A political term in a paraphrase of Homer by Plato

2016.09.21 | By David Elmer

The verb ep-eu-phēmeîn (ἐπευφημεῖν) at I.01.022 is virtually a hapax legomenon in the Homeric corpus: it occurs only here and in Achilles’ repetition of the line when he recounts for Thetis the poem’s opening scene, I.01.376. It is an exceptional, one-off substitute for ep-aineîn (ἐπαινεῖν) ‘approve’, the expected term, within the Iliad’s “grammar of reception,” for the collective approval of an audience in scenes of collective decision-making.

Agamemnon rejects the gifts offered by Chryses. 1660 engraving for John Ogilby's Iliad.
Agamemnon rejects the gifts offered by Chryses. 1660 engraving for John Ogilby’s Iliad.

The verb ep-eu-phēmeîn (ἐπευφημεῖν) at line 22 of Iliad 1 is virtually a hapax legomenon in the Homeric corpus: it occurs only here and in Achilles’ repetition of the line when he recounts for Thetis the poem’s opening scene, line 376 of Iliad 1. It is an exceptional, one-off substitute for ep-aineîn (ἐπαινεῖν) ‘approve’, the expected term, within the Iliad’s “grammar of reception,” for the collective approval of an audience in scenes of collective decision-making. Its occurrence here signals that the poem’s opening assembly represents a “state of exception,” a breach of political and social norms that will drive the subsequent development of the plot. (For further discussion, see Elmer 2013, especially pp. 30–31 and 71–74.)

When Plato, in Republic 3.393d-394a, has Socrates offer a prose paraphrase of the Iliad’s opening scene, as an illustration of pure diēgēsis (διήγησις) without mīmēsis (μίμησις), he renders the line as follows: οἱ μὲν ἄλλοι ἐσέβοντο καὶ συνῄνουν ‘the others showed reverence and approved [sun-aineîn]’ (3.393e4). The use here of the verb sun-aineîn (συναινεῖν) ‘approve’ is Plato’s way of reproducing the substitution of one verb by another. In Republic 2.379e and 2.383a, he demonstrates a full awareness of the significance of the Homeric verb ep-aineîn (ἐπαινεῖν) ‘approve’ (Elmer 2013: 217–19). By using the variant compound sun-aineîn in Republic 3, he provides a gloss on the relation between the phraseology of the poem’s opening and the wider system of Homeric formulas.

It is worth remarking that Plato has evidently used the opening of the Iliad as the basis for his example of pure diēgēsis (διήγησις) because the scene is narrated twice within the Iliad itself, once in the mixed ‘mimetic’ and ‘diegetic’ style (I.01.012–042) that characterizes Homeric narrative generally, and once, by Achilles, in the purely ‘diegetic’ style (I.01.370–382). Of course, the latter passage is also ‘mimetic,’ in the sense that the Homeric narrator performs a mīmēsis (μίμησις) of Achilles performing a diēgēsis (διήγησις) of the narrator’s own ‘mixed’ narrative. Nevertheless, Socrates’ paraphrase reproduces in prose exactly what Achilles does in his speech; namely, it recounts the poem’s opening scene without any quotation of direct speech. Moreover, Socrates’ speech is arguably ‘mimetic’ in just the same way as Achilles’: his diēgēsis (διήγησις) is embedded within Plato’s mīmēsis (μίμησις) of Socrates. [[DFE 2016.09.21.]]

 

Bibliography

Elmer, D. F. 2013. The Poetics of Consent: Collective Decision-Making and the Iliad. Baltimore.



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