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Reviewed by:
  • Hippota Nestor
  • Richard P. Martin
Douglas Frame. Hippota Nestor. Hellenic Studies 37. Washington, D.C.: Center for Hellenic Studies, 2009. Dist. by Harvard University Press. x + 912 pp. 12 black-and-white plates, 6 maps. Paper, $34.95.

This magisterial volume achieves a remarkable new synthesis of work on the deep roots of the Homeric poems in Indo-European antiquity with fine-grained historical analyses of the period when the text was crystallizing (eighth–fifth centuries b.c.e.). Frame’s unmatched range of learning in specialized subjects from Vedic meter and Greek noun morphology to the tangled web of Ionian inter-state relations in the archaic era enables him to buttress a massive structure of argumentation arrayed with architectural artistry over five large parts (each the size of a small monograph and detailed with a mass of excellent notes). The result should change views not just of the underlying poetic structure of the Iliad and Odyssey but also of the place, date, and circumstances of their composition. Few Classics books containing 782 pages of text can be said to reward reading of every paragraph; this one does.

The argument evolves in two extended narrative sequences: one about Nestor (parts 1 and 2, comprising chaps. 1–7), the other about the locales affecting the shape of Homeric poetry (parts 3–5, chaps. 8–14). It is the all-important figure of Nestor, along with the myth-historical evidence about his family the Neleids, that unites the two.

The first sequence starts from the findings of Frame’s 1978 monograph The Myth of Return in Early Greek Epic (New Haven), which has remained essential for its careful exposition of the deep mythopoetic structure of the Odyssey. Tracing the implications of etymology—the verbal root shared between the name Nestor and nostos (“return”)—led Frame three decades ago to profound conclusions about narrative, culture and its heroes, the “return to light and life” as related to the notion of “consciousness” (noos), and the epic role played by the cunning intelligence of Odysseus and Nestor. Here he expands the earlier analysis to take full account of the connection between Nestor and the cognate Nāsatyā, twin Vedic gods better known as the Aśvinā, the Dioscuric horsemen of the Indic pantheon. That the horseman (hippota) Nestor can be related to an Indo-European “twin myth” is held to be the key to the Pylian hero’s function in Homeric poetry.

After a precise account of the semantics of the root *nes- as developed in Greek with specific reference to “safe return,” Frame tackles the even more complex Sanskrit linguistic and poetic evidence. The Nāsatyā are known for saving and healing, returning others to light—or even, in a cosmic context, dispelling [End Page 687] darkness to retrieve light itself. Beneath the usual treatment of the pair as indissociable are slender signs of distinction; in their paternity, for instance (Rig Veda 1.181), and in hints that one is associated with cattle, the other with horses. Frame follows these traces through later epic stories about Nakula and Sahadeva, sons of the Vedic twin gods who express more openly the paternal variations. Juxtaposing the rich evidence concerning Castor and Pollux in Greek tradition, he finds that it preserves an archaic situation whereby one (immortal) twin rescues another (mortal) from death. A rigorous linguistic and metrical analysis, bringing in the evidence of Iranian for a singular noun, enables him to conclude that the twin-name Nāsatyā actually represents the nominalization of an old syntagma (third-person singular + relative pronoun) *nasati ya “he who brings back to life.”

The meaningfulness of this carefully sketched Indo-European background for Nestor emerges chiefly in Iliad 11.670–761, his autobiographical tale of youthful raiding. His brother Periclymenos had been killed when Heracles sacked Pylos; some time later Nestor must take on the characteristics of his dead “twin,” seize cattle from the Epeians of Elis, and then become a horseman in the ensuing battle for his city. Although Periclymenos is not technically a twin brother (he is one of eleven sons of Neleus besides Nestor, or one of two others, according to the Odyssey), this shape...


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