Friday, June 3, 2011


Adrienne Dimakopoulou, chlôrêis aêdôn, pâle rossignol: une étude sémantique. Paris: Apolis éditions, 2010. Pp. 156. ISBN 9782953249538. €12.00 (pb).

Reviewed by John Henderson, King's College, Cambridge (

Version at BMCR home site

This thirty years young essay produced at EHESS under the supervision of Pierre Vidal-Naquet (and examined by Vernant and Loraux) marvellously evokes la belle époque when social-psychological semiotic enquiry into Greek culture teemed, while making a substantial contribution of its own.1 A lecturesome piece organized in brisk full-on flurries, it's ripened into if anything still more of a rebuke for positivist stolidity in textual semantics than when it was penned.2 Colour-term analysis is notoriously recidivist, prey to fixation on mythical originary referentiality and foreclosure through pet. princ. Dimakopoulou gives her denunciation far wider reverb than this, stigmatizing metaphor-squeezing for decisive discrimination between lexical senses as so much prosaic "tautology". She dramatizes her presentation as an exercise in deferral, as if a final reckoning will eventually arrive (as for suitors and maids); and indeed the dénouement does get it all sorted (abrupt as Athene) -- in terms of method. But the point is to give the chosen seme χλωρός, as cathected by Penelope's self-descriptor hapax at Odyssey 19.518, "I, as χλωρηὶς nightingale", time and pages to occupy conceptual topography within sundry paradigms evoked by texts working with, and so on, the more common, if not garden, base term (esp. Hes.Sc.231, 31, A.Supp.566, S. Aj.1064, Trach.847, E.Hel.1189, Med.906, Dimakopoulou determines to scout round and sound out phraseology in the "open" range of its habitats and haunts, but it will come as no surprise (to initiates in metis least of all) that her chosen topic-and-term proves to be a perverse operator, whose business is precisely to modify hermeneutic access to meaning, by shading-cum-erasing descriptive purchase as such: a heavily freighted "epithet" standing for, and glossing, semantic denial and disqualification, withholding and abjection. As with e.g. emptiness, poiesis can achieve colourful-chlorofull impact with pallor in terms of imaginative potential through referential shortfall-downfall.

So before (= sooner than) getting too interested too soon in what shade of olive frightened Mediterranean skin might be thought to go, what colour(s) Greek grass might look in which Greek eyes, where in how many ppi would the colourwheel put the sandy sand there, we should probe chromatically-challenged places and moments of Greek fear, χλωρὸν δέος, and Greek growth, χλοερός and χλόη.3 First Dimakopoulou feels her way into female frazzle, cue fade to forget. In death, coordinates efface to gloom; in love's swoon baffled senses scramble. Where and when, classic texts hop us through mind-fuddle haze and noise, deadly fog and feedback, fazing sheen, shimmer and din. Past discernment and discrimination, to duck-rabbit oscillation and doubt. Where veils of tears screen, when dreams scream: impenetrability, and not a glimmer. Within sombre walls, behind dull doors, half-awake in emptied bed, mourning in the middle voice, She loses it--nightinghoul in, of, and as, the gloaming. Woman--wife, mother, still someone's daughter--delivers unripe and dies away so, budding but never emerging to shaped self as the distinct person realised in perfected male heroism's unforgettable impressiveness--glittering distinction, fixed in memorialized epitaphic undying fame. Working through exquisite pain, this vernal analytic mode nevertheless practises what it terms absurdity as "the condition of conjuring up pleasure" (pp.104-05, "En guise de conclusion...").

Lest Penelope's citation of "the myth" of Aedon should tempt premature diversion from semantic play, the text-and-translation of Antoninus Liberalis (Met.11) is withheld (to an "Annexe" supplied for the publication: pp.136-9); even so, this is tucked away behind another (pp.120-35) that recounts Ovid's Pandionian saga of Tereus' entourage in full (Met.6.412-674), though pertinence to the daughter of Pandareus' plight would preoccupy the very species of enquiry renounced by Dimakopoulou's hue and cry. Her her(oine) is the ever less than denominated aedon ringed and finessed by father, son, and husband names--that bespeaks as it sings out Penelope's deflected expropriation of the bird-bard voice (Od.19.518-19, ἀηδών/ἀείδῃσιν). What περίφρων Penelope does by muttering to her muffled stranger husband about the κούρη who killed her singular son δι᾽ ἀφραδίας is to mobilize myth-as-metaphor within the bewildering barrage of impossibly overloaded hermeneutic stunts that shuffle muzzled Odysseus' womenfolk together: before she can reach verbal clarity and really drop a clanger of a killer-blow, Odysseus' nurse-mother's emotional megamix is stifled shtum as stone or iron (ἅμα χάρμα καὶ ἄλγος ἕλε φρένα, τὼ δέ οἱ ὄσσε | δακρυόφι πλῆσθεν, θαλερὴ δέ οἱ ἔσχετο φωνή ..., 471-2). Whereas his (un)knowing wife, Telemachus' mother, deflected from looking it straight in the eye till the penny drops, as her mind lurches flip-flop in two, fort/da (524, cf. 564), resorts to myth-metaphor and then dreamspeak, to tip the wink without spilling the beans. In a flood of chlorinated privatives and sous ratures (ἀμέτρητον, 512, ἀεικέα, 550, ἀμήχανοι ἀκριτόμυθοι, 560, ἀμενηνῶν, 562, ἀκράαντα, 565; ἠὼς...δυσώνυμος, 571, Κακοΐλιον οὐκ ὀνομαστήν, 597), certain sighting of death, the end for suitor geese and dissing maids, is plotted short of recognizable intelligibility, through this tossing and troping sad-eyed lady's multi-echoic hints "pouring out" their high-frequency flood of corpses matched to cares (πυκιναὶ...ἀμφ᾽ ἀδινὸν κῆρ | ὀξεῖαι μελεδῶνες, 516-17, cf. δενδρέων ἐν πετάλοισι πυκινοῖσιν, 520 ~ οἱ δ᾽ ἐκέχυντο | ἀθρόοι ἐν μεγάροις, 539-40). This gang manage (sh!) to sound close as that to chucking their baby out with the bathwater, but Dimakopoulou sh(ad)ows how the team negotiating Odysseus' dead-eyed turncoat-shoot in broad daylight (esp. πέφραδ᾽ ὅπως τελέει: μνηστῆρσι δὲ φαίνετ᾽ ὄλεθρος, 557) works through dead of night deluge in noisome Penelopean bedlam ([εὐνή] αἰεὶ δάκρυσ᾽ ἐμοῖσι πεφυρμένη, 595-6). In fact, in her own time, Dimakopoulou turns down the dimmer-switch to put χλωρός in the dock as "Homeric" epithet with its pattern of distribution ready for the reckoning (pp.122-118): but her study shows its true colours once we sideshadow Penelope's sourcing of her very own whiteout hapax, and crank up the hi-fi metis in her matt scat.

I do hope this razzle-dazzle piece makes it before too long into English (where it is most needed).4 For now, en français Ray Lamontagne's misty-murky lyric gets it best: "Trouble... | Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, | trouble".


1.   Dimakopoulou published a 1985 version of her Sappho fr. 31 piece in the house journal: "Sappho et l'amour des apparences", Le Genre Humain 13:123-133.
2.   Dimakopoulou did not know, or at least disappears, the elaborate discussion of χλωρός in Eleanor Irwin (1974) Colour Terms in Greek Poetry, Toronto, chapter 2, which plumped for "liquid, moist" for core/founding sense, cf. D. C. Innes, JHS 96 (1976) 195-6 (and for the pet. princ. factor: M. Bissinger, Gnomon 48 (1976) 737-740, at 739).
3.   As I hint, besides ἀχλύς and ἄχνα, the cull includes btw: ἀδινός, θαλερός, θεσπέσιος, τέγγω, κτλ. There is a full omnigatherum index.
4.   Blemishes are few (E.M. [E.W on p. 83] Voight, Sappho at Alceus, p.78, and a slip in the Greek on p.138).

1 comment:

  1. Doesn't BMCR have editors? How could anyone possibly countenance this obscene display of self-indulgent drivel? This seems to have been written by a very Chlorid poppin-jay who imagines he is making some kind of display of his intellectualism and sophistication. It instead has the common reuse of trying to do that.


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