Monday, July 31, 2006

Phallic Metre

In How to Kill a Dragon, 1995, page 159, Watkins discusses a line from the Rig Veda (10.101.12ab) which appears to equate the preparation of the soma with phallus-worship (with his translation):

kápṛn naraḥ kapṛthám úd dadhā́tana
codáyata khudáta vā́jasātaye

[Raise high the penis, o men, the phallus; drive (it), thrust (it) in, to win the prize.]

He scans these lines u-u-uuu-u-ux and -uuuuuu-u-ux, and points out that the string of short syllables in the second line is unusual for Vedic verse, and suggests that the final cadence -u-ux is "climactic". He parallels this with Greek metrics, viewing the five syllable -u-ux as a catalectic variant of the six syllable -u-u-x. It is interesting that this six syllable cadence in Greek was called ἰθυφαλλικόν, by virtue of its use in the Dionysiac φαλλαγωγία procession (the ritual from which Aristotle derives comedy, according to West, 1982). The song of the φαλλοφόροι, or phallus-bearers, is preserved in Athenaeus, and found in Watkins, translated by Campbell:

ἀνάγετ᾽, εὐρυχωρίαν
τῷ θεῷ ποιεῖτε·
θέλει γὰρ ὁ θεὸς ὀρθὸς ἐσφυδωμένος
διὰ μέσου βαδίζειν

[Stand back, make plenty of room for the god! For the god, erect and at bursting-point, wishes to pass through your midst.]

Watkins points out that lines 2 and 4 are ithyphallics, and line 3 is an iambic trimeter. He also notes that the first line, ἀνάγετ᾽, εὐρυχωρίαν, is metrically identical with kapṛthám úd dadhā́tana, which comes after the caesura in the first line quoted above from the Rig Veda. He finds it interesting that in Greek lyric, the ithyphallic almost always appears as the final element in its strophe, and suggests that it is, perhaps, a climactic cadence common to Indo-European poetics, or at least of the Greco-Aryan tradition.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Day of Your Mother

This doesn't refer to an ancient celebration of Mother's Day, but rather it was a Sumerian idiom, UD AMAKA, meaning: the day of your death. Watkins, 1995, page 248, compares this to the Hittite line, nu=mu annaš=maš katta arnut, which he translates tentatively as, bring me down for burial with my mother.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hidden Desire

The use by Greek poets of repetition in such devices as ring composition is widely known, but Calvert Watkins offers an interesting look at some examples in chapter 7 of his 1995 book How to Kill a Dragon.

In book 9 of the Iliad, we find this in the second line of Nestor's address to Agamemnon, in line 97:

ἐν σοὶ μὲν λήξω, σέο δ᾽ ἄρξομαι, οὕνεκα πολλῶν
λαῶν ἐσσι ἄναξ καί τοι Ζεὺς ἐγγυάλιξε
σκῆπτρόν τ᾽ ἠδὲ θέμιστας...

Just 18 lines later, in the second line of Agamemnon's reply, we find the repetition of the same four words, πολλῶν...λαῶν ἐσσι...Ζεὺς, in a different context, but in the same metrical positions: ἀντί νυ πολλῶν | λαῶν ἐστιν ἀνὴρ ὅν τε Ζεὺς κῆρι φιλήσηι.
Another example is taken from the ten-line proem to Hesiod's Work and Days, where the sound of the very first word, Μοῦσαι, is echoed in the final word, μυθησαίμην. A closer look at μυθησαίμην reveals that the sound pattern essentially "hides" the the original word μυ...σαί. While I am convinced that there is a deliberate aural repetition, I am less sure that the poet meant to encode any semantic reverberation of Μοῦσαι in μυθησαίμην.

Watkins also points out two related instances in Pindar's second Olympian ode. The first comes in the second line, where the name of his patron, Theron, is "hidden" as θ...ἥρω...ν:

τίνα θεόν, τίν᾽ ἥρωα, τίνα δ᾽ ἄνδρα κελαδήσομεν;

[Which god, which hero, which man shall we celebrate?]

Later, at line 87, we find:

κόρακες ὥς, ἄκραντα γαρύετον

[Singing in vain like two crows.]

Only four lines later, in 91, we find the name of Theron's city, which was presumably hinted at with ἄκραντα γα in line 87:

Ἀκράγαντι τανύσαις
αὐδάσομαι ἐνόρκιον λόγον

[Aiming at Akragas, I will speak a word as oath.]

He claims something similar for the opening strophe of Sappho's hymn to Aphrodite:

ποικιλόθρον᾽ ἀθανάτ᾽ Ἀφρόδιτα,
παῖ Δίος δολόπλοκε, λίσσομαί σε,
μή μ᾽ ἄσαισι μηδ᾽ ὀνίαισι δάμνα,
πότνια, θῦμον

Here he sees the sound pattern πο...θ...ον, initially in ποικιλόθρον, echoed in πότνια θῦμον. Again, I am reasonably convinced that this repetition of sound was a real technique for demarcating a section of poetry, but Watkins goes even further this time, and points out that the repeated sound pattern spells πόθον, the Greek word for desire in the accusative case. I can't help but to be skeptical of this kind of code hunting, but it would suit the context well, and is fun to ponder in any case.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Luvian Sapphic?

Among the sacred Luvian songs of Istanuwa is a section (KBo 4.11 Vo. 47-9) following the paragraph which opens When they came from steep Wilusa (with translation by Watkins):

tappaši=tar tapala
tappaši=tar tapala
lammaur titiyāla
alinan ḫaltittari maššaninzi

[There in heaven...
There in heaven...
"Gods of..." is called out.]
The interpretation is unclear, according to Watkins, 1995, page 150, and he only mentions it in a discussion of the particle tar. But he remarks on the structure of three rhyming seven-syllable lines, followed by an eleven-syllable line, and says that the final line "even scans mechanically as a tolerably good Sapphic".

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Hymns to Apollo

I was aware that the Homeric Hymn to Apollo is actually a combination of two separate hymns to Delian and Pythian Apollo, but I just discovered an interesting explanation of their joining. In an article on Homer, 1999, West relates that Burkert in 1979 and Janko in 1982 independently observed that Polycrates of Samos celebrated in 523 a festival on Delos that was called both Pythian and Delian. Since the usual dating of the hymns would place the Pythian in the early part of the sixth century, and the Delian in the latter part, this festival, it is suggested, would have been a suitable time for the joining of the more recent Delian hymn to the older Pythian.

Friday, July 14, 2006

On the Particle ταρ

In his book on Greek particles, Denniston claims that τε after an interrogative is always followed by ἄρ (ἄρα), as τ᾽ ἄρ. Anyone interested in this blog will probably recall line 8 of the Iliad: τίς τ᾽ ἄρ σφωε θεῶν ἔριδι ξυνέηκε μάχεσθαι. During a lecture on clitic placement in 1892, Wackernagel suggested that it should read instead: τίς τάρ σφωε θεῶν. The enclitic particle ταρ is attested in the Venetus A manuscript, and discussed in the LSJ as well as Chantraine's etymological dictionary. On page 150 of How to Kill a Dragon, 1995, Watkins agrees with Munro's opinion that "the ancient grammarian's ταρ is probably right".

He points to the Luvian language where there exists a locatival enclitic particle tar. The use of this particle bears a striking resemblance to Homeric Greek. He compares τίς ταρ with the Luvian usage following the indefinite relative pronoun: kuiš=tar. The Luvian particle is also used with a clause-initial finite verb, mammanna=tar, regard with favor! To this he compares verse-initial phrases in the Iliad (which appear as τ᾽ ἄρ in most editions): 11.254, ῥίγησέν ταρ ἔπειτα: 15.397, ὤιμωξέν ταρ ἔπειτα: 18.37, κώκυσέν ταρ ἔπειτα: 3.398, θάμβησέν ταρ ἔπειτα. Watkins points out the semantic connection between the verbs, shuddered, wailed, shrieked, was awestruck, and suggests that they are all developments of a single older formula. In the Odyssey only is it found with a positive sense, rejoiced, 13.353, γήθησέν ταρ ἔπειτα. He also considers the more common phrases αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα and αὐτὰρ ἐπεί, and concludes that αὐτὰρ should be thought of as αὐ + ταρ rather than αὐτ + ἄρ.

These phrases are not paralleled in other Indo-European languages, and it is probably not a coincidence that the Greek and Luvian cultures seem to have made contact on the western coast of Anatolia. It was there that the Luvian language was spoken, and Watkins himself has suggested previously that Luvian was the language of Wilusa or Ϝίλιος (or Troy as we know it today).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The House on the Slope

The tablets discovered in the Hittite capital Hattusa were found in several areas of the city; unfortunately many of the early notes about the find-sites for specific texts were lost during the first World War. Records were found at various temple sites, dealing with cultic and administrative matters, as well as the temple's land interests outside city limits. State treaties were stored in the Temple of the Storm God, seeing that such contracts were considered to be under the supervision of that god. In 1986 a bronze tablet was found buried under the pavement in the vicinity of the Sphinx Gate, perhaps deliberately hidden, according to Bryce, 2002, page 65. He also mentions in passing a building called The House on the Slope, which was located on the hill of the acropolis, above the main temple; it housed works of a scholarly literary nature, like vocabularies, epics, and historical writings. Bryce suggests that a scribal school may have operated there. In any case, it must be one of the oldest learning centers on record, and Güterbock suggests that perhaps it deserves the name library.

Scribal Postscripts

A refreshing bit of personality can be found in some of the diplomatic letters of the Hittites and their contemporaries. It is not from the rulers themselves, but from the scribes, who would have dictated and read for the king the letters which he sent and received. Occasionally, according to Bryce, Life and Society in the Hittite World, page 70, the scribes would write notes to each other after the closing of the official letter. He gives several examples: a scribe asks for his counterpart's name, and requests that they converse in Hittite rather than Akkadian; another asks after his counterpart's health; another, writing from Maşat, asks the scribes in Hattusa for information about the family and property that he left behind while serving for a period elsewhere. We do not know how the rulers felt about this habit. Bryce suggests they may have been unaware that it was going on, since the scribe would certainly not have read the postscript aloud as part of the letter.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Three-Word Hexameters

Ever since reading line 31 of the Hymn to Demeter I've wondered how many hexameters consist of only three words: πατροκασίγνητος πολυσημάντωρ πολυδέγμων. Just today I came across an article by John Scott, 1924, "The Number of Words in a Dactylic Hexameter". Apparently there are four such verses in Homer, although, unfortunately, Scott only gives one example: Iliad 2.706: αὐτοκασίγνητος μεγαθύμου Πρωτεσιλάου. That still leaves many epic verses to be checked; but I doubt that any of them have triple alliteration like the example from Demeter.

On the other hand, Scott claims that the wordiest line in Homer is Odyssey 22.367: ὧ φίλ᾽, ἐγὼ μὲν ὅδ᾽ εἰμί, σὺ δ᾽ ἴσχεο, εἰπὲ δὲ πατρί.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Digging for the Dead with a Dagger

On page 185 of Life and Society in the Hittite World (2002), Trevor Bryce makes an interesting comparison of a Hittite ritual with the journey of Odysseus to the underworld.

In order to make sacrifice to the deities of the Dark Earth (thereby ensuring the fertility of the soil and new growth) the Hittite priest must first summon them. They would do this beside a river, because rivers were "important links between upper and lower worlds". First the priest would dig a pit with his dagger. The blood of a sacrificial sheep was mixed with liquid offerings such as wine and beer and poured into the hole; bread and meal were also added to the pit. Then Lelwani was invoked and asked to open the gates of the underworld, so that the infernal deities could come forth and partake.

Compare this with Od.11.20-37:

νῆα μὲν ἔνθ᾽ ἐλθόντες ἐκέλσαμεν, ἐκ δὲ τὰ μῆλα
εἱλόμεθ᾽: αὐτοὶ δ᾽ αὖτε παρὰ ῥόον Ὠκεανοῖο
ᾔομεν, ὄφρ᾽ ἐς χῶρον ἀφικόμεθ᾽, ὃν φράσε Κίρκη.
“ἔνθ᾽ ἱερήια μὲν Περιμήδης Εὐρύλοχός τε
ἔσχον: ἐγὼ δ᾽ ἄορ ὀξὺ ἐρυσσάμενος παρὰ μηροῦ
βόθρον ὄρυξ᾽ ὅσσον τε πυγούσιον ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα,
ἀμφ᾽ αὐτῷ δὲ χοὴν χεόμην πᾶσιν νεκύεσσι,
πρῶτα μελικρήτῳ, μετέπειτα δὲ ἡδέι οἴνῳ,
τὸ τρίτον αὖθ᾽ ὕδατι: ἐπὶ δ᾽ ἄλφιτα λευκὰ πάλυνον.
πολλὰ δὲ γουνούμην νεκύων ἀμενηνὰ κάρηνα,
ἐλθὼν εἰς Ἰθάκην στεῖραν βοῦν, ἥ τις ἀρίστη,
ῥέξειν ἐν μεγάροισι πυρήν τ᾽ ἐμπλησέμεν ἐσθλῶν,
Τειρεσίῃ δ᾽ ἀπάνευθεν ὄιν ἱερευσέμεν οἴῳ
παμμέλαν᾽, ὃς μήλοισι μεταπρέπει ἡμετέροισι.
τοὺς δ᾽ ἐπεὶ εὐχωλῇσι λιτῇσί τε, ἔθνεα νεκρῶν,
ἐλλισάμην, τὰ δὲ μῆλα λαβὼν ἀπεδειροτόμησα
ἐς βόθρον, ῥέε δ᾽ αἷμα κελαινεφές: αἱ δ᾽ ἀγέροντο
ψυχαὶ ὑπὲξ Ἐρέβευς νεκύων κατατεθνηώτων.

[Arriving there, we beached our ship, and unloaded the sheep. Then we went beside the river Ocean, until we came to that place of which Kirke spoke. There Perimedes and Eurylochus held the sacrifical animals, and, drawing my sharp sword from beside my thigh, I dug a hole the length of a forearm both ways. Around it I poured a drink-offering to all the dead, first with milk and honey, then with sweet wine, and thirdly with water. I sprinkled white barley on it. And I appealed eagerly to the heads of the powerless dead, that upon returning to Ithaka I would sacrifice the best heifer, and load the altar with goods, and for Teiresias alone I would sacrifice separately a black ram, the most distinguished of our flock. When I had pleaded with prayers and promises to the tribes of the dead, I took the sheep and cut their throats into the hole, and the black blood flowed. The souls of the dead gathered from out of Erebeus.]

The intentions are different, but the Hittites too would sometimes seek to question the spirits of their ancestors (who were said to "become gods") about the future. Aeneas also seeks the advice of his father when he visits the underworld, and the same kind of evocation of the dead for questioning is found in Babylonian and neo-Assyrian traditions according to Bryce. But despite any differences, the common details of the procedure are outstanding.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A Vertical Poetic Technique

On page 39 of How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics (1995), Calvert Watkins discusses a "vertical" technique used in the IE tradition. He says:

"The prominence and emphasis accorded to sentence-inital position may be repeated in successive verses, such that the inital elements of each may be 'read'---i.e. heard and processed---'vertically', as a syntactic constituent."

He gives an example from the Rig Veda 9.54.3, where ayáṃ...punānó...sómo is the subject (with his translation):

ayáṃ víśvāni tiṣṭhati
punānó bhúvanopári
sómo devó ná sū́ryaḥ

[This pressed soma stands over all creation like god Sūrya.]

He compares this to a passage from Pindar, Pyth.12.9-11 (with his translation):

τὸν παρθενίοις ὑπό τ᾽ ἀπλάτοις ὀφίων κεφαλαῖς
ἄιε λειβόμενον δυσπενθέϊ σὺν καμάτῳ
Περσεύς, ὁπότε...

[Which Perseus heard being poured with grievous toil from the maidenly, unapproachable heads of snakes, when...]

It made me wonder if μῆνιν οὐλομένην at the beginning of the Iliad is an example of this technique. It is probably impossible to determine what the poet had in mind; an example like this, with two words, seems much less striking and convincing than three words over three lines. But there is no escaping that it must be "heard vertically", as Watkins puts it. The question is whether this was merely a convienent arrangement for the poet, or a deliberate design, and whether or not it would be striking to Greek speakers, who were accustomed to such spacing in their heavily inflected language.

It also occurred to me that this vertical technique might be related to the tendency for separated words to adjoin themselves to caesura boundaries. (See the article on Epic Caesura by William Annis.) Perhaps this even lends some support to the idea that the hexameter is better described as a joining of two hemistichs, rather than six feet.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Nestor's Cup

For many people this will conjure up the famous description of King Nestor's cup in the Iliad (11.632-637):

πὰρ δὲ δέπας περικαλλές, ὃ οἴκοθεν ἦγ᾽ ὁ γεραιός,
χρυσείοις ἥλοισι πεπαρμένον: οὔατα δ᾽ αὐτοῦ
τέσσαρ᾽ ἔσαν, δοιαὶ δὲ πελειάδες ἀμφὶς ἕκαστον
χρύσειαι νεμέθοντο, δύω δ᾽ ὑπὸ πυθμένες ἦσαν.
ἄλλος μὲν μογέων ἀποκινήσασκε τραπέζης

πλεῖον ἐόν, Νέστωρ δ᾽ ὁ γέρων ἀμογητὶ ἄειρεν.

[And beside them a beautiful cup, brought from the old man's home, studded with golden nails. There were four handles on it, and around each of them two golden doves were feeding. There were two bases under it. Another man would struggle to take it from the table when it was full, but old Nestor could lift it effortlessly.]

For Heinrich Schliemann it would bring to mind the golden cup that he unearthed at Mycenae in 1876 from Shaft Grave IV of Grave Circle A.

Others might think of the clay drinking cup found in 1954 at Pithikoussai, which dates from the 8th century, and seems to identify itself as Nestor's cup in a three line inscription that is one of our oldest examples of the Greek alphabet (written from right to left):


[I am Nestor's good-drinking cup. Whoever drinks from this cup, immediately desire for beautifully crowned Aphrodite will seize that person.]

Calvert Watkins (1976) reads ἐστί in place of εἰμί, and believes that two cups are being contrasted with each other: the legendary cup of Nestor in the first line, and this cup in the final two lines. The inscription then would read: The cup of Nestor is good to drink from; but whoever drinks from this cup, immediately desire for beautifully crowned Aphrodite will seize that person.

For me the phrase also brings to mind the green five-gallon bucket from which my cat, Nestor, preferred to drink before he went missing. Since I don't have to fill Nestor's cup with water anymore, I'll fill this up instead with musings mostly related to my explorations of ancient Greek culture, like these: It is interesting that καλλιστέφανος is used in The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, but never in Homer or Hesiod. Also, it is curious that the first word-divider in each of the last two lines (which are hexameters) marks the caesura instead, and that the other divider in the second line marks the bucolic diaeresis.