Tuesday, October 6, 2015


David Carmona, La escena típica de la 'epipólesis': De la épica a la historiografía. Quaderni dei Seminari romani di cultura greca 17. Roma: Edizioni Quasar, 2014. Pp. 288. ISBN 9788871405636. €31,00.

Reviewed by John Jacobs, Montclair Kimberley Academy (jjacobs@mka.org)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This study takes its cue from two works on the battle exhortation, one a century-old dissertation and the other a recent collected volume to which Carmona himself contributed.1 In a series of articles that have appeared both before and after the title under review, the author has devoted an enormous amount of time and effort to identifying and analyzing examples of a specific genus of battle exhortation known as the epipolesis (a marshalling, mustering, or gathering of the troops—perhaps "review" is the most accurate and succinct approximation).2 The book, based on his 2009 Universidad de Extremadura dissertation, stands at the intersection between rhetoric and historiography, as well as that between epic and historiography (and, therefore, that between rhetoric and epic). Carmona succeeds admirably in tracing the origins and evolution of this "type scene" from Homer through later prose and poetry in both Greek and Latin, and so his work will no doubt prompt others to (re)examine the role of rhetoric in epic and historiography.

In chapter 1, "Introducción: contenido y objetivos" (pp. 1-28), Carmona lays the terminological and conceptual groundwork, and then elaborates the details of his methodology. He classifies the epipolesis as a type of "arenga" (passim) and discusses Agamemnon's address to the troops in Iliad 4.223-432 as the first (and originary) example of the trope (though the actual term epipolesis itself does not appear in extant Greek until Strabo and Plutarch, cf. ἐπεπωλεῖτο, Iliad 4.231, 250).

Carmona articulates two overall goals for the project: first, to illustrate the pervasive and enduring influence of epic on historiography; second, to show how historiographers use the epipolesis both to enliven the narrative and to enhance the heroic character of the general who delivers the speech. It is Thucydides (not Herodotus) who plays the pivotal role in adopting and adapting this thematic motif from Homer, and thereby in transforming it into an historiographical topos. Carmona declines to engage in the ongoing debate about the historicity of such episodes (p. 10 n. 63), choosing instead to concentrate on identifying and analyzing the rhetorical features that serve to define the epipolesis as a valid type scene across the boundaries of genre (from epic to historiography) and language (from Greek to Latin).

First and foremost, the author offers some preliminary observations on the formulaic nature of the language common both to Homer and to subsequent instantiations of the epipolesis. Thereafter, he proposes a tentative typology that divides examples of the type scene into either an "epipólesis simple" (one general, one speech for one interlocutor or group thereof) or an "epipólesis con descomposición," which includes examples "con descomposición del auditorio" (one general, multiple speeches for multiple interlocutors, presented as one utterance) and those "con descomposición del auditorio y del contenido" (one general, multiple speeches for multiple interlocutors, presented as multiple utterances). Carmona next distinguishes among speeches "en forma de mención o referencia," "en estilo indirecto," and "en estilo directo" and evaluates the argumentative content of those speeches reported in either oratio obliqua or oratio recta according to the five τελικὰ κεφάλαια or capitula finalia (τὸ δίκαιον, τὸ συμφέρον, τὸ δυνατόν-ῥᾴδιον, τὸ ἔνδοξον, and τὸ ἐκβησόμενον). Last but not least, the author emphasizes the importance of enargeia "a la descripción de la batalla y caracterización de la figura del general" (p. 26) both in epic and, perhaps even more so, in historiography.

Chapter 2, "La escena típica de la epipólesis en la Ilíada y su adaptación a la historiografía por parte de Tucídides" (pp. 29-98), considers the form and function of the various epipoleseis first in the Iliad and then in Thucydides. Carmona uses the typology outlined above in order to construct a catalog for the Iliad that includes examples of all three genera ("simple," as well as both "con descomposición"). The epipolesis in 4.223-432 qualifies as an "epipólesis con descomposición del auditorio y del contenido" and, naturally enough, furnishes a typological template for the other examples in the epic (pp. 37-40). Along the way, however, the author creates two additional subcategories ("interrumpida" and "con catálogo")—which can be interpreted as an indication of either the strength or the fragility of the hermeneutical framework. Following the catalog, Carmona turns to an examination of the role(s) that these epipoleseis play in the narrative: especially interesting and rewarding is the treatment of Iliad 5.494-496 = 6.103-105 = 11.211-213, three verses thrice repeated to describe Hector rousing his men for battle. In his discussion of "la figura del general-soldado," Carmona likewise makes the nice observation that Agamemnon (not Achilles) and Hector deliver the epipoleseis in the epic and, therefore, that Agamemnon (not Achilles) and Hector are the "primi inter pares de aqueos y troyanos, respectivamente" (p. 53; see p. 53 n. 257 for an explanation of the apparent exceptions). The first half of the chapter then concludes with a brief look at the paraenesis, another mode of exhortation, followed by a detailed analysis of the rhetorical impact of the poem's epipoleseis according to the five τελικὰ κεφάλαια.

Carmona continues with the transition from epic to historiography, from Homer not to Herodotus but to Thucydides, who, despite being "a priori más racional y alejado de la poesía" (the traditional verdict, to be sure, but unjust to both historiographers), was "el encargado de adaptar, transformar y trasladar este tipo de exhortación a la historiografía" (p. 69). A close reading of the battles of Salamis and Syracuse by way of example reveals that Herodotus does not construct a narrative which is amenable to the epipolesis, whereas Thucydides does. That said, the findings are meager even in Thucydides, since Carmona locates only three examples of the type scene in the entire work: "la epipólesis de Hipócrates (4.94.2)," "la epipólesis con descomposición del auditorio de Nicias (6.67.3)," and "la epipólesis tras la batalla de Nicias (7.77)." The author considers (but ultimately rejects, contra Longo) "la arenga de Nicias a los trierarcos (7.69.2) y otros casos similares" as further instances of the type scene, and goes on to identify the six major elements of the narrative structure of the three secure examples (p. 92). The second half of the chapter then concludes with a similar analysis of the rhetorical impact of the argumentative structure and content of the Thucydidean epipoleseis.

In chapter 3, "La escena típica de la epipólesis en la historiografía grecolatina: tipología y contenido argumentativo" (pp. 99-182), Carmona expands the nature and scope of the project to embrace subsequent epic and historiography in Greek and Latin. First, he classifies these further examples of the type scene "según se muestre el proceso de emisión y de recepción del mensaje" (i.e., the three genera outlined in chapter 1); then, he reclassifies these same examples "según el momento en que se produzca la epipólesis: antes, durante o después de la batalla, así como en otros contextos diferentes que no son propiamente los de la lucha"; finally, he again reclassifies the same examples "según la superficie y el medio a través del cual se lleva a cabo la epipólesis: en tierra (a caballo o a pie) y en el mar a bordo de un pequeño navío" (p. 99). In the initial stage of this treatment, Thucydides serves as the model for the continuation of the variant "con descomposición del auditorio," while Homer serves as that for the continuation of the variant "con descomposición del auditorio y del contenido." In the subsequent stage, the author notes that, apart from the episode in 4.223-432, all of the examples in the Iliad take place during the battle, but that, apart from Appian (who follows Homer in this regard), most of the historiographical examples take place before the battle. In the final stage, scenes with an epipolesis "a caballo" are more common, but those "a pie" are more heroic, while Appian, again the outlier, displays a unique affinity for epipoleseis at sea. Carmona turns once more to a rhetorical analysis before his closing summary, which "refuerza el carácter de la epipólesis como escena típica a lo largo de la tradición" (p. 182).

Chapter 4, "La epipólesis y la enárgeia: claridad, viveza y heroísmo en las descripciones de batalla. La caracterización del general-soldado" (pp. 183-232, so given, correctly, in the text instead of unitalicized "epipólesis" and "enárgeia" in the table of contents), focuses even more intently on rhetoric and, in particular, on the role of ekphrasis and enargeia in the evolution of the epipolesis as a type scene—but without getting mired in any (likely fruitless) attempt at engaging with the ongoing debate about the fraught relationship between the two concepts.3 Rather, Carmona observes that Imperial authors in both Greek and Latin display an increasing awareness of and interest in the epipolesis, and he connects that trend with the increasing influence of rhetoric on epic and historiography during the Imperial era. The author surveys the progymnasmata of Theon, Hermogenes, and Aphthonius, as well as Libanius, for their respective views on the classification of battle descriptions, and then uses that framework to embark on his own analysis of representative epipoleseis "en las descripciones de batalla con grandes dosis de enárgeia" (p. 196), as well as of the role of the epipolesis in "el ensalzamiento de la figura del general como héroe homérico" (p. 211). The chapter's closing sentence brings it all together by defining the epipolesis as a link between epic and historiography: "En su función caracterizadora del general, la escena típica de la epipólesis está estrechamente relacionada con la figura del general-soldado, que proviene de la épica homérica, y descubre el seguimiento de un modelo literario a lo largo de la tradición" (p. 231, citing Alexander, Caesar, et al. as examples).

The "Conclusiones" (pp. 233-236) helpfully summarize the results of the investigation and offer some suggestions for future research. The "Bibliografía" (pp. 237-256) includes a few outdated editions and omits a few recent monographs. 4 The "Apéndice: Corpus de epipoléseis" (pp. 257-282, so given, correctly, in the text instead of "epipólesis" in the table of contents) and the "Indices nominum et rerum" (pp. 283-288, so given, again correctly, in the text instead of "Index" in the table of contents, since they appear as separate lists) both contain a few niggling errors in formatting and layout. The text is somewhat marred by a number of errors in typography, the Spanish, the Greek, and the Latin. In the end, of course, none of these infelicities detracts from the overall value of the project or the overall quality of the final product: Carmona has made a meaningful and lasting contribution to the study of rhetoric in two imposing genres, a book that will be required reading for scholars of epic, historiography, and speech act theory.


1.   J. Albertus, Die παρακλητικοί in der griechischen und römischen Literatur (Strasbourg, 1908); J. C. Iglesias Zoido (ed.), Retórica e historiografía: El discurso militar en la historiografía desde la Antigüedad hasta el Renacimiento (Madrid, 2008); for the latter, and for further recent bibliography and webography, see BMCR 2009.09.38.
2.   For the full list, visit Carmona's academia.edu webpage, where all of the author's articles are also available for download.
3.   See now H. F. Plett, Enargeia, in Classical Antiquity and the Early Modern Age: The Aesthetics of Evidence (Leiden and Boston, 2012), although the book likely appeared too late for Carmona to have been able to integrate it into his discussion or engage with its argument.
4.   The most significant editions are those of Silius Italicus and Valerius Maximus. The most significant omissions are probably D. Beck, Homeric Conversation (Washington, DC, 2005) (see BMCR 2006.08.14) and eadem, Speech Presentation in Homeric Epic (Austin, 2012) (see BMCR 2013.10.57).

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