolic and Ionic forms sometimes
appear inextricably tangled in the same line or half-line.

The attempts to dissect the Odyssey along historical lines were no more
satisfactory (except of course to their authors). There are indeed passages
that seem to imply different historical backgrounds, but they are not pas-
sages that are identifiable as early or late by the criteria of linguistic dif-
ference or structural analysis. All through the poem, weapons and armor
are made of bronze — spearheads, arrow tips, swords, helmets and breast-
plates; men are killed by "pitiless bronze." In superior palaces, like those
of the gods or King Alcinous of the Phaeacians, bathtubs and cauldrons
and even the threshold of the building are made of bronze. On the other
hand, iron is used for axes and adzes; it is so familiar an item that it is
constantly in use in metaphor and simile — "heart of iron," for example.
But there is no way to separate Bronze Age from Iron Age layers; the two
metals lie cheek by jowl, and even the distinction between bronze for
weapons and iron for tools is often ignored — "Iron has powers to draw a
man to ruin" is a proverbial phrase twice quoted by Odysseus (16.327,
19.14), and a man who is dipping red-hot iron in water is called a
chalkeus, a bronze or copper worker. Early in the poem, Athena, dis-
guised as Mentes, says that she is sailing for Temese with a cargo of iron,
which she intends to trade for bronze.
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PostSubject: Re: The Odyssey Mon Aug 17, 2015 3:03 pm

Bernard Knox wrote:
Epic narrative characteristically announces the point in the story at
which it begins and then proceeds in chronological order to its end. The
Iliad opens with the poet's request to the Muse: "Rage — Goddess, sing
the rage of Peleus' son Achilles"; he then tells her where to start: "Begin,
Muse, when the two first broke and clashed, / Agamemnon lord of men
and brilliant Achilles" (1.1-8 ). She does, and the story is told in strict
chronological order until its end: "And so the Trojans buried Hector
breaker of horses" (24.944). In the Odyssey, when Odysseus asks the
Phaeacian bard Demodocus to "Sing of the wooden horse / Epeus built
with Athena's help," the bard "launched out / in a fine blaze of song,
starting at just the point / where the main Achaean force, setting their
camps afire . . ." (8.552-61), and carries the story on until Troy falls. But
the prologue to the Odyssey abandons this traditional request to the Muse
or the singer to begin at a certain point. It begins, like the Iliad, with a
request to the Muse to sound a theme — the wrath of Achilles, the wan-
derings of Odysseus — but instead of telling her where to start — "Begin,
Muse, when the two first broke and clashed" — it leaves the choice to her.
"Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus, / start from where you
will" (1.11-12). And she does. She begins, not with Odysseus' departure
from Troy (which is where he begins when he tells his story to the
Phaeacians), but in the twentieth year of his absence from home, as
Athena starts Telemachus on his journey to Pylos and Sparta and
arranges Odysseus' escape from his seven-year captivity on Calypso's

The reason for this startling departure from tradition is not far to seek.
If the poet had begun at the beginning and observed a strict chronology,
he would have been forced to interrupt the flow of his narrative as soon
as he got his hero back to Ithaca, in order to explain the extremely com-
plicated situation he would have to deal with in his home. The
Telemacheia enables him to set the stage for the hero's return and to
introduce the main participants in the final scenes — Athena, Tele-
machus, Penelope, Eurycleia, Antinous, Eurymachus — as well as a group
of minor players: Medon, the servant who helped rear Telemachus;
Dolius, the servant of Laertes; Halitherses and Mentor, two old Ithacans
who disapprove of the suitors; the suitor Leocritus; and Phemius, the
Ithacan bard. And the accounts of Telemachus' voyages do more than
chart his progress, under Athena's guidance, from provincial diffidence
to princely self-confidence in his dealings with kings; they also offer us
two ideal visions of the hero's return, so different from what awaits
Odysseus Nestor among his sons, Menelaus with his wife and daughter,
both of them presiding over rich kingdoms and loyal subjects.
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PostSubject: Re: The Odyssey Mon Aug 17, 2015 3:04 pm

Bernard Knox wrote:
The Homeric epithets were created to meet the demands of the meter
of Greek heroic poetry, the dactylic hexameter. They offer the impro-
vising bard different ways of fitting the name of his god, hero, or object
into whatever section of the line is left after he has, so to speak, filled up
the first half (that, too, quite possibly, with another formulaic phrase).
Odysseus, for example, is often described as "much-enduring, brilliant
Odysseus" — polutlas dibs Odusseus — a line ending. In Book 5 Calypso, who
has had Odysseus to herself on her island for seven years, is ordered by
the gods to release him and tells him he can go. But he suspects a trap,
and shudders. "So she spoke," says Homer, "and he shuddered" — hbs
phato rigesen de—and he ends with the formula "much-enduring, brilliant
Odysseus" — polutlas dibs Odusseus — to form a hexameter line. A little later
Calypso asks Odysseus how he can prefer his wife at home to her
immortal charms, and his diplomatic answer is introduced by the for-
mula: "and in answer he addressed her" — ten d' apomeibbmenbs prbsephe.
But the line cannot be completed with "much-enduring, brilliant
Odysseus"; that formula is too long for this position. So Odysseus ceases
for the moment to be "much-enduring" and "brilliant" and becomes
something that conforms to the metrical pattern: "a man of many
schemes" — pblumetis Odusseus. The hero's name is especially adaptable-
Homer uses two different spellings — Odusseus and Oduseus — which give
the hero two different metrical identities. Often, however, the poet has
to use the name in a different grammatical case from the nominative —
the genitive Odiisebs, for example — and when that happens the hero
becomes "blameless" — Oduseos amumonos — or, with the longer spelling
of his name, "great-hearted" — Odusseds megaletoros. In the dative case
he becomes "godlike" — antitheo Odusei — or "quick-minded" — Odusei
daiphroni. The choice of epithet is dictated by the meter. So also the
island of Ithaca is "rocky," "seagirt," "clear-skied" or "lying under Mount
Neriton," depending on its grammatical case and position in the line; and
under the same imperatives the Phaeacians appear as "great-hearted,"
"famous for ships" or "lords of the sea." As for the ships, objects as essen-
tial to the story of Odysseus as spears and swords are to that of Achilles,
they are "hollow," "swift," "black," "well-benched," "well-oared," "well-
worked," "scooped-out," "fast-moving," "scarlet-cheeked" and "black -
prowed," to name only the principal epithets that enable the poet to use
them in any grammatical case and metrical position.

This system, obviously the product of invention, refinement and
elimination of superfluities over generations, could only be the work of
oral bards, and in fact similar phenomena, though infinitely less sophisti-
cated, are found in oral poetry, living and dead, in other languages.
There was more to it, of course, than handy epithets. Whole lines, once
honed to perfection by the bards of the tradition, became part of the
repertoire; they are especially noticeable in recurring passages like
descriptions of sacrifice, of communal eating and drinking. Such passages
give the oral singer time to concentrate on what is coming next and, if he
is a creative oral poet, to elaborate his own phrases mentally as he recites
the formulas that he can sing without effort. He is helped, too, by the for-
mulaic nature of whole themes, great type-scenes — the arming of the
warrior for battle, the launching and beaching of ships. These are tradi-
tional patterns that the audience expects and the bard may vary but not
radically change.

There is one aspect of Parry's discovery, however, that changed the
whole problem of the nature of our Homeric text. The oral bard who
uses such formulaic language is not, as scholars in the nineteenth cen-
tury who struggled with the problem of illiterate bards all assumed, a
poet reciting from memory a fixed text. He is improvising, along known
lines, relying on a huge stock of formulaic phrases, lines and even whole
scenes; but he is improvising. And every time he sings the poem, he may
do it differently. The outline remains the same, but the text, the oral text,
is flexible. The poem is new every time it is performed.

If Homer's poetry is the culmination of a long tradition of such oral
composition, many of the problems that bedeviled the Analysts are
solved. Over the course of generations of trial and error, formulas are
introduced and rejected or retained for their usefulness in improvisation,
without regard to linguistic consistency or historical accuracy. The lan-
guage of the poets becomes a repository of all the combinations that have
proved useful. Small wonder that Aeolic and Ionic forms appear in the
same line, that a Mycenaean boar-tusk helmet can turn up in a passage
in the Iliad, full of late linguistic forms, that people in the Odyssey some-
times give dowries and sometimes demand payment for their daughter's
hand, that cremation and inhumation are practiced side by side. As each
new generation of singers re-creates the song, new formulas may be
invented, new themes and scenes introduced; reflections of contem-
porary reality creep into descriptions of the fighting, especially into the
similes. But the dedication of epic poetry to the past and the continuing
usefulness of so much traditional phraseology will slow the process of
modernization and produce the unhistorical amalgam of customs, objects
and linguistic forms that we find in our Homeric text.

It is the fate of most new and valuable insights to be enthusiastically
developed beyond the limits of certainty, or even of probability, and
Parry's demonstration that Homeric poetry had an oral base has not
escaped that fate. Phrases, even whole lines, that are repeated often
enough to qualify as formulaic are indeed characteristic of the poet's dic-
tion, but they do not account for more than a part of it — about one third
of the whole. In an attempt to raise the formulaic element to a higher
level, Parry counted as formulas expressions whose metrical pattern and
position in the line were identical and that contained one word in
common: for example, teuche etheke; alge' etheke; kudos etheke — he "put" the
arms, the sorrows, the glory on. Not content with this, Parry went on to
suggest, hesitantly, the inclusion in the system of similar expressions
that, however, did not contain one word in common: dbken hetairo, for
example, and teuche kiinessin — "he gave to his comrade," "he made [him
prey] for the dogs." Some of Parry's followers have been less hesitant,
and by this and other extensions of the meaning of "formula" have
boosted the inherited content of Homer's verse to ninety percent. This of
course leaves very little room for Homer as an individual creative poet. It
seems in fact to be a return to the idea of Giambattista Vico: the poems
are the creation of a people, of a tradition, of generations of nameless

But the argument for full formularity has feet of clay. A poet composing
in a strict, demanding meter is bound to repeat syntactical combinations in
identical positions, and the stricter the meter, the higher the incidence of
such repeated patterns. English has no meters as precisely demanding as
Homer's, but Alexander Pope, to take an example, is rich in lines that by
rigid Parryite standards would qualify him as an illiterate bard:

The Smiles of Harlots, and the Tears of Heirs
The Fate of Louis and the Fall of Rome

Proclaim their Motions, and provoke the War
Maintain thy Honours, and enlarge thy Fame

The shining Helmet, and the pointed Spears
The silver Token, and the circled Green

Weak was his Pace, but dauntless was his Heart
Lame are their Feet, and wrinkled is their Face
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PostSubject: Re: The Odyssey

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