Monday, November 27, 2023

Homeric Echoes

C.M. Bowra (1898-1971), Early Greek Elegists (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1938), pp. 15-16:
Callinus likes to end a pentameter with a Homeric phrase such as ἀλλά τις ἰθὺς ἴτω or κουριδίης τ' ἀλόχου and all his hexameters end with a word which occurs at the end of a Homeric hexameter. The explanation of these Homeric echoes is similar to what we have seen in the case of Archilochus, but here we see on a larger scale how the elegiac poet used the epic language. The borrowing is not due to the fact that Callinus was a mere imitator and did not know how to make a language of his own. It is rather the case that in his time almost any poet writing elegiac verse learned not to operate with a vocabulary of single, select words which were characteristically his own but with phrases and even with whole lines which belonged to his craft. He composed his verses in his head, and the task of composition was made easier, almost made possible, by the fact that for most situations and thoughts there was a phrase ready-made in the epic. The poet must often, too, have had to improvise as popular poets still do in the less literate parts of Europe, and for improvisation a stock vocabulary of this kind is almost indispensable. So the circumstances in which Callinus composed were different from any modern poet's. Nor was he expected to be remarkably original. He must say the right thing for the occasion, and he must say it in language sufficiently elevated. But he could use the ordinary language of poetry as he and his hearers knew it. Callinus indeed used it with ease and fluency. The epic phrases fall easily into his verse; there is no sense of strain or of obstacles overcome with difficulty.