CUP (2019) 198pp £22.99 (ISBN 0781107698024)
B. has contributed notably on Homer to the Cambridge ‘green-and-yellow’ series, and this fine venture into the Iliad is every bit as good as his Odyssey XIII and XIV. It succeeds in introducing Homer to the alert and attentive undergraduate and sixth-former, while also pointing those who want it in the direction of more academic Homeric scholarship. His overriding principle is the elucidation of the Greek text.
The introduction covers familiar ground, with one exception (see below). It includes a usefully thorough examination of the three principal characters in Book III, Helen (especially), Hector, and Paris in both myth and the poem as a whole. On the archaeological evidence that might link Homer’s Troy with Hisarlik, and at the same time satisfy thousands of romantic tourists, B.’s conclusion that ‘none of the evidence from destructions of Troy can be confidently used as a source for the story of the Iliad’ may be unsurprising, but its clarity makes it the best short account I know of this familiar topic. VIIA is the most likely structure, but its destruction occurred ‘at the time when civilisations in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Egypt, Greece and elsewhere underwent a major “Collapse” for various external reasons.’
This leads B. into an extended canter through mentions of Troy in written accounts in Hittite and other Near Eastern sources (Ahhiyawa/Achaeans, Wilusiya/Ilion and so forth). Though the city figures quite prominently in Hittite archives, it does not seem to have been a place of major conflict; a more likely candidate is the trading port of Miletus (Milawata/Millawanda in Hittite). None of this is startlingly fresh evidence, but B. has the advantage of having consulted widely in scholarship of the last decade or so. In particular, he has drawn on the ground-breaking work of M.L. West, and the light he has thrown on the many parallels between Greek and Near Eastern literature in themes, phraseology, type-scenes, and so on: ‘once the Greeks were involved in Anatolia they would have been exposed to the richly varied and intermixed literatures and cultural lives of Mesopotamia, Syria … and beyond.’ Rostam, hero of the Persian Shāhnāmeh (‘Book of Kings’), son of a princess descended from an Indian demon king, was brought up like Paris away from civilisation and wore a talismanic tiger skin. He may well have been the original Trojan hero, supplanted in later versions by Hector. While never losing sight of the Iliad as a Greek poem, B. gently pushes us away from an exclusively hellenocentric attitude to Homer.
Where B. moves into virtually untrodden territory for students of Homer is in his exploration of the Indo-European and Near Eastern cultural parallels with the Helen-myth: horse-riding brothers, the theft and return of a wife (Mahābhārata), and ceremonies attending treaties and oath-taking. Lines 264 to 313 (the solemn truce between Achaeans and Trojans) has strong affinities with Sumerian, Hittite, Assyrian, Syrian, Aramaic, and Phoenician texts.
Dipping into B.’s commentary yields pleasure at many turns. His reading of the ‘problem’ of the Teichoscopia—the apparent anomaly of Priam asking Helen to identify Achaean heroes after nine years of warfare—neatly characterises it as an example of ‘double narration’, where ‘the first and last
years [of the war] are…superimposed on each other, so that the Iliad gives the impression of starting at its beginning…while actually narrating its end.’ Helen’s remark to Priam about Agamemnon at l.180 (εἰ ποτ’ ἔην γε) is not a ‘pathetic turn of phrase’ (Macleod), expressing ‘nostalgia and regret at how things have changed’ (Kirk), but means ‘as he surely was’, where γε underlines the certainty. On πεπρωμένον (l.309) B. nicely observes that ‘fated events always come about, not so much because they are fated, but because other considerations make it politic for Zeus to allow them to do so.’ ἄλοχον at l.409 he translates as ‘mistress’ rather than ‘wife’, where perhaps ‘bedfellow/to share his bed’ would cover both meanings in Greek. Lastly, B.’s note on ll. 451-3 (the Trojans’ inability to point Paris out to Menelaus) is a satisfactorily gritty linguistic analysis of two ways of translating an unusual mixed conditional.
Both approachable and scholarly, this is an admirable addition to the Cambridge series of commentaries.