Anaphora in Homer

In my Anaphora post back in November, I mentioned that Homer–the blind master of the muses, as I styled him there–does not seem too enamored of this literary device.  At the time I was going on spotty memory fortified with a quick Google search and in-office consult.

But there’s good news!  While running down Hector’s scenes in the Iliad, the better to make my comparisons in Orlando Furioso, I came across not one but two anaphoras!

The first was handed to me by Michael Gilleland over at Laudator Temporis Acti.  Follow him; he’s a wonderful font of classical citations and interesting arcana.  Anyway, he put up a nice post, titled Skill, on Nestor’s address to his son in Iliad XXIII.

ἀλλ᾿ ἄγε δὴ σύ, φίλος, μῆτιν ἐμβάλλεο θυμῷ
παντοίην, ἵνα μή σε παρεκπροφύγῃσιν ἄεθλα.
μήτι τοι δρυτόμος μέγ᾿ ἀμείνων ἠὲ βίηφι·        315
μήτι δ᾿ αὖτε κυβερνήτης ἐνὶ οἴνοπι πόντῳ
νῆα θοὴν ἰθύνει ἐρεχθομένην ἀνέμοισι·
μήτι δ᾿ ἡνίοχος περιγίγνεται ἡνιόχοιο.

Note the attractive repetition of μήτις in this short passage (Michael also puts up a nice secondary source commenting on the same).

The Praiser’s post inspired me to get cracking on the Hector-Achilles comparisons as applied in Orlando Furioso.  While skimming through the Hector-Ajax battle in Book VII I found this lovely boast by Hector:

αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν εὖ οἶδα μάχας τ᾽ ἀνδροκτασίας τε:
οἶδ᾽ ἐπὶ δεξιά, οἶδ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἀριστερὰ νωμῆσαι βῶν
ἀζαλέην, τό μοι ἔστι ταλαύρινον πολεμίζειν:      240
οἶδα δ᾽ ἐπαΐξαι μόθον ἵππων ὠκειάων:
οἶδα δ᾽ ἐνὶ σταδίῃ δηΐῳ μέλπεσθαι Ἄρηϊ.
ἀλλ᾽ οὐ γάρ σ᾽ ἐθέλω βαλέειν τοιοῦτον ἐόντα
λάθρῃ ὀπιπεύσας, ἀλλ᾽ ἀμφαδόν, αἴ κε τύχωμι.

This kills two birds with one stone for me: not only is it anaphora, and so a correction of my earlier claim about Homer, but it also drives home one of Hector’s standard traits–knowledge or skill.  He boasts of all the things he knows, or knows how to do, as opposed to how many layers of shield he can splinter at a single blow.  By a very cool twist, that is what Nestor’s μήτις passage is about as well–the contrast between skill or knowledge on the one hand and might or power on the other.

And indeed, the battle that immediately follows reinforces the point.  Hector lands mighty blows to be sure, but they pale in comparison to Ajax.  Hector pierces through several layers of shield; Ajax pierces all of them and forces Hector to evade the still-lethal blow by twisting out of the way.  Hector thinks fast and dashes a big rock on his foe’s shield; Ajax picks up a bigger rock and imbues it with  ἶν᾽ ἀπέλεθρον (“immeasurable force”) that knocks Hector to the ground and wrecks his shield.  In a sad foreshadowing of the poem’s climax, Hector is saved by nightfall and the gods asking the two to stop.

So why use anaphora here?  It’s interesting that each of these is a call to action, a ramp-up of energy before a feat (funereal games in the former, duel in the latter).  There’s also an implication of completeness or perfection in each: Nestor could go on naming trades where skill reigns, while Hector could go on naming all the trades of war in which he is expert.  Each could be read in several different tones or styles I think, which is one of the hallmarks of great drama.

Now that I’ve found these, I know that there must be more to find in Homer.  The lesson for all of us is clear: it is necessary to read more Homer, in Greek, repeatedly.  And spend some time thinking about all the ways anaphora can be employed!


One thought on “Anaphora in Homer

  1. It ain’t the Blind Master of the Muses, but how about some of that “psuedo-Phoenician/Boiotian” nonsense; here’s some great anaphora at the end of this Hesiod passage, describing the hundred heads of Typhoeus:

    φωναὶ δ᾽ ἐν πάσῃσιν ἔσαν δεινῇς κεφαλῇσι

    And the voices in all those fearful heads

    παντοίην ὄπ᾽ ἰεῖσαι ἀθέσφατον: ἄλλοτε μὲν γὰρ

    Of all sorts were the voices uttered unutterable: for sometimes

    φθέγγονθ᾽ ὥστε θεοῖσι συνιέμεν, ἄλλοτε δ᾽ αὖτε

    They made sounds as the gods understand, yet other-wise again,

    ταύρου ἐριβρύχεω, μένος ἀσχέτου, ὄσσαν ἀγαύρου,

    As a bull bellows, unchecked in his might, proud in his voice;

    ἄλλοτε δ᾽ αὖτε λέοντος ἀναιδέα θυμὸν ἔχοντος,

    And else-wise as a lion, shameless of heart;

    ἄλλοτε δ᾽ αὖ σκυλάκεσσιν ἐοικότα, θαύματ᾽ ἀκοῦσαι,

    And else-wise unto whelps likened, wond’rous to hear;

    ἄλλοτε δ᾽ αὖ ῥοίζεσχ᾽, ὑπὸ δ᾽ ἤχεεν οὔρεα μακρά.

    And else-wise they hiss, and echoed throughout mountains great.
    -Hesiod. Theogonia 829-835


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