Scholia Reviews ns 14 (2005) 25.
Gregory Nagy, Plato's Rhapsody and Homer's Music: The Poetics of the Panathenaic Festival in Classical Athens. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002. Pp. x + 124. ISBN 0-674-00963-0. US$16.95, UK£10.95. Further details.
S. A. Burgess
Mediterranean Center for Arts and Sciences, Syracuse, Italy.
Plato's Rhapsody and Homer's Music: The Poetics of the Panathenaic Festival in Classical Athens (hereafter PRHM) by Gregory Nagy aims to create a convincing reconstruction of a key phase in the history of the Homeric tradition by examining the professional performers of Homeric poetry and the Athenian festival of the Panathenaia, which was the setting for these performances: 'My main argument is that the city of Athens in general and the Panathenaia in particular can be viewed as two decisive factors in the gradual shaping of what became the definitive forms of the Iliad and Odyssey' (p. 7). In setting out his argument Nagy takes a selection of Plato's works (concentrating on such dialogues as the Ion, Timaeus, Critias and the Pseudo-Platonic Hipparkhos) as a principal source for and testimony to the performance of Homeric poetry at the Panathenaia. PRHM contains an introduction and three chapters: 'Homer and Plato at the Panathenaia' (pp. 9-35), 'Epic as Music: Rhapsodic Models of Homer in Plato's Timaeus and Critias' (pp. 36- 69), and 'Humnos in Homer and Plato: Weaving the robe of the Goddess' (pp. 70-98). These are followed by an appendix, 'Rhapsodes and Actors' (pp. 99-102), a bibliography, and a full index. The three chapters of PRHM are in essence self-contained pieces, which is perhaps not surprising as all three have previously been published elsewhere, and assume the reader to be fully acquainted with Nagy's previous publications.
The introduction begins by stating the central argument of this collected volume -- that there exists a historical connection between Homeric poetry and the Athenian festival of the Panathenaia and that this connection can be discerned through the writings of Plato. By way of establishing a methodological context, some space is devoted to a brief summary of Nagy's evolutionary model for the construction of Homeric poetry, followed by a statement of the need to integrate both synchronic and diachronic approaches for a fuller interpretation of Homeric poetry. There is also a discussion of the unique position of Plato as 'our primary source of information about points of contact between Homer and the Panathenaia' (p. 7) and the value of Plato's testimony for the legacy of Homeric performances at the Panathenaia.
Chapter 1 compiles a number of direct and indirect references to the festival of the Panathenaia, which are drawn primarily from the works of Plato, in order to reconstruct synchronic cross-sections or snapshots of the performance of Homeric poetry.[] Nagy begins, with reference to the pseudo-Platonic Hipparkhos, by establishing the significance of the so-called Panathenaic rule governing the performance of the Iliad and Odyssey at the Panathenaia (which prescribed that a rhapsode must take up the narrative in sequence from the position where the previous performer left off) for his evolutionary model for the making of Homeric poetry, arguing that 'the unity of Homeric composition is a result of rhapsodic sequencing in performance' (p. 15). The practice of rhapsodic sequencing is then linked with the concept of 'relay mnemonics' which is presented as a principle that connects, from a diachronic perspective, the Homeric and the rhapsodic traditions. Following a discussion of examples from the Iliad it is revealed that 'the principle of relay mnemonics . . . is to compete in the process of maintaining an overall [narrative] continuum' (p. 22) The principle of competing to maintain such a continuum, Nagy observes, is evident in the exchanges between Socrates and Ion in Plato's Ion. This dialogue is explored both as a source of 'a variety of authentic expressions and turns of phrase that echo the talk of real rhapsodes as they once upon a time practiced their art' (p. 25) and as a Platonic re-creation of a rhapsodic competitive performance, where '[Socrates] argues against Ion's arguments by likewise "quoting" Homer and then by engaging in a verbal commentary on his "quotations"' (p. 24). The chapter concludes by noting, from a diachronic point of view and against Plato, that Ion is not the last in a line of speakers emanating, and so deviating, from an original 'Homer' but that the performance of Homeric poetry is an ongoing process of creation and recreation. Nagy ends by stressing the significance of the position of the rhapsode and the context of his performance, revealing the rhapsode as an authorised (and authorising) performer of Homeric poetry and recognising 'that the authorization of rhapsodic performances came from the authority of the Athenian state, on the authoritative occasion of the Panathenaia' (p. 35).
Chapter 2 proceeds on the premiss that Plato's Timaeus and Critias are both a source of indirect historical information about rhapsodic activity, from which it is possible to recreate the agônes or contests of rhapsodes (as a category of mousikê) at the Panathenaic festival, and may in fact themselves be understood as artistic creations or performances.[] Nagy begins by highlighting that the art of the rhapsodes must be regarded as a competitive, or agonistic, and classed as mousikê and that these terms (agôn and mousikê) are vital to our understanding of the technique of the rhapsode. He then proceeds, through an examination of various direct and indirect literary and epigraphical sources, to recreate both the art of the rhapsode -- those who 'compete with each other even as they "sew together" the parts of the [Iliad and Odyssey]' (p. 47) -- and the context in which these performances took place (the Panathenaia). Passing to the Timaeus- Critias group, we begin with the dramatic date of the dialogues, the festival of the Apatouria (Tim. 21b), in which the story of Athens and Atlantis (recited by the Egyptian priests and retold by Solon) is said to be a humnos sung as an encomium of the goddess. Nagy notes the significance of the presence of Solon in the transmission of this tale to Critias and of the poetry of Solon: 'the poetic medium of Solon -- elegiac and iambic meters -- is appropriate to the performance repertoire of rhapsodes. Solon's poetry is rhapsodic poetry' (p. 55). Nagy then explores the significance of Plato's use of rhapsodic terms and techniques, noting the language used to describe how characters 'hand over' a continuous discourse which is to be 'taken up' by the following speaker. The chapter concludes with the abrupt ending of the Critias which Nagy, having pointed to similar example of performative breaks in the narrative structure of the Iliad, takes to suggest rhapsodic performance: 'In sum, the Critias of Plato breaks off at a point that corresponds to a break in rhapsodic performance.' (p. 66) These points are assembled to show the Timaeus-Critias group 'as artistic -- even rhapsodic -- productions in their own right' (p. 37).
The final chapter contains an analysis of the concept of humnos in Homeric poetry.[] Nagy begins by demonstrating that humnos is related to the term huphaino ( or 'weave') and so sees humnos as a metaphor for the art of the rhapsodes, who weave or sew their songs together as the 'fabric-worker' weaves or sews together cloth. This reasoning is supported by comparative parallels from other languages that develop the metaphor of weaving as the creation of poetry. So that just as the loom, or vertical warp, is that upon which the horizontal weft is crafted (and without the warp the weft cannot be crafted at all), so too in poetry there is a framework (or loom) which is required for and onto which is crafted a plot (or horizontal weft). Nagy then moves to consider the status of Plato's Timaeus, connecting the peplos of the goddess Athena, woven for the occasion of the Panathenaia, with the 'concept of the humnos that is being notionally created for the purpose of celebrating the goddess on the occasion off the Panathenaia in Athens' (p. 88). Nagy concludes by drawing parallels between the performance of the Homeric texts ('woven' together by the performers) at the festival of the Panathenaia with the practice of the offering of the, literally woven, peplos to the goddess Athena which formed the focal point of this festival so as to view Homeric poetry 'as a Panathenaic humnos destined for eternal re-weaving in the eternally self-renewing context of Athens's festival' (p. 98).
Taken as a whole PRHM creates a convincing image of the art of the rhapsode, as one who draws together the strands of Homeric poetry, and the occasion on which this art would be practiced, the Panathenaia, as an institution that would authorise such performances. In terms of appearance, this is a generally clearly-presented and well-produced volume with references inserted as footnotes rather than endnotes and includes a helpful index of transliterated Greek terms.
[] Chapter 1 of PRHM was originally published as G. Nagy, 'Homer and Plato at the Panathenaia: Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives' in T. M. Falkner, N. Felson, and D. Konstan (edd.), Contextualizing Classics (Maryland 1999) 127- 55.
[] Chapter 2 of PRHM was originally published as G. Nagy, 'Epic as Music: Rhapsodic Models of Homer in Plato's Timaeus and Critias' in K. Reichl (ed.), The Oral Epic: Performance and Music (Berlin 2000) 41-67.
[] Chapter 3 of PRHM was originally published as G. Nagy, 'The Textualizing of Homer' in J. Helldén, M. S. Jensen, and T. Pettitt (edd.) Inclinate Aurem: Oral Perspectives on Early European Verbal Culture (Odense 2001) 57-84.