Tradition and Design in the Iliad

By C. M. Bowra | Go to book overview

VII
THE LANGUAGE

WE may perhaps never know the original form in which the Iliad was composed. In our editions we possess substantially the text which the Alexandrian scholars reconstituted from a great mass of manuscripts after learned and acute examination. But between them and Homer lay a gap of several centuries, in which the text can only have been altered. As the Greek language developed, it was only natural that the language of the Iliad should be subjected to changes. So, too, Milton's spelling, so vital to his metre and sense, was accommodated to the varying tastes of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. That our text is not exactly what Homer composed is certain. The question is whether it is vastly different or differs only in small points, whether the alterations are superficial as in our texts of Milton, or fundamental as in the later remaniements of the Song of Roland. Fortunately it is fairly certain that the changes are mostly superficial and may to some extent be detected and removed. The Iliad was more a sacred than a popular book. It was vastly well known and commonly quoted, but the dignity in which it was held guaranteed some security for the text and saved it from any complete rewriting. It suffered from considerable alteration on the surface, and in particular from the substitution of Attic for other forms.1 This was only natural, as Attica was the home of Homeric recitation and the centre of the Greek book trade. But the intrusion of Attic forms can on the whole be detected by the evidence provided by metre. When they spoil the scansion by introducing unmetrical forms or overweighting the line with spondees, we can with confidence restore some more metrical word.2 In other places the text has been corrupted because Homer used an old word whose meaning was lost and in whose place a substitute was admitted. Even this can often be detected. Modern philology is sometimes better informed

____________________
1
Cf. J. Wackernagel, Sprachliche Untersuchungen zu Homer.
2
P. Cauer, Grundfragen der Homerkritik, pp. 105 ff.

-129-

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Tradition and Design in the Iliad
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • I - Tradition and Design 1
  • II - The Origins of the Epic 27
  • III - The Hexameter 53
  • IV - Some Primitive Elements 67
  • V - Repetitions and Contradictions 87
  • VI - The Similes 114
  • VII - The Language 129
  • VIII - The Historical Background 156
  • IX - The Characters 192
  • XI - Homer and the Heroic Age 234
  • XII - Homer's Time and Place 251
  • Index 275
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