Warring States Project
In addition to its work on the classical Chinese texts, and on parallel problems in the New Testament canon, the Project in recent years has considered the two Homeric poems as a third area in which the application of basic philological methods (stuff like, What's an interpolation? and, Where does this text actually end?) can yield results useful to scholarship.
This section of the Project site is devoted to those researches. In pursuing the matter, we follow the critical tradition of earlier centuries. We ask the basic question: How did these texts get to be the way they are? We have no intention of replaying the old War Between the Analysts and the Unitarians. We accept that every word written about Homer, from either viewpoint, is entirely true. But we suspect that not all those words are true of the same formative phase of the texts.
One new factor in these researches is the use of the BIRD test of stylistic difference, which helps to remove impressionism from one important part of the data. Another is awareness of duration and other requirements of musical performance. A third is attention to duplicate lines, some of which are indeed formulaic, but others of which are better analyzed as literary borrowings, whose directionality is evidence for the formation process. Special attention is also given to ethos changes in the implied audience of the poems. In the classical Chinese texts, we find reflected a process of state transformation, from an old weak palace mode to a strong new bureaucratic mode. In the first Christian century, we may watch as the divinization process operates on the Jesus movement's central figure, and as doctrine gradually hardens. With the the Homeric texts, one background factor seems to be a gradual transition from a warlike to a domestic and even a civic sensibility (the latter is the old question of the polis in these texts). We find that the Iliad and the Odyssey tend to evolve along with their background, adapting to what their audiences already think, or want to hear.
Otherwise, our methodology is common property in all the humanistic disciplines, save perhaps when they are dealing with culturally protected texts the recognition of interpolations, the determination of directionality between related texts, and the motives and conditions behind the texts themselves.
These pages, however, are private. They are not linked from any other part of the Warring States Project web site, and are intended exclusively as assistance to a conversation taking place on the dedicated Homerica E-list, hosted at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Selected results will be published (under the Comparative rubric) in the Project's journal Alpha. If results justify and resources permit, perhaps at some future date they may be gathered into book form.
The theory that each poem was improvised in one continuous effort by a single poet happens to be stylistically testable. Both poems fail that test, meaning that a more complex scenario must be sought. For the Iliad, we presently envision the following scenario:
- A tradition of separately performable hero exploits from the Trojan War, as background
- [A] Homer selects, adapts, and adds to make a story the Trojan War as seen in the deeds of one heroic individual, Achilles
- [B] This consecutive core receives additions reflecting a less warlike ethos
- [C] This in turn is augmented by material expressing a specifically civic ethos
For the Odyssey, agreed to be on the whole later than the Iliad, we have
- The pre-existing Iliad or its core, plus such popular material as tales of the Argonauts, as background
- [A] Someone devises a brief poem in Homeric style, also concentrating on an individual, in this case Odysseus' wife Penelope
- [B] This poem undergoes major expansion and rewriting to transform it into a saga of Telemachus, all but suppressing the original role of Penelope
The material in Odyssey B may comprise more than one stage. An intriguing question for both poems is the nature and degree of their interrelationship. Some parts of the Iliad have been characterized as Odyssean, and the final phases of each poem seem to imply a similar ethos. If so, then in some sense Iliad C may overlap with Odyssey B.
Specifics are divided according to the poem in which they occur. The goal of the collaboration is to work out the details of each poem's formation process, to produce a humanly and poetically intelligible account of their rise and complication. For some sample details, see these sections:
The Omega section also contains summaries of basic technique, including an explanation of BIRD and a master list of BIRD results and other data reports; and a Forum where conference and other papers, including some preprints from Alpha, are available for internal comment and criticism:
- Technique (including references to material elsewhere on the Project site)
- Forum (papers and preprints for discussion)