Monday, August 01, 2022



M.L. West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 116-117:
The 'priamel' (praeambulum) is a figure familiar to classicists from archaic elegy and lyric, whereby a series of parallel statements serves to throw the last into relief.129 Solon fr. 9 may serve as an illustration: 'From the cloud comes the fury of snow and hail, | from the bright lightning comes thunder, | and from big men a city is destroyed.' When Achilles says to Hector 'As there are no treaties between lions and men, nor do wolves and lambs maintain concord, . . . so there is no friendship for me and you' (Il. 22.262–5), it is from the formal point of view a simile, but otherwise it much resembles a priamel.

Occasional Indic examples can be found. Watkins has adduced RV 8.3.24, 'The soul is food, the body clothing, | unguent gives strength; | as the fourth I have named Pākasthāman, | generous giver of the bay.'130 The poet's patron, Pākasthāman, has given him a horse, and the priamel serves to praise him by setting him in parallel with those things that give food, clothing, and strength.

Another Vedic passage seems an astonishing pre-echo of Pindar's most famous priamel. RV 1.161.9:
ā́po bhū́yiṣṭhā íti éko abravīd;
agnír bhū́yiṣṭha íti anyó abravīt;
vadharyántīm bahúbhyaḥ práiko abravīd;
ṛtā́ vádantaś camasā́m apiṃśata.

'The waters are best', said one;
'fire is best', said another;
one commended the thunderbolt(?) to many;
(but) speaking the truth, you (Ṛbhus) carved the (gods') chalice.
This is how Pindar exalts the Olympic Games:
The best thing is water; gold shines like a blazing fire
in the night above all proud wealth;
but if you yearn to sing of games, my heart . . .131
The Rāmāyaṇa provides a couple of fine examples: 2.34.25, 'Without strings a lute cannot be played, without wheels a chariot cannot move, and without her husband a woman finds no happiness, though she have a hundred sons'; 2.98.6, 'An ass cannot match the pace of a horse, birds cannot match Tārkṣya’s pace, nor have I the power to match yours, lord of the land.'

From Old Norse and Old English we may adduce Hávamál 53 lítil lá sanda, lítil lá sæva, lítil ero geð guma, 'narrow the sands’ edge, narrow the seas' edge, narrow are the minds of men'; Maxims B 16–20, 'The hawk belongs on the glove . . .' ; the wolf belongs in the forest . . .' ; the boar belongs in the wood . . .' ; a good man belongs in his native land, forging his reputation'; 21–8, 'The javelin belongs in the hand . . .'; the gem belongs on the ring . . .' ; the stream belongs among the waves . . .'; [four more items, then] the king belongs in his hall, sharing out rings' (trs. S.A.J. Bradley).

This evidence is perhaps rather too scant and scattered to allow us at present to claim the priamel as an Indo-European figure. But future observation may augment it.

129 W. Kröhling, Die Priamel (Beispielreihung) als Stilmittel in der griechisch-römischen Dichtung (Diss. Greifswald 1935); Franz Dornseiff, Antike und alter Orient (Leipzig 1956), 379–93. In West (1997), 509 f., 526, I have noted some Hebrew examples.

130 Watkins (1995), 115; his translation.

131 Pind. Ol. 1.1 f., cf. 3.42-4; Bacchyl. 3.85–92. For the Vedic comparison see Wüst (1969), 70–108.
There is a striking example in The Rigveda: The Earliest Religious Poetry of India. Translated by Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton, Vol. III (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 1363-1364 (RV 9.112):
1. Truly our thoughts are various, and the obligations of peoples are different:
a carpenter seeks the broken, a healer the injured, a formulator a man who presses soma.
— O drop, flow around for Indra.

2. With old [=dry] plants, with the feathers of birds,
and with stones—throughout the days the smith seeks a man who has gold.
— O drop, flow around for Indra.

3. I am a bard, Papa a healer, and Mama is pushing a pestle.
Having varying thoughts but (all) seeking goods, we follow (goods) like cows.
— O drop, flow around for Indra.

4. The draft-horse seeks an easy-rolling chariot, beguilers a joke;
the penis seeks the hairy split, the frog just seeks water.
— O drop, flow around for Indra.
Eric Thomson remarks on the 4th stanza:
Or, as bowdlerised by Ralph T.H. Griffith, 'The male desires his mate's approach', which rather puts the draft-horse before the chariot.
See Ana Galjanić, Three and Then Some: A Typology of Poetic Enumeration in Greek and Related Indo-European Traditions (diss. Harvard University, 2007), Chapter 2: Typological and structural comparison of poetic sets and priamels, pp. 48-141, where RV 9.112 is mentioned on p. 92, n. 88.

See also Paul Veyne, "The Pastoral in City Clothes," tr. Davis Pellauer, in Paul Allen Miller, ed., Latin Erotic Elegy: An Anthology and Reader (London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 366-385, where RV 9.112 mentioned at p. 381, n. 20, in a discussion of the priamel.

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