Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Michael Meier-Brügger (ed.), Homer, gedeutet durch ein groβes Lexikon. Akten des Hamburger Kolloquiums vom 6.–8. Oktober 2010 zum Abschluss des Lexikons des frühgriechischen Epos. Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen. Neue Folge, Bd 21. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012. Pp. xvi, 377. ISBN 9783110285185. $168.00.

Reviewed by Nicolas Bertrand, UMR 8163 "Savoir Textes Langages" (nicobertrand@free.fr)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This book consists of seventeen contributions to a conference held in Hamburg in 2010 to celebrate the completion of the Lexikon des frühgriechischen Epos (henceforth LfgrE), initiated by Snell almost sixty years ago. Indeed, it was a good idea to bring together scholars from different fields to demonstrate how useful this new lexicon could be to their own research. Unfortunately, the organizers' enthusiasm towards the LfgrE (understandable as it is) is by no means a sufficient justification to publish the proceedings of this meeting, at least as they are here offered to the reader. As a matter of fact, this book raises the question of what really needs to be published; not every talk at every conference is real book material—nor need it be. After all, presenting orally one's ongoing research to scholars who can react to it and influence it is a very different endeavor from writing it down in the fixed form of a book chapter which one can expect to be read and to increase the number of references on a given subject.

The main problem with this volume is that it lacks unity. Apparently, no effort has been made by the editor to give the content a sense of unity that would make it into a book rather than a collection of disparate papers. Of course, the multiplicity of topics may seem appealing at first sight, since it shows the variety of approaches that can use the LfgrE as a basis or simply as a tool. But then one should expect a thematic layout for the papers (even loose sections like "Lexicography", "Linguistics", "Realia", "Textual tradition", etc.), certainly not the alphabetical order that was chosen, obviously, by default (with the surprising exception of Führer's paper, which lies out of sequence). Besides, a number of contributions do not deal at all with the volume's theme, i.e. the perspectives opened by the LfgrE for Homeric interpretation: among others Hettrich on prepositions, or De Jong on deictics (the latter even states that the pronouns she is studying are "virtually passed over in the Lexicon", p. 63: why then choose such a topic for this conference?); and even references to the LfgrE in the remaining papers are often hardly more than lip service.

The book also lacks a proper introduction, if we put aside the welcoming talks by university and publishing company officials, which frankly lose all interest outside their context of performance. By way of an introduction to the book one has to be content with the conference program (pp. xi–xiii). However, in the main section, two papers (Latacz and Schmidt) deal in fact with the history of the LfgrE and its significance today. Why then not use this material as a first introductory section? That would have helped the reader to grasp the purpose and scope of the volume at the outset. It is certainly not a coincidence that these contributions were the first talks delivered during the conference itself.

One might think that the very short index (pp. 373–4) would be helpful in guiding the reader through the many topics touched upon by the authors, but in fact it is not, since most entries only point to one paper: for instance, in the entry "Griechenland und Kleinasien in der Spätbronzezeit", which is also the title of Niemeier's paper, all subentries refer to pages within this same paper, making such an index nothing more than a developed table of contents.

As for the papers themselves, they come in very different lengths, ranging from 3 to 54 pages; the shortest of them (Meier- Brügger and Führer) are so condensed as to look like conference handouts rather than real book chapters. The purpose and significance for research of these papers is thus very difficult to assess.

Then there is the issue of languages: most of the contributions are in German, two are in English, one in Italian, and the only French one was translated into German (with the loss of the intended pun "du rite au mythe" on p. 2, which makes the exclamation mark very puzzling). One might have wanted either an all-German book (with the other three non-German papers translated) or a truly multilingual one.

Furthermore, one wonders whether the contributors were given guidelines at all. The translation of the examples is a case in point. Some authors give only the Greek text, others give both, while Calame gives only the translation. Nor is the reference method consistent throughout the book: some authors use the Author-Date technique, with a reference list at the end of their paper, others use abbreviations in the footnotes. The lack of unity, just like the devil, also lies in the details: the name of the praised lexicon is generally abbreviated as LfgrE, but as LfgE in Scodel's paper and LfrE in Montanari's; more surprisingly, the book uses different orthographic norms for German (e.g. dass vs. daß). Shouldn't things of that kind be decided upon at the outset?

Aside from a lack of unity, I have to point out that there are many typographical problems throughout the book, which contrast with its luxurious red cover, thick paper and handsome typesetting. Some are unavoidable and trivial typos, but there are also many font problems which mar the book's elegance and contribute to a general impression of carelessness.

Of course, many contributions are interesting in their own right, and one wishes they had been published in a journal, where they would have been more accessible, rather than in this heterogeneous collection. In order to review them, I will sort them thematically instead of keeping the original order.

Latacz's paper is a broad assessment of the significance of Homer in Europe throughout history, from the second half of the sixth century BC to the twenieth, and shows how its central cultural influence helped in building Europe's 'Sonderweg'. On pp. 92ff. two maps and one table are added to the paper, much to the puzzlement of the reader, since no reference is made to them in the text. Schmidt's paper retraces the history of the LfgrE, from its very beginning in postwar Hamburg in 1945 to the present, depicting in much detail how Snell and his colleagues struggled to achieve this vast collective opus of lexicography (organizational problems and a financial crisis almost got the project shut down in 1976). Schmitt, on the other hand, shows how Snell's lexicon is rooted in his conception of the archaic mind. That is the only link this lengthy (54 pp.) paper has to the LfgrE, since it goes on to analyze the significance of Snell's ideas (despite some of their shortcomings) in modern Homeric research.

Another group of papers tackles lexicographic and/or linguistic matters. Meier-Brügger's conference handout brings to the fore some words from Section Ε of the LfgrE, while Führer states that a good lexicon must also take into account the context in which words occur, a claim that was already obvious for Aristarchus, according to Nünlist in this same volume (p. 198). Hettrich provides a state-of-the-art study of prepositions in Homer and their syntactic status (local adverbs or prepositions?), with reference to Sanskrit, and then gives arguments for the high frequency of the genitive case with prepositions in Greek. De Jong's paper is a narratological study on double deixis in Homer, i.e. on the deictics ὅδε and οὗτος as used by the characters and/or the narrator; she claims that their high frequency is to be related to a search for enargeia and realism. Scodel discusses the particle ἦ in relation with Theory of Mind (i.e. the fact that one understands that others have emotions, believes, etc.): she shows that ἦ ἵνα is regularly used by speakers to attribute bad intentions to other peoples, and has a sarcastic ring.

Five chapters deal with the Homeric text itself, either in relation to its oral tradition (its prehistory, so to speak) or from the point of view of textual transmission from Aristarchus onwards. According to Danek's comparative approach, the famous Yugoslavian singer of tales Avdo Međedović is a valid model for understanding Homer precisely because he is singular within his own tradition, as a 'post-traditional singer.' Tichy's paper is a reconstruction of Book 14 of the Iliad in pre-Ionian 15-syllable choriambs, which highlights inherited parts and newer lines; unfortunately, her idiosyncratic symbols and marks are not clearly explained. Rengakos advocates the idea that comparing manuscripts was already common practice amongst the Alexandrian editors, from Aristarchus onwards, and that, consequently, not every Alexandrian lectio is a mere conjecture; he then goes on to discuss the concrete layout of Zenodotus's Homeric text. Aristarchus is also the topic of Nünlist's paper, in which his practice and methods regarding the Homeric lexicon are clearly explained and shown to prefigure in many ways modern lexicographical principles, such as those at work in the LfgrE itself. Montanari explores the scholiast's awareness of dialectal variation through a study of dialectal γλῶσσαι, which contribute, in Aristotle's eyes, to the embellishment of style, since they provide a departure from normal language.

Three papers propose literary interpretations of Homeric texts. Nordheider synthesizes his own research on the character and function of Patroclus and Phoinix in the Iliad, on the base of his own two entries in the LfgrE. He sees them as parallel figures, in that both are set into motion by Nestor and both intervene to break Achilles' resolution not to fight; even the ways in which the narrator introduces them are similar, as their biographies are not given on their first appearance but used argumentatively in later speeches. This paper is followed by an appendix by the same author (a humorous analysis of a folktale by the Grimm brothers), which is in fact a reprint of a contribution to another Festschrift from 1983: I fail to see the point of adding this to an already heterogeneous mix of papers. Radke-Uhlmann focuses on Odysseus's apologoi: the hero's tales must be interpreted in the context of their performance as a way to display his own qualities, which require him to be treated as a guest and, more importantly, to be brought home by the Phaeacians. Even as a narrator, Odysseus is acting to fulfil his goal. Such a view sheds a new light on the Cyclops episode, which appears as a peira not so much of the Cyclopes' (in)humanity, but rather of Odysseus's own courage and cleverness. Calame deals with the Homeric Hymns and demonstrates that the poems themselves were thought to be offerings to the god they were praising, as can be seen through their very tripartite structure (evocatio, epica laus, preces).

Finally, Niemeier provides almost a state-of-the-art essay on the historical background of the Homeric epics, i.e. on the Aegean world at the end of the Iron Age. He tells in great detail the story of the excavations at Hisarlık, Mycenae, and Boğazköy, and then shows how the idea that the people named Ahhijawa in the Hittite tablets should be identified with the Achaeans (i.e. Mycenaeans) came about and progressively gained acceptance among scholars. Conflicts in the thirteenth century BC between Ahhijawa, their vassal Millawanda (Miletus) and Wilusa (Ilion) may have inspired poems in the Mycenaean world, which in turn gave rise to the Homeric epic tradition.

To conclude, this volume, quite independently of the intrinsic qualities of individual contributions, illustrates what should not be done in scholarly publishing. Few readers will be interested by the whole book, due to its heterogeneous content, and most will be disappointed by the editor's carelessness in selecting contributions that really pertain to the proposed theme of the conference and organizing them into a book.

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