HOMER’S ILIAD: The Basel Commentary, Book XIV

Martha Krieter-Spiro (ed.), tr. by Benjamin W. Millis and Sara Strack

De Gruyter (2018) h/b 304pp £100 (ISBN 9783110568868)

As K-S. observes in her Preface, this commentary was written ‘in accord with the structure and aims (sc. of the series) as laid out in the Preface to Book 1’. Further, ‘the commentary … outlines the relevant questions and issues in as much detail as (is) necessary, offers a judgment on the matter, and provides bibliography for various directions in research’. The volume of Prolegomena to the series also provides much information and guidance to eliminate unnecessary repetition (and should ideally be at hand for users of the commentaries), while the text is Martin West’s for Teubner, and the translation used (but not universally praised) is that of Richmond Lattimore. Of course, the commentary was written in German, and has been admirably translated here into English, though the bibliography is naturally fuller of German articles etc. than a purely anglophone edition would be. Of commentaries in English, that of R. Janko (1992) is frequently called on. 

Book XIV offers some respite from the war—at least in part: for the key section is that famously known as the ‘Deceit of Zeus’ (Dios apate), by which Hera is enabled, via Aphrodite and Hypnos, to seduce Zeus and subsequently, after Zeus is asleep, to call on the help of Poseidon to rescue the Achaeans from the parlous state into which the Trojans have forced them as the book opens: the ruse is successful, and the Trojans are driven back, with Hector badly wounded. 

K-S. provides an admirable and full commentary (in the standard 3-typeface format of the series) with detailed accounts to sum up the action as it unfolds. Your reviewer, however, has a reservation: it is rare that we gain an insight into the personal judgment of K-S. herself, though the views of others are generously set out or listed: admittedly, at ll. 31-2 (the problem of how the ships are lined up on the beach, and the meaning of πρύμνῃσιν), after lining up three scholars on each side, she does conclude that ‘interpretation (1) makes more sense’, with Leaf and West (but not Janko); more such decisiveness would have been welcome, for example at the textual crux at line 249, where several possibilities are explored, but no decision is reached (Leaf’s proposal is at least as good as any). 

A matter of greater significance arises at the beginning of the Dios apate: does the anthropomorphic image of the gods presented here deserve the severe criticism of Xenophanes and Plato? Do the ‘Gods (of Homer) behave like men, the men like Gods’? K-S. defends the ‘playfulness and the divine burlesque’ (with Burkert, Janko, and Bierl), but there is certainly more to be said—indeed, in her introductory passage to the scene, she lists, by my count, the work of over 20 scholars. Later, we find the athetesis by Aristarchus , as ‘inappropriate’, of Zeus’s enumeration of his female conquests (lines 317-27), where again K-S. supports retention, but without recalling, say, the even more famous—and wrong-headed—athetesis in the Odyssey of Nausicaa’s private thoughts and feelings as she escorts Odysseus, or giving any general account of her views on the practice of athetesis. Your reviewer would have welcomed more of the views of K-S., even at the cost of cutting back on the views of other scholars— where we often find little more than a reference to a not-always-accessible bibliography. The overall result can give the effect of a variorum edition, though assuredly no complaint would be justified on the score of incompleteness, and any student or teacher tasked with studying or teaching this book will find him/herself well, even opulently, served.

A notable feature is the 18 page ‘Appendix Topographica : the encampment of (the Achaean)ships and the (location of the) battlefield’, by Joachim Latacz, with multi-coloured illustrations: its aim is to summarise current research, covering ‘key aspects’ of the debate. 

Colin Leach

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