The difficulty of Homer

I am currently reading the Iliad. I was previously reading Aeschylus compared to whom Homer is a doddle. Homer’s style is very simple and although his vocabulary and syntax differs from standard Attic Greek you can overcome this. However there are lots of things to catch out people like me. Here are a couple of examples where I would have got it wrong without Leaf and Bayfield’s commentary

τίπτ᾽ αὖτ᾽ αἰγιόχοιο Διὸς τέκος εἰλήλουθας;
ἦ ἵνα ὕβριν ἴδῃ Ἀγαμέμνονος Ἀτρεΐδαο;
ἀλλ᾽ ἔκ τοι ἐρέω, τὸ δὲ καὶ τελέεσθαι ὀΐω:
ᾗς ὑπεροπλίῃσι τάχ᾽ ἄν ποτε θυμὸν ὀλέσσῃ.
Hom. Il. 1.202

Why, child of aegis bearing Zeus, have you come? To witness the pride of Agamemnon son of Atreus? But I will tell you plainly and I think I shall bring it to pass. For his insolence he will soon lose his life.

My problem here was τελέεσθαι which I would have taken as a Homeric future passive. “I think this will be accomplished” rather than a future middle “I think I shall accomplish”

Another case where I would get it wrong

τὼ δ᾽ αὐτὼ μάρτυροι ἔστων
πρός τε θεῶν μακάρων πρός τε θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων
καὶ πρὸς τοῦ βασιλῆος ἀπηνέος εἴ ποτε δ᾽ αὖτε
χρειὼ ἐμεῖο γένηται ἀεικέα λοιγὸν ἀμῦναι
τοῖς ἄλλοις:
Hom. Il. 1.338

Let these two be witnesses before the blessed gods and mortal men and him the cruel king that if ever need of me should arise hereafter to defend the others from unseemly disaster.

Here I would have taken τοῦ βασιλῆος as just “the king” whereas my friends Leaf and Bayfield point out that τοῦ is a pronoun and it means “him, the king”.

With all these potential traps it is going to take me a long time to finish the Iliad.

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2 Responses to The difficulty of Homer

  1. æren (И~N) says:

    I totally agree about the style of Homer. I find reading him also very fascinating and for me the real pleasure starts when I start digging in the etymological perspectives of the morphological forms 🙂


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