Sunday, May 17, 2009

Listening to the Feminine, the Rhetorical, the Translational - in light of the heavy first line of Homer's Odyssey

Here's a bit from the wonderful Eva Brann's Homeric Moments (page 7):

"Here is the first line of the Odyssey:

Ān- dră mŏı | ēn- nĕ- pĕ | Mōu- să, pŏ | lȳ- trŏ- pŏn | hōs mă- lă | pōl- lă

It is a regular heroic line, in which the fifth foot is normally a dactyl. To have a spondee there indicates some sort of solemn havoc; it is a metric subtlety Homer uses with impressive effect. For example, the Odyssey has a villainous, draft-dodging antihero, Aegisthus, who conspires with his mistress, Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra, to murder the returning commander in chief of the Trojan expedition. This deed dominates the consciousness of all the 'Returns.' (The word is capitalized because it is almost a technical term in the Odyssey (15).) Hear how heavyhearted proceeds and ends the line that, early on, concludes the introduction of his baneful name:

hōs ē- phăth' | Hēr- mēı- | ās āll' | ōu phrĕ- năs | Āı- gī- | sthōı- ŏ.

The lines preceding are also heavily spondaic, but none as discombobulatingly so as the ones whose fifth foot is, against ordinary usage, a spondee.

A long oral tradition of hexametric recital would surely prepare a professional poet for wielding a standard line with so much flexibility, and so would the memory training required to hold in mind the twenty-seven thousand eight hundred and two lines of the two epics [Odyssey and Iliad], later on divided into twenty-four books each. And hold them in mind he did, both he and his audience, for his control of significant detail over thousands of lines is demonstrable."

Brann goes on to say what Homer makes possible for William Shakespeare and J. S. Bach and Virgil and John Milton. And she notes what "Horace says in humorously awed censoriousness" of Homer and how Whitehead compares Plato to Homer and how Aristotle, through his objective aristotelian eyes, must make his logical conclusion about the Odyssey. But we have other questions also, don't we?

Our questions:
  1. Even if we're not literary critics, specialists using jargon such as "dactyl" and "spondee," can't we get the surprise? the profound "havoc" of the "deed [that] dominates the consciousness"?
  2. Don't we get that Homer and (us - yes, you and me too - among) his audiences feel something here that Aristotle, among others, is wanting (us) to be anesthesized to?
  3. Do you want me to blog on the "censoriousness" of the sexism of certain readers?
  4. Do you want to discuss with me the richness of our languages that men long ago would rob us of?
  5. Dare you rhetoricians and you linguists, like me, in light of Homer's heavy first line, ask questions that Eric Haveloc (in his Preface to Plato) and that Cheryl Glenn and Andrea Lunsford and so many others in their various historiographies and that Kenneth Pike ask about what it must take to recover and to uncover and to re-present rhetorics and languages?
  6. Would you like to consider together the ways that the Jews are so like Homer? Like him in first forming / and continuing traditions? Doesn't he generate the genesis of orality married profoundly with literacy? And don't they (in what Tel Aviv University Professor Sylvie Honigman calls "the Homeric paradigm') generate the genesis of Hebrew scripture rendered profoundly into Hellene?
  7. And, if we still had time, wouldn't you bibliobloggers think it's a fantastic idea to muse about how the writer of the "New Testament" "book" called "Hebrews" starts its "first line" with "a metric subtlety" like "Homer uses with impressive effect"? Jared Calaway started playing the pipes, but few of us so far have danced.

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