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I’m searching in vain for information on a work known as the Lexicon Patmense, alternately known as Λέξεις μεθ’ ἱστοριῶν ἐκ τῶν Δημοσθένους καὶ Αἰσχίνου λόγων or Lexicon in Demosthenem et Aeschinem. So far L’Année and Jstor have turned up nothing, and Google hasn’t been much better.
Any ideas? According to the TLG, where I found the text, it was published as part of Sakkelion’s Lexica Graeaca minora, Olms 1965. The TLG gives the date as uncertain.
At the moment I’m in a little suburban town without a good library, and I’m trying to find out the opinions any scholars might have regarding its date and provenance. My early efforts working strictly from the text have been frustrating.
The lexicon cites Nicander for the notion that fennel is attractive to snakes, because they doff their slough upon it (apologies to Seuss):
Καὶ ἡ μὲν μάραθρος ὄφεων ἀγωγός ἐστι διὰ τὴν ὀσμήν· Νίκανδρος γάρ
φησιν ὅτι ἐπὶ τῆς μαράθρου οἱ ὄφεις τὸ γῆρας ἀποδύονται.
This is an odd statement and a clear case of a misreading. Nicander says that snakes in springtime rejuvenate themselves in part by eating fennel (Th. 31). This establishes that they find it attractive, though there’s no mention of their slough. But much later, while discussing the Amphisbaena, a mythical snake with a twin head upon its tail, he says that in springtime, when ‘earth reveals serpents,’ the amphisbaena ‘does not feed upon a flowing shoot of fennel spray when it casts flesh round its body ‘neath the sun.’
οὐδ’ ἄρ’, ὅταν χαράδρεια λίπῃ καὶ ῥωγάδα κοίλην
ἦρος ἀεξομένου ὁπόθ’ ἑρπετὰ γαῖα φαείνῃ, (390)
ἀκρεμόνος μαράθοιο χυτὸν περιβόσκεται ἔρνος,
εὖτ’ ἂν ὑπ’ ἠελίοιο περὶ φλόον ἅψεα βάλλῃ,
ἀλλ’ ἥγ’ ἀρπέζαις τε καὶ ἐν νεμέεσσι πεσοῦσα
φωλεύει βαθύυπνος, ἀπ’ εἰκαίης δὲ βοτεῖται
γαίης οὐδ’ ἀπὸ δίψος ἀλέξεται ἱεμένη περ.
He’s clearly contrasting the amphisbaena with more typical snakes, and the fennel is recalled not because it relates to sloughing skin in any way, but because the amphisbaena’s odd behavior, not eating fennel in spring, sets it apart. That last temporal clause is to be negated along with the eating of fennel, not taken as a positive. It fleshes out the idea of springtime, a time of rejuvenation. This is a common use of such clauses in Nicander, who tends to use them to add vivid images to a subject not rich in narrative potential.
The amphisbaena neither eats fennel, nor does what other snakes do in springtime, namely put on their new skin.
The interpretation is confused, I suspect in part due to the poor state of Nicander’s text in the early Byzantine period. It was once described as ‘illegible’ and virtually written in a foreign tongue before the Palaeologan renaissance, and in such a corrupted state it would have been easier to misinterpret the passage.
But I’d like to be more certain about the date of the Lexicon before I make too much of it.
Posted by Dennis » 9 Comments »
Andrew Dalby has commented on an earlier post in which I was skeptical of the very idea of his book (i.e., that the Homeric poems were written by a woman) and specifically challenged the claim that no ancient author ascribed the Iliad or the Odyssey to Homer. This, incidentally, didn’t require that I read his book. I was responding to ideas, and specifically to a direct quote by Dalby that ‘the idea that Homer was the author was first proposed in “one ill-informed post-classical text — the anonymous Life of Homer, fraudulently ascribed to Herodotus”.’
Dalby accuses me of misquoting him and takes umbrage with the word ‘author’, though he never makes it clear what’s wrong with the word. I can only assume that he thinks ‘author’ presupposes writing. (Incidentally, since I quoted the writer who quoted him –notice the quotes within quotes there–, Dalby is incorrect to claim that I misquoted him.)
In his response Dalby focuses almost exclusively on oral theory, which says nothing to the testimony I offered in response to his claim about ps.-Herodotus. Dalby actually restates the same misinformation reported in the article cited.
But I’m sure that Homer-as-oral-poet is central to the argument of the book and was neglected in the article. The problem is that oral theory changes nothing on this question. In this case, Dalby insists that ‘all the earlier authors insist he [Homer] worked purely orally. Right?’
Wrong. As I pointed out in my post, there are countless examples of direct quotations from Homer that imply a standard written text. I say imply because none says anything whatsoever about Homer’s compositional technique, despite Dalby’s desire to see ancient support for oral composition theory.
The earliest authors who offer testimony on Homer lived centuries after the likely period of composition, and this span of time is marked by a distinct lack of critical historical record. This was a time in which statesmen still claimed mythic origins and propagandized their own past to legitimize rule by tyranny, for example. This was a time when Greeks still believed in kings who slew dragons and thought themselves not far removed from an age filled with demigods and sea monsters. Whether the writers of the classical period considered Homer to be an oral poet or one who composed verse in writing is no test of historical truth, and I can’t see how it would lead one to argue that the author of the Homeric poems was really a woman or to think it a worthwhile endeavor to reconstruct prehistoric persons out of scattered, inconclusive, and inaccurate testimony. In this case, Dalby’s grasp of ancient sources seems to be unacceptably slim.
However, no one to my knowledge *insists* that Homer was an oral poet. Dalby suggests that the ancients believed Homer to have taught his poems to his family (these would be the Homeridae) who continued to repeat and teach his poems orally. I ask you to show me one ancient author who *insists* that Homer composed his poems orally in accord with the Parry-Lord thesis.
I still don’t know how oral theory justifies the book, but I have to take issue with Dalby’s claim that oral theory is proven and legitimate. I think it’s short-sighted to say the least to believe that poems of such length with all their subtlety were both spontaneously composed and taught orally.
Oral theory argues that the poet composes as he performs, not that he composes orally and then memorizes and teaches his songs. The oral poet is believed to compose his songs afresh each time he performs, and while he may sing on the same themes from the same perspective and repeat major ideas, the composition itself is never an exact replica of prior compositions or performances. In short, even if you accept oral composition and allow for the possibility of memorization and the teaching of composed songs, then the only thing separating this from written composition is the act of writing. That’s a superficial distinction, because when someone composes a set piece, whether they memorize it or they write it down, they have composed a set piece. Memorization and repetition are not the same as oral composition.
Dalby, and he is in good company here, simply misses the point. He, like many people who have accepted oral theory without understanding it (some of whom are respected classicists), confuses the essence of oral composition with performance. In the archaic and classical periods, all poetry was performed, even when it was carefully composed. Some of this poetry was performed in simpler, more casual contexts like symposia with the appearance of spontaneity, some, such as hymns, were performed during religious events as though divine agents spoke through the poet who was simply a medium, and others were performed as part of elaborate productions involving actors, a chorus, musical accompaniment, and staging. All were composed, all had set texts, and all were composed in order to be performed.
The second of these examples reflects a common pretense among the ancients, which is that the poet is divinely inspired. He does not write or compose his songs, but rather some god endows him with the gift of song and the Muses sing through him. Hesiod, at least, was smart enough to have his Muses admit that they could tell the truth as well as specious falsehoods, which allowed him to claim divine authority without committing heresy.
But Hesiod raises a serious question about oral composition. Ancient references to oral composition all indicate divine inspiration, and yet Hesiod surely can not have believed himself to have been swept away, to have met with the Muses, and to have become a conduit of divine knowledge. Some of his audience, especially those of later generations for whom poets like Homer and Hesiod had become legendary figures, may have believed it, but Hesiod could not have. This was a poetic convention. Similar ideas are found in rhetoric, as in the Defense of Helen by Gorgias, who argues that poetry has magical properties and that verse, by its very nature, has the power to persuade. Here, in traditional imagery, Gorgias was pointing to the same thing that poets like Hesiod and critics like Plato discussed in terms of inspiration. The ‘mad poet’ had something of the divine about him. His mode of speech (i.e., verse) was distinct, aesthetically pleasing, much like the hymns to gods or their oracular responses. Poetry was thought to be a spiritual thing and to speak to the soul, and those who recited poetry were the agents of the gods. Of course, they weren’t really. And neither were they really linguistic virtuosos able to compose perfect songs spontaneously. But it was good for business to pretend that they were.
Oral composition in antiquity meant nothing other than divine inspiration in the truest sense of the word. And yet Homer himself offers a picture of a rhapsode taking requests and singing poems on epic themes that he had sung before. These were compositions, and we have no reason to assume that Greek poets spontaneously composed verses simply because it was possible for some illiterate poets in Yugoslavia to sing charming songs for a visiting scholar.
But this has taken us rather far from the argument.
Dalby’s comment suggests that his book is about oral theory. Okay. But that doesn’t change my critique of his own false statements. He continues to insist that only ps.-Herodotus claims that Homer was the author of the poems after I offered examples in Herodotus (yes, the real Herodotus) in which he cites Homer.
And I still don’t know how oral theory is supposed to discredit the notion of an original composer conveniently labeled Homer. This is the view of M.L. West who was famously accused of being ignorant of oral theory (by Nagy and Nardelli), but who responded beautifully to his critics by pointing out their own short-sightedness. West, and I think he’s right, believes that it is more likely that each poem was composed by an individual who drew upon a rich poetic tradition, and whose great literary achievement was later affected in places by accretions and alterations.
The tradition from which ‘Homer’ worked may have employed oral composition in the manner of the Parry-Lord thesis, but the subsequent tradition was that of a written text (despite the fact that those who promoted his verse may have performed it orally in the traditional Greek manner of the rhapsode), but the composer of the Iliad and that of the Odyssey (if different from that of the Iliad) must have been a writer.
West is in my view a most sensible and judicious critic of oral theory who understands its proper place and does not allow it to overrun reason and impose absolutes that tidily aid us on our way to the conclusions we seek.
Dalby’s argument from silence isn’t worth considering. He wants to know why none of Homer’s near-contemporary writers mention his ‘world-shaking’ feat. We know almost nothing about the period and retain next to nothing of the literature produced, let alone any commentary that is truly ancient (the antiquity of scholia vetera is almost always greatly exaggerated). This kind of argument allows us to plug in whatever we want and to argue by a series of guesses and inferences mixed with innuendo and novelty. It’s a fun game to play, guessing at what history has not recorded, but I don’t care for it.
And I still fail to see what oral theory has to do with Dalby’s refusal to accept the testimony that we do possess.
I guess I should just say for the record, if I haven’t made this clear enough yet, that I don’t believe anyone who talks seriously about Homer believes that they know him to have been a particular individual with a particular personality, or necessarily believes that the same Homer wrote both poems. Those of us who talk about Homer tend to do so because it’s impossible to know who wrote the poems and how, and we use the traditional terminology, in the same way that the ancients discussed Orpheus. Whether there was an individual poet called Homer doesn’t matter much. But there are two important poems that were most certainly composed, each by a particular genius, and each ultimately composed in writing.
Whether that genius was a woman is impossible to know, though the ancients thought they knew Homer to be a man. Does it really matter?
Well, if you decide that it does, you’re best served understanding the tradition and the ancient testimony and not simply discounting what you disagree with by word games such as what constitutes an author and when precisely the word is used.
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Every so often I scan news and web sources for classical references, but rogueclassicism does such a good job of keeping the classical blogosphere abreast that I’d feel like I was stepping on David’s toes to post much of what I found.
But one thing that really sticks in my craw recurs so often that it needs to be addressed: ‘Greek and Latin’ are indiscriminately cited as though they were one language, or had jointly agreed to donate individual words to our language. Countless times I’ve read that a given word ‘comes from the Greek and Latin for’ something, and as we’ve discussed here in the past, that’s only true for words like television and homosexual (Gk root + Lat. root).
A piece at FtWayne.com on choosing the right words for a eulogy repeats the error in a weird way:
Miller says the aim of any eulogy – the word comes from the Greek word for “praise” and the Latin for “epitaph” – is to honor the deceased.
Eulogy, then, comes from two sources: (1) the greek word for praise, and (2) the Latin word for ‘epitaph.’
Knowledge of Greek and Latin is not required to see the error here, which is purely one of logic. The Greek word for praise intended here is clearly εὐλογία, and eulogizing is the putting-in of a ‘good word,’ as it were. But the Latin word for epitaph in the normal sense isn’t eulogy, but ‘titulus.’
ἐπιτάφιος was an adjective that could describe anything done at a tomb, from a speech given to games conducted. An ἐπιτάφιος λόγος was what we would call a eulogy, ‘a speech at a grave.’ But what we would call an epitaph would be ἡ ἐπιγραφή or τὸ ἐπίγραμμα to the Greeks, simply an inscription clarified by context.
It’s tough to say how this specific error was reached, but it’s easy to see that the shifting and interrelatedness of the terms over time has made it easy.