Tuesday, February 3, 2015


A. M. Bowie, Homer: Odyssey, Books XIII and XIV. Cambridge Greek and Latin classics. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. xi, 258. ISBN 9780521159388. $34.99 (pb).

Reviewed by Robert Bostock, University of New England (rbostoc2@une.edu.au)

Version at BMCR home site


The existing commentaries on Homer in the 'Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics' series are of a uniformly high quality, a standard which Bowie has upheld in his edition of Odyssey 13-14. As with his excellent commentary on Book 8 of Herodotus in the same series, Bowie has produced a book which is characterized by its sensitivity to the needs of students reading Greek at an intermediate level.

The book consists of an introduction (1-58), divided between discussion of the poem and the grammar of Homeric Greek, including metre and transmission of the text; text and apparatus (61-90); commentary (91-233); glossary of linguistic terms (234-7); bibliography and indexes (238-58).

The distinguishing feature of the book is its focus on language, in particular the introduction of concepts from historical linguistics. The purpose is to help students improve their understanding of Greek by reference to its structure and history. The overview of Homeric Greek is by far the most extensive such introduction to appear in an English commentary since Stanford's edition, and especially in its treatment of syntax far surpasses it. This is the first, and may well remain the only, 'Green and Yellow' to introduce students to laryngeals (32-3). Teachers who set a different edition for their class will still want to refer students to this section for grammatical help. Another aspect of this tendency is the frequent reference in the commentary to Beekes' etymological dictionary.1 A fascinating aspect of Greek studies is now available to intermediate students without French or German, and Bowie has made full use of it. Finally, the glossary of linguistic terms at the back of the book provides a welcome port of call whenever technical terms such as 'desiderative' or 'litotes' appear in the text, and will I suspect be used as a crutch when students meet these terms in more advanced commentaries later on.2 As may be apparent from the reference to laryngeals above, the grammatical help provided, though lightly deployed, is still sophisticated, and the book's full value will only be brought out by a teacher with some acquaintance with Greek (if not Indo-European) historical linguistics.

The introduction wisely eschews yet another general discussion of Homeric poetry, and instead starts out with an overview of the structural and thematic issues underlying books 13-14. There is a subtle discussion of the interplay between closure and open-endedness in the transition to the second half of the poem, with the death-like sleep and subsequent awakening of Odysseus on Ithaca contrasted with the indefinite fate awaiting the Phaeacians. This is followed by an analysis of the role of disguise in the second half of the poem, and a detailed examination of the four major recognition scenes. The emphasis here is on structure rather than theme, and while there are points where one might disagree with Bowie's analysis, the section provides a helpful framework to assist students in comprehending the relationship between narrative detail and the overall plot of return and revenge.

The next section, 'Ideology and Sociology: A New Type of Epic?' argues that the poem's concentration on humble characters like Eumaeus and Eurycleia marks a radical departure from the normal epic cast of aristocratic heroes. The behaviour of characters throughout the poem conveys the impression that neither rich nor poor have a "monopoly on excellence" (22). Activities elsewhere in Homer performed by kings, such as hospitality and sacrifice, are here performed by Eumaeus; conversely, the 'un-heroic' actions of Eumaeus are described with the language used of heroic deeds in the Iliad, thereby suggesting an equivalence in importance. Given this unusual subject matter for epic verse, the relationship with the Iliad becomes all the more problematic, and is discussed in this light by Bowie at pp.23-6.

The second half of the introduction concentrates on metre and grammar. The section on metre is brief and to the point. This is followed by the book's most distinguishing feature, an extensive introduction to the grammar of the Homeric poems. Noteworthy here is the care with which Bowie has organized the material into sections and subsections, with judicious use of indentation, which makes references to this material in the commentary easy to locate. The section on morphology does not simply list non-Attic forms in skeletal paradigms, but seeks to explain to the student how these forms were generated diachronically; hence Bowie begins the section with brief introductions to the concepts of linguistic root and its shape in Greek; vowel-gradation; sound-changes characteristic of Homeric Greek; and laryngeals. Non-Attic forms are then explained in terms of sound change and analogy (e.g., -ηισι via -οισι < -ησι < -ασι), or morphological features in terms of their original function (e.g., the augment as an optional adverbial form, reduplication used to intensify or denote repetition). Likewise, in the section on syntax, usages are not simply listed: instead, Bowie introduces the student to the concepts of case syncretism, the infinitive as verbal noun with various case relations, and subordinate clauses arising from two originally independent sentences. The sections on prepositions and conditional sentences are particularly well presented.

The text and apparatus follow the format of the series. However, as with his edition of Herodotus, Bowie breaks the text up into subtitled sections, and this is one of the many ways throughout the book in which he keeps in mind the needs of inexperienced and intimidated students. The text differs significantly from the OCT in twelve places (usually in line with one or more of the standard editions, but note 13.84 πρώιρη), and Bowie's care in punctuation deserves notice. In the apparatus the entry under 13.152 (μέγα: μή Aristophanes) should be given under 13.158.

In the commentary introductions to the various subsections are well-written and help orientate the reader for the passage ahead, especially in relation to the interchange of speeches in Book 14. The commentary itself is designed primarily to help students understand and translate the Greek. Difficult words and phrases are translated, and plentiful help is given with parsing words. Bowie devotes much attention to the use of particles. Constant references to Denniston are preceded by translations which bring the force of the particle(s) out. Constant references to Beekes throughout maintain the emphasis on historical linguistics; indeed, these far outnumber references to LSJ, of which there are only four. Instead, for the meaning of words Bowie more often than not will give his own more idiomatic rendering. As such the teacher will often have to mediate for students between Bowie and the dictionary.3

A distinctive feature of the commentary, which students will find helpful, is the explanation of mundane matters which answer questions that may not have occurred to the reader but are interesting to know and enhance the 'reality' of the narrative: e.g., 13.32 on the plowing of fallow land; 13.74 on lying on the decks of a ship; 13.410 on the role of fat in cooking; 14.75 on singeing the bristles so as not to spoil the crackling; 14.225 on how well-polished javelins fly better than rough-hewn ones; 14.307 on the heat of lightening and its ability to burn the air.

Points of detail in the commentary:

13.52 πατρίδα γαῖαν: "The epithet indicates the importance of continuity in a family's ... tenure of its land." A good example of the way in which Bowie delves into the 'ornamental' epithet. 13.142 ἀτιμίηισιν ἰάλλειν: "to bring into disrepute, dishonor" (reading this as a 'dative of aim' rather than instrumental). 13.156 π(τ)όλιος: add reference to G. Dunkel, Glotta 70 (1992) 197-212. 13.169 καὶ δή: the reference should be to GP (2nd ed.) p.250, not p.248, since here the combination is non-connective. 13.174 ἀπήμονες: taken as passive. 13.189 ἤδη δὴν ἀπέων: participle taken as temporal. 13.203-4 πλάζομαι: tentatively taken as subjunctive. 13.217-49: conjecture that in some versions of the story Telemachus may have appeared in this episode in place of Athena. 13.293 ἆτ(ε): wrongly derived from *ἀ(ϝ)άω, not ἆσαι. 13.313: a useful list of all of Athena's disguises throughout both poems. 13.320-3: lines 320-1 bracketed as spurious. 13.345-8: lines 347-8 bracketed as spurious. 13.388 λύομεν: 'we two' (Odysseus and Athena) rather than 'we Greeks'. 13.400: "Which if (someone) saw he would be disgusted with the man who possessed it" (reading ἄνθρωπον and comparing Il. 13.287 and Hes. Op. 12. 13.419 ἔδουσι: a reference to Chantraine, GH i.292 would have been helpful here.

14.21: A good note on the motif of guard-dogs. To the bibliographical references one may now add C. Franco, Shameless: The Canine and the Feminine in Ancient Greece, Oakland: University of California Press, 2014. 14.75 μίστυλλεν: wrongly translated "divided up" (i.e., between men and gods). 14.85-8: since Bowie has here taken the time to comment at length on punctuation, it is a shame that he did not utilize a dash after 87. 14.111-14: Odysseus subject of all verbs except 113 (ὁ [sc. Eumaeus] δ' ἐδέξατο, χαῖρε δὲ θυμῷ). 14.146: on this crux Bowie favors the explanation (found in Eustathius and championed by Bassett) that Eumaeus does not wish to use Odysseus' name because it does not properly express the intimacy he feels towards his master. 14.167: ἕκηλος used of sympotic enjoyment by Homer but not by the sympotic poets themselves. 14.209 ἐπὶ κλήρους ἔβαλοντο: "made straight for the property." 14.331: having twice failed to convince Eumaeus of Odysseus' return by means of an oath, Odysseus now transfers the motif of swearing to the fictional Thesprotian king Pheidon. 14.350 ἐφόλκαιον: a clear and helpful summary of the possible meanings of this difficult word. 14.355: add reference to GP (2nd ed.) pp.98-9. 14.446 ἄργματα: see now T.S.F. Jim, Sharing with the Gods, Oxford: OUP, 2014, pp.30-2. 14.465 ἁπαλόν: Bowie does well to draw attention to the real difficulty involved in this word. 14.480 "locatival": i.e., 'with' = 'among'. 14.503-6: bracketed as spurious.

The overall impression one gets from reading this book is of the care which Bowie has taken in order to maximize its usefulness for students. It is worthwhile listing these in conclusion: first and foremost, the extensive guide to the grammar of Homeric Greek, in terms of both content and presentation; the text itself, which Bowie has broken up into smaller, subtitled passages; the commentary, where notes are generally short and to the point (but by no means unsophisticated); the reader is not swamped with bibliographical references; rather, Bowie uses the right reference in the right place;4 plentiful help with vocabulary and parsing; explanation of everyday matters; and finally the linguistic glossary at the back. The book has been well-produced, with few errors.5

We first meet the faithful swineherd making a pair of sandals for himself, one of the most memorable vignettes in the poem. Bowie is to be thanked for providing him with a fittingly practical and sympathetic commentary.


1.   R. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2009.
2.   Teachers should note that a definition of 'hapax (legomenon)', frequently used, is not given in the glossary or elsewhere. See the index s.v.
3.   E.g.: 13.14 βλάβεται: 'be in pain'; 13.81 ἀείρω: 'attach' (see LSJ s.v., end of first para.; W. Schulze, Quaestiones Epicae, Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1892, pp.420-1).
4.   Given his interest in historical linguistics, one regrets the missed opportunity of pointing students at various points in the direction of J. Wackernagel, Lectures on Syntax (ed. and trans., with notes and bibliography, by D. Langlsow), Oxford: OUP, 2009.
5.   Worth noting: p.27, n.92: the reference here is to M.L. West, CQ 23 (1973), not in the bibliography; p.137: King Arthur (not Alfred); p.141 (13.259): Diomedes, not Idomeneus, chooses Odysseus for the raid in Iliad 10; p.221 (14.435): M.L. West 1992 refers to IEG (2nd ed.), not in the abbreviations or bibliography; p.241: under de Sousa, P. 1995 the reference is to A. Powell (ed.), The Greek World, London: Routledge, 1995. Page references to Munro's grammar are sometimes to the first edition, not the second.

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