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Dale Parker

CAMWS Talk 3/26/15

Though limited to only 15 minutes, in discussing word order in Greek I can't avoid giving 20

seconds or so to a recusatio. After all, the problem of Greek word order has been around since

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who after offering several theories humbuggingly conceded,

"Experience reduced all these ideas to no account, and the ideas were shown to have no worth."

Not much changed even through the first half of the last century, at which point Denniston

declared, " except in its cruder forms, Greek word order cannot be analyzed."

But progress has been made since then, notably in Dover's 1960 Greek Word Order, and in more

recent years by the application of Functional Grammar to Greek.

What is Functional Grammar? As it pertains to my topic, Functional Grammar analyzes speech

according to the relaying of information. Functional Grammarian Classicists, like Helma Dik, the

late S.R. Slings and others, claim that Greek word order can be accounted for and even predicted

by recourse to Functional Grammar. You will see in sections 1 and 2 on your handout how this

scheme works. (Go through the sections with the audience)

I build particularly on Helma Dik's work because she has analyzed both prose and poetry. The

schema provided on your handout is from her book on word order in Herodotus, but in her 2007

book Word Order in Greek Tragic Dialogue, Helma Dik argues that the tragedians likewise

follow this schema, even within the metrical constraints of tragedy.

In this latter book, Dik discusses the previous scholarship in Classics by Functional

Grammarians, where she off-handedly remarks, "Mark Edwards is more daring than I in
applying a similar mode of analysis to Homeric epic." It's a good thing I read that after I had

embarked on this project of applying Functional Grammar to Homer, because Dik is of course

not short on either daring or achievement in her daring.

So, as mentioned, Mark Edwards has attempted to apply Functional Grammar to Homer.

His analysis is limited both by the audience of the book in which this analysis appears, Sound

Sense and Rhythm: Listening to Greek and Latin Poetry, a collection of lectures delivered at

Oberlin College, and also by Functional Grammar being only an ancillary interest of Edwards in

the book.

To demonstrate these limitations, I put on the handout a line from the Iliad, and Edwards'

commentary on it, which I will now discuss. See roman numeral 3.

If we take Helma Dik's Topic/Focus/Predicate/Remainder template at face-value, this

analysis fits the paradigm. But there remain some unanswered questions: the pronoun is

necessarily clause-initial, and so its position ought to be irrelevant in assigning pragmatic status.

As well, appears line-finally in 35 out of its 35 instances in the Iliad: it

is obviously a necessarily line-final formula, and so its position also ought to be irrelevant in

assigning pragmatic status. In fact, a strong case could be made that is

not a Tail, but is actually the Topic. Simon Dik, the father of Functional Grammar, notes a study

demonstrating that when a Given Topic (GivTop) was introduced, and then another Givtop was

introduced, a reference to an earlier GivTop was ALWAYS achieved by means of a full noun

phrase.1 (Capitalization is his). If we look at Iliad 2.402 in context, we see that Agamemnon

was last mentioned in line 2.369 (33 lines prior), at which point he was a GivTop. He makes a

long speech of more than 25 lines, after which there are 6 lines of narration about the Achaeans,

S.C. Dik 1997: 319.
who thus become a new GivTop. Given the study Dik mentions, it seems necessary that

Agamemnon be re-introduced as a Topic with "a full noun phrase," not just a pronoun. Thus, in

2.402 must be the Topic, not the Tail.

There is also a problem with assigning Focal constituency to . In the passage in

which these lines occur, the Achaeans are sacrificing to many different gods to escape death

(2.400-401). The most salient feature of lines, 2.402-403, then, is not what Agamemnon is

sacrificing, but to whom, and the answer is to Zeus, and so (mighty son of

Kronos), which occurs in the next line, is the Focal constituent. , like

, is a formula that always occurs line finally (four times total) in the Iliad.

Thus, if both and must occur line finally, it

is no surprise that these lines do not follow the word order prescribed by Functional

Grammarians. And so to apply Functional Grammar to Homer, a refinement of the traditional

account for word-order is necessary. We cannot dismiss the violation of expected word order to

poetic license, because Helma Dik has shown that poetic genres like tragedy still conform to

these expectations. So what causes this discrepancy in Homer must be unique to Homer, and I

identify that element as the formula.

OK, so Homeric pragmatics. As Watkins notes, "In Indo-Iranian and Early Greek poetry the

convention is that a verse line equals a sentence,"2 and so each line will generally be a complete

clause with Topic, Focus, and Predicate. Thus enjambment is, predictably, rare. With this being

the case, line-final formulae (which are common) could only be Topical or Focal through

enjambment (which is undesirable) or by violating standard Greek pragmatics. Since a line-final

Watkins 1995: 20
noun formula cannot be the Predicate, and generally a line is too short to have a Tail, we can

assume that this phenomenon happens with some frequency, an assumption that this paper will


Given the possibility, and even necessity, of discrepancy between expected pragmatic

constituents and the actual constituents, certain principles beyond identification of the pre-verbal

unit (which is typical in identifying foci, since the Focus usually precedes the Predicative verb),

certain principles are to be applied in determining the pragmatics of the Homeric clauses. I

propose the following: SEE HANDOUT Roman numeral IV. (explain a bit)

To show how frequently the formula complicates pragmatics, but also to show how frequently

the Homeric composer maintains standard pragmatics despite the limitation of the formula, I did

a case study of the formulaic epithet , "god-like" which must occur line-finally. See

Roman numeral 5 on your handout. I looked up every instance of it in the Iliad. I excluded lines

that are obviously wholly formulaic like , which

leaves 15 uses.

We see here that in 7/15 uses of the epithet , the word-order does not follow the

expectations of Functional Grammar. In all the incorrect usages, modified a noun that

was either a Topic or a Focus, pragmatic constituents that usually are clause-initial or very close

to clause-initial position. As might be expected, if must, by formulaic necessity, be line-

final, pragmatic concerns can only with difficulty be reconciled to metrical concerns. If the

constituent modified by is either Topical or Focal, and is in the correct position in the

clause, this must be accounted for by extraordinary metrical devices, such as enjambment, as in
examples 4, 8, and 11. That leaves 5 occasions where modifies a noun that is either

Topical or Focal, but is inexplicably in the incorrect position.

In order to consider the effect of the formula on word-order in the Homeric texts, it is

important to understand what is meant by formula. E.J. Bakker's Poetry in Speech, in which he

considers orality in general, has significant discussion of Homeric formulae. Quoting Parry,

Bakker defines formula as, "a group of words which is regularly employed under the same

metrical considerations to express a given central idea."3 For Parry, the formulaic nature of the

Homeric texts is a necessary consequence of their orality: "Oral poetry is formulaic and

traditional. The poet who habitually makes his poems without the aid of writing can do so only

by putting together old verses and old parts of verses in an old way."4 As for the purpose of the

formula, "Parry shows that the bewildering variety of epithets and morphologically

heterogeneous dialectical 'forms' is not an arbitrary feature of 'epic style' but conforms to a

system designed to facilitate oral composition in performance."5 In other words the various

formulae are tools the Homeric composer uses to craft regular dactylic hexametric verses. The

extent to which the Homeric composer relied on formulae remains under debate, but even the

scholars who most assert original, non-formulaic composition in Homer concede that at least

two-thirds of the Homeric corpus is formulaic.6 See Finkelberg 2012.

But the term formula needs a proper definition. Finkelberg defines as formulaic any

expression "that occurs at least twice in Homer or any unique expression that presents a

modification of a recognizable formulaic pattern."7 In any place where we have such an

Parry 1971: 272, as quoted in Bakker 1997: 11.
Parry 1971: 377, as quoted in Bakker 1997: 10.
Bakker 1997: 13
Finkelberg 2012: 76
Finkelberg 1989: 181
expression, then, we can assume that the "grammar of poetry" is present, and, if this formulaic

expression is shown to have a strong preference or need for a certain position in the line, it may

be disrupting the standard grammar on which it is "superimposed." This will explain apparent

violations of the pragmatics of Homeric clauses.

In addition to formulaic expressions, I also count as potentially disruptive to pragmatics any

word that always or almost always occupies the same position in Homeric lines. Finkelberg

believes that such words may not be counted as formulae,8 while Watkins argues that they

mayhis 1977 paper argues for the formulaic nature of , "wrath".9 He also cites G. S. Kirk,

who mentioned in his commentary on the Iliad, 'single words, even,' may evince 'formular status',

'because they can sometimes have an inherited tendency, not solely dictated by their length and

metrical value, to a particular position in the verse.'10 In either case, if a word can only appear in

a certain place in the line either by formula or metrical constraint, it still has the same potential to

violate standard pragmatics. And given that, as mentioned above, at least two-thirds of the

Homeric corpus can be considered formulaic, formulaic disruption to standard pragmatics ought

to be frequentand, once we look at the laments, we will see that it is.

So, for my research I decided to examine a corpus within Homer to study this

phenomenon, since it would be far beyond me to examine the whole Homeric corpus. For this

sample corpus, I have chosen a specific speech genre of the Iliad, the lament. The main

advantage to this corpus is its diversitythe Iliad has laments from both male characters (i.e.

Achilles and Priam) and female characters (Briseis, Andromache, Hecuba, Helen); from

outsiders (Briseis and Helen) and insiders (Achilles, Priam, Andromache, Hecuba); formal/ritual

Finkelberg 1989: 179
See Watkins 1995: 17
G. S. Kirk 1985: xxiii, as quoted in Watkins 1995: 17.
laments (at Patroclus' and Hector's funerals) and informal/ritualistic laments (the outbursts of

grief at Patroclus' and Hector's deaths). This diversity helps, in at least some degree, guard

against any patterns that might be anomalously restricted to certain situations.

One more note on methodology: before I looked at all for formulaic patterns, or even

looked for grammatical structures, I first read all the lamentations and marked the word in each

clause that I thought carried the most salience. I did this several times, in fact. I then went back

and found that most of the time, the constituents I had identified matched the word order Dik had

predicted. I then used the TLG on the discrepant words, and found that they all were constrained,

or at least strongly pressured, to be in their position by formulaic convention.

So, now I point you to Roman numeral 6 on the handout, on page 6, Andromache's first

lamentation for Hector. I have underlined all the Focal constituents, and put in bold places where

the expected word order is disrupted. I would first like to note how incredibly regular the

homeric lines are, even while being of course incredibly formulaicin 38 lines, there are only 5

words that violate expectations. There are 42 focal constituents, in which there are only 4


I'll briefly run through some features of the passage. Line 486 at first blush has disrupted word

order at the end of the line, but this is resolved not by appeal to formula, but by chiasmus with

the line above. Then line 509, which has the enjambment of the words . Dik has

argued that horrendous or shocking words tend to occur in enjambment or after the main caesura,

in what she calls the "hesitation of horrendousness." This always signals a great deal of salience.

There are 27 violations of pragmatic expectations of word order in the laments of the Iliad. After

looking up the phrases that caused these violations, I have found that every such phrase must be

in or strongly prefers the metrical position it is in. Thus Homeric word order follows the pattern

described by Functional-Grammarian classicists as far as possible, unless a formula misplaces a

single constituent.