Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.10.25

Ernst Heitsch, Gesammelte Schriften, I: Zum fr?hgriechischen Epos.   Munich and Leipzig:  K.G. Saur, 2001.  Pp. 272.  ISBN 3-598-77701-9.  EUR 94.00.  

Reviewed by James P. Holoka, Foreign Language Department, Eastern Michigan University (
Word count: 1590 words

This is the first volume in a projected three-volume compilation of previously published articles and reviews by Ernst Heitsch. Volume 2 (2002) is dedicated to his work on Greek philosophy, volume 3 will gather his contributions on Greek literature up to the early Christian era.

The pieces on early Greek epic included here are arranged not simply chronologically but with a well-conceived design. The first and longest essay, "'Homer' eine Frage der Definition" (9-65), is in fact one of the most recently published (2000) in the collection. Its placement facilitates two helpful preliminaries: (1) a demonstration of the author's literary critical orientation to the Homeric poems and his approach to questions of their date and authorship, and (2) a forecast of much of what is to come in the following essays and reviews.

In this programmatic opening paper, Heitsch stakes out, with certain refinements, the Neoanalytic positions he took as long ago as his Epische Kunstsprache und homerische Chronologie (Heidelberg 1968). Neoanalysts, in a nutshell, seek to trace back elements of the received text of the Homeric epics to other, earlier, putative poems (an Achilleis, an Aethiopis, etc.) within the oral tradition. Evidence for these poems is extracted and extrapolated from sources including (late summaries of) the Cyclic Epic poets, the Homeric Hymns, images on Greek painted pottery, and--by ingenious interpretation of certain inconcinnities--the Homeric poems themselves.1 Heitsch begins by examining Iliadic episodes better suited to a narrative of events in the first rather than the tenth year of the war: the surprised and aggressive reaction of Hector and the Trojans to the approach of the Greek army in Book 2; the "dawn the light" idea in Book 3 of deciding and ending the conflict by the monomachia of the two principals in the dispute over Helen; also in Book 3, Helen's enlistment as "spotter" on the walls of Troy; the consultation among the Trojans whether they ought to return Helen only in Book 7 rather than immediately after the defeat of Paris in Book 3, a consultation, like the duel, suited to a very early stage in the war. Heitsch also argues that, in Book 12, the predicted destruction by Poseidon and Apollo of the trench and wall constructed around the Achaean shoreline encampment through the diversion of watercourses was suggested by the destruction of Babylon by the Assyrians in 689 B.C.2

In the title of this essay, Heitsch places the name "Homer" in quotation marks, judging that we may legitimately so designate either of two composers, a first and a final. On the one hand, there is the eighth-century oral poet who gave form to an Iliad in its general outlines: i.e., an epic featuring a plot driven by the quarrel of two major figures on the Greek side as it plays itself out in a few days of the tenth year of the war. On the other hand, there is the poet who produced ca. 650 the specific written version of the Iliad that has come down to us. The latter stars an Achilles whose behavior complicates the heroic ideal and an Agamemnon whose primary offense is against Apollo, not Achilles. Heitsch is at his most compelling in identifying the distinguishing themes and motifs in this final, "Apollonian" Iliad and in showing that the author's concentration on his own poetic goals overrode any concerns he might have had about the ill-adjustment of the pre-existing materials he was incorporating into his narrative. Finally, this ultimate written version was itself somewhat altered, perhaps in the process of editing at Athens after 600.

Heitsch's argument that the Iliad took form in two decisive steps about a century apart opens the way for him to make the Neoanalytic case while adroitly asserting both the existence of an oral tradition and the crucial position of an ultimate written version of the epic. Though it has long been recognized that Neoanalysis might be compatible with oral poetry theory, indeed may contribute to it in significant ways,3 a problem is posed by the contention of some theorists that the nature of an oral-formulaic poetic language within a long tradition of composition nullifies our usual notions of "quotation" or even "allusion" within that tradition.4 Heitsch's aim, of course, is to make the case for such allusion or reminiscence even within formulaic conventions; otherwise, the Neoanalytic enterprise founders. So, yes, there existed an orally evolved Kunstsprache that facilitated the centuries-long tradition of epic poetry, but we may nonetheless detect quite complex lines of direct and indirect influence within the framework of a two-stage creative process.

For example, Heitsch attempts to prove a telling interrelationship among lines in three poems: the Homeric Hymns to Delian Apollo (line 187) and to Demeter (line 484); and the written, mid-seventh-century Iliad (20.142). The lines tell of a god or gods going to Olympus or the house of Zeus "to the company of the other gods," the?n meth' hom?gurin all?n. In both Hymns, the formula is quite appropriate: Apollo is going from his birthplace on Delos to Delphi and then to join his fellow Olympians in his proper place; Demeter, having isolated herself in grief for her lost daughter is returning to her rightful place among the other gods. But in Iliad 20, in the scenario that Poseidon envisages for Hera, there will be no "other" gods present on Olympus to whom to return. The formula is thus very fitting in the Hymns, much less so in the Iliad. Heitsch concludes that it was first devised for the passage in the Hymn to Apollo, then used in the Hymn to Demeter with the addition of the phrase imen Oulumponde, whence, having achieved formulaic status, it was adopted rather inappropriately in Iliad 20.142. Thus, while not antedating the eighth-century oral Iliad, the Hymns did influence the poet of the seventh-century written text. (More detail in "Eine junge epische Formel" [151-59]: Heitsch elaborately schematizes possible inter-radiations of influence among the Hymn to Apollo and the two crystallizations of our Iliad in "Der delische Apollonhymnos und unsere Ilias" [160-77].)

The preceding summary will give the flavor of the argumentation throughout Heitsch's essays. As mentioned, the opening article touches on many of the topics treated more fully in the other items gathered here; thus, in addition to mere footnote citations, the reader may consult the relevant essays themselves. Besides those cited in the previous paragraph, these include discussions of: the expansion in our Iliad of a dispute over Briseis to include the momentous dispute over Chryseis and the concomitant offense against Apollo ("Der Anfang unserer Ilias und Homer" [66-84]); the surprising change of tactics adopted by the Trojans in Book 2 ("Der Ausbruch der Troer in unserer Ilias" [85-95]); distinctive aspects of Homer's presentation of divinities in four passages of the Iliad ("Die Welt als Schauspiel: Bemerkungen zu einer Theologie der Ilias" [96-125]); the Aias interpolation in the Catalogue of Ships ("Ilias B 557/8" [131-50]); telltale peculiarities in Iliadic passages involving teams of horses ("Homerische Dreigespanne" [210-31]); Zeus' employment of the "scales of destiny" ("Die epische Schicksalswaage" [232-46]); and the distinction between success acquired through divine benefaction and success as personal achievement ("Erfolg als Gabe oder Leistung" [126-30]).

One further article, "Der Zorn des Paris: Zur Deutungsgeschichte eines homerischen Zetemas" (178-209), the earliest in the collection (1967), is devoted to a very problematic line (Iliad 6.326), indeed a single word--cholon--in that line. Heitsch surveys interpretations of Hektor's most peculiar use of the word in addressing Paris, who has been in his bedroom with Helen, "sitting out" the fighting since his near-death experience in Book 3. Reviewed here are the explications offered in antiquity, with quotations of four scholiasts, Plutarch, and Eustathius. Heitsch then summarizes at length the arguments of a Unitarian (Schadewaldt), a Neoanalyst (Kakridis), and an Analyst (Jachmann). He discloses the flaws and special pleading in each, and concludes with a demonstration of the careful coordination of the context of the passage in Book 6 with one in Book 3. Such artistry should not (as Wilamowitz pointed out) be underappreciated in the quest to explain definitively a single odd choice of word.

Rounding out the anthology are reviews (247-72) of J.B. Hainsworth, The Flexibility of the Homeric Formula ("replacing the concept of a formulaic language as a collection of congealed word-combinations is the idea of a linguistic medium in which singers could move freely and confidently and which possessed sufficient flexibility to permit the frequent expression of new thoughts and unique situations within the flow of epic recitation"); Joachim Latacz, ed., Tradition und Neuerung (a compendium of articles worthwhile especially as an introduction, still needed in Germany, to oral poetry theory; also as "ein Stuck Wissenschaftsgeschichte"); and M.L. West, Hesiod: Theogony ("the author ... provides an edition with commentary that is useful alike for its Greek text, for questions of subject matter, for specific explications, and overall conception of [Hesiod] and his work").

All in all, then, this compilation harvests the fruits of thirty-plus years of work by a true Neoanalytic believer. The whole is animated by a fervent conviction that we not only may, but must, fathom the process whereby our Iliad (there is very little on the Odyssey in the book) came to have its unique structure and artistry. Those able to embrace or at least tolerate 5 this persistent ideology of composition and influence will find much of value in Heitsch's Kleine Schriften. The argumentation is consistently clever, cogent, and subtle; the control of ancient sources and modern scholarship (not only in German) consummate; the literary critical sensibility refined and persuasive.


1.   See W. Kullmann, "Zur Methode der Neoanalyse in der Homerforschung," Wiener Studien 15 (1981) 5-42, and idem, "Ergebnisse der motivgeschichtlichen Forschung zu Homer (Neoanalyse)," in Zweihundert Jahre Homer-Forschung: R?ckblick und Ausblick, ed. J. Latacz (Stuttgart and Leipzig 1991) 425-55. By contrast, old-style (i.e., nineteenth- and early twentieth-century) Analysis posited Ur-versions of the Homeric poems which were then expanded by later additions, for example, by slow accretion around a central kernel (Kerntheorie), or by the amalgamation of many small songs (Kleinliedertheorie). These were conceived of as wholesale expansions, not the relatively small interpolations into a fixed written version recognized by most Homeric scholars whatever their critical orientation. (Iliad 10, the "Doloneia," is a special case.)
2.   See M.L. West, "The Date of the Iliad," Museum Helveticum 52 (1995) 203-19 and idem, The East Face of Helicon (Oxford 1997) 377-80. Heitsch (28, n. 15) also cites Walter Burkert, "Das hunderttorige Theben und die Datierung der Ilias," Wiener Studien 10 (1976) 5-21, to similar effect with regard to the destruction of Egyptian Thebes in 663.
3.   See Alfred Heubeck, Die Homerische Frage (Darmstadt 1974) 151, and W. Kullmann, "Oral Poetry Theory and Neoanalysis in Homeric Research," Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 25 (1984) 311.
4.   At 60, n. 74 and again at 160, n. 1, Heitsch quotes J.B. Hainsworth, Homer [Greece & Rome New Surveys in the Classics, No. 3] (Oxford 1969) 30: "The fact that formulae, or most of them, are common property means that no occurrence of a line or a phrase is in any sense a quotation or a reminiscence of another occurrence," and, approvingly, M.D. Reeve's laconic demurral--"for 'is' read 'need be.'"
5.   Cf. F.M. Combellack, "Contemporary Homeric Scholarship," Classical World 49 (1955) 31: "This kind of search for this kind of sources is a strange and malignant Analytical disease which has infected many Unitarians .... Some Unitarians are now spending much of their time roaming in the fairyland which has long had such attractions for the Analysts, and we are now likely to meet in Unitarian works the same sort of fabulous monsters (Meleagergedicht, Memnongedicht, and the like) as used to amuse us only in Analytical treatises. These Unitarians not only have the old Analytical affection for these wondrous imaginary poems but also have the same amazing knowledge of their size, contents, and quality." These particular Unitarians are in fact Neoanalysts. The latter term, evidently coined by Johannes T. Kakridis (see his Homeric Researches [Lund 1949] 2, 7), was not in wide circulation in 1955, though Combellack was aware of it.

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