Monday, December 17, 2012


Benjamin Acosta-Hughes, Christophe Cusset, Yannick Durbec, Didier Pralon (ed.), Homère revisité: parodie et humour dans les réécritures homériques. Institut des Sciences et des Techniques de l' Antiquité. Besançon: Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté, 2011. Pp. 219. ISBN 9782848673462. €21.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Maria Noussia-Fantuzzi, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Contents of the volume are listed at the end of this review.]

The volume publishes the proceedings of the international conference Réécritures et parodies d' Homère dans la littérature grecque d' époque hellénistique et tardive held in Aix-en-Provence in 2008. In the strict sense defined by Aristotle,1 the poetic genre of Homeric parody re-uses Homer by applying thematic degradations of epic language to less-than-heroic contents. Only two such Homeric parodies are treated in this volume, however: the Margites and the Batrachomyomachia. Construing parody in the etymological sense of the Greek word παρωιδία meaning "parallel song" and "counter-song", the contributions in this volume treat all kinds of strong intertextuality which is sometimes accompanied by laughter. Such an inclusive criterion accommodates a multiplicity of parodistic techniques, but some clarification of this interpretation of the term would have been welcome. In any case, parody in the Aristotelian sense (rather than the sense employed by most contributions to this volume) has long been neglected in the secondary literature.2 A study of Homeric rewritings and parody in the Hellenistic period and Late Antiquity – which also pays attention to the visual culture of the era with the contribution of Prioux on the parodic and subversive treatment of Homer and his poetry in the visual arts – is thus a useful and commendable enterprise.

The Introduction by Acosta-Hughes briefly explores the idea that the potential for the later evolution of parody lies in part in the Homeric poems themselves. "The comic" (τὸ γελοῖον) is found in the Homeric epics: for example, Thersites in Iliad 2 becomes an object of laughter and amusement, laughter is elicited from the Acheans when the lesser Ajax trips in the foot-race and fills his mouth and nostrils with dung (23.784), and from Zeus when he sees Artemis after she has been beaten by Hera (21.508). In these cases, beyond the fact that the Homeric gods or heroes appear in situations not only human and banal but also laughable, we can speak of a «littérature au second degré» in Genette's sense:3 the reader's/listener's reaction includes the fact that these gods and heroes remain recognizable as the most solemn figures who feature in other parts of Homer and in other traditional texts.

The Margites, one of the earliest extant parodic treatments of Homer,4 is discussed by Pralon. He concludes that Margites "ne donne pas une haute idée de ce que pouvait être la parodie de l' épopée à l'époque héroïque. Après tout dans l' Iliade et l'Odyssée mêmes Homère sait se parodier lui-même" (p. 158). The author is right to point out that Homer is not exempt from humor, but there is nothing in the text of the Iliad that justifies interpreting Patroclus' silence during the singing of Achilles and his waiting for him to finish the song (Book 9.185-91) as examples of Achilles' bad singing and thus of Homeric self-parody. In fact, Homer is hardly ever humorous about Achilles, and the waiting of Patroclus can be interpreted alternatively as a kind of relay performance.5

Garnier discusses the polyphony of the text of the Batrachomyomachia (the best-known Homeric parody and the only one which is fully preserved) as well as its author's ability to master it. Some of Garnier's conclusions cannot be drawn from the evidence he cites. Metaphoric riddles, for instance, were used already in early Greek poetry: Hesiod calls the snail 'house-carrier' (φερέοικος, Op. 571), the thief a 'man who sleeps during the day' (ἡμερόκοιτος ἀνήρ, Op. 605), and the octopus (or cattlefish, or snail) 'the boneless one' (ἀνόστεος, Op. 524). Metaphoric riddles cannot be uniquely connected to the enigmatic style of the Anthology as Garnier maintains, especially as they are a feature of only one of the books of the Anthology. Furthermore, Garnier's attribution of the Batrachomyomachia to Lucian is not secure: the poet of this work treats the mythical figures in a realistic and quotidian manner which is found in many Hellenistic authors and is not specific to Lucian (we may think, for example, of Callimachus' Hecale). Moreover, the comic aspect of the poem is more playful than satirical, and its use of mythology is clearly burlesque rather than polemic or antidogmatic as in Lucian.

This part of the book on parody in the Aristotelian sense could have profited from contributions on the culinary parodies of Archestratus and Matro, the Silloi of Timon of Phlius, and Crates of Thebes' Paignia. In a book of this title, I find disappointing the absence of any reference to these more or less extensive texts which contributed substantially to the poetics of parody.

The largest group of articles in the volume focuses on major Hellenistic writers and on Nonnus. Cusset and Levin discuss Theocritus, Idyll 18, while Gigante-Lanzara analyses examples of Homeric parodies in Lycophron and Nonnus. Nonnus is also discussed by De Stefani and Frangoulis, and Lycophron by Durbec, who also analyses Callimachus fr. 26 Massimilla and the Hymn to Artemis, vv. 142-161. As already noted, these papers do not focus on parody in the ancient sense of the word but rather explore broader issues of intertextuality. Frangoulis for instance gives examples not only of Nonnus' poikilia in his variations on Homer but also of earlier moments in the Dionysiaca where Nonnus himself has varied Homer, thus providing variation on his own variatio. This is a special case which clearly extends the definition of parody to a style of writing: it has very little to do with the ancient concept. In particular, the combination of variation on Homer as well as an intra-textual play on previous variations of Homer suggests a kind of para-formularity which has already been investigated in Apollonius of Rhodes. 6

Some contributions in this group, leave one feeling the need for a more firmly defined and theoretically nuanced concept of literary parody. Cusset and Levin, for example, offer a Ptolemaic reading of Theocritus' Idyll 18 by connecting the character of Menelaus with Philadelphus and Helen with Arsinoe, but they do not make it clear what makes Theocritus' rewriting of Menelaus specifically parodic, and what sets it apart from the common practice of re- using existing myths by singling out and emphasizing specific moments in them which had already featured in different chronological segments. Theocritus treats a moment in myth – Menelaus' wedding to Helen – which precedes the events of the Iliad and Odyssey,7 yet he never exploits this to make ironic allusions to the Homeric Menelaus. In any case, Sappho's wedding songs and epithalamia provide many parallels for the bantering of the groom in the poem. Nor does Theocritus explicitly evoke representations of Menelaus in the epic, despite the authors' claim that Iliad 17.19-32 on Menelaus' inferiority to many other Greek fighters provides the basis for Theocritus' parodic rewriting. In other words, Theocritus' treatment of Menelaus permits a purely generic explanation without assuming, with the authors, a parody of the Homeric portrayal of the hero. In a similar way, Durbec's analysis of Callimachus fr. 26 Massimilla, does not explain how the word πείνη – referring to the hunger of Heracles' child, and according to the author alluding to Eumaeus' description of Syria as a place where hunger does not exist,Od. 15.407 – leads to a comic/parodic reading of Callimachus' passage (p. 84).

The vitality of the Homeric tradition in prose is treated in two contributions on Plutarch and Lucian. Casevitz analyses Plutarch's ironic uses of Homer in his dialogue On irrational creatures' use of reason for the remaking of "un monde différent, un monde où l' ensemble des créatures vivantes suivrait la nature et ne chercherait pas à établir une domination, puisque chacun comprendrait que sa place est la bonne" (p. 24). Casevitz shows how Plutarch plays on Homeric uses of animal imagery in language as well by having Gryllos comment on the hyperbole of Homer's epithets for outstanding warriors. This should not be defined as parody, however, in spite of the irony that it certainly involves. Charrière analyses Lucian's Charon, showing how Lucian's techniques of parody belong both to his own critical verve and to his specific technique of mimesis (imitation) of earlier authors, particularly Homer. Lucian's work contains a varied range of all the possible subcategories of parody: strict parody in the ancient sense (parodic references founded on Homeric citations), references that are simpler (less marked) allusions to Homer, and centos as well.

Sens and Sistakou write on Homer and imperial epigram, the first focusing on Lucillius, the latter on Rufinus and Strato. Both trace the epic resonance of the epigrams which can shift from close imitation of the epic language (Lucillius AP 9.572, 11.134; Strato AP 12.217.6 imitating with variatio Il. 9.185-86) and verbal parody in the ancient sense, to less marked epic language, and even to scrupulous avoidance of Homeric language (Lucillius AP 11.77; Rufinus has one Homeric phrase taken from Il. 14.16 in AP 5.35, and none in all the other epigrams examined by Sistakou).8 In this last case, when the author has eliminated all traces of Homeric phrasing and direct allusions, the Trojan material no longer figures in its own traditional right but becomes part of another discourse (of an erotic nature in the cases of Rufinus and Strato) while the listener's/reader's expected knowledge of the highlights of the epic tradition is given a twist through this playful transformation of epic material.

Misspellings (p. 12 distinctly, p. 185 throw, than), typos (pp. 8, 12, 13, 191) and errors of Greek (p. 54 ξανθός, p. 136 σφραγίς, ποιητής, p. 167 ὑφηνάμενοι) are few. The Introduction refers to a section in Sens' contribution (on the foibles of Homeric grammarians) which seems to have been omitted in the final version of his paper. The bibliography for the Introduction seems likewise to have been omitted.

Table of Contents

Benjamin Acosta-Hughes, "Avant-propos"
Michel Casevitz, "Homère en prose: Plutarque et la réutilisation de l'Odyssée dans le traité Sur le fait que les animaux se servent de raison"
Jean-Louis Charrière, "Les références homériques dans Charon de Lucien de Samosate"
Christophe Cusset, Fanny Levin, "Aspects parodiques et humoristiques de la figure de Ménélas dans L'épithalame d' Hélène de Théocrite"
Claudio De Stefani, "Homeric Parody in Nonnus"
Yannick Durbec, "Manger, boire, batailler et mourir: humour et parodies homériques chez Callimaque et Lycophron"
Hélène Frangoulis, "Réécritures parodiques et humoristiques d'Homère chez Nonnos de Panopolis"
Romain Garnier, "La Batrachomyomachie: un texte polyphonique"
Valeria Gigante Lanzara, "Il gioco dei contrari"
Didier Pralon, "Margitès"
Évelyne Prioux, "Parodies, humour et subversion dans les images inspirés de la vie et de l' œuvre d' Homère"
Alexander Sens, "Notes on Homeric Humour in Lucillius"
Evina Sistakou, "Mock Epic in the Greek Anthology"


1.   Aristotle, Poet. 2.1448a 11-13.
2.   The parodoi are generally absent from survey treatments of Hellenistic Literature, e.g. M. Fantuzzi and R. Hunter, Tradition and Innovation in Hellenistic Poetry, Cambridge 2004. An exception is K. Gutzwiller, A Guide to Hellenistic Literature, Oxford 2007, which has a brief chapter on the Parodic and Philosophical Literature of the Hellenistic age.
3.   G. Genette, Palimpsestes. La littérature au second degré, Paris 1982.
4.   Cf. another early instance of Homeric parody, the inscription on the so-called Nestor cup from Ischia which parodies Iliad 11.
5.   See G. Nagy, Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond, Cambridge 1996, 71-73 and Homeric Responses, Austin, Tex. 2003, 43-44. More plausible as an example of Homeric self-parody is Od. 8.266-366 given as a second example by the author.
6.   Cf. M. Fantuzzi, "Homeric Formularity in the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes", in Th.D. Papanghelis and A. Rengakos (eds.), A Companion to Apollonius Rhodius, Leiden and Boston 2001, 171-191.
7.   Cf. A. Barchiesi, "Future Reflexive: two modes of allusion and Ovid's Heroides", HSCP 95, 1993, 333- 365. R. Hunter, Theocritus and the Archaeology of Greek Poetry, Cambridge 1996, 165: "The irony created by Idyll 18 is related to the familiar technique of writing the 'before' of a famous 'after'".
8.   Rufinus 19.4 Page is taken from Hom. Il.. 1.538. Cf. also 21.1.

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