P. JONES. Homer?s Iliad: A Commentary on Three Translations. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2003. Pp. 344. ISBN 1-85399-657-2 STG £12.99 (Pb).
Review by Carmel McCallum-Barry
This commentary, based on three currently available translations, aims to help first time readers of the Iliad understand the poem, its plot and cultural context. The translations used are: E.V. Rieu, Homer:The Iliad (Harmondsworth, 2003), revised and updated by P. Jones and D.C.H. Rieu; M. Hammond, Homer: The Iliad (Harmondsworth, 1987); R. Lattimore, The Iliad of Homer (Chicago, 1951) referred to throughout by Jones as (R-J), (H) and (L) respectively. A long introduction (43 pp.) is more comprehensive than those of the individual translations and the line-by-line commentary is keyed to its specialised sections. Besides dealing with historical and social background to the poem it also introduces readers to current scholarship and theorising on literary analysis and historicity. The copious bibliography is extremely useful.
The introduction deals with the poem under four headings,each with several subsections. Under the first heading ?Poetry and History?, Jones begins with the ?bare bones? of the story and uses this summary to explain why the Iliad is so long when its focus is apparently concentrated on the anger of Achilles. He cites the need to characterise the major players, to situate the gods within the plot and to set the scene within the context of the whole Trojan War: the speeches, occupying almost half of the Iliad are vital, as they ?carry the moral and evaluative weight of the poem?. A section on oral poetry (pp. 15-20) explains how hexameter metre operates, how words must fit into a line and how various kinds of ?repeated patterns? actually work; it is the clearest exposition of formulaic diction that I have seen for a reader with no Greek and no knowledge of metrics. However, for this notional reader some account of what is meant by epic poetry would be welcome. A history section (pp. 20-23) discusses the possibility of a ?historical? Trojan War, but (as throughout), we are referred to maps in R-J, which is not very satisfactory for the reader using Hammond?s or Lattimore?s translations, which have none. For the commentary to be fully accessible to users of all three translations, maps should have been provided. Under the second ?heading?, ?Heroic Values? (pp. 23-26), Jones shows how frictions and quarrels between heroic types can arise (with some modern parallels), and tackles the concepts of kleos and aidos. Under the third heading ?The Human and Divine Worlds? (pp. 26-32), he provides some very necessary pointers as to how men in Homer view the gods and their own relationship with them. His attention to customs of sacrifice and supplication is especially welcome, giving newcomers to Homer valuable insights into what is after all an alien culture. Under the final heading, ?Features of Homeric Plotting and Narrative? (pp. 32-43), containing a rather mixed bag of topics, Jones analyses Homer?s story telling technique. Again he is concerned to show the poem as a unity, even though the anger of Achilles is put aside for long periods. He asks us to view the Iliad as a complex of narratives in which the main characters each pursue a purpose of their own, which he calls their ?object of desire?. This approach gives a satisfying coherence to the story line, beginning with Chryses in Bk 1 whose ?object? is his daughter, through to the Trojans in Bk 24 whose ?object? is the return of Hector?s body. Alternative reading strategies are introduced in ?Homer as Narrator and Focaliser?, and a section on ring composition with its typical structures is followed by one on Homer?s use of similes which classifies them (A-D) according to type and subject matter. These sections are brief and clear, and indispensable for any reader who wants to try to make sense of the long poem that she is braving for the first time. The last topic in this section on narrative is ?Battle? and is mainly descriptive, dealing with types and structures of engagement, Homer?s (almost ritualised) methods of describing battles and woundings are not dealt with.
Turning to the commentary proper, each book has a short introduction which guides and informs the reader by highlighting points of interest and debate; content is then divided into episodes, each with a brief summary heading. The kind of information given in commentary includes: mention of differences in the translations, with a judgement when necessary; extra information on proper names, either mythological or geographical; discussion of problems of text and interpretation which have been the subject of scholarly debate; literary comments. Features of poetic composition are particularly well presented throughout the commentary, with attention to construction of speeches, ring composition and so on. All similes are scrupulously noted; e.g. as the troops proceed to battle (4.422) we are told first that a ?climatic (sic) moment invites a run of similes?, that this is a ?wind-and-wave? simile (type D), then follows comment on its use in this particular instance. The technique encourages us to think about similes, to take them seriously and not just race through ?yet another one?.
Some examples will, I hope, illustrate the working of the commentary. For example in the commentary on Book 3, the duel between Paris and Menelaus, an introduction discusses how clever plotting here allows a view of Helen and her position in Troy as well as an assessment of her culpability and that of the Trojans. The teichoscopia episode is discussed with reasons for considering it out of place. Jones uses the episode where Zeus sends Iris to tell Helen about the impending duel (3.121-244) in order to explain the conventions operating in the poet?s treatment of happenings in ?real time? (Zielinski?s Laws). When Odysseus is described as a ?fleecy ram? (3.197), he explains the nuances of this unheroic characterisation for a society where heroes were expected to be impressive in both looks and action (cf .Achilles 21.108 ??how big and handsome I am?). As a truce is agreed for the duel (3.281), we are given an explanation of the different types of oaths sworn by the Greeks.
In the commentary on Book 9, the embassy to Achilles, Jones glosses the three translations of 9.182 and deals with the problem of the dual ?they both walked? (acknowledged only by Lattimore). Jones explains what a dual is and how it here causes a problem for scholars since three men take part in the embassy. At 9.312 Achilles says ?I hate?the man who says one thing and thinks another?. Jones? note here explains the differing translations and the usual interpretations of the line, concluding convincingly that Achilles is talking about himself. At 9.405, a conventional note on Delphi (R-J)/ Pytho (H and L) gives the information that Pytho is an old name for Delphi, that it is the shrine of Apollo mentioned in the same line. At 9.430-622 Phoenix appeals to Achilles, and this is the longest speech in the Iliad. After a summary, Jones proceeds with comment on difficult areas e.g. possible insertions in ll. 458-61 and the relevance or otherwise of the Meleager story (ll. 524-99).
In the commentary on Book 22, the death of Hector, when Achilles is compared to a star (22.26), Jones tells us that it is a C simile, with a reference to the fire and light imagery that is generally used of Achilles. As Hector flees (22.37), he notes that the description of the pursuing Achilles is focalised through Hector?s eyes. He compares the three translations of skhetlios (22.41) and points out that it can apply to either Achilles or Hector. When the text describes how the warriors raced three times around the walls of Troy, ?but? the fourth time?? (22.208), Jones points out that the climax is approaching and refers to other occurrences of this 3 + 1 warning theme. At the death of Hector (22.330-66), Jones lists the many parallels with death of Patroclus in Bk 16.
Overall this volume will be valuable to teachers and students alike, containing information to satisfy a wide range of interests, although referencing and subdivision of introductory material sometimes leads to some extremely cryptic instructions; e.g. for use of chariots (p. 231), we are referred to GI 13B (vi), (ix). The commentary relies on the reader looking back to introductory sections (GI = General Introduction) in a necessarily abbreviated fashion, but I found this time consuming, and felt that a page number might suffice. A notable omission from a work which thoughtfully treats issues of current scholarship is any acknowledgement of feminist driven criticism. Jones is dismissive of interpretations which see Hector?s return to the city (6.237-500) as a dangerous return to ?the world of women? (mentioned twice p. 121), without referring to a source. One has only to type ?Women in Homer? into the web search-engine Google to see how many courses are taught on this topic, with a wide range of reading materials. Many of his readers would have appreciated a more considered treatment of the topic.