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Bardic Performance and Oral Tradition in Homer

Author(s): Ruth Scodel


Source: The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 119, No. 2 (Summer, 1998), pp. 171-194
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1562083
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BARDIC PERFORMANCE
AND ORAL TRADITION IN HOMER

Ruth Scodel

As homeric epic represents epic performance, song


from the narrative performances of characters who are
despite its traditional content, does not depend on ora
its transmission, and singers, although members of th
request or object to a particular song, do not adapt the
for individual audiences. Much recent Homeric scholar
minimizes differences between bardic and other narra
Odysseus as epic poet and Demodocus or Phemius as
Odysseus. This scholarship is not misguided or wrong.
identifies with his hero, and when the narrator's point of v
that of Achilles or Odysseus, the distinction between ch
may blur.1 Narratologically, there are many useful simi
bardic and other narratives, and naturally scholars try t
Still, in emphasizing these aspects of Homeric poetics, w
forget others. This danger is particularly strong where sch
liberately ignored or deconstructed the distinctions Hom
order to make visible those elements in the Homeric, li
that represent possible historical relationships among pe
traditions, and their audiences.3 These distinctions, pr

!Martin 1989; Rose 1992, 114-16. It should be remembered, thoug


tification is far from complete?for example, the Iliad identifies its p
Zeus, which does not fulfill Achilles' expectations.
2Doherty (1995, 70-71) explicitly defends her use of speeches "w
elsewhere identified as a theme for epic song" in examining interna
thoughtful and perceptive as his essays are (1983, 1992), avoids the prob
sentation within epic of nonepic tradition. E.g.: "the glory of heroi
through song" (1983, 205)?but the "only" is clearly not true, even t
privileged medium for glory.
3Svenbro (1976,16-35), Olson (1995,1-23), and Ford (1992, 91-129
ways bring out the "realities" that Homer avoids: Svenbro emphasizes
son oral tradition, and Ford competition among bards.
American Journal of Philology 119 (1998) 171-194 ? 1998 by The Johns Hopkins University Pres

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172 RUTH SCODEL

they are fragile, define the s


self, and when we too rapidly
epic sees itself.
To be sure, both bardic per
fully successful, enchant the
alized bards of the epic are p
so that Eumaeus compares O
enthralling (17.518-21). Odys
twice by characters?Eumae
by the poet, at 21.406-9, whe
a bard who strings a lyre. Th
between Odysseus and bard,
death instead of entertainme
praise of Odysseus as bardl
11.364), is perhaps undercut b
the contrary, and by his many
though Odysseus is indeed ba
sons themselves indicate that
storytellers cannot be taken fo
There are two important d
narratives. First, in the world
derives its authority either fro
port, whereas epic performe
depend on ordinary sources.
results in only one significant
tives and those of less authoritative characters: the bard's freedom to re?
port the doings of the gods. Nonetheless, the Homeric narrator insists
on it. Second, narrative outside the frame of epic performance normally
either answers a request for information or serves an explicit paradig-
matic function. It is occasional and specifically motivated, serving a spe-
cific communicative need within the social relationship of speaker and
hearer(s). Bardic narrative, by contrast, ordinarily does not seek to ma?
nipulate its audience; it is essentially disinterested. Although the bard's
song may have special significance for the audience, or some members
of the audience, on a particular occasion, the singer does not intend
these effects. Audiences without a personal connection to the bard's

4On the importance of the feast see Seaford 1994, 53-65; Said 1979.
5Goldhill 1991, 47-48.

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BARDIC PERFORMANCE IN HOMER 173

subject simply enjoy the song, although hearers


touched may be deeply moved; in contrast, since
takes place within an affective relationship, even a
nection to the events may express pity.
These two distinctions are closely related. Nar
represents it may be seen as a continuum. At one
performances, based on information provided by t
meaningful far beyond their immediate contexts, but
content not specific to particular occasions, even i
song has been requested by a member of the audie
treme are the false tales that have in the past de
Eumaeus (14.379-85), invented stories that served
those who told them. In between are the lying ta
the various paradigmatic and autobiographical tales
ics, which their narrators have acquired from pe
oral tradition and adapted to their immediate nee
tives may be truthful, vivid, and entertaining, but
reliably so, because they are undistorted by the
speaker on a particular occasion. In the implicit po
are independent of their performance context.
Andrew Ford has stressed how Homeric represe
suppress the real process of transmission, even as
the oral tradition as it is created.6 When the ambassadors find Achilles
singing the x^ea avbgdbv at Iliad 9.186-89, the poet expands by narrat
ing how he acquired his lyre, not by describing how he learned to use it.
Phemius, in particular, boasts of being ax>To5i5axTOc;, even though h
patronymic Terpiades (22.330) hints that his father was also a bard; it
a god who has planted all kinds of songs in his mind (22.347-48).7 N
where does the narrator or any character acknowledge that bards lear
their repertory from other bards, and, indeed, the proem to the Cat
logue of Ships sharply distinguishes the actual knowledge of the Muse

*Ford 1992, 90-130.


7Heubeck ad loc. denies that auxodidaxTog really means "self-taught," on the od
ground that Odysseus, who had no teachers himself, would be unimpressed. He argue
that Phemius claims exactly what I argue Homer suppresses, "an innate capacity to app
the traditional repertory of inherited poetic craft to the particular case relevant to the au
dience of the moment." Would such a claim not make Odysseus likelier to kill him, as
has just killed the priest who, he insists (22.321-25), has doubtless prayed for Odysseu
death?

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174 RUTH SCODEL

which the poet asks them to t


report available without them
l'5ji8v (2.486). He thereby den
Scholars, though, have not oft
Iliad and Odyssey identify the
acter-narrators.9 Many, of cou
ence and so do not require exte
in the Apologos and in his lyi
Nestor, Menelaus, and Helen in
chus. Nestor's narratives in th
those of another.
Contrast nonautobiographical narratives. In the Iliad, when Phoe-
nix tells the story of Meleager, he first speaks of having "heard" (ekev-
06p,e0a, 9.524) of how earlier heroes were placated with gifts. The first
person plural marks the shared transmission. When he tells the story of
Meleager in some detail, however, he seems to claim some personal
knowledge: |i?|ivri|iai x65e e^yov ^Y^ rcotXm, ov xi veov ye ("I remem-
ber this event from long ago?it is certainly not recent," 9.527). Pisistra-
tus defers to Menelaus' personal knowledge of Antilochus' excellence
to confirm what people say, since he himself did not know his older
brother (Od. 4.200-202). Agamemnon tries to rouse Diomedes by in-
sisting that Tydeus was always among the forefighters:

obg (j)doav oi' luv i'&ovxo jtoveuLievov ov yao eyooye


fjvxrjo' oi)&e i&ov jteoi 6' aXXoov (j)aoi yeveoBai. (4.374-75)
So they said who saw him in action. For I never met him or saw him. But
they say that he was superior to others.

When Diomedes himself cites his father's might as the basis of his own
authority at 14.110-27, he recites his genealogy, following his assertion
that Tydeus was the best spearfighter among the Achaeans with the
words xa 5e |ieMex' axouejiev, el exeov tceq ("You surely know whether
it is true," 14.125). Athena, in contrast, speaks about Tydeus to Diome?
des without any such allusions to tradition, since she was personally in?
volved (5.800-808).

8Pucci (1980, esp. 180-81) analyzes the anxieties revealed by the invocation.
901son (1995) discusses oral tradition in the Odyssey, with especially good com?
ments on how narrators establish authority (1-23).

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BARDIC PERFORMANCE IN HOMER 175

Reciters of genealogies often stress the likelihoo


is already familiar with the information. Glaucus a
to Diomedes, jtoXAoi 5e (iiv avbgec, I'oaoiv ("And m
6.151). While this may be intended snidely, as a hi
ought to know Glaucus' ancestry as weil as others
calls it a "veiled insult"?the parallels show that Gla
insisting that the genealogy is accurate, since it is w
neas insists that he and Achilles know each others
report:

i&^iev 6' dXXr]X(DV yevef|v, i&|xev &e xoxfjag,


jtpoxX/ux' dxouovxeg ejtea Ovrjxoov dvOQobjtoov
oipei 6' oik' dp Jtoo ov e^iouc; i'&eg oik' dp' eycb oovq.
(j)aoi oe jxev ITnXfjoc; d^iu^iovoc; exyovov eivai... (20.203-6)
We know each others' ancestry, we know each others' parents, since we
hear the famed tales of mortal men, though you have never seen mine
with your eyes, nor I yours. They say you are the offspring of blameless
Peleus...

Like Agamemnon, Aeneas here lays an apparently superf


sis on his never having seen the addressee's parents. Aster
to report for his parentage itself: the River Axius begat "f
gon, xov 5' 8jie (|>aoi yeivao0ai ("and they say he begat me
Flyting can take the form of denying the plausibility of
iar genealogical information. Tlepolemus claims that Sarpe
behave like a son of Zeus:

apeu&o^evoi oe oe (j)aoi Aiog yovov aiyioxoio


eivai, ejtei noXXbv xeivoov em&etieai avbocbv
oi Aiog e^eyevovxo em jtQoxeQoov dv0QO)Jta)v. (5.635-37)
They lie when they say that you are the child of aegis-carrying Zeus,
since you are far inferior to those heroes who were born of Zeus in the
time of earlier people.

His example of such a hero is, naturally, his own father, Heracles?dXA'
olov tivd c))aoi |3iT]v 'HQaxXeir]v I eivai ("but such as they say mighty
Heracles was," 5.638-39)?and specifically Heracles' sack of Troy. Sar-

10Martin 1989, 128.

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176 RUTH SCODEL

pedon, though, counters by s


Troy only because Laomedon
cles after Heracles had bene
formed about Trojan history,
as Tlepolemus argued against h
To be sure, not every citatio
footnotes the oral tradition. Idomeneus states his descent from Zeus
through Minos and Deucalion as simple fact at 13.459-53. Diom
knows the story of Aeneas' horses?that Zeus gave horses to Tr
recompense for Ganymede, that Anchises secretly bred his mares
Laomedon's stallions, that he bred six horses, and kept four (pres
ably as breeding stock), giving two to Aeneas (5.265-73). Perhaps h
does not give the source of this knowledge precisely because it is m
precise than oral tradition might be expected to convey. Similarly
13.374-82 Idomeneus knows all about Orthryoneus' promise to dri
the Achaeans from Troy in return for Cassandra, even though Orth
neus has only recently come (13.364). Evidently the poet is not attem
ing to depict the working of gossip and story realistically. Home
speakers refer explicitly to oral tradition as a source of knowledge
when the reference is rhetorically useful. In the Odyssey Nestor kn
about the suitors from the oral tradition but does not mention them un?
til Telemachus does (3.211-13); his (partial) knowledge allows him to ask
why Telemachus has allowed this situation to come about, and to sug?
gest that he could change it. Athena-Mentes and Nestor both tell Te?
lemachus that he must already have heard about Orestes' killing of
Aegisthus (1.298-99, 3.193-94), because the paradigm is all the more ef?
fective that way. Orestes has won fame by taking vengeance?fame that
has reached even faraway Ithaca.
This oral tradition is clearly not the same as the epic tradition it?
self.11 When Glaucus recites his genealogy to Diomedes, although as
an epic character his narrative is epic performance, and although it is
clearly an oral performance within the mimetic world, it is not, within
the mimetic world, epic performance. Indeed, since such verbal perfor-
mances are genres of discourse, the audience must have recognized

nNagy (1974, 248) calls kleos "the formal word" for epic song. To be sure, nXia
dvdgwv is the regular term for the contents of heroic song; but epic performance is not
the only medium for kleos. Similarly, Nagy (1979, 271) identifies the oral tradition with po?
etry, connecting the "I did not myself see" topos with the theme of the blind poet.

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BARDIC PERFORMANCE IN HOMER 177

them as epic adaptations of independent forms.12


sing about his ancestors. Sometimes genealogical re
performances at all: Nestor describes how Peleus a
genealogies and parentage of all the Argives, Jtdvxo
yever|v xe xoxov xe (7.128). Nestor mentions the incide
netic speech, trying to rouse the leaders by implyin
sustaining the expectations their genealogies raise.
tion he describes, however, he and Peleus are critic
Argives, not contestants. In the world depicted with
ems, the transmission of oral tradition outside poet
part perfectly straightforward. It originates in recitals
rience; Nestor, as a very old man, is especially suit
truth of genealogies. This information then becom
edge, and survives as long as people are interested i
Not all features of this oral tradition are natura
Diomedes can learn of his father's deeds not only f
received them through oral tradition, but also from
can describe the final fate of the Lesser Ajax beca
from Proteus (Od. 4.499-511), even though Ajax dr
man witnesses. Odysseus provides a vast treasure of
mation through his conversations with the heroine
underworld (Od. 11.229-327). Furthermore, autobio
tends to drift into omniscience. This is most cons
of Odysseus.13 He reports speeches he did not hear
although they could have been repeated to him lat
graphic comments on the Cyclopes and Laestrygon
what he and his men could have learned during th
ways, he comes close to the main narrator. Howev
unique. When Achilles recounts his quarrel with A
mother, he follows an abbreviated version of the main
ing the feelings of Chryses and Agamemnon (//. 1.3
les does not exceed the possible limits of inference,
authority.14 Nor is the phenomenon confined to the m
roes, with whom the poet perhaps identifies. Eum
was enslaved stretches the limits of first-person aut

!2Martin 1989, 42-47.


13Suerbaum 1968.
14De Jong 1985.

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178 RUTH SCODEL

tive, since it reports more tha


stand, and in any case provides
he was not present (15.390-484
the limits of first-person narr
thereby unreliable.
The Muses are therefore onl
beyond that naturalistically av
matically superior to others, d
the Catalogue of Ships (//. 2.4
oral tradition, with the full k
Demodocus for singing about ev
them, or had heard them (from
Q8(bv r\ dXAou dxouoac; (Od.
from the Muse or Apollo (8.48
bards would do as well, so tha
the gods' love for a particular
any case, even Demodocus' kno
is perhaps not surprising that
knowledge as a standard for ev
standard even includes a rendi
riority of nonpoetic oral tradi
transmission is very close, may
ment of xXiog. The oral tradi
more remote than even a seco
the Odyssey and its audience. I
the nonmimetic world of Hom
through the Muses is better. Bar
unmediated and independent a
edge. Odysseus' praise, after a
can replace human knowledge.
Furthermore, both Odysseu
29) and the Iliad-poet (II. 2.488
logue of heroes or heroines is
forming bard, though, the Mu
always present; only the indiv
in contrast, is a mortal. Those
be lost to memory in the oral t

15Ford (1992, 67-87) discusses the p

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BARDIC PERFORMANCE IN HOMER 179

the individual performer, on each occasion, is imag


from the entire memory of the Muses, rather than
which has inevitably already winnowed what any i
and learn.
The gap between bardic knowledge and oral tradition is remark-
able. Not only do poets not learn from other poets, they do not learn
from anyone, except the gods.16 Nonetheless, performers within the
mimetic world, although their information comes from the gods, do not
actually stray beyond what oral tradition could plausibly tell them about
human affairs. Nobody asks Phemius to report on the whereabouts of
Odysseus. Demodocus can sing about Odysseus' deeds at Troy, which
took place in the presence of the army, but he has evidently not sung
Odysseus' post-Trojan adventures. Of course, the Ithacan books could
hardly exist if the Muse would tell Phemius Odysseus' location, and the
Apologos would be silly if the Phaeacians had heard all this material be?
fore. Still, there is a practical reality here. The Homeric bard is not clair-
voyant. It may not be a meaningless formulaic variation that Hesiod
claims that the Muses gave him song iva xA,eioi^u xd x' eooo^ieva jtqo x'
eovxa ("so that I might make famous things to be and things past,"
Theog. 32), omitting the present. The present is not open to bardic
intrusion.
The singers do not know anything others might not also know,
with one important exception: they know events on Olympus in detail.
Demodocus can sing about events at which only gods were present, just
as the great epics themselves regularly present Olympian scenes. By
contrast, though Odysseus slips into omniscience at various points in
the Apologos, he is generally careful not to show excessive knowledge
of divine matters: he explains that Calypso told him Helius' complaint
to Zeus (12.374-90, esp. 389-90). Usually, he follows the standard rules
that govern human speech about the gods.17 We can perhaps assume
that Ariadne would have been able to guess and so tell Odysseus of the
mysterious role of Dionysus in her death (11.324-25), just as Achilles
can assume that Apollo has caused the plague at Iliad 1.64, and the
Calydonian boar shows that Artemis is angry in the Meleager story
(535-40). Agamemnon's speech of apology at Iliad 19.78-144 tests the

16Finkelberg (1990) argues that the Muses allow more creativity to the individual
performer than is permitted in South Slavic epic, where only the tradition sanctions con-
tents.

17J6rgensen 1904 is the standard analysis of these rules.

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180 RUTH SCODEL

limits of a mortal speaker. Tel


Heracles, Agamemnon include
story is treated as so familiar
ity for telling it.19 However, h
by asserting unusual narrative p
a situation that threatens his pr
The representations of bard
largely a mystification, but a
fied account, we would say th
the Olympian level, which is
other than bards (the underwo
cisely because oral tradition d
part played by divine powers,
tals can infer their involvement
dition when singing about th
bards recount those stories th
never overtly acknowledges an
song.
This fiction is related to the
rative: its disinterestedness. M
directed: most often, narrator
Odysseus' lies are blatantly m
Battlefield genealogies seek to
appropriate behavior. Althoug
ment, as do the narratives M
4.234-89), even such narrative
Menelaus ostensibly speak in o
his son, but Helen's tale is self
self-justification. At the extre
Odysseus' story to Eumaeus ab
request for an extra blanket t
maeus' hospitality (14.459-506
Narrators who do not tell th
late their audiences are typical

18Page (1959, 313) heaps scorn on th


ments at our feet").
192 bT on 101 already has this expla

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BARDIC PERFORMANCE IN HOMER 181

for information?or at least to what they believe ar


quests for information. Telemachus asks Nestor a
his father, and indeed uses an elaborate formula o
101 = 326-31); their stories answer this request, an
inely useful information for Telemachus. The or
pends on what is useful for particular individuals.
to curiosity about the teller come closest to bardic
logos responds to Alcinous' direct request to Odyss
self, so that he can be taken home (8.550-56); to t
travels and those he met wandering (572-76); and t
wept at songs about Troy (577-86). One motive for
biography is therefore completely practical, while
curiosity: Alcinous expects the narrative to expla
havior. The length of the narrative is thus justified b
request. Odysseus' narrative is, in any case, gently
voice is distinct from that of the external narra
more given to explicit judgment.20 He begins by i
for refusing to marry Nausicaa by celebrating the
place, and stressing how he rejected two goddesse
courages the Phaeacians to avoid being bad hosts by
He flatters Arete by giving considerable time to ca
in the underworld.22 On the other hand, the cen
external narrator obviously endorses, and the Ph
too?they have already promised Odysseus his retu
tale. Also, allusions to various details scattered thr
prove that Odysseus is a reliable narrator. The na
very successful, since Arete urges that the Phaea
send him away, and that he receive more gifts, sin
a guest-friend, and is in need, oiixco xqt^ovxi (11
When Alcinous endorses this proposal, Odysseu
for as long as a year, if this would mean receiving m
This frank greed is unbardlike, yet it is to this rema
acts when he praises Odysseus and compares him t

20De Jong 1992.


21Most 1989.

22See Doherty 1995, 93-99.

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182 RUTH SCODEL

d) 'OSuoeii, xd fiev oi3 xi o' eiox


f|jr8QOjrf]d x' ejxev xai emxXo:n
poaxei yata piXaiva nokvonEQ
tyEvbEa x' doxuvovxac;, 60ev xe
ooi 6' em fxev |j,oq(()T] ejrecav, e
lauGov 6' cbc; 6x' doiSdc; e
Odysseus, in no way as we look
ster and a cheat, as the black
the world and invent lies whose source one could not find at all. But the
proper form of words lies upon you, and a good mind is within, and you
have told your tale through competently, like a bard.

Odysseus is bardlike because his tale is arranged artistically rather than


with a view to persuasion. Alcinous may be understood to have taken
Odysseus' remarks as ironic: in offering to remain for a year for th
sake of gain, Odysseus has implied that the audience's request that h
wait puts him in the position of a begging storyteller, someone who
might tell lies for profit. By comparing him to a bard, and simultane
ously asking him to talk about his companions from Troy (11.371-72),
Alcinous insists that he does not place Odysseus in this category.
Similarly, Odysseus asks Eumaeus to tell the story of how he was
enslaved (15.381-88), and Eumaeus agrees, since he has been asked, th
night is long, and people enjoy speaking even of their troubles, whe
these are over (15.390-402). Odysseus first asks about his own parents;
he knows that his mother is dead, but we can assume that he genuinely
wants information about his father, and asks about both for verisimil
tude. Eumaeus' reply makes it clear that he grew up in the household,
so again Odysseus' disguise makes his questioning verisimilar. He could
be expected to be curious about his interlocutor, as Alcinous is, and he
introduces his request for more information by showing himself move
by the pathos of Eumaeus' early separation from his home and parent
(Od. 15.381-82). Odysseus surely knows the story already, but elabo-
rately affects ignorance, asking whether Eumaeus' city was sacked, or
whether he was captured in a cattle raid (Od. 15.381-88). After Eu
maeus tells his story, he acknowledges Eumaeus' misfortune and ex-
presses sympathy, using the same formulae Eumaeus used in respons
to his own (false) story (14.361-62 are almost identical to 15.486-87).
Yet he claims that Eumaeus' story has a relatively happy ending, whil
his own condition is worse (15.491-92): there is an implicit competition

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BARDIC PERFORMANCE IN HOMER 183

in pathetic storytelling, a competition that only makes


winner is entitled to the most pity.
Such interest in the narrator is foreign to poetic na
performances, audiences either feel unalloyed ple
cians), or feel pain because they feel personally invol
nelope). Some critics have thought that the Phaeacia
sponse to epic is peculiar to this exceptionally privile
Yet the speech in which Telemachus rebukes his moth
with Phemius' performance would seem to indicate
enjoyment is the norm: the bard must be allowed to d
as his mind directs him (xeQjteiv, 1.347). Telemachu
minded of his father at 4.185, so he is not insensib
He can speak as he does because delight and perform
linked. Nobody shows the slightest curiosity about
selves, apart from their professional function, and the b
in order to achieve immediate personal ends. Achilles
only for his own pleasure (//. 9.189-91); Patroclus w
him to finish, but is not said to be listening. Nobody in
nonpoetic narrative to himself or herself for pleasur
Penelope, who tells the story of the daughters of Pan
ing to Artemis at Od. 20.66-78.)
To be sure, all songs potentially serve the cause o
simply by reminding their hearers that their action
bered and judged. Penelope tells the disguised Odyss
treats him will affect her reputation in oral tradit
Agamemnon and Hector both assume that how one
the future will view one's actions should influence what one does: it will
be shameful for them to hear that the Achaeans failed to take Troy
(//. 2.119), and Hector hopes before dying to achieve a deed that will be
worthy of remembrance (22.305). Song is the most powerful form of
memory. Agamemnon left his wife in the care of a bard, probably be?
cause she would be deterred from wrongdoing by the constant reminder
that human actions, good and bad, are remembered in song (Od. 3.267-
68).24 Indeed, Clytemnestra, according to the dead Agamemnon, will be

23 Cf. Walsh 1984,1-6.


24Kraus (1955, 69) suggests that the bard would protect the queen through his
power to relieve anxiety; Marg (1956, 38) seems to suggest that the bard's frequent visits

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184 RUTH SCODEL

the subject of "hateful song"


the gods will create a lovely so
however, do not serve immedi
This is quite clear in the c
Troy, for the topic is remote fr
tween Odysseus and Achilles
which Demodocus sings it, but
this point, the Odyssey has no
this aspect of his character w
Laodamas (8.152-57), and the e
also prepares for the thematic
and Odysseus as candidates fo
of the Odyssey as candidate fo
Nekyuia will develop.25 The
preciate these resonances. Dem
tainly is performed in respons
pare the audience for Odysseu
needs, however, precisely bec
purpose of praising a known
his praise of Odysseus therefore
Phemius sings among the
Achaeans:

6 6' 'Axcxuov vooxov deiSe / Xuyoov, ov ex Tooinc; ejrexetXaxo IlaXX


5A9r|VTi. (Od. 1,326-27)
He sang the unhappy return o
joined when they came from Tr

make him intimate with the househo


Page (1972) sees the bard's role as a reli
priest and wise man. Svenbro (1976, 3
himself; Clay (1994, 41-42) suggests a
to the Odyssey itself. West (in Heube
sibility that the doidog is a eunuch
norms, whereas Anderson (1992) argu
dards and that the bard's death marks
25This contrast is the subject of Edw
26Ahl and Roisman (1996, 74-75, 81
nized Odysseus, but I find coincidenc
meaningful.

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BARDIC PERFORMANCE IN HOMER 185

Svenbro has argued that Phemius has selected this t


suitors, and that indeed the "real" subject is the de
One may weil guess that the topic would please the
point needs careful qualification. Since the song na
song's subject is presumably either the celebrated st
many and sent Odysseus off course, or possibly the
non, which Athena caused by inciting the quarrel th
and Menelaus to go home separately rather than to
36). Penelope says that the bard knows "many othe
mortals, deeds of gods and men, which bards make
so that this choice of subject is unnecessary. Unless
that the bard has ignored most of his repertory since t
Phemius regularly sings a variety of material, even
dently sung this theme before, since Penelope says
causes her pain.28 Penelope, in directing her complain
not blame pressure from the suitors for the bard's
hurts her, because grief has come to her more than
Xioxa, 1.342), because she remembers and longs for s
seus. Her very complaint thereby acknowledges that
extreme, is by no means unique. Her complaint need
song touches her grief directly. Alcinous thinks that O
wept at hearing songs about Troy because he lost a
friend there (Od. 8.577-86)?that is, he assumes that
ing for a friend who died at Troy, any song about t
pain, even if it did not directly concern the friend's de
Telemachus' response also points away from the
torted in order to please the suitors:

ov vv x' doiSoi
ai'xioi, dXXd jto0l Zevc, aixioc;, 6c; xe 6i6a)oiv
avSpdaiv dX(|>r|axfjaiv, ojtcoc; eBeXr\oiv, exdaxcp.
xovxcd 6' ov vejieaic; Aavacov xaxov oixov deiSeiv.
xrjv yaQ dot6r|v \idXXov emnXeiovo' dv0QO)jroi,
fj xic; dxouovxeaai vecoxdxrj d|i(|>i:n;eXr|xai.

27Svenbro 1976, 24-31. Pucci (1987, 195-208, 228-35) does not follow Svenbro but
still treats Phemius as singing "false" songs.
28"Always" probably means "whenever I hear it"; otherwise, Penelope's use is an
example of the common hyperbolic "always" and "never" of Homeric speakers (MacLeod
1982, 96, on 62-63 and 72-73).

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186 RUTH SCODEL

ooi 6' ernxoXjidxco xoaSir) xai


ov ydo 'ObvooEvc, oioc; djrcoXe
ev Tqolt], jtoXXol de xai dXXoi ^caxeg oXovxo. (1.347-55)
The bards are not to blame, but Zeus is somehow to blame, who gives to
barley-eating people as he wishes, to each. It is not cause for just anger
for the bard to sing the miserable fate of the Danaans. For people most
make the song famous that comes around as the newest to those who hear
it. Let your heart and mind endure to hear it, since Odysseus was not the
only one who lost his day of return at Troy, but many other men died.

First, Telemachus insists that Zeus is responsible, not the bards. Zeus
rather than the singer can be to blame only if the events have really
happened, so Telemachus here, in effect, says that the song is true. It is
therefore an appropriate part of the repertory. Since, however, that
would not explain why the bard should select this subject rather than
another, he denies that the bard's motive is inappropriate?people cele-
brate new songs, and the bard, presumably, is entitled to give the audi?
ence what it desires. Quite apart from the familiar irony of Homer's
calling this subject "new," Telemachus insists on judging the song not as
it affects a particular audience, whether Penelope or the suitors, but
more generally, in terms of what "people" like. He thus implicitly denies
that this topic serves the interests of the suitors. Finally, he answers
Penelope's assertion that her grief is beyond that of others by using the
traditional formula of consolation to exhort her to endurance: Odysseus
was not the only one who died in the Trojan campaign. If the song were
actually about Odysseus, it would be hard to comprehend both Penel?
ope's emphasis on the particular excellence and fame of Odysseus as
causing her grief beyond that of others and Telemachus' insistence that
she accept her loss as one among many. If, however, the song reminds
Penelope of Odysseus, but it is not about him, the use of the language
of consolation makes excellent sense. Telemachus is urging her to use
the song itself, with its reminder of how widespread was the suffering
caused by the Trojan War, not as food for more grief, but as consolation.
That is the point: songs are by no means without moral implica?
tions, but these are not explicit or self-interested, as those of non-
bardic narratives usually are. Phemius does not tell his audience how to
respond, and his song is capable of multiple uses.29 Indeed, the sum-

29As Edmunds points out (1996, 419-20), ordinary character-narratives often have
meanings beyond those intended by the speaker: these, however, reflect ironically on the
speaker.

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BARDIC PERFORMANCE IN HOMER 187

mary of the song can be turned directly against the


tale of divine vengeance. Athena gives the Achaeans
cause they had offended her, and the suitors will so
Athena's direction. The song can help justify the su
so many others, doubtless died) or warn them (the
themselves with mortals, who had best therefore f
The suitors force Phemius to sing, but never praise
Penelope and Telemachus both do.30 While it is ty
that they do not behave graciously or recognize wh
priate, their failure to praise the bard may also mark t
ten properly.
The song of Ares and Aphrodite is, like Phem
troversial case. Braswell and others have seen a par
between Ares and Hephaestus, one physically attrac
other ugly and crippled, to the dispute between Eur
the one good-looking but foolish, the other unprep
but with qualities that do not appear on the surfac
question that the song could apply to the immediat
larly in its hint that appropriate compensation can
of quarrels. And it is suggestive that just as the son
speed against Hephaestus' lameness, Odysseus anno
compete in any event except the footrace. Still, th
with interpreting the song as a direct and intentio
quarrel. Surely it would hardly be courteous to co
guest, one who has already been offended, to a cu
cuckold receives compensation. Hephaestus appea
angry and vexed (axa%i(]\iai, 8.314), while the othe
(8.325).32 If Odysseus understood the song as a comm
would surely be angered further, instead of being
Odysseus is not physically unprepossessing. Lao
Odysseus to compete, probably intending no insult,
looks like an athlete (8.145). Alcinous surely does no
attractive when he considers him as a possible husb
ter (7.312), and Arete praises his looks at 11.336-37.

^oRuter 1967, 233.


31Bliss 1968; Braswell 1982.
32To be sure, Brown (1989) argues convincingly that this l
Ares and Aphrodite, and represents a mechanism of social con
though the gods are not laughing at him, however, Hephaestus hi
matter funny.

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188 RUTH SCODEL

has indignantly refused to co


like a merchant, not an athlet
discus, Odysseus has not show
but has triumphed by physica
his identity, of course, so the
phaestus' cunning with the st
Euryalus to give Odysseus a gi
but to Odysseus' praise of the
Phaeacians are the best at sin
not the best at games (8.382-8
Indeed, the song seems so c
Odyssey that it would be rath
to try to apply it too closely
adultery and cunning, it point
to the events that immediately
ternal audience, inviting them
adultery has been committed
anger?and that therefore com
with the suitors (as Eurymach
59). On the other hand, withi
shows, as do so many divine sce
are simply not serious as hum
All these possible implicat
the external audience, not to
The song is relevant to Odyss
be. The only instance where a
ence is the song of the Sirens.
which can define normal song
by name as his ship approache
what might most interest him f

I'Sjiev ydo xoi jrdv0' 6o' eviTQo


'Aoyeloi Tpcoec; xe 0ecov ioxrjxi
tSfxev 6' oooa yevnxai em xQovi JiouXuPoxeiorj. (12.189-91)

33See Garvie 1994, 264 (on 1323-57) and 268-69 (on 158-64).
34On connections between the song and the Ithacan plot see Burkert 1960, Newton
1987, and Olson 1989.

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BARDIC PERFORMANCE IN HOMER 189

For we know everything that the Argives and Trojan


Troy by the will of the gods. We know everything t
earth that feeds many.

Their knowledge of Odysseus' identity confirms th


themselves, they apparently do not require the he
sing. And, of course, those who listen to them with
They thus bring together the extreme ends of the n
Like the devious liars, they match their song precis
dience in order to profit by manipulating the heare
full knowledge of remote events characteristic of t
cause they are goddesses is this possible, because for
Muses guarantee not only that the song is accurate,
cent. Independence from oral tradition and from so
the same purpose, a narrative without ulterior moti
The independent and impartial nature of bardic
one important consequence for the characters with
and deception are common, and characters in the O
afraid of being deceived by false stories. Nobody, ho
his or her deeds will fail to receive appropriate pr
assume great deeds will be remembered. Because th
that they cannot be forgotten, there is no worry abou
fects of time and distance in themselves.
Hesiod's Theogony implies a similar poetics in its emphasis on the
capacity of bardic performance to induce forgetfulness of everyday
troubles (98-103). The famous deeds of "people of the past" (jtQoxeQcov
dv0QO)Jt(ov, 100) and the praise of the blessed gods provide a social
benefit not by commenting on the present, but by distracting the audi?
ence from it. To be sure, Hesiod's Muses inspire not only bards but
kings, to whom they provide the eloquence that enables them to settle
disputes amicably (80-93); yet Hesiod stresses that kings "are from"
Zeus, while the Muses and Apollo are responsible for bards (94-96).
The speech of the kings, moreover, though it is located in specific, pres?
ent situations, is fair and impartial. Although the kings help the injured,
and so must actually take action for one side or the other in a case, He?
siod emphasizes the ease and authority with which the king settles a
dispute:

6 6' aofyaXewc, dyoQeixov


atipd xe xai jjiya veixog emaxajjivcoc; xaxejrauaev.

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190 RUTH SCODEL

xouvexa ydo paaiXfjec; exec()QOv


pXajixofxevotg dyoofj<t>i jiexaxo
QTfiSicog, LiaXaxoioi jtaQaic^dLievoi ejtieomv. (85-90)
And he, speaking unerringly, immediately settles even a great quar
competently. That is why kings are "intelligent," because they accomp
acts of restitution in the public square for the injured, easily, persuad
with gentle words.

There is some tension in this description between [xexdxoojta epya,


tions which reverse an earlier injustice, and the passage's emphasi
how easily and quickly the king ends a dispute. Although the king
judgment must favor one of the contending parties, his persuasio
causes them to agree, so that restitution, apparently, ends the quar
without bitterness. The kings' speech is different from that of the
in being fitted to an immediate situation, but the Muses are appropr
inspirers for kings because they are, like bards, neither self-serving
what they say nor servants of any faction, but of the good of all. The d
tance between poetics and reality, already clear enough in Homer,
even clearer if we imagine that this passage has as one of its purpo
flattery of the most powerful members of the poet's audience.35
By defining different kinds of narratives, Homer defines distin
modes of appropriate reception. The narratives of oral tradition d
mand a particular kind of competence of their audiences: the adep
listener is canny and suspicious, always considering the narrator's p
sonal ends. The audience of epic performance, on the other ha
should apparently evaluate the narrative by the pleasure it provid
without worrying about being manipulated. This unsuspicious recept
is possible only because the Homeric tradition so rigorously defines
subject matter as the heroes of the past. Homeric epic, despite its re
sentations of bards who sing of their contemporaries, does not pr
the living.36 The narrative's claim of "truth" is not a claim to literal, hi
torical accuracy, but is largely a claim to reward great deeds with t
praise they deserve, and thus to a disinterested account.37 Occasio
poetry, not surprisingly, completely avoids the Homeric claim to

35 As is the view of West (1966, 44-45). (He suggests further that the emphasis o
the power of poetry to distract the grieving is also fitted to performance at Amphida
funeral games.)
36See Nagy 1990, 147-50.
37See Pratt 1993, 37-42.

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BARDIC PERFORMANCE IN HOMER 191

independent of circumstance. In Works and Days t


makes no claims of impartiality, though he insists that
tice. One could indeed argue that Pindar, for exam
stronger truth-claims than Homer precisely becaus
himself from immediate social claims.
Real epic bards in any tradition must learn their stories from other
bards or other storytellers, or make them up. Equally, real performers
are never as universally praised as those of Homer. Different audiences
could have very different kinds of interest in a performance. The aris-
tocracy as a whole could very weil have preferred uncritical treatments
of the heroes of the past, as models for themselves, while popular audi?
ences may have preferred to view the heroes with some irony. Signifi?
cantly, though, there is considerable disagreement about the precise af-
filiations of the Homeric poems.38 The history of the political use of
Homer shows how a particular poem, or detail in it, could please or of-
fend a polis as a whole. The Megarians had to accuse the Athenians of
interpolation (Arist. Rhet. A15.1375b30) and Cleisthenes had to forbid
rhapsodic performances (Hdt. 5.67.1), because a canonical repertory al?
ready existed, but the pressures these stories imply must have existed
before either individual compositions or the canon as a whole took
shape. Yet what is truly remarkable is the success of the tradition in
achieving wide authority across the boundaries of class and locality.
The Megarians claimed interpolation, not pro-Athenian bias on Ho?
mer's part.
For Svenbro, the Muse hypostasizes social control; for Nagy, her
"message is equated with that of creative tradition."39 I would suggest
that she represents an attempt to finesse the impossible complexity of
potential claims, and that the care with which Homer presents bardic
performance as uncontaminated and free, even as he shows the forces
that would realistically limit its freedom, reflects a serious anxiety. Each
performance had to negotiate its way through competing pressures. The
fiction of complete independence offered space to maneuver. A cunning
enough bard could provide a song that allowed members of the audi?
ence with quite different desires and interests to feel satisfied. For the

38Morris (1981) treats the poems as propaganda for the established social order.
Rose (1992, 43-91) argues that the treatment of aristocracy, particularly of claims of birth,
is ambiguous, and indeed critical (see also Rose 1997). Stanley (1991, 248-96) connects the
Iliad's irony towards and distance from its heroes with written composition.
39Svenbro 1976, 16-35; Nagy 1979, 16.

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192 RUTH SCODEL

audience, it was worthwhile t


dence, since only by believing
sing could they receive the son
of as a reflection of their own
tent that it is believed to be t
provided a supremely usable pa
the social world by pretending t

University of Michigan
e-mail: rscodel@umich.edu

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