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The Homeric Narrator and His Own kleos

Author(s): Irene J. F. de Jong

Reviewed work(s):
Source: Mnemosyne, Fourth Series, Vol. 59, Fasc. 2 (2006), pp. 188-207
Published by: BRILL
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4433723 .
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The Homeric narrator's celebrated reticence about his own person, work,
and aspirations has led scholars to call him modest. In this paper I argue
that there are enough implicit or indirect signs which point at a Homeric
narrator himself aspiring to kleos, just like the heroes he celebrates.

Introduction. A modest Homer?

The task of Homer is to keep alive the memory of the klea andr?n,
the 'glorious deeds of men'. This is hardly a controversial state-
ment,1) although nowhere does he himself say as much, unlike
Herodotus, for example, who writes his history 'in order that the
important and remarkable achievements produced by Greeks and
barbarians will not become devoid of fame (aklea)\ or Pindar, who
offers his song as 'long-lasting light for achievements of great strength'
(0. 4.10). The idea that singing the klea of others might bring the
poet himself kleos is also often expressed, e.g. by Ibycus, who promises
Polycrates 'undying fame (kleos) as song and my fame (kleos) can give
it' (282.47-8). But again, not by Homer. The paradoxical conclu-
sion must be that although Homer is the most famous poet of
ancient literature, the history of poetic fame, in the sense of a poet's
self-promotion, seems to begin only after him.2)

* This is an
expanded version of a paper I gave in Leuven. I wish to thank
S.R. van der Mije and M. de Pourq for helpful suggestions, Barbara Fasting for
correcting my English.
1) Cf. Goldhill 1991, 166: "That the declaration and preservation of kleos is a
crucial function of the poet's voice in ancient Greek culture is a commonplace".
2) Cf. Bendey [1713] 1938, 304: "Nor is there one word in Homer that presages
or promises immortality to his work, as we find there is in the later poets Virgil,
Horace, Ovid, Lucan and Statius"; Stroh 1971, 235: "Von diesen Stellen abgese-
hen [Iliad 6.237-8, etc.] spricht Homer nicht von der verewigenden Macht seiner
Dichtung"; Stein 1990, 266.

? Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2006 Mnemosyne,Vol. LIX, Fase. 2

Also available online - www.brill.nl

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It is indeed the picture of a modest Homer which we find painted

in various colours throughout Homeric scholarship (e.g., "Der
Gedanke, dass der Mensch der Sch?pfer
mitnichten des Werkes
ist. . ., sondern er selbst, das Ich als solches, entweder
dass schein-
bar gar nicht vorhanden oder nur Empfangender oder nur Instrument
einer h?heren Gewalt ist?dieser Gedanke kann als der zentrale der
?ltesten hellenischen Literatur bezeichnet werden"),3) with renewed
vigour since
the emergence of oralism
(e.g., "Singers deny that they
are the creators of song").4) A?partial?exception is Maehler (1963),
who detected an increase in authorial self-consciousness in the Odyssey
vis-?-vis the Iliad> though on the whole adhering to the picture of
a modest Homer, in comparison with self-conscious poets such as
Theognis, Pindar, and Bacchylides. The progress that Maehler made
is lost in the study by Ford (1992), which, though in many respects
highly illuminating and convincing, to my mind goes too far in its
emphasis on Homer's complete denial of responsibility for his own
In this paper I want to modify this portrait of a modest Homer,
or as I prefer to say, Homeric narrator.5) In my view there are
occasional signs, of an implicit or indirect nature, which point to a
greater self-consciousness than is generally assumed. I am not refer-
ring to his?well-known and well-studied?indirect promotion of
epic poetry in general^ e.g., in the form of his alter ego's Phemius
Demodocus or his illustrious 'colleague', the hero-singer Odysseus,6)
but specifically to the promotion of his oum poems and his own kleos.
Before embarking on my discussion of these signs of self-promo-
tion, I would like to lookbriefly at that ultimate sign of modesty,
the anonymity of the Homeric epics. Scholars have variously explained
this. The explanation most frequently given is that it is a characteristic
of heroic oral poetry. The singers felt part of a long tradition, and
their task was to preserve that tradition by presenting variations of

3) Kranz 1967, 8.
4) Lord 1960, 102.
5) A recent paper by Scodel (2004) also discusses Homer's modesty, by which
she refers, however, to another aspect of his work: his refusal to engage in a dis-
cussion with his predecessors, as does e.g. Pindar.
6) On Phemius and Demodocus as his alter ego's, see esp. Fr?nkel 1969, 6-27;
Marg 1971, 11-23; Thalmann 1984, 122-33; and Ford 1992, 101-25; on Odysseus
the 'singer', see Thalmann 1984, 170-80 and Segal 1994, 86-95.

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an old tale. They never claimed a song as their

Moreover, own.
since they were performing before their audiences, there was no
need to give their names: their listeners could see who they were.7)
The second explanation belongs to the history of mentalities: the
birth of individuality or discovery of the self only comes with the
rise of Greek lyric or, in a recent variant, with the advent of lit-
eracy.8) A third, and very special explanation is that of Svenbro
(1976), who
argues that Homer refrains from presenting his poems
under his own name in order to avoid the wrath of the Muses (cf.
the fate of the singer Thamyris, as described in Iliad 2.594-600) and
preclude possible negative reactions from his audience.
Whatever its explanation, that anonymity is a fact. But does it
necessarily signify a lack of self-consciousness on the part of the
poet? Bowra, who is an adherent of the first explanation, does not
think so:

Since a bard often claims the past or a god as the source of his infor-
mation, he is not in a position to make any great claims for himself.
But this does not mean that heroic poetry is necessarily anonymous,
or that bards are always too modest to claim their creations for them-
selves. In fact they are often far from modest, but even if they were,
their audiences would not allow them to remain unknown . .. However
anonymous their poems may be, the bards themselves are often well
known, and that makes it unlikely that they disclaim any share in
works of their own composition.9)

Bowra's suggestion is backed up by what we observe in the Homeric

poems themselves: in his songs Demodocus does not appear to refer
to himself (we cannot be sure, since they are never quoted directly),
and yet it is clear that people know his name, indeed that he is
famous. But Bowra's suggestion is not really helpful for my kind of
approach, since it looks for self-consciousness outside the poems. The
same applies to Ford, who looks for self-consciousness of poets in
the proems which he assumes existed for these poems (as they do
for the Homeric hymns and Hesiod):

7) See Bowra 1952, 404-5; Lord 1960, 101, 151-2; Kranz 1967, 31; Ford 1992,
8) See Snell [1948] 1960; Maehler 1963, 34; Rosier 1980, 289-93; Stein 1990,
9) Bowra 1952, 404.

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At a great festival with an international audience, the proem was an

opportunity to lay claim to a large reputation; in less formal cir-
cumstances, it was the privileged moment for the poet to speak as ?
to that audience at that time and place . .. Short or long, it could
allow these poets, whose pride, competitiveness, and self-assertiveness
had made them Greek poets, to assert themselves and then sublimate
themselves into the transcendental voice of the Muses.10)

What I am interested in, however, are signs of self-promotion within

the poems themselves, and those are the signs I will be looking for.

1. The Muses

It may seem strange to start with the Muses when arguing for
the Homeric narrator's self-consciousness, since
they traditionally
have been as the very symbol of his modesty.
seen The Muse-invo-
cations, especially those at the opening, seem to point explicitly at
the Muse as the one who is speaking: ????? ae?de, ?e?, ??????de?
??????? and "??d?a ??? e??epe, ???sa, p???t??p??. And yet, when
we look at the
history of scholarship on the Homeric Muse, we
may note an interesting development leading towards the emanci-
pation?indeed the self-assertion?of the narrator vis-?-vis his god.
Let me start at the beginning and quote an early (1934) analysis of
the relation of narrator and Muse, which attributes responsibility
for the poem almost completely to the god: "Nicht der Mensch,
der Dichter schafft das Werk, sondern die Gottheit, des Dichters
besondere Schutzgottheit, mit einem Wort: sein Gott selbst schafft
das Werk oder ist mindestens in irgend einer Weise wesentlich daran
beteiligt. Entweder ist der Dichter nur Empf?nger der g?ttlichen
Kraft oder Instrument der Gottheit, die durch ihn das Werk schafft,
oder der Dichter erh?lt von seinem Gott die Gabe des Dichtens, . . .,
oder sein
Gott steht ihn durch seinen Rat in besonders schwierigen
F?llen bei."11) At some stage, scholars began to stress the fact that
it is only in the Muse-invocations at the beginning of the poems
that the narrator is completely dependent on the Muse, and that

10) Ford 1992, 28. The proems he is referring to are something different from
the Muse-invocations with which the Iliad and Odysseyopen.
11) Falter 1934, 3-10; quotation from p. 3. The same view in Kranz 1967,
10-7; Schadewaldt 1959, 78-9; Kambylis 1965, 13-6; and Lenz 1980, 27.

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in other places he himself does seem to be the one speaking: thus,

it is the narrator who seems to answer his own question in Iliad
1.8-9 (??? t* ?? sf?e ?e?? e??d? ??????e ???es?a?; ??t??? ?a? ????
????? ? ?a? . . .), and, even more unambiguously, it is he who, after
his request for information in Iliad 2.484-7 (?spete ??? ???, ???sa?
????p?a d??at' e???sa?,. . . ?? t??e? ??e???e? ?a?a?? ?a? ????a???
?sa?), in 493 announces that he will do the speaking (?????? a?
???? ???? ???? te p??p?sa?).
In 1987 I took a further step and analysed the relationship between
narrator and Muse in terms of double motivation: both god (muse)
and mortal (narrator) are involved at the same time. If the activities
of Demodocus and Phemius are described as double
notably in Odyssey 8.44-5 (t? ??? ?a ?e?? p??? d??e? ???d?? t??pe??,
dpp? ????? ?p?t????s?? ?e?de??) and 22.347-8 (a?t?d?da?t?? d*
e???, ?e?? de ??? ?? f?es?? ???a? pa?t??a? ???f?se?), why should
we not apply the same model to the (primary) narrator himself?
Being assisted by a god is no sign of modesty, but rather of proud
self-consciousness: the gods only help those who deserve to be
helped.12) Homer's colleague Hesiod would later be very explicit
about this honorable selection or Dichterweihe (Theogony 22-32).
Aligning himself with the Muse adds to the status of his own
work, more to its reliability.
specifically The Muses add the authen-
ticity of an eye-witness report to mortal hearsay stories, klea (cf. //.
2.485-6). Moreover, calling on the Muses, whom Hesiod refers to
as 'the daughters of Mnemosyne', is also an indirect advertisement
of the narrator's extraordinary ability to memorize long stories
crammed with names and events. Thus the self-promotion of the
narrator via the Muses, such as the double-motivation model describes,
is not a sign of vanity, but serves to enhance the authority of his
In 1992 the study of Ford on Homer. The Poetry of the Past com-
pletely swung the pendulum back again:14)

12) De Jong 1987b, 45-53. Similar analyses in Verdenius 1983, 38-40; Murray
1983, 11; P?tscher 1986; Rito?k 1989, 342-3; and Segal 1994, 138.
13) For discussion and scholarship on this important aspect of the Homeric
epics, see De Jong 2001, ad 8.487-91.
14) Cf. also Finkelberg 1998, who states that "the traditional poet saw himself

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Epic .. . seems to have chosen to divert ideas of verbal artistry from

its singers and to have transferred them onto gods as the ultimate
shapers of events. Thus Homer discounts and even denies the sig-
nificance of the poet in shaping and defining poetry ... we are not
in some period before the discovery of the self, but we are in a genre
in which it was expected that the poet would remove himself from
the text and speak not as an artisan of words but as transmitter of

Ford bases his claim first on the Muse-invocations and passages

such as Iliad 6.357-8, where Helen complains that the gods give
her sorrow in order to become a subject of song for later genera-
tions, and
second, following Svenbro, on Homer's avoidance of
speaking "of the poet's activity in terms of 'art' or 'skill' or 'craft'".
To deal with the latter would require another study, which I do
not intend to undertake here. The 'subject of song for later generations'
passages will be discussed in detail in section three. As for all theories
which attempt to attribute at least some share of the poetic work
to thesinger, these
by Ford as the refusal of "the
romantic in us to see the poet as merely the 'tool' or 'passive instru-
ment' of the Muses". He discusses a number of these theories, which
in various ways argue for a division of labour between singer and
Muse ('the Muse gives the poet the content and he puts the form
on it'), and then goes on to say that "it is anachronistic to foist
upon this oral art form a clear and significant distinction between
form and content". The attractiveness of my double-motivation the-
ory, however, which he does
not mention, is that it does not imply
a division of labour (let alone a distinction between form and con-
tent), but argues for a simultaneous collaboration of mortal and god.
I see no reason, therefore, to give up the idea that the Muses, far
from signalling modesty or dependence, are in fact a subtle and
effective form of self-advertisement.

2. The kleos of song

To win kleos is a central concern of Homeric heroes, who have

been aptly called 'status-warriors'. Once acquired, this kleos must be

as a mouthpiece of the Muses" and "no element in the song . . . would be con-
strued by the audience or the poet himself as the poet's 'creation'" (27).
15) Ford 1992, 31-9, quotations from pp. 38-9.

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spread in time and place. Kleos canbe spread by the heroes them-
selves, acting as narrators (Odysseus) or amateur-singers (Achilles),
but those best suited to perpetuate the kleos of men are the pro-
fessional singers, because of their relationship with the Muses.16)
Later poets will not hesitate to describe?and promote?this hence
fact e.g., Theognis
explicitly, (237-52), who tells the subject of his
poetry, Cyrnus, that his name will be spread over the whole world
and will not die after his death, thanks to the gift of the Muses
which escorts him, i.e., thanks to his immortalization in (Theognis')

Thus in principle the task of a poet is to further the kleos of
others. But the Homeric narrator twice indicates that songs them-
selves may also partake of kleos?, in Odyssey 8.73-5:

???s' a?' ???d?? ????e? ?e?d??e?a? ???a a?d???,

?????, t?? t?t' a?a ????? ???a??? e???? ??a?e,
?e???? '?d?ss??? ?a? ???e?de? ???????,. ..
'The Muse incited Demodocus to sing the klea of men,
[part of] a cycle of songs, the kleos of which at that time reached the
broad heaven,
[namely] the quarrel between Odysseus and Peleus' son Achilles, . . .'

and in Odyssey 1.351-2 (Telemachus speaking about Phemius):

"t?? ?a? ???d?? ?????? ?p???e???s* ?????p??,

? t?? ??????tess? ?e?t?t? ??f?p???ta?."
Tor people always bestow more kleos on that song,
which is the newest to reach the ears of listeners.'17

Can we apply what is said about Demodocus and Phemius to the

Homeric narrator and his poems? I believe we can. In my narra-
tological commentary I point to the remarkable t?te in Odyssey
8.74.18) This is one of three instances of absolute t?te ('at that time',
sc. in the past) in the Homeric narrator-text. The emphatic 'then'

implies a 'now', and the narrator seems to be referring indirectly

16) For general discussions of Homeric kleos, see Maehler 1963, 10-3, 26-7;
Segal 1994, 85-109; Edwards 1985, 71-91; Goldhill 1991, 96-166; Olson 1995,
17) And cf. the fact that singers are called pe?????t?? in Odyssey1.325 and 8.83.
I also draw attention to Odyssey8.497-8, where Odysseus promises to tell other
people about Demodocus' divine talent, in other words, to spread his fame.
18) De Jong 2001, a? 8.74.

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to his own poem: at that time (when Odysseus visited the Phaeacians)
songs about the Trojan war and the nostoi of the other heroes were
famous, now (in his own time) his song is heard, which, because it
is about the nostos of the last Greek to come home (cf. Od. 1.11-5),
is the newest and hence deserving of kleos.?)

3. The 'subject of song for later generations' motif

Because of their interest in kleos, Homeric characters very much

think, indeed worry about how they will appear in the eyes of future
generations, e.g. Hector in Iliad 22.304-5:20)

"?? ?a? ?sp??d? ?e ?a? ???e??? ?p???????,

???a ???a ???a? t? ?a? ?ss??????s? p???s?a?."
'Even so, let me not die without a fight and without kleos,
but only after having done some great deed for future generations to
hear of.'

Sometimes characters more specifically look ahead to their becom-

ing the subject of song, e.g. Helen (//. 6.357-8):

"??s?? ep? ?e?? ???e ?a??? ?????, ?? ?a? ?p?ss?

?????p??s? pe???e?' ???d???? ?ss??????s?."
'(Hector, you have to fight hard because of Paris and myself),
on whom Zeus set a vile destiny, so that even hereafter
we shall be subjects of song for men of future generations.'

There is no denying that the prophecy voiced here by Helen is ful-

filled by the Iliad. Indeed, some time after the creation of the Iliad
a fellow-poet, Simonides, will 'confirm' Helen's words (fr. 11.15-8):

19) Cf. Nagy 1974, 12: "I believe that the poet of the Odyssey is here [in Od.
1.351-2] making a self-conscious reference to his own genre, or even to his com-
position". Whether ?e?t?t? can also have a connotation of originality is a mat-
ter of debate. Pro: Beye (1966, 79) and Danek (1998, 60); contra: Hose (2000, 8).
The two passages make clear that epic poetry need not necessarily always deal
with the remote past; cf. Latacz 1996, 83, who remarks that comparative research
on epics shows that they do incorporate recent events, and Crielaard 2002. Now
the Homeric narrator does indicate at other places that his subject matter belongs
to the remote past, so, if my self-referential interpretation of the two passages is
right, this would show him here not looking back at his poem from his own tem-
poral vantage point, but forward from the other poems inside his poem to his
own poem, which forms their culmination; see Thalman 1984, 162-3.
20) Cf. //. 2.119; 3.287; Od. 22.255; 24.433.

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??s?? ?p' ???]?at?? ????ta? ????? ??[d???] e??t?

?? pa?* ??p]??????? d??at? ??e??d[??
p?sa? ????e???, ?a? ?p?????? ?p[??t??]??s??
p???s' ??]????? ???????? ?e?e?[?.
'they [Greeks who fought at Troy] are bathed in kleos that cannot
die, by grace of one who from the dark-tressed Muses had received
truth entire, and made the heroes' short-lived race a theme familiar
to younger men.21)
Can we go so far as to take Iliad 6.357-8 and two similar passages

(Od. 3.203-4; 8.579-80) as signs of self-consciousness on the part of

the Homeric narrator, who makes famous heroes of the past fore-
tell his own poems? Together with quite a few other scholars, I say

According to Ford, however, these passages provide more proof,
in addition to the Muse-invocations, that the narrator is renouncing
responsibility for his own poem, instead attributing it to the gods,
who would create the destiny of a mortal and the song which
recounts that destiny.23) This seems to me an untenable interpretation,
both because the Greek in Iliad 6 clearly suggests that the 'men of
future generations' (not the gods) will make/sing the song about
Helen, and because in Odyssey 1.347-9 Telemachus explicitly dis-

tinguishes between fate (for which the gods are responsible) and

song (for which the singer is responsible).

At first glance, Odyssey 24.196-8 would appear to be a better can-
didate to suggest the divine origin of mortal song. Here Agamemnon

21) Text and translation by M. West, as cited in Boedeker-Sider 2001, 27-8.

For Simonides' praise of Homer, see Clay 2001, 10-1.
22) De Jong 2001, ad 8.579-80. Cf. Schadewaldt 1959, 80-1; Murray 1983,
3-4; Thalmann 1984, 153; and Kullmann 1992, 297. Maehler (1963, 26, n. 2) is
non-committal: "aus der Perspektive des S?ngers stellt sich der urspr?ngliche
Kausalzusammenhang umgekehrt dar, und er ?bertr?gt diese Perspektive unwillk?r-
lich auf die Personen seiner Dichtung". Marg (1971, 20-1) wants to interpret these
passages only in their context and denies a self-referential significance. In narra-
tological terms, we can consider Iliad 6.357-8 etc. a kind of metalepsis: when char-
acters interfere in the world of the narrator or vice versa; cf. Genette 1980, 234-5.
23) Ford 1992, 38: "So Helen makes the gods the ultimate creators of the epic
in which she and Paris will figure". In his view, passages like Odyssey3.132-3, 136,
152, or Iliad 1.2, where we hear of the gods 'making' woes/strife for mortals, all
suggest divine literary creation.

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"tf ?? ????? ?? p?t* ??e?ta?

?? ??et??, te????s? d' ?p????????s?? ???d??
a???at?? ?a??essa? ???f???? ???e??pe??."
Therefore the kleos of her [Penelope's]24) excellence shall never
die away, but the immortals will make among mankind
a graceful song for prudent Penelope,. . .'

However, most scholars analyse this passage in terms of double

motivation: the gods 'make a graceful song among mankind' by incit-
ing a singer.25) They also agree that the graceful song announced
here is the Odyssey itself.26) By connecting the Odyssey with the gods,
the Homeric narrator enhances its status and authority, and by hav-
ing Agamemnon, a hero of whom Odysseus says that 'his kleos is
now greatest under heaven' (9.264), predict the Odyssey, he height-
ens the effectiveness of this 'metaleptic' move.27)
There is one more passage, which, though phrased somewhat
differently, would appear to belong to this category of characters
referring to the Homeric poems (Od. 9.19-20):

"e??' ?d?se?? ?ae?t??d??, d? p?s? d????s??

?????p??s? ????, ?a? ?e? ????? ???a??? ??e?."
? am Odysseus, son of Laertes, object of interest to all men
because of my crafty designs, and my kleos reaches heaven.'

Odysseus is saying three things, and referring to three forms of kleos.

In the first place, he can rightly claim that his kleos reaches heaven,
since shortly before he was the subject of two songs by Demodocus.
In the second place, he will soon start recounting his adventures
on the way home, voicing his own klea in a manner very much like
that of a professional singer. But in my view it is not far-fetched

24) Scholars are divided as to who is the referent of oi: Penelope, Odysseus, or
both. For discussion (and older scholarship), see Edwards 1985, 90; Katz 1991,
20-9; and Goldhill 1991, 100. I opt for the traditional analysis, which takes Penelope
as the referent, accepting the consequence that at this point the Odysseyis seen as
primarily Penelope's (rather than Odysseus') song.
25) Cf. Russo, Fernandez-Galiano & Heubeck 1992, ad loe. Ford takes lines
196-7 as 'the gods will fashion a song for men on earth', but it seems more likely
that ?p????????s?? has a local sense (cf. the clearly parallel ?p' a????p??? in 201).
26) Cf. Finley 1978, 3; Thalmann 1984, 169; Edwards 1985, 90-1; Katz 1991,
27) Murnaghan 1987, 125; Goldhill 1991, 101; Danek 1998, 487.

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to take this passage also as a tribute which the Homeric narrator

indirectly pays to himself, since he after all includes in his own
poem both Demodocus' songs and Odysseus' travel-story: Odysseus
is famous, because he is the main character of the Odysseyl28)
Interestingly, this motif whereby characters foresee their future as
literary personages will be found again in Euripides Troades 1242-5,
where Hecuba says:

e? d? ?? ?e??
?st?e?e ta?? pe???a??? ??t? ??????,
afa?e?? a? d?te? ??? a? ?????e??e? a?
???sa?? ???da? d??te? ?st???? ???t??.
'And yet had not the gods turned the world upside down, we should
have acquired no significance, and should have remained unsung,
instead of giving themes of song for future generations.'

The allusion to the Homeric sentiment of Iliad 6.357-8 etc. is obvi-

ous, and Euripides' audience no doubt connected 'the future gen-
erations' with Homer, who indeed immortalized Hecuba and Troy.29)

4. The Achaean wall, or the (songs last longer than monuments9 motif

The counterparts of song as preservers of kleos are monuments,30)

primarily grave-mounds, as witness e.g. Odyssey 24.80-4:

"???a? ?a? ??????a t?????

?e?a?e? ???e??? ?e??? st?at?? a????t???
??t? ep? p??????s?, ?p? p?ate? ????sp??t?,

28) R?ter 1969, 254: "Indem Od. . . . sich selbst r?hmt, r?hmt er zugleich die
Odyssee und ihren Dichter, denn Dichtung und Dichter sind es ja, die seinen
Ruhm zum Himmel tragen. Der Dichter jedoch zugleich mit seinem Helden sich
selbst und sein Werk." Schadewaldt (1959, 80-1) and Taplin (1992, 88) also take
Iliad 2.325 (the kleos of the portent at Aulis will never die) as self-referential, to
my mind unconvincingly.
29) Other instances of the 'subject of song for future generations' motif are
found in Theognis 251-2; Euripides Alcestis 445-54, Supplices 1225, and Theocritus
Idyl 12.11; these do not, however, refer to (future) epic song or Homer. My col-
league from the French department, Dr. Jelle Koopmans, drew my attention to
an instance of the motif in Chansonde Roland 1466, where Roland exhorts Olivier
at the beginning of the batde: "Male chan?un n'en deit cantee" ('Let no unfavor-
able song be sung about it', sc. our behaviour in the batde).
30) I was inspired here by Ford (1992, 131-71), although I do not share his
conclusions (see n. 34). Cf. also the highly illuminating chapters four and five in

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?? ?e? t??efa??? ?? p??t?f?? ??d??s?? e??

t??? ?? ??? ?e??as? ?a? ?? ?et?p?s?e? ?s??ta?."
Ve piled up a grave mound that was both great and perfect,
on a jutting promontory there by the wide Hellespont,
so that it could be seen afar from out of the sea
by men now alive and those to be born in the future.'31)

Ideally, these future people not only see the grave-mound but also
recall the deeds of the man buried there, in the way wishfully
described by Hector (//. 7.84-91):

t?? d? ????? ?p? ??a? ??ss?????? ap?d?s?,

?f?? ? ta???s?s? ???? ??????te? '??a???,
s??? t? ?? ?e??s?? ?p? p?ate? ????sp??t?.
?a? p?t? t?? e?p?s? ?a? ???????? a????p??
??'? p???????d? p???? ?p? ????pa p??t??
a?d??? ??? t?de s??a p??a? ?atate????t??,
d? p?t* ???ste???ta ?at??ta?e fa?d???? "??t??.
?? p?t? t?? ???e?? t? d' ???? ????? ?? p?t' ??e?ta?.
'(if I win,) I will give back the body (of my opponent)
so that the long-haired Greeks may give him due burial
and heap a mound for him by the broad Hellespont.
And some day one of the men to come will say,
sailing in his many-benched ship on the wine-blue sea:
"This is the mound of a man who died long ago,
whom fighting bravely glorious Hector killed."
So he will speak some day, and my kleos will never die.'

Hector's imaginary speech of 'one of the men to come' bears a

striking resemblance to inscriptions on real graves, e.g.:

S??a t?de ?????da. ????p?? t??d' ??esa? "??e?

?a????e??? pa?? ?a?s?? ?p* ???????? ??a?s?
p????? ???ste???ta ?at? st????ssa? ??t??.
'This is the tomb of Arniadas. Gleaming-eyed Ares destroyed him

Ford 2002, where again I do not accept his conclusion on p. 116 that "Homer
does not draw explicit analogies (positive or negative) between the monumental-
izing of poetry and the tangible monument of stone or bronze"; although he writes
"explicit" analogies, he means in fact all analogies, also implicit ones. Crielaard
(2002, 249-56) also points at objects which in their 'biography' preserve the mem-
ory of heroes, e.g. Iphitus' bow {Od. 21.13-41); these passages, however, never con-
tain the key-word kleos.
31) Cf. also Od. 11.75-6 12.14-5; //. 7.84-91; 11.371-2; 16.456-7.

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as he fought by the ships at the stream of Arathus,

excelling gready in the baleful clamor of batde.'32)

On account of this resemblance, I called Iliad 7.89-90 an 'oral epi-

taph'.33) Although it derives from a passer-by and not a poet, it is

likely that his memory is fed by epic poetry. Indeed, the combina-
tion 'glorious Hector' is one of the standard ways in which Hector
is referred to in the Iliad. Thus the suggestion is that poems are an

important, indeed an indispensable companion to physical monuments.

Later poets will turn this cooperation between monument and

song into a rivalry between the two immortalizing media, which is

won by song, e.g., Pindar Pythian 6.7-14:

. . . ?t????? ????? ??sa???? ?? p??????s?

'?p???????: tete???sta? ??pa
t?? ??te ?e??????? d?????, ?pa?t?? ????? ????????? ?ef??a?
st?at?? ??e??????, ??t' ??e??? ?? ??????
???? ????s? pa?f??? ?e??de?
'. . . a treasure house of victory songs has been built in Apollo's val-
ley rich in gold, one which neither winter rain, coming from a loudly
rumbling cloud as a harsh army, nor wind shall buffet and with their
deluge of silt carry into the depths of the sea.'

While monuments can be destroyed by the elements, songs are

Is the same opposition already present in Homer? I think it is.
For this we must turn to the long external prolepsis in which the
narrator describes the fate of the wall around the Greek ships after
the fall of Troy (//. 12.17-30):

(when the Greeks had left,)

d? t?te ??t????t? ??se?d??? ?a? '?p?????
te???? ??a?d??a? p?ta??? ????? e?sa?a???te?.
dss?? ?p' ?da??? ????? ??a d? p??????s?,

32) Corcyra, end of the sixth century BC. Quoted in Peek 1955, 25.
33) De Jong 1987a, 77-8. See also Scodel 1992, 58-9, who speaks of an 'anti-
epitaph' (in that Hector rather than the man buried is praised). She suggests that
in Homer's time real epitaphs already existed but that Homer, wanting to depict
a pre-literate heroic society, instead inserted this oral pendant.

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'??s?? ?' ?pt?p???? te ????s?? te '??d??? te 20

G??????? te ?a? ??s?p?? d??? te S???a?d???
?a? S???e??, d?? p???? ??????a ?a? t??f??e?a?
??ppes?? ?? ?????s? ?a? ??????? ????? a?d???
t?? p??t?? ???se st??at' et?ape F????? '?p?????,
?????a? d' ?? te???? ?e? ???? ?e d' ??a ?e?? 25
s??e???, df?? ?e ??ss?? ???p??a te??ea ?e??.
a?t?? d' ????s??a??? ???? ?e??ess? t??a??a?
??e?t', ?? d' ??a p??ta ?e?e???a ???as? p??pe
f?t??? ?a? ????, ta ??sa? ??????te? '??a???,
?e?a d' ?p???se? pa?' ???????? ????sp??t??,... 30
'then Poseidon and Apollo planned
to wreck the wall, letting loose the strength of rivers upon it,
all the rivers that run to the sea from the mountains of Ida,
Rhesus, Heptaporus, Karesus, Rhodius,
Granicus, Aesopus, holy Scamander,
and Simoeis, where many ox-hide shields and helmets
and a race of semi-divine men had fallen in the dust.
Phoebus Apollo turned the mouths of all these waters together
and nine days long hurled the flood against the wall. And Zeus rained
incessandy, to wash the wall the sooner into the sea.
And the shaker of the earth himself holding in his hand the trident
guided them, and hurled into the waves all the foundations
of logs and stones that the toiling Greeks had set into position,
and made all smooth again beside the strong-flowing Hellespont,. . .'

What happens here is what Pindar said in Pythian 6 would never

happen to the 'treasure house' of his song: a monument is destroyed
by rain and waves and carried to the sea, leaving behind no trace
in the landscape. And although, characteristically, the Homeric nar-
rator does not spell it out, the message is, I think, clear: no trace
of the Achaean wall remains, and its memory survives solely as a
result of his song, which describes its construction in book 7 and
the fierce battle around it in book 15.34) We could even go a step

34) There are many other interpretations of the significance of this unique
excurse on the destruction of the wall: 1) according to Aristotie and many schol-
ars in his wake, the poet removed what he had created himself, so as to prevent
his hearers from going and looking for the wall of which there was no trace; 2)
Scodel (1982) compares the passage to Flood-myths, and suggest that the wall puts
the Trojan war into a remote past and marks the end of the era of the heroes;
3) Ford (1992, 147-57) takes the wall to represent the Iliad and suggests that Homer
resisted the idea of fixation of his text through writing and showed via the destruc-
tion of the wall that such fixation does not work.

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further and say that without the Iliad, not only the memory of the
wall, but that of the martial exploits of the race of semi-divine men
at Troy (symbolized in the above passage by their ox-hide shields
and helmets) would have been lost. As Reinhardt
puts it: "Was
Poseidon verrichtet, ist das Werk der ewigen Natur. Das Menschen-
werk geht unter im Ewigen. Das Grosse, das geschah, lebt nur noch
im Gedicht."35)
A later fellow poet, Propertius, will spell out what the Homeric
narrator leaves implicit (Elegy 3.1.25-34):

Nam quis equo pulsas abiegno nosceret arces 25

fluminaque Haemonio comminus isse viro,
Idaeum Simoenta, Iovis cunabula parui,
Hectora per campos ter masculasse rotas?
Deiphobumque Helenumque et Polydamantis in armis
qualemcumque Parim vix sua nosset humus. 30
Exiguo sermone fores nunc, Ilion, et tu
Troia bis Oetaei numine capta dei.
Nec non ille tui casus memorator Homerus
posteritate suum crescere sensit opus.
'For who would know the fortress battered by the firwood horse, the
rivers that fought in combat with Thessaly's hero, Simoeis together
with Jove's offspring Scamander, and the chariot that thrice befouled
Hector's body on the plain? And Deiphobus and Helenus and Paris
in Polydamas' armour, sorry figure though he cut, their own coun-
try would scarcely know about. Ilion, you would now be litde talked
of, as you too, Troy, twice taken by the power of Oeta's god. Homer
also, the chronicler of your fate, has found his reputation grow with
the passage of time.'36)

Propertius' remark about Homer's own 'reputation growing with

the passage of time' brings me to my last point.

35) Reinhardt 1961, 267-9, quotation from 269. Taplin (1992, 140) adds: "Poetry
is imperishable, provided that?unlike the wall?it has attracted divine favour. The
poet prompts the thought that it is significant that the gods have not obliterated
the Iliad!"
36) Propertius' poem forms part of a series of passages which suggest that the
kleos of the Homeric heroes is entirely due to Homer: cf. Pindar Nemean 7.20-33;
Theocritus 16.51-7; 22.218-20.

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5. Immortal kleos of Homeric poems?

Does the Homeric narrator even foresee for himself and his poems
the kind of immortal kleos which later poets claim, most famously
Horace in Ode 3.30.1-7 (? have finished a monument more lasting
than bronze ... I shall not wholly die, and a large part of me will
elude the Goddess of death')?37) In the past most scholars would
have answered 'no' (see my note 2), and recently Ford has reiterated
this position:

Often without thinking we assume that Homer would have ended his
dictation or writing with the same feeling as Horace, when he penned
the epilogue to three books of odes. . . Yet I do not see much trace
of such an attitude in Homer. . .To assume that the availability of
writing would have automatically brought with it expectations of
Horatian perfection and enduringness may be a no less apocalyptic
fantasy than the notion of a 'literate revolution' in which the tech-
nology of the alphabet instantaneously transformed thought and

The suggestion is thatideas of poetic immortality only come with

the introduction of writing, and even then only slowly, just as?or
perhaps because?notions of authorial consciousness and of text as
a fixed unity only develop together with writing. In my view, here?
as in many other respects?too sharp a distinction is drawn between
oral and written texts.39)
Let us take up things one by one. It has been suggested that
even an oral Homeric narrator may have conceived of his own nar-
rative as a text: "Construction of an
architecturally accomplished
poem on that scale . . . implies some impressive?probably life-long?
degree of premeditation and planning, a sense of text, and suggests
something which in principle is capable of being repeated. Such a
construction does not necessitate the use of writing."40) Next, it has

37) For an overview of such claims (mainly from the side of Roman poets), see
Stroh 1971.
38) Ford 1992, 135-6 and again in Ford 2003, 19: "I shall argue that it is
significant that only very late in the fifth century we find songs being approached,
studied, and enjoyed in the form of texts?fixed and isolated verbal constructs
demanding a special form of appreciation and analysis".
39) Despite the fact that the volume in which Ford's 2003 paper appeared
argues against such a strict dichotomy. Cf. Yunis 2003, esp. 10: "Oral and writ-
ten phenomena are found mixed in complicated, unpredictable ways".
40) Dowden 1996, 48.

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been claimed that even in the case of oral poetry there must have
been such a thing as re-performance:

There is every reason to suppose not merely that all the archaic and
early classical poetry that survived into the Hellenistic age was orig-
inally performed orally . . ., but that most of it was often re-performed
subsequent to the first production. Otherwise, what would be the
point of the poet's universal claim, from Homer to Pindar, that they
conferred lasting and widespread glory, kleos, on the subjects of their

This claim is actually backed up by a passage in the Odyssey itself

(8.492-3, Odysseus is addressing Demodocus):

"???' ??e d? ?et????? ?a? ?pp?? ??s??? ?e?s??

'But change subject and sing the ?cosmosof the Wooden Horse'

If we follow those take ??s??? to refer not to the con-

scholars who
struction of the Wooden (which, after all, is not described
Horse in
the ensuing song), but to the well-constructed song about the Wooden
Horse,42) then what we have here is Odysseus asking for a pre-exist-
ing song, is re-performed
which by Demodocus in what follows.43)
Assuming that the Homeric narrator thinks of his own poems as
texts and is familiar with the phenomenon of re-performance, he
may also be expected to foresee immortal kleos for his poems. Entirely
in character, he does not voice this idea himself, but puts it into
the mouth of one of his central characters, Achilles (77. 9.412-6):

"e? ??? ?' a??? ????? ????? p???? ??f??????a?,

??et? ??? ??? ??st??, ?t?? ????? ?f??t?? esta?-
e? d? ?e? ?'??ad' ????? f???? e? pat??da ?a?a?,
??et? ??? ????? ?s????, ?p? d???? d? ??? a???
'if I stay here and fight round the city of the Trojans,
my return home is gone, but my kleos shall be everlasting;
if I return home to my dear native land,
my great kleos is gone, but my life will be long . . .'

41) Herington 1985, 50.

42) So Latacz 1991, 383-7; Finkeiberg 1998, 126; and N?nlist 1998, 90-1, who
lists older literature. The IfgrE s.v. gives both interpretations.
43) In De Jong 2004 it is argued that lines like 8.492-3 (and cf. Od. 1.326-7 or
8.267) function as a kind of 'tides' for existent poems.

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Achilles does not specify that his everlasting kleos is due to his appear-
ing in poetry, and in his commentary Griffin writes: "Do we really
believe that Achilles, at such a moment, is presented as talking
about himself as a literary figure?"44) He is clearly sceptical. I myself
am more inclined to answer this question with a 'yes', on the basis
of the self-referential passages discussed in section 3. An appealing
analysis of what is going on in these Unes is given by Edwards:

The narrative ... of how Achilles does remain to fight at Troy, a

choice entailing death but bringing kleos, is in fact the story which
the Iliad recounts. That is, the kleos... which the Iliad promises Achilles
is virtually identical with the contents of the Iliad as narrative. In
effect, the Iliad, a tale which could not have existed had Achilles
returned home, predicts itself here.45)

Indeed, not only is the Iliad announced, its immortality is also pro-
claimed. If Achilles is promised immortality, this can only be because
the Homeric narrator foresees immortality for his own poem, along
the lines later set out explicitly by Virgil (A. 9.446-7):

si quid mea carmina possunt,

nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo . . .
'If my verses have any power,
no day shall ever blot you [Nisus and Euryalus] from the memory
of time, . . .'

If we want to understand how the Homeric narrator can foresee

immortality, we must return once more to the Muses. Just as gods
are immortal, their products are immortal; enlisting the Muses at
the moment of the creation of his poems, the narrator thereby also
ensures their lasting existence.


In this paper I have set out to modify the picture of a modest

Homer which, though not new, has recently been painted with
renewed vigour by Andrew Ford. I have argued that the Homeric

44) Griffin 1995, ad 9.412-3. He is in fact reacting to the thesis that ????? ?f??-
t?? would be an Indo-European technical terminus for kleos bestowed by poetry;
for a summary of the discussion on this thesis, see Olson 1995, 224-7.
45) Edwards 1985, 78.

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narrator indirectly promotes his own person and poems via the
Muses, suggests that poetry, including his own, can itself attain that
most coveted heroic asset kleos, makes his own anticipated work
his heroes, and hints that while monuments are subject to the ravages
of time, his poems, made with divine assistance, are indestructible,
indeed themselves partake in and thereby confer immortal kleos.


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