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  • The Making of the Iliad: Disquisition and Analytical Commentary
  • Carolina López-Ruiz
Martin L. West . The Making of the Iliad: Disquisition and Analytical Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. x + 441 pp. 2 maps. Cloth, $160.

This book is the result of Martin L. West's life-long study of Homer's poetry, leading to what he presents as definitive answers to the "Homeric question" and to a detailed mapping of the composition of the Iliad. West brings back the specters of eighteenth-century Analyst scholars, pitched in battle against the Oralists, who have dominated Homeric scholarship of the twentieth century, following the Parry-Lord approach to oral poetry. West's hypothesis is "that the poet progressively amplified his work, not just by adding more at the end but by making insertions in parts already composed," and that he did this in writing, which allowed him to undertake a composition of such unprecedented length. The competing Oralists, according to him, postulate "that, being an oral poet and not on close terms with the art of writing, he must be supposed to have produced the whole Iliad sequentially in the order in which we have it." West's hypothesis "wins" (sic), because it accounts for the "numerous anomalies and discontinuities in the narrative," which the other hypothesis, in his opinion, does not. West's approach revives the analytical reading of the poem, dissecting it into allusions, parallels, insertions, and expansions of various types, while defending the single authorship of the Iliad (in the tradition of the Unitarians), though without denying the contribution of oral tradition to the repertoire of the poet (Oralism), the kernels of which lie in the Late Bronze Age and in some cases even earlier, in the Indo-European milieu. Furthermore, West emphasizes the need to consider the contemporary poetry that Homer might have drawn from, especially but not only that related to the Epic Cycle (Neoanalysis), to which he adds the influence of Near-Eastern literature (Comparativism). In other words, West appropriates the best of every modern theory in order to fashion a balanced (while not necessarily irrefutable) proposal of how the Homeric poems took the shape they have.

Part 1 ("Disquisitions: The Making of the Iliad"), presents West's views on authorship and method of composition. Part 2 ("Analytical Commentary: The Made Iliad") contains a book-by-book commentary on the poem, averaging ten to twenty pages per book. The seventy-seven pages of part 1, in turn, are divided into six short chapters. In the first chapter, West lays out five clear propositions pertaining to the "Homeric question": (1) the Iliad is (almost entirely) the work of one poet; (2) he was not the poet of the Odyssey; (3) he was not called Homer (West calls him "P"); (4) he composed the Iliad with the aid of writing and over a long period of time; (5) he did not produce it in one continuous progression from A to Ω. [End Page 323]

The second chapter discusses the date and location of Homer's activity. While questioning the ancient traditions about Homer, West's own inquisitions lead him in a circle back to his traditional homeland in northern Ionia, along the Smyrna-Chios axis. He was born around 700 B.C.E. and spent time in Cyprus and in the Troad, where the family who claimed descent from Aeneas sponsored him. The third chapter deals with the range of poetry that Homer knew, epic and non-epic, related and unrelated to Troy (although surprisingly West does not include Near-Eastern epics in this discussion, even though numerous Near-Eastern parallels are pointed out in the commentary). Situating Homer's activity in the first half of the seventh century, West can make him aware of Hesiod's cosmogonic poetry (in his view earlier than Homer's) as well as of the martial elegy of Callinus and Tyrtaeus.

Chapter 4 explores the possible roots of the story about Troy and the Iliad's main hero, Achilles. West provides a synthesis of what we know about Troy from archaeological data and Near-Eastern records. He proposes a three-stage process by which Achilles, an independent hero of...


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