Tuesday, August 29, 2006

La proposition interrogative

Perhaps it is merely that reading different descriptions of grammatical usage helps to clarify things in my mind, but I often find the explanations in Chantraine's grammar very simple and insightful, even though I read French rather poorly. Consider this account of interrogative sentences (volume 2, chapter 1, section 13):

La proposition peut être interrogative. C'est une proposition comparable à toute autre dans sa structure, mais qui présente un terme inconnu du sujet qui parle. Le caractère propre de cette proposition est marqué par l'intonation. Lorsque l'interrogation porte sur un mot, ce mot est représenté dans la proposition par un pronom dit interrogatif, qui est un pronom indéfini prononcé avec un accent particulier.

He goes on to discuss an interesting type of question where multiple pieces of information are sought by simply stacking interrogative terms:

La particularité la plus remarquable que présente ce type de phrase consiste dans la possibilité d'une interrogation portant sur des points multiples comportant plusieurs termes interrogatifs: Odyssey.1.170: τίς πόθεν εἰς ἀνδρῶν; Who are you and from where among men?

I first came across this usage in line 113 of the Hymn to Demeter, and was puzzled for a while: τίς πόθεν ἐσσὶ γρηῢ παλαιγενέων ἀνθρώπων; Who are you and where are you from, old woman, of men born long ago?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

And My Mouth Went Sideways

In Bryce, 2002, page 167, we find Mursili's own description of the events leading to his mysterious affliction: Thus speaks My Sun Mursili, the Great King: I travelled to Til-Kunnu...A storm burst forth and the Storm God thundered terrifyingly. I was afraid. Speech withered in my mouth, and my speech came forth somewhat haltingly. I neglected this plight entirely. But as the years followed one another, the cause of my plight began to hound me in my sleep. And in my sleep the god's hand fell upon me, and my mouth went sideways. I consulted the oracles, and the Storm God of Manuzziya was ascertained (as responsible for my plight).

Many people have suspected that the phrase, my mouth went sideways, indicates that Mursili suffered from a minor stroke, and afterward suffered from partial speech paralysis. Although, van den Hout, 2000, claims that the Hittite phrase, tapusa pai-, to go sideways, is used in a figurative sense, to cease to function.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Savage Jaws

At line 64 of Prometheus Bound, in a section of stichomythia between Hephaestus and Kratos (with an interesting pattern of one line and two lines, respectively), Kratos orders the final action in the binding of Prometheus to the cliff:

ἀδαμαντίνου νῦν σφηνὸς αὐθάδη γνάθον
στέρνων διαμπὰξ πασσάλευ᾽ ἐρρωμένως

[Now drive the stubborn edge of the hard wedge firmly through his chest.]

The word αὐθάδη, according to the LSJ, can mean self-willed, stubborn, presumptuous, and also remorseless, unfeeling. These are all adjectives that we can imagine Kratos using to describe Prometheus, considering his audacity to give mortals more than their due, and his later refusal to moderate his behavior in return for the help of Oceanus. Just 15 lines later, Kratos uses the word again of his own anger.

The word used here for the point of the wedge, γνάθον, literally means jaw, and it appears two more times in this play, in two different metaphors. At line 726 it is used of the cliffs jutting out at Salmydessus in Thrace: τραχεῖα πόντου Σαλμυδησσία γνάθος, the harsh Salmydessian jaw of the sea. And at line 370 it is used of fire:

ποταμοὶ πυρὸς δάπτοντες ἀγρίαις γνάθοις
τῆς καλλικάρπου Σικελίας λευροὺς γύας

[Rivers of fire devouring with savage jaws the smooth fields of fruitful Sicily.]

If the word fire reminds us of the theft of Prometheus, it is certainly different from the παντέχνου πυρὸς σέλας, the flame of fire, source of all arts, that Kratos describes in line seven. This fire is savagely destroying the very civilization that is indebted to Prometheus, with the same ferocity with which the jaw of the wedge was thrust through his chest.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Telipinu and Demeter

After reading the Hymn to Demeter, I was interested to learn about the Hittite tale of Telipinu, as found in Bryce, 2002, page 211: The god Telipinu has flown into a rage. He puts on his shoes and departs the land. Crops wither and die, sheep and cattle reject their young and become barren, men and gods starve. In great alarm the Storm God, father of Telipinu, dispatches an eagle to search for his wayward son. The search is in vain. The Storm God himself attempts to seek him out. Again to no avail. No god, great or small, can determine his whereabouts. In desperation the Storm God sends a bee to look for him. The bee searches on high mountains, in deep valleys, in the blue deep. Finally, in a meadow, it discovers Telipinu. It stings his hands and feet, bringing him smartly upright, and then soothes the pain of his stings by smearing wax on the affected parts. But the god's anger remains unabated. Indeed his fury is increased by his rude and painful awakening. In an orgy of destruction, he unleashes thunder and lightning and great floods, knocking down houses and wreaking havoc on human beings, livestock, and crops. Then Kamrusepa, goddess of magic, is sent to pacify him and bring him back. She conducts a ritual for this purpose. By the process of ritual analogy Telipinu's body is cleansed of its anger. The god's way home is made smooth by spreading oil and honey upon it. Telipinu returns and once more cares for his land. All is restored to normal. The land once more becomes fruitful.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Hymn to Demeter

The longer Homeric Hymn to Demeter is now available at Aoidoi, fully parsed with beginning readers in mind.

The story of its transmission is worth telling. It was probably composed in the seventh century, but there are few echoes of the hymn in classical literature, and all of the direct quotations, according to Richardson, are late, indicating that it was best known in Hellenistic times. Except for two very small fragments, and some quotations, we possess the hymn in one single manuscript from the book known as Mosquensis (or M). This book was found in 1777 by Christian Friedrich Matthaei in the library of the Synod in Moscow, and according to what Matthaei was told, it was found in a stable, ubi per plures annos...inter pullos et porcos latitabat, where for many years...it lay hidden between chickens and pigs. All of our other manuscripts of the hymns open with the Hymn to Apollo, but M opens instead with our only copies of the hymns to Dionysus and Demeter. It is dated by the watermarks to the early 15th century, and shows a second hand (known as "m") at work on the damaged sections, who probably wrote in the 16th century. The hymn was virtually unknown to the writers and artists of the Renaissance, and it is an exciting story, in my opinion, that we have access to a work of this length after it had gone to the very brink of vanishing, and only barely managed to survive, unlike so much other Greek literature.

Hittite Laws on Sexuality

A number of sections in what remains of the Hittite law record deal with the restrictions on sexual behavior. The last fourteen clauses, out of 200, are dedicated to this subject, which, according to Bryce, 2002, is a high proportion, considering how many other expected problems are completely absent from the record. It is interesting to note that the death penalty is applied to cases of beastiality and incest, but is rare otherwise, where even many cases of murder resulted in a mere fine. And perhaps more curious is the fact that it was not all cases of beastiality: intercourse with pigs, dogs, and sheep was reason for death, but there was an entire clause exempting those who had sex with a horse or mule (Bryce 48).

Bryce explains this as illustrating the extreme importance placed on cleanliness in Hittite society. The act of murder in some circumstances only claimed one victim, but the act of forbidden sex, or hurkel, could stain all those in contact with the offender, and could endanger the community at large. Even sex with a married partner was seen to cause defilement, and so the King was not allowed to engage in sex the night before an important ritual, and priests could be executed if they were to enter the sanctuary while unclean. They were required literally to bathe themselves, although later (probably under Hurrian influence, according to Bryce) the same thing could be accomplished through a scapegoat ritual. It seems that sometimes banishment was imposed instead of the death penalty, and this could actually be advantageous, since the offender himself carried away his unclean body, instead of the citizens being responsible for the proper disposal of the corpse after an execution.

We can see the importance of the incest taboo in a letter of King Suppiluliuma to one of his vassal rulers, found in Bryce, 2002, page 50, and translated by Beckman: For Hatti it is an important custom that a brother does not have sex with his sister or female cousin. It is not permitted. Whoever commits such an act is put to death. But your land is barbaric, for there a man regularly has sex with his sister or cousin. And if on occasion a sister of your wife, or the wife of a brother, or a female cousin comes to you, give her something to eat or drink. Both of you eat, drink, and make merry! But you must not desire to have sex with her. It is not permitted, and people are put to death as a result of that act. You shall not initiate it of your own accord, and if someone else leads you astray to such an act, you shall not listen to him or her. You shall not do it. It shall be placed under oath for you.

This is the only clear example of a Hittite king interfering in the local practices of his vassal rulers (Bryce 50). The prohibition only covered relations between blood relatives; it did not apply to relatives by marriage, provided that the woman's husband was not alive. And there is even one clause which permits a free man to have sex with free sisters by the same mother, and even the mother---that is, provided that they are not all together! Like many of the laws, this was probably included as a reaction to a specific case, serving as a precedent.

There is no mention at all of homosexuality in the Hittite laws. Bryce thinks the omission may indicate that it was accepted and therefore never came under legal consideration.

Perhaps the most baffling problem concerns necrophilia, which in one clause is legally sanctioned, while on the other hand the Hittites often avoided any physical contact with corpses for fear of contamination.