Subscribe to Blog via Email
December 2023 M T W T F S S « Jul 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
War of Troy
For far, far too long, scholars have treated Early Modern Greek literature as linguistic quarry, and have neglected these texts as literature in their own terms. Over the past couple of decade, this injustice has finally started to be redressed, as the Romances in particular have gained much deserved attention.
This post, on the other hand, continues in the bad old tradition.
As the TLG expands its coverage into Early Modern Greek, I have gone through the word recognition of the War of Troy. The War of Troy is an interesting text, and I am going to say some very superficial things about it.
The War is a retelling of the events of the Iliad. It’s not a first hand retelling. Around the end of the Roman empire, two people calling themselves Dictys the Cretan and Dares the Phrygian—and eyewitnesses to what went down in Ilium—wrote popular Latin retellings of the story. The Middle Ages being a gullible time, Dictys’ and Dares’ narrative ended up taken more seriously than Homer’s. After all, Dictys was there!
A few centuries later, Benoît de Sainte-Maure based his Roman de Troie on Dictys’ and Dares’ Latin. Some time after that, an anonymous Greek produced a Greek translation. (Outside Crete, anyone writing in the vernacular was anonymous: it wasn’t the kind of writing you took credit for.)
So we have a three generations down retelling of the Homeric original. Greeked by a writer who knows the names of Achilles and Helen in Greek, but not much else: there’s no evidence the translator knew any Homer. (And why would he need to? After all, Dictys was there!)
So you can imagine what’s happened to the names in this. That was a fun couple of nights to work through. The translator would take a look at the Old French, breath in, and guess. From what I can see, Benoît had done the same. Telemachus (Τηλέμαχος “Fights-Far-Away”) becomes Θελέμαχος “Wanna-Fight”. Assyria becomes Ζύρη. Boeotia Βοιωτία becomes Βοέκη (via Boëce). The King of the Scythians Rex Scytharum became Citare and thence Κιτάριος. A king from Syme, ex Syme, became Essimieïs and thence king of Ἐξιμιόνη. Somehow, Zeleia Ζέλεια ended up as Σιτζήλια, and Sicily Σικελία as Ζήλικος. We even have a Ἱουπιτής and a Νέπτιπος in the cast. That’s Jupiter and Neptune to you. And the only way I can explain Iphinoös Ἰφίνοος becoming Ἰσίδιος is via f looking like ſ (long s). (Did they have long s in 1400?)
All very fish in a barrel, that, so we’ll move on. The War of Troy was first published very very late. In fact, 1996. Each romance has its own vocabulary: the romances liked coining compounds, the War in particular has a lot of partly digested Old French, and there are some words that look to be one-offs anyway. But there are three reasons why we’re going to have serious gaps in documentation of the War’s vocabulary for a long time.
- Most Early Modern texts had some sort of edition, however crappy, available by the time Kriaras started writing his dictionary. The War didn’t. So the volumes of Kriaras written before 1996 won’t know anything about its vocabulary.
- The volumes of Kriaras up to 1997 each had addenda about new words that had turned up since the last volume. A horrid chore if you’re looking up a word, but editing Early Modern Greek is still a boom industry. (Or it was 10 years ago, when I was able to follow it.) So that kind of update does need to happen. After its decade hiatus, the new volumes don’t have addenda. So unless there’s a change of policy (or they become a real electronic dictionary, with dynamic update), Kriaras is not going to cover the War at all.
- That’s *real* electronic dictionary. The online abridgement was supposed to keep updating with each volume of the post-hiatus full dictionary. Nothing’s happened in the past three years.
- The editors of the War said they would publish a Volume II with a glossary. (Mercifully, they did put in a few pages of the more common undocumented words in Vol. I.) It’s been 13 years, and Google tells me naught; I have no particular reason to hold my breath that I will see a Vol. II.
It’s a shame, because the glossary they do include has some words that I’m scratching my head about.
- I’m convinced I’ve seen καιρογεύω “to hire” somewhere before, but I have no idea where. Neither does Kriaras or Trapp.
- A γορζέρα is a visor on a helmet, translating French ventaille. (Yes, of course the War of Troy has visors and jousting and mediaeval stuff.) But ventaille is not [ɡorzera], and there’s no way that’s a Greek word. Where did it come from?
- καλανίζω means “to spatter”. Where did *that* come from?
- Ditto τόρτσα [tortsa] for chandelier, and χωρίγιν [xoriɣin] for “cement”.
I suspect some of this is Italian or Venetian, but some of it clearly isn’t.
There’s a reason the War took so long to publish. It’s huge by the standards of the time: 14000 verses. It was quite popular (six surviving manuscripts), so there’s a lot of manuscript collation to do. We have the French original, which you also have to take into account when doing the collation. What that leaves you is a lot more donkey work than usual for editing a text: normally you’d be lucky to have a couple of manuscript witnesses.
It also means the temptation there is emend the text, to match the French original more closely. The degree of emendation in the War is more than most scholars these days are comfortable with; and because the emendation did not prioritise linguistic plausibility, you have to look in the margin (the source readings) if you’re going to do any linguistics with the text. There are anachronisms in there.
Emendation in mediaeval texts is inevitable, just as it is inevitable in Classical texts: texts got miscopied, mistransmitted, misconstrued. But vernacular texts don’t work like Classical texts in transmission: the scribes feel a lot freer to tinker with the text, because ten centuries of Ancient Authority aren’t going to gainsay them. And the results of a scribe tinkering with a vernacular text are not as noticeable as with a Classical text—so you have less of a gut instinct to go with, for which of two variants is the original.
Gut instinct is a risky thing to rely on anyway, and Early Modern Greek texts have suffered a lot from Modern Greek scholars coming along, and assuming they know the language and metre and poetics of the texts better than the scribes did. The scribes were often enough blockheads, that’s true. That doesn’t mean modern editors aren’t fallible.
- Assuming 14th century iambic heptameter was the same as 20th century iambic heptameter, and emending it when it wasn’t
- Assuming the 16th century dialect of Rethymnon was the same as the 20th century dialect of Rethymnon, and emending it when it wasn’t
It’s not that they are not usually the same; but they are decidedly not always the same, and you’d better have an explicit argument for when you do tamper with the text.
And I’m sorry, but in the same vein, if you’re editing a 14th century text like the War of Troy, and you’re looking to emend a verse with a single-syllable future particle, because the French original is in the future tense—you do NOT use a particle that first appeared in Greek in 1700! What on earth use is that? Would you put “gonna” into your Chaucer? “Kthxbye” into your Dickens?
“tl;dr”, that you can put into Dickens…
The particle in question is θα, which in 1400 was only starting to be emerge as the uncontracted θέλω να. The monosyllabic particle they were actually looking for was να, the subjunctive marker: the future was “I may go” in 1200 before it started becoming “I will go” in 1400, and by 1700 “I’ll go”—if I can use English analogy here.
“θα exists in this text only by emendation (1816, 8796, 8972)” p. lxxvii—it shouldn’t be there at all. Verse 1816:
Ἐτοῦτοι ὁποῦ εἰς τὰ κάτεργα θὰ εῖναι διωρθωμένοι
“Those who in the galleys shall be set right”
1816 θὰ Pap[athompoulos], cf. 4669 E cil qui remandront as nes : ἂς ABVX.
The ἂς reading is grammatically awkward, and somewhat odd (“those who in the galleys may they be set right”); but it’s in all the manuscripts, and is not outright wrong. If you want to claim that the translator must have rendered the future remandront with a future, then for pity’s sake use the historically plausible future: Ἐτοῦτοι ὁποῦ εἰς τὰ κάτεργα νὰ εῖναι διωρθωμένοι
Let that be a lesson to… well, to someone.