On Plato Not Misquoting Homer and What’s ‘New’ at Republic 424b–c

  Muellner, Leonard. 2022. “On Plato Not Misquoting Homer and What’s ‘New’ at Republic 424b–c.” Classics@22: Poetic (Mis)quotations in Plato. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HLNC.ESSAY:102302561.

§1. “La danse, Madame, c’est une question morale.” After a pregnant pause, that was George Balanchine’s response to the mother of a shy, young pupil who asked him about her daughter, in English, “Will she dance?” So reports Lincoln Kirstein, the ballet patron/philanthropist who brought Balanchine to the US in 1934 to start the School of American Ballet and in 1948 co-founded with him the New York City Ballet. In an article published in 1984, about a year after Balanchine’s death, Kirstein sought to articulate and preserve for posterity not the aesthetic principles of a “ballet master,” as Balanchine considered himself, but instead, and tellingly, his “educational morality.” The basis for Kirstein’s account is what he had long observed as the master’s practice, since Balanchine himself wrote nothing: “What he lived, taught, and invented ballets by, was a constant employment of traditional guidelines for considerate behavior.” [1] The point is simple, and the offhand definition of morality that it features is enlightening as well, but why did Balanchine respond in French to a question posed in English? More importantly perhaps, what exactly is the moral content of la danse, dance writ large?

§2. Balanchine’s (via Kirstein) ideas about teaching, ballet, invention, and morality are relevant to my presentation, though my actual object of study is a heavily freighted passage in the Homeric Odyssey that comes up in Socrates’ discussion of the education of the Guardians in mousikē, the art of the Muses, which is to be understood as a single whole consisting of poetry, song, and dance. [2] The passage cited in Republic IV, 424b is Odyssey 1.351–352:

…ἀοιδὴν μᾶλλον ἐπιφρονέουσʼ ἄνθρωποι,
ἥτις ἀειδόντεσσι νεωτάτη ἀμφιπέληται

“…human beings attend to/engage with a song all the more,
whatever song comes round (again) to the singers as newest…”

Such at least is the text of the passage as it occurs in the manuscripts of the Republic (Burnet’s edition, 1903), which is not the same as its Homeric transmission, and at multiple points, a fact that raises multiple questions: is Plato ‘misquoting’ or not? Is the use made of the Homeric text (taking account of its several versions) a reading valid only to Socrates’ context, or is it valid for the Homeric context as well? Telemakhos is reproaching his mother for objecting to the song that the bard, Phemius, is singing about the grievous return of the Achaean heroes from Troy. The problem that it raises for Socrates is that some misread the word neōtatē, which I have translated ‘newest’, as referring to a new kind of singing, and therefore wrongly suppose that the poet is advocating for radical invention in song composition. For the study of Homer, it raises an additional question: what can an expression like ‘newest to the singers’ mean in the context of traditional performance art as modeled by Phemius, a tradition that is implicit even in Telemakhos’ use of the verb amphipelētai ‘comes round (again, as in a yearly cycle)’? I am not a philosopher, but I propose to discuss this Homeric citation in its Platonic context, to be sure, as well as within its proper narrative as well as its cultural and moral context, in a historical framework that can hopefully make clearer than before both what was at stake for Plato and also what emerges from it for research that approaches Homeric poetry as the product of an oral tradition.

§3. Let me first state some basic concepts. My assumption is that Homeric epic was the product of a system for the simultaneous composition and performance of poetry that changed as it evolved over time. For the discussion of a specific Homeric citation in Plato, we will show how the principle of systematic change is crucial. Homeric poetry cannot be reduced to its origins or to the way it was received at some single point in its evolution, because the medium of Homeric poetry was not static but adaptive and fluid. It flourished as a performance system over a long period of time, from the late eighth or early seventh centuries BCE until the second or even third centuries CE, and it is also clear that such a medium took centuries before its earliest historical manifestation to evolve. Accordingly, the historical and therefore contingent context of Homeric performance, the context of its compositions and receptions, [3] is important for coming to terms with the adaptiveness and therefore the mutability of the system both in a given moment as well as over time.
§4. That adaptiveness to change is an important aspect of the second term that I wish to clarify, namely, multiformity, an essential aspect of oral traditions in which the singer performs and composes what he performs at the same time. As we have learned from comparative work in the field done by Milman Parry and Albert Lord starting in the 1930’s in the South Slavic region, the process of simultaneous composition in performance is enabled by a systematic language for the generation of poetry that singers begin to learn from an early age in the same way as they learn their own ‘spoken’ language, and they perfect this singing language by practicing at performance over their lifetimes. Like other languages, it is a system for generating speech, what the major theoretician of the 20th Century for the study of sign systems, Ferdinand de Saussure, called parole as opposed to langue. [4] It was not a system for memorizing a fixed text. In such a system, the speech’s content is constrained to the myths that the tradition develops along with it, and it is also constrained in form, presenting whatever features characterize poetic language for a given social context within a given cultural context. For Homeric poetry, the songs’ content is the tales of the heroes who went to and returned from Troy, myths that are themselves fluid and adaptable, and the form is constrained to the rhythms of the dactylic hexameter catalectic, a metrical system not independent of the verbal system that embeds it. Such systems do not generate uniform, unchanging texts, the kind of texts that we would expect to see if a poet memorized his song, word-for-word and line-for-line, the way people memorize poetry nowadays. When Milman Parry’s interpreter, Nikola Ivanov Vujnovič, asked a singer in the former Yugoslavia in the 1930’s if his performance of a certain song was the same as the one he had given a few years earlier, the surprising response was, yes, “word for word and line for line.” [5] Yet in terms of the reality that a printed book provides us, they were different in many ways, not least in their wording. So when Vujnovič asked a singer, “What is a word?”, the singer responded sometimes with a line, sometimes several lines, never a single word. So the singers did not know what a word or a line was and did not know how to read and write, but the particular singer mentioned above had apparently heard expressions like ‘word-for word’ and ‘line for line’ that are used in print culture to designate the identity of texts that are memorized or reproduced in one way or another. He was using such terms to express his confidence in the exactitude of his re-performance of a song. Such an exactitude is an article of faith in the Yugoslav tradition, which insists on the fidelity of its transmission despite the fluidity that the comparison of print versions of ‘the same’ recorded text can reveal.

§5. Lest there be any confusion, it is not the singers’ error or still less their illiteracy that accounts for fluctuation in the retelling of the song. Illiteracy in itself is not even a necessary condition for a performance tradition like the one that produced the Homeric epics; the necessary condition is composition in performance, which can and does survive the advent of literacy in societies worldwide. [6] As a result, we are obliged to suppose that from within the South Slavic poetic tradition, the two songs Nikola asked about are the same, whatever changes from one retelling to the next may become apparent to us in the comparison of written transcriptions. Here is the way Gregory Nagy has described this situation for Homer:

An empirical analysis of the textual evidence reveals an underlying system capable of generating a multiplicity of versions, and it is methodologically unsound for an editor to assume that only one of these extant versions was basic while the others were derivative. Such an assumption exemplifies what I call a “pseudo-synchronic” point of view. I define such a point of view as one that treats irregularities within a given traditional system as if they could never have been regularities in other phases of that same system. [7]
§6. There are two points being made here: first, that fluidity is built into the system that generates Homeric poetry, and secondly, that any given multiform must be understood as belonging to its context; as the context changes, another multiform can replace the one current at a previous time and place. That way of describing the situation constitutes a true, not a pseudo-synchronic view of the poetry-in-performance generating system, in that it recognizes the changing contexts and the multiformity that they generate within a system over time and does not arbitrarily anoint one performance as the “original” or the “correct” or even the supposedly “best” one. [8]

§7. I would highlight two small points in this picture: one is that the multiformity of the tradition is what we observe, as outsiders possessed of a notion of textual identity or sameness that is based on the written word. Yet from inside their tradition, from the standpoint of the poets, the goal and the result are to preserve and maintain, not modify and adapt. This also explains why such a poetic tradition must be inherently multiform: since such traditions are intended to endure over time and in re-performance, they need to do so as the participants and their cultural and the historical circumstances change, as they inevitably must, however stable they may appear to be. And since a performance-in-composition system is a generative system, not a rigidly memorizing system designed to preserve a single fixed text, even the same performer in the same context does not perform the song twice in a way that is “identical” from our standpoint as readers of fixed texts, to say nothing of what happens when performers supposedly sing “the same song” generations apart. A generative system, as opposed to a fixed-text-based technique for memorization, makes it possible for the poetry to adapt in content and form as the context changes over time and place even within a given individual’s performances, so that any given singer can preserve and hand on the vitality of the tradition as he or she interacts directly with an audience that is also invested in the vitality of the tradition and its effectiveness. The most commonly observed changes in performance traditions seem to fall into the vague category of ‘ornamentation’: expanding or contracting elements of the song, depending on the way that the performer perceives that the audience is responding, but there are also changes in wording, since a given singer’s repertoire is never frozen, and the systems must have a way to change and grow as the language and the performance context change:

“… the singer thinks of his song in terms of a flexible plan of themes, some of which are essential and some of which are not; we think of it as a given text which undergoes change from one singing to another….To the singer, the song, which cannot be changed (since to change it would, in his mind, be to tell an untrue story or to falsify history [my emphasis]), is the essence of the story itself. His idea of stability, to which he is deeply devoted, does not include the wording, which to him has never been fixed, nor the unessential parts of the story. He builds his performance, or song in our sense, on the stable skeleton of the narrative, which is the song in his sense.” [9]

Without such mechanisms of both fixity and change, a performance tradition could never generate a corpus of songs of any size, to say nothing of poems as long as the Homeric epics.

The Context of a Homeric Citation: Eleven points on Poetry and the New in the Paideia of the Guardians

§8. With this as background, let us now turn to Republic Book II, the first of the two discussions in the Republic of the education of the Guardians. The topic at this moment is the character education of all of them (as opposed to the ‘higher’ education of the elite rulers among the Guardians that comes later, in Book VII). This discussion, which from the outset threatens to become lengthy, begins towards the end of Book II, at 376d, with a conventional definition of education (paideia) proposed by Socrates at 376d, by metaphorizing himself and Glaukon as practitioners of narrative, in other words, as poets themselves [10] :

ἴθι οὖν, ὥσπερ ἐν μύθῳ μυθολογοῦντές τε καὶ σχολὴν ἄγοντες λόγῳ παιδεύωμεν τοὺς ἄνδρας…Τίς οὖν ἡ παιδεία; ἢ χαλεπὸν εὑρεῖν βελτίω τῆς ὑπὸ τοῦ πολλοῦ χρόνου ηὑρημένης; ἔστιν δέ που ἡ μὲν ἐπὶ σώμασι γυμναστική, ἡ δ᾿ ἐπὶ ψυχῇ μουσικὴ.
Republic II, 376d
On, then! As though we were telling stories (mutho-logountes) in the world of myth (muthos) and at leisure, let’s educate the men with logos…In fact, what is education (paideia)? Or is it hard to discover something better than what the passage of much time has discovered? It is, I suppose, [the art of] gumnastikē for bodies, and [the art of] mousikē for the soul.

Later on, near the conclusion of this discussion, at Book IV 412b, Socrates reformulates or rather refines this simplistic μέν…δέ structure and says that the ideal Guardian will apply a balanced blend of both mousikē and gumnastikē to his soul in such a way as to achieve a combination of physical prowess and gentleness in character, and that in fact mousikē is the regnant principle, while gumnastikē must subserve it, with the whole process mediated by the soul — but for the moment, at least, this is the binary way that Socrates sets the agenda and structures the dialogue that continues for about 50 Stephanus pages, stretching from Book II, through Book III, and into the beginning of Book IV.

§9. In order to properly contextualize the Homeric citation that is my focus and that occurs near the end of it, I offer here a distillation of the discussion that precedes it into recurrent themes and principles that are especially relevant to the citation itself. At the outset, though, strong words of caution are necessary. A dialogue about mousikē initiated by a speaker who metaphorizes himself and his interlocutor as story-tellers themselves cannot be considered straightforward, and Socratic dialogue is first of all ironic and secondly, heuristic, as the discussion about the relationship between gumnastikē and mousikē shows. For this interpreter, who is by no means a trained philosopher, modesty is appropriate and errors of naïveté inevitable. I am sure that every single idea that Socrates proposes is debatable and intended to be more complex than it appears to me to be at first and/or on the surface. As a result, my basic and hopefully achievable goal is to articulate the major ideas in the context that are consistently in play — I am only vouching for the fact that they are significant and in play; if they are recurrent, and especially if they are recurrent ideas that recur elsewhere in the Platonic corpus, perhaps they are more serious and less ironic than “one-off” ideas.
§10. (1) Socrates begins (376e) with mousikē, dividing his discussion into two major parts: the logos or content of education in mousikē, and the lexis or ‘way of speaking’, its formal characteristics (392c). [11] The first principle is that the content determines the lexis and is primary, so the logos is the first subject to be discussed. Once Socrates has specified what are appropriate muthoi (for muthoi are instances of logos) for the poetry of the Guardians, he speaks about lexis, in two parts: first he distinguishes narration (diēgēsis) from reenactment (mimēsis), [12] the former simply describing actions, the latter adding in speeches delivered by the characters in the unfolding story. After a brief discussion of the reenactment of noises and animals sounds, he goes on to discuss the manner of singing and songs (ōidēs tropos kai melōn, 398c), specifically the various tunings or scales (harmoniai) and rhythms (rhuthmoi). [13] He concludes the discussion of mousikē with a critical discussion of musical instruments, proceeding as in each of the previous topics first by ruling out what is inappropriate and then by ruling in choices that are judged appropriate for the Guardians’ education. In another recurrent pattern, for several of the formal topics, Socrates first enunciates the general principle involved in selection and discrimination, then he asks Glaukon to fill in the details in accord with the principle, and on one occasion, in discussing rhuthmoi, he says they will consult with Damon (meta Dāmōnos bouleusometha), whom he has heard speaking not clearly (ou saphōs) about the various rhythms and their names, which are to be praised and which blamed, in ways that he (Socrates) cannot speak of (ou gar ekhō legein); the discussion should be “postponed for Damon” (anabeblēsthō eis Dāmona) because deciding will require a long discussion (dielesthai gar ou smikrou logou) (400b). Socrates may in fact be signaling disagreement or “disharmony” with Damon here, which makes it even more interesting when later on, he signals the opposite, that is, agreement or harmony with him, [14] but at the very least these statements reflect the overtly tentative and evolving nature of Socrates’ views as well as the complexity of his relationship with Damon, an important figure in the history of mousikē and the political life of Athens as well.
§11. (2) In the treatment of logos (to repeat, in the sense not of ‘reason’ but ‘content’), Socrates focuses on the moral character of the portrayal of heroes and gods in Hesiod and Homer, ruling out poetic passages that he deems inconsistent with the goals of the Guardians’ education such as wailing and mourning for the dead, committing criminal acts (like Achilles sacrificing captives at the funeral of Patroklos, or Kronos castrating his father), etc. Such content is not suitable for children, and although later on he allows that the Guardians must sooner or later know about such bad behavior in humans, it remains inadmissible to ascribe such things to divinities. With the same emphasis and moralizing tone, Socrates rules out portraying gods as other than perfect in their appearance (381a–c). Being perfect in form, gods can never undergo change since it could only be change for the worse. They must be portrayed as exhibiting simplicity, haplotēs, as opposed to multiplicity, along with their immutability (= the absence of metabolai ‘changes,’ ‘modulations’, but also ‘revolution’) along with perfect virtues of all sorts. This whole discussion about inappropriate passages or aspects of Epic poetry raises practical questions that it does not address, as is often the case here and in what follows. We do know (among other things, from Plato’s Ion) that rhapsodic performances of epic could be highly selective, but features like the moral imperfection of the gods and their mutability are systematic to the poetry. Generating a performance of Epic without them or without heroes doing ‘bad things’ by the principles given here would be challenging, to say the least. Lying behind Socrates’ statements about the perfection, immutability, and simplicity found lacking in Homeric or Hesiodic gods is the perfection and immutability of the Forms, the metaphysical objects of true knowledge that have yet to be discussed, so what Socrates is proposing as requirements for the education of the Guardians seems to amount to a precursor of that epistemology. Perhaps rather than advocating for actual censorship of Homeric or Hesiodic poetry, Socrates is articulating educational principles and also laying the groundwork for the higher education to come.
§12. (3) In the discussion of poetic form (lexis), Socrates rules out mimēsis ‘reenactment’ in favor of haplē diēgēsis ‘simple (= ‘one-ply’, in other words, sticking to one identity) narration’ for the Guardians. This translation of mimēsis as ‘reenactment’ on my part is not casual. [15] Those who perform, say, a speech by Priam or Hecuba, are actually inhabiting these personae, not just “imitating” them from a psychological distance. Otherwise, the moral stance of Socrates against such activity loses its force: fundamental to his argument is a clear contrast between narrating the contents of a speech and reenacting a set of characters giving such speeches. The first problem with mimēsis in poetry is that when it escapes simple narration in favor of the direct quotation of speeches, it forces the performer of the poetry to forsake a single persona and take on the personae of a whole range of good and bad characters, both male and female, and even animals and objects (Socrates mentions the noises made by wagon wheels or birds). The problem that Socrates has with multiplicity is another instance of avoiding epistemological complexity in favor of simplicity or unicity (394e). As for the gods, so also for the Guardians: multiplicity is to be avoided at all costs however entertaining it may be held to be. An additional negative aspect of mimēsis is that the Guardians, even though they must know about mad women and wicked men, must not in any way “do and reenact” (poiēteon de ouden toutōn oude mimēteon) what such people do (396a). [16] The distinction between ‘doing’ (poiein) something and ‘reenacting’ (mimein) it is being blurred intentionally. We may question the reality of such a blurring, but even in our world, not just the performers but also the audiences at performances of grand opera, an art form that most resembles Athenian drama, can get lost emotionally and sometimes intellectually in the world being represented. As for Epic performers, I have witnessed at an academic conference in China several professors attempting to interrupt a traditionally garbed Mongolian singer before he reached the end of his song; it required physical effort by several people to ‘bring him back,’ so to speak, so complete was his transport into the world he was singing of.
§13. (4) Indeed, the whole of the previous point about narrative with speeches only makes sense if the Guardians are, like the actors and rhapsodes invoked in the text (395a), notional performers of the art of the Muses, of Homeric or Hesiodic or tragic or comic poetry in a public, ritual setting as was the norm in 6th, 5th and 4th Century BCE Athens. Socrates is not speaking about the dangerous effects of reading. Even if he were, it would be performative reading, not the silent reading that is our normal practice. Although it is clear that letters are part of Socrates’ thinking about the world, they come up here as an engaging metaphor (402b) for the progression of cognition, an example of the way in which one learns by gradually distinguishing both in detail and overall the elements of letters in the combinations in which they occur, whether we are observing them directly or as reflections in water or in mirrors; the same is true of the different forms of sōphrosunē and andreia and other virtues that a young person learns to observe in detail and in general in order to distinguish them. [17]
§14. (5) The same point about the avoidance of multiplicity and in favor of simplicity is invoked again and again, in the discussion of musical instruments, where the aulos, trigōnon, and pēktis are ruled out because of the complex number of scales that they enable, 399d; also in the discussion of rhythms, which must avoid complexity and variety of movement (400a: μὴ ποικίλους αὐτοὺς διώκειν μηδὲ παντοδοπὰς βάσεις ‘not to pursue variably patterned steps or all different kinds of steps’), and once again in the division of labor in the ideal city among all artisans, each of whom is assigned one craft and not more than one (397e–398a), etc. [18]
§15. Underlying all these arguments and their extension to multiple aspects of the song culture and coming to the surface at various points is another argument. Not insignificantly, it surfaces in the discussion of rhythm, after the mention of the sophist Damon and his detailed but obscure knowledge of appropriate rhythms and steps, when Socrates is making a point that the distinctions between the different kinds of rhythm are significant from a holistic point of view (400e), because of the interconnection between rhythm and content which then extends to the effects of rhythm on the soul (psukhē), the character (ēthos), and the intelligence of a person (dianoia), and from there even further, to the activities of all the other craftsmen in the city in their pursuit of beauty and grace. This heightened discussion of the aspirations to beauty and virtue of the human soul reaches its climax in the sublime desire for beauty that arises in asexual pederastic relationships (403a–c) with which the discussion of mousikē reaches its climax and concludes, but we will see below that the association of Damon with the holistic relationship of mousikē to a widening circle of elements in the ideal state is an idea that Socrates adopts himself and approves.

§16. (6) At 403d Socrates changes the topic of discussion to gumnastikē, and it remains the topic until 412b, when the whole discussion of the Guardians’ paideia concludes and the topic shifts to the selection of the best of the Guardians. The physical education of the Guardians engages Socrates less than their education in mousikē, because principles that applied to mousikē also apply to gumnastikē, with the soul firmly in control of the training of the body and the overall goal being what is simple (404b, 410a, ὴ απλῆ μουσική) and appropriate and prudent or sober (ἐπιεικής, σώφρων): avoiding the consumption of exotic food and pastry, for instance, is said to be comparable to the avoidance of complex and exotic scales and rhythms. But the discussion quickly turns to the relationship between the two kinds of education and then suddenly veers off into two lesser tekhnai, the art of healing (iatrikē) and the art of the juryman (dikastikē): a well-trained body is by definition healthy and avoids an external healer just as a soul subjected to the best of mousikē avoids the bad behavior (akolasia) that would require justice administered by prosecution and lawcourts. So Socrates inveighs against healers who encourage hypochondriacs and whose regimens should be simple but have become so complex as to be useless in practical terms, just as he inveighs against the lawcourts that encourage the development of deceivers and tricksters who try to avoid prosecution and manipulate judgment. This point, it turns out, is ultimately and directly related to the way that Socrates differentiates the soul’s functions with regard to the two major arts and their interaction: the soul has two phuseis or ‘natures’, to thumoeides ‘the spirited one’ and to philosophon ‘the one that loves wisdom’, the former stimulating physical well-being and the latter intellectual (410e). Accordingly, says Socrates, it is not that mousikē treats the soul and gumnastikē the body (410b–c), but that both pertain to the proper functioning of the soul: the Guardians should combine the soul’s two ‘natures’ to become strong and healthy as well as wise and good; by contrast, if one part, say, the spirited part, takes over, gumnastikē is taken to excess and produces individuals who are brutally strong and violent, while those in which the love of knowledge of wisdom prevails become soft and excessively gentle (410b–d). Here is the conclusion:

ἐπὶ δὴ δύ᾽ ὄντε τούτω, ὡς ἔοικε, δύο τέχνα θεὸν ἔγωγ᾽ ἄν τινα φαίην δεδωκέναι τοῖς ἀνθρώποις, μουσικήν τε καὶ γυμναστικὴν ἐπὶ τὸ θυμοειδὲς καὶ τὸ φιλόσοφον, οὐκ ἐπὶ ψυχὴν καὶ σῶμα, εἰ μὴ πάρεργον, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἐκείνω, ὅπως ἂν ἀλλήλοιν ξυναρμοσθῆτον ἐπιτεινομένω καὶ ἀνειμένω μέχρι τοῦ προσήκοντος.
Republic III 411e
Well then, I would say, in response to this pair of things, as it seems, the god gave human beings a pair of tekhnai, mousikē and gumnastikē, for the spirited part [of the soul] and the wisdom-loving part respectively, not for the soul and body, except secondarily, but in response to those two [parts of the soul], so that they might be joined harmoniously with one another, tensing up and slackening until [they reach] what is fitting.

The preceding text is beautifully pertinent, since it is a lucid implementation of the kind of integrated moral thinking that Socrates engages in. And at that point, the object of thought is actually a physical activity, the education of the Guardian’s body. The assumption is that a misapprehension about the proper training of the Guardian’s body can destroy the health of that body and make it susceptible to a corrupted art of medicine that will fail to maintain it and whose very existence is a symptom of social failure, just as a failure of education in mousikē will make the Guardian subject to corrupt social institutions, in that case, the externalized judicial system within which he would be obliged to function. Accordingly, and looping back on this principle, the state of equilibrium of the psukhē, the soul, in the summative metaphor cited just above, is appropriately likened to the string of a musical instrument achieving proper tension. [19] That tension between the two parts of the soul turns out to be the way in which the two parts of the Guardians’ education relate to each other to constitute an integral whole, with the soul and mousikē dominant.

§17. (7) That metaphor brings a kind of closure (412b), since after articulating the relationship between its two elements Socrates pronounces the discussion of the paideia of the Guardians to be complete and then modulates into a miscellany of consequences, first listing a series of topics that he will not take up, [20] in a way that is consistent with his previous practice and that he will repeat later on (423e, with regard to women and children). Instead of those topics, Socrates begins with this one (412c): ἆρ᾽ οὐκ αὐτῶν τούτων οἵτινες ἄρξουσί τε καὶ ἄρξονται; ‘isn’t [the next question] who of these very ones will rule and [who] will be ruled?’ The answer to the first question is: the Guardian who in all stages of life (ἔν τε παισὶ καὶ νεανίσκοις καὶ ἐν ἀνδράσι ‘in childhood and youth and manhood’, 413e) proves (by actual testing) his commitment to protecting the polis from its enemies without and within, and who will never either willingly or by force give up those goals and endanger or still less attack those whom he has been charged to protect. Those who fall short but are still qualified to be Guardians will be called epikouroi kai boēthoi, ‘allies and helpers’ — so presumably this is the answer to the second question, concerning those who will be ruled — while the person who meets the highest standard will be the ruler and Guardian of the city-state (414a). That figure will be treated like a cult hero:

τιμὰς δοτέον καὶ ζῶντι καὶ τελευτήσαντι, τάφων τε καὶ τῶν ἄλλων μνημείων μέγιστα γέρα λαγχάνοντα…
Republic 414a
we must give him prerogatives (timai) both in life and when dead, with him obtaining by allotment (langkhanonta) the greatest honorific portions (gera) of burials and other memorials… [21]
§18. (8) What immediately follows this foray into popular religious belief is ‘one noble thing of the false things that arise in need’ (τῶν ψευδῶν τῶν ἐν δέοντι γιγνομένων…γενναῖόν τι ἕν), the so-called noble lie, which he describes as mēden kainon ‘nothing novel/strange’ (414b), a myth of the Guardians’ autochthony to justify the social structure of this community. Mother Earth mingled the metals with herself, gold, silver, bronze, and iron, with the souls of these humans that she produced, corresponding on the one hand to Guardians and their allies (gold and silver) and on the other to farmers and artisans (bronze and iron). On the grounds that they are all children of the same mother and therefore related (ξυγγενεῖς, 414a), Socrates allows that sometimes children will evince different quantities of each metal than their parents, so they must be allowed to move up or down along this hierarchy based on their phusis ‘nature.’ And while their training in gumnastikē will make them fierce against the external enemies of the city-state, they will also have the right amount of gentleness bred into them by their education in mousikē to prevent them from ever committing the most heinous of attacks — those against the very people whom they are intended to protect. Furthermore, these Guardians will have no private property, no luxury objects, no money, only adequate, strategic housing and common dining areas and sufficient food. They are also subject to a classic tabu, of the kind that small-scale societies exhibit: since they are said to have divine gold within themselves, they are forbidden even to touch ‘mortal gold’ (θνητοῦ χρυσοῦ, 416e).
§19. (9) Given the overarching concern of my discussion with newness and invention, it is important to understand, insofar as it is possible and reasonable, why Socrates qualifies this muthos as mēden kainon absolutely nothing new/novel/strange’, using kainos rather than neos, the term that Telemakhos uses in the passage that we are about to focus upon and that we have translated earlier as ‘new’. The word kainos is a functionally marked adjective in opposition to the word neos, in that it is restricted to novelty or new in malam partem, against what is conventional, while the word neos can mean a range of other things as well as unconventional or in malam partem. [22] He points to just one element to certify its conventionality, ‘something Phoenician’ (μηδὲν καινόν…ἀλλὰ Φοινικικόν τι: 414c). The reference is to the myth about Cadmus (a Phoenician) sowing the dragon’s teeth from which the Spartoi (‘the sown ones’) sprang fully-armed and fought each other to the death except for four survivors who became the ancestors of the Theban aristocracy. The resemblance of the Spartoi to the metallic seeds grown in the earth is metonymic and minimal, and even more interestingly, an element that is less minimally relevant goes unmentioned, namely the similarity to the Hesiodic myth of the four or five genē ‘generations’ of men, each identified with the same sequence of metals as those in the noble lie, though in the Hesiodic version there is also a non-metallic age of heroes after the silver generation. In sum, there are more differences than there are resemblances to both elements, so mēden kainon is not what it might appear to be. A view of the myth’s familiarity requires a world in which the lively multiformity of all myths is the norm, which must have still been the case in the ‘song culture’ of Plato’s and Socrates’ Athens. [23] So the noble lie can take its place as alēthes ‘true’ or pseudes ‘false’ in the context of the multiform world of epic, of the truths or falsehoods proferred the poet Hesiod by the Muses themselves (Hesiod, Theogony 26–28 ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα / ἴδμεν δʼ, εὖτʼ ἐθέλωμεν, ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι ‘we know how to speak many falsehoods of the same status as true things / and, whenever we wish, to sing true things’). But the fact that Socrates qualifies it explicitly as false and yet noble and therefore worth preserving undermines the mythical alternatives of Hesiod’s Muses, for whom a multiform must either be alēthes ‘true,’ the underlying idea being ‘not consigned to oblivion by the tradition’, while its opposite is false, consigned to oblivion, and intended to deceptively resemble one that is true. [24]

§20. (10) In any case, the norms that the false myth supports and that Socrates elaborates do elicit comment from Adeimantos, who breaks into Socrates’ conversation with his brother in order to express skepticism about the viability of a community in which the Guardians have no reason to be eudaimones ‘happy’, since they get no wages or any other benefit, material or otherwise, for themselves in return for their potentially boring service as protectors despite the fact that they are actually the embodiment of the state (419a). Socrates defends himself by means of a redefinition of eudaimonia ‘happiness’ as necessarily shared by the Guardians with all others in the city as a whole and adapted to the nature of each constituent, a point that is consistent with previously repeated holistic principles (as in points #5 and #6 above):

σκεπτέον οὖν πότερον πρὸς τοῦτο βλέποντες τοὺς φύλακας καθιστῶμεν, ὅπως ὅτι πλείστη αὐτοῖς εὐδαιμονία ἐγγενήσεται, ἢ τοῦτο μὲν εἰς τὴν πόλιν ὅλην βλέποντας θεατέον εἰ ἐκείνῃ ἐγγίγνεται, τοὺς δʼ ἐπικούρους τούτους καὶ τοὺς φύλακας ἐκεῖνο ἀναγκαστέον ποιεῖν καὶ πειστέον, ὅπως ὅτι ἄριστοι δημιουργοὶ τοῦ ἑαυτῶν ἔργου ἔσονται, καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους ἅπαντας ὡσαύτως, καὶ οὕτω
συμπάσης τῆς πόλεως αὐξανομένης καὶ καλῶς οἰκιζομένης ἐατέον ὅπως ἑκάστοις τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ἡ φύσις ἀποδίδωσι τοῦ μεταλαμβάνειν εὐδαιμονίας.
Republic 421b–c
And so we must consider whether we establish the Guardians with a view to this, that the most eudaimonia shall arise for them [the Guardians], or that this must be in view, whether such happiness will arise for the city-state as a whole, and that we must force and persuade the allies and the Guardians to do this, that the craftsmen will become the best each of his own task, and all the others put together in similar fashion, and that in this way, as the city as a complete whole grows and is well-settled, we must allow that their own nature renders to each of the groups their share of eudaimonia.

§21. (11) Socrates then extends this argument to the other citizens of the ideal city-state, the farmers and the artisans (421d–e). Consider a potter who becomes rich — he also becomes lazy and careless, and therefore worse at this art. Or the poor potter, who cannot purchase the tools of his trade, so that he and the sons to whom he teaches the art of pottery will also produce inferior goods (421e):

[ΣΩ]: ὑπʼ ἀμφοτέρων δή, πενίας τε καὶ πλούτου, χείρω μὲν τὰ τῶν τεχνῶν ἔργα, χείρους δὲ αὐτοί.
[ΑΔ]: φαίνεται.
[ΣΩ]: ἕτερα δή, ὡς ἔοικε, τοῖς φύλαξιν ηὑρήκαμεν, ἃπαντὶ τρόπῳ φυλακτέον ὅπως μήποτε αὐτοὺς λήσει εἰς τὴν πόλιν παραδύντα.
[ΑΔ]: τὰ ποῖα ταῦτα;
[ΣΩ]: πλοῦτός τε, ἦν δʼ ἐγώ, καὶ πενία· ὡς τοῦ μὲν τρυφὴν καὶ ἀργίαν καὶ  νεω-τερισμὸν  ἐμποιοῦντος, τῆς δὲ ἀνελευθερίαν καὶ κακο-εργίαν πρὸς τῷ  νεω-τερισμῷ.
Republic 421e
[Soc.]: From both of them, then, I mean poverty and wealth, both the products of the crafts become worse and so do the artisans themselves.
[Ad.]: It appears so.
[Soc.]: Well then, seemingly we have discovered another set of things for the Guardians — they must in every way be on guard that they never let them slip into the city-state without their noticing.
[Ad.]: What sort of things are they?
[Soc.]: Wealth, said I, and poverty: since the former introduces indulgence and idleness and neōterismos, while the latter meanness and malice in addition to neōterismos.

I have left the word neōterismos untranslated, because the semantics of Greek neos ‘new’ are not simple to understand. Jowett translated it once in the sentence that contains it twice in Greek, as follows: “the one [=wealth] is the parent of luxury and indolence, and the other [=poverty] of meanness and viciousness, and both of discontent.” While “discontent” works well for the poor person, why would the wealthy, lazy person be discontented? And is it even a valid translation of the word neōterismos? Shorey translated it “innovation,” presumably in a bad, political sense that the concept utterly lacks nowadays, a sense that is updated to “revolution” in the more recent translation by Griffith. [25] That is the sense imputed to the word here and in other Platonic attestations by LSJ9, which defines it “attempt to change; esp. in bad sense, innovation, revolutionary movement”. In this context, where the topic under discussion appears to be the consequences of wealth and poverty for artisans, adding revolutionary political impulses to those consequences is in no way prepared for in the previous dialogue and seems inappropriate. Even if it is paving the way for a discussion of the overthrow of oligarchy in favor of democracy in Book VIII, the political connotations seem as yet to be below the surface at best. [26] Socrates is summing up the discussion, not expanding on it, and just above, he had stressed not the political but the negative moral and aesthetic consequences of wealth and poverty for both the artisans and their products, both of which become kheirōn– ‘worse’. It would also make sense for the word neōterismos, which from the standpoint of syntax applies to both wealth and poverty, to be referencing the two occurrences of ‘worse’, kheirō and kheirous, in that sentence. LSJ9 in fact supplies another sense for the word neōterismos, namely, ‘change (in general),’ occurring three times in Galen, where it refers to a change for the worse in one’s diet or in the evolution of a fever; [27] in addition, the verb from which this noun is derived, neōterizō, occurs in the meaning ‘to change (for the worse)’ in Thucydides 7.87, of health changing to sickness. Accordingly, I suggest that the noun means ‘general change for the worse, worsening’ in the sentence quoted above: “since the former introduces indulgence and idleness and (general) worsening, while the latter [introduces] meanness and malice in addition to worsening,” with the word ‘worsening’ reprising the previously mentioned change in the character of artisans and of their products when subject to the two extremes of wealth and poverty. The use and the slant of the word in this way coheres with Socrates’ frequent expression of distrust for change in the discussion of the Guardians’ education that we have noted previously. [28] One final point: if inequality in the distribution of wealth produced revolution tout court, every Hellenic city-state would be in revolution, and Socrates would have said as much in describing the enemy of the ideal one (422e–423ab). Instead he described it as not one but in reality many cities whose multiple and discordant elements the ideal city could exploit. Such a political and social reality is perhaps ripe for revolution, but that is not the same, and not what he says — at least, not yet.

Socrates Cites Odyssey 1.351–352

§22. In the last chunk of argument before the quote from Homer that will bring these several points together, Socrates responds to Adeimantus’ withering question as to how a city with no wealth will ever be able to wage war against a large and wealthy enemy. Any given individual Guardian, Socrates contends, could outfight not one but several individuals at once from such an enemy, given his superior training and skill, by picking them off one by one. Similarly, since a large, wealthy city is by definition at least two cities, one rich and one poor, and more likely many cities, rife with competing factions that arise from its uneven distribution of wealth, whereas the Guardians’ city is really one city, an integrated, single whole with superbly trained warrior athletes and the communal spirit to defend itself, it will easily triumph over such a divided enemy even if vastly outnumbered. And such a well-governed city will grow cyclically in its purpose, integrity, and size as long as it avoids overextending itself, and as long as it educates its citizens according to the principles Socrates has just espoused.
§23. What, then, would constitute a real threat to this fine-tuned whole, if not a well-funded external enemy? Here is Socrates’ greatest fear:


[ΣΩ]: ὡς τοίνυν διὰ βραχέων εἰπεῖν, τούτου ἀνθεκτέον τοῖς ἐπιμεληταῖς τῆς πόλεως, ὅπως ἂν αὐτοὺς μὴ λάθῃ διαφθαρὲν ἀλλὰ παρὰ πάντα αὐτὸ φυλάττωσι, τὸ μὴ νεωτερίζειν περὶ γυμναστικήν τε καὶ μουσικὴν παρὰ τὴν τάξιν, ἀλλʼ ὡς οἷόν τε μάλιστα φυλάττειν, φοβουμένους ὅταν τις λέγῃ ὡς τὴν
…ἀοιδὴν μᾶλλον ἐπιφρονέουσʼ ἄνθρωποι,
ἥτις ἀειδόντεσσι νεωτάτη ἀμφιπέληται,

Odyssey 1.351–352
μὴ πολλάκις τὸν ποιητήν τις οἴηται λέγειν οὐκ ᾄσματα νέα ἀλλὰ τρόπον ᾠδῆς νέον, καὶ τοῦτο ἐπαινῇ. δεῖ δʼ οὔτʼ ἐπαινεῖν τὸ τοιοῦτον οὔτε ὑπολαμβάνειν. εἶδος γὰρ καινὸν μουσικῆς μεταβάλλειν εὐλαβητέον ὡς ἐν ὅλῳ κινδυνεύοντα· οὐδαμοῦ γὰρ κινοῦνται μουσικῆς τρόποι ἄνευ πολιτικῶν νόμων τῶν μεγίστων, ὥς φησί τε Δάμων καὶ ἐγὼ πείθομαι.
[AΔ]: καὶ ἐμὲ τοίνυν, ἔφη ὁ Ἀδείμαντος, θὲς τῶν πεπεισμένων.
Republic 424b
[Soc.]: To put it briefly, those who are charged with taking care of the city-state must resist its being corrupted without their noticing; they must guard against this above all, that there be no neōterizein with regard to gumnastikē and mousikē contrary to the established order (para tēn taxin), but in so far as possible to guard against it especially, being afraid whenever someone says that:
“…human beings attend to/engage with the song all the more,
whatever song comes round to the singers as the newest (neōtatē) …”

Odyssey 1.351–352
out of fear that some often suppose that the poet is speaking not of new (nea) songs but of a new (neon) kind (tropon) of singing (ōidēs), and that he is expressing group approval (epainos) for such a thing. It is necessary neither to cite this text in approval of such a thing nor even to take it up, since they must beware changing to a new (kainos) form (eidos) of mousikē on the grounds that it is dangerous as a whole. [29] Never in fact are the kinds of mousikē disturbed without the greatest political norms [being disturbed], as Damon says and as I am convinced.
[Ad.]: Count me also, said Adeimantos, among those who are convinced.

The point of Socrates’ last statement and of his citation of Damon of Oa in this passage is weakened unless the political aspect of changes in mousikē from the order (taxis) that he has established is postponed and at most inexplicit until then. The idea is that the additional step of the connectedness of the Guardians’ paideia to the most important conventions of the political realm is already implicit in the holistic principles that Socrates has repeatedly enunciated in his exposition (see above, #6, #8, #10), principles that the words en holōi ‘as a whole’ invoke in this passage right before Damon is mentioned. Some have supposed Socrates’ mention of Damon to be ironic, [30] but I believe that his argument stands to confirm Damon’s general principle if not his (Damon’s) authority as a technical expert, which was questioned earlier in the discussion of rhuthmoi, 400b and #1. Socrates is arguing here, understatedly but firmly, just how destabilizing to the city as a whole it is to disturb the taxis ‘order’ of mousikē.

§24. It is abundantly clear in this passage what Socrates means by neon tropon ōidēs ‘a new kind of singing’, because he has himself immediately glossed it with the expression eidos kainon mousikēs ‘strange/novel form of mousikē, in addition to the fact that he earlier used the same expression ‘kinds of singing and songs’ (ōidēs tropon kai melōn, 398c) to describe his own discussion of which harmoniai and rhuthmoi that were appropriate for the Guardians’ education. By using the word kainos here (see above, #10 with n. 21), Socrates is making it clear that a new (= kainos) kind of singing is novel and bad, both morally and aesthetically, in the sense that it breaks the system as he has described and constrained it. It is one thing to innovate within the system, another to disrupt its established order. [31]

§25. In short, what Socrates wants to rule out as an interpretation/citation of the passage from the Odyssey is clear and consistent not just with the tenor but also the repeated principles of what has come before its citation. It is also clear, for example, from the following passage in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, that people in Plato’s day did try to compose ‘new songs’, where nea ‘new’ is explicitly defined to mean those that are kaina ‘novel/strange,’ in other words, [32] disrupting the established order, as here, where the novelty is, however, taken in a positive sense:

δεῖ δή, ἔφη, φιλομαθῆ σε τούτων ἁπάντων ὄντα οὐχ οἷς ἂν μάθῃς τούτοις μόνοις χρῆσθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ αὐτὸν ποιητὴν εἶναι τῶν πρὸς τοὺς πολεμίους μηχανημάτων, ὥσπερ καὶ οἱ μουσικοὶ οὐχ οἷς ἂν μάθωσι τούτοις μόνον χρῶνται, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἄλλα νέα πειρῶνται ποιεῖν. καὶ σφόδρα μὲν καὶ ἐν τοῖς μουσικοῖς εὐδοκιμεῖ, πολὺ δὲ καὶ ἐν τοῖς πολεμικοῖς μᾶλλον τὰ καινὰ μηχανήματα εὐδοκιμεῖ · ταῦτα γὰρ μᾶλλον καὶ ἐξαπατᾶν δύναται τοὺς ὑπεναντίους.
Xenophon, Cyropaedia 1.6.38
It is necessary, then, he said, that you as one who loves learning of all these things use not only whatever of these things you learn but also that you yourself be a maker (poiētēn) of contrivances to use against the enemy, just as the mousikoi not only use whatever these things are that they learn but also try to compose other new (nea) things. Such things are really popular among the mousikoi, but novel (kaina) contrivances are even much more popular in the art of war, because they can also more readily deceive the enemy.

This text attests to exactly the danger that Socrates is warning about – and I mean not the danger of misreading the meaning of neōtatē in the Odyssey passage (that may or may not be the issue), but of the social approval (implied by Socrates’ use of the verb epainein, see n. 28; compare Xenophon’s repeated use of the verb eudokimei ‘be popular’, in the same sense) of radical, radiating, and destabilizing change in the art of mousikē and its putative political consequences. There is no uncertainty either about what Socrates and Xenophon both have in mind, despite their contrasting takes on it: the New Music championed by Euripides and epitomized for us by the nomoi of Timotheus. [33]

What neōtatē meant in its Homeric reception

§26. Given Socrates’s concerns about the use of what is from his point of view a ‘misread’ Homeric text to signal approval for such dangerous change, it is worthwhile to pursue the question of what neōtatē, which I have temporarily translated as ‘newest’, may have meant in the Odyssey passage over the course of its reception. The goal should be to figure out how Socrates’ interpretation stands in relationship to it. To establish the endpoint, first we need to specify as clearly as possible what we learn from Socrates, as follows: for him Telemakhos is speaking of ‘new songs’ (ᾄσματα νέα), with Socrates eliding the superlative ‘newest’ in the Homeric text into ‘new’, and not ‘a new way of singing’ (τρόπον ᾠδῆς νέον). In other words, the form of neos in the Homeric text refers to any recent song that has not been sung before, as opposed to one that is profoundly different and disruptive in its rhythm and tuning — the latter being the subjects Socrates earlier associated with the words ‘a way of singing’ (#1 above). [34] ‘New songs’ in this functionally unmarked, generic sense of the word neos, ‘new’ as opposed to palaios ‘old’ ones, were being generated all the time in the Athenian song culture — tragedies, comedies, dithyrambs, and more. Such a sense of the word is also often attested in Homer, as for instance Odyssey 2.292–293: εἰσὶ δὲ νῆες / πολλαὶ ἐν ἀμφιάλῳ Ἰθάκῃ νέαι ἠδὲ παλαιαί ‘and there are ships, many of them, in sea-girt Ithaka, new and old’. Given this meaning, it does not matter for the logic of Socrates’ argument whether the songs are ‘new,’ ‘newer,’ or ‘newest’ – the only point is that they are not old songs, so we can accept the way that he elides the superlative form in the Homeric text. That interpretation is intended to replace and undo the use of the Homeric text to ratify (the mot juste for which is epainein) the idea that Homer approved of ‘new ways of singing’, but no argument is made in its favor – Socrates makes no mention of what Telemakhos had in mind, but even so, we make no simplistic assumption and will return to the question as to whether such an interpretation might actually work and be relevant both to Socrates’ argument and Telemakhos’ situation.

But first, Labarbe and the ‘variants’

§27. One last problem needs to be resolved before we can analyze the Homeric text and its interpretations. Ironically enough, there are significant differences in the wording of Plato’s citation of the Homeric text from the standard medieval manuscript transmission of it, and we have an additional citation of it with yet another variant reading. Accordingly, we need to discover what if anything these differences can teach us about the transmission of this particular text, about how and why its actual wording diverged, and what the differences might signify for interpretation, both Plato’s and ours. The variants are as follows:

1. Medieval MSS. of Homeric Odyssey 1.351–352

τὴν γὰρ ἀοιδὴν μᾶλλον  ἐπικλείουσʼ  ἄνθρωποι,
ἥ τις  ἀκουόντεσσι  νεωτάτη ἀμφιπέληται.“People give more kleos (‘glory/praise’) to that song,
Whichever one comes round to the listeners as newest.”

2. Medieval MSS. of Plato’s Republic 424b

τὴν γὰρ ἀοιδὴν μᾶλλον  ἐπιφρονέουσʼ  ἄνθρωποι,
ἥ τις  ἀειδόντεσσι  νεωτάτη ἀμφιπέληται.“People heed/engage with all the more that song,
Whatever song comes round to the singers as newest.”

3. Medieval MSS. of Pseudo-Longinus, Fr. 1.1 (Prolegomena to the Handbook of Hephaistion)

τὴν γὰρ ἀοιδὴν μᾶλλον ἐπικλείουσʼ ἄνθρωποι,
ἥ τις  ἀϊόντεσσι  νεωτάτη ἀμφιπέληται.“People give more kleos (‘glory/praise’) to that song,
Whichever one comes round to its perceivers as newest.”
§28. The only full discussion of the variants for these two lines that I know of is by Jacques Labarbe in his book on Plato’s Homer. [35] Labarbe knew the work of Milman Parry and has a basic understanding of formulaic diction, so he tries to apply a form of conventional textual criticism that is informed by an understanding of formulaic diction. His goal is to arrive at the “original” reading behind the variants — in other words, he has no concept of the nature of multiformity in performance traditions as discussed above. He tells us that he “prefers” the Platonic variant ἐπιφρονέουσʼ and explains the substitution of ἐπικλείουσʼ for it as a “rhapsodic” variant caused by the multiple (three: 1.325, 328, 344) occurrences of kleos and its derivatives in the Homeric context. On the other hand, he thinks that the medieval vulgate’s reading ἀκουόντεσσι is “original” and was displaced in Plato’s text by ἀειδόντεσσι due to another “rhapsodic” variant and for similar reasons, namely, the multiple occurrences of the verb aeidō and its derivatives in the context. Labarbe then rejects the variant ἀϊόντεσσι as an awkward, secondary attempt, presumably via emendation, to bridge the gap between the other two variants, asserting that the scansion of the first iota as long that the meter requires is unexampled.

§29. With regard to ἀϊόντεσσι, Wilhelm Schulze showed in 1888 that the verb from which it derives, whose unattested present he reconstructs as *ἀείω and whose aorist forms, of the type ἀίον κ.τ.λ., have been consistently misunderstood within Homeric diction as imperfects, is elsewhere in free variation in Epic diction with forms of ἔκλυον ‘heard’, a root aorist, and the aorist of ἀκούω. [36] In this one place, however, its variants are present participles (ἀκουόντεσσι and ἀειδόντεσσι), so Schulze convincingly posits the underlying form as ἀείοντεσσι, a present participle that was ‘updated’ to ἀϊόντεσσι to be consistent with the attestation elsewhere in Epic of its aorist, despite the otherwise unparalleled long iota that results. As for the variation between ἀειδόντεσσι ‘to those who sing’ and ἀκουόντεσσι ‘to those who hear’, in the very same passage a bit earlier we have:

Odyssey 1.338 …τά τε κλείουσιν ἀοιδοί ‘[deeds of gods and men] which singers give kleos to’

To which compare:

Odyssey 1.351 τὴν γὰρ ἀοιδὴν… ἐπικλείουσ’ ἄνθρωποι ‘humans [=the listeners] give kleos to the song’

§30. We also have a narrative enactment of the functional equivalence of both listener and singer in Iliad 9.186–191, where the embassy comes upon Achilles singing the klea andrōn ‘glories of men’ and playing the beautiful lyre with a silver bridge that he looted from the city of Eetion. Patroklos is sitting opposite him, listening and waiting for Achilles to stop and for his turn to sing. [37] Furthermore, in the prooimion to the Catalogue of the Ships, it is even explicit that the singers are in fact listeners — to what the Muses, who know everything, tell them:

ὑμεῖς γὰρ θεαί ἐστε πάρεστέ τε ἴστε τε πάντα,
ἡμεῖς δὲ κλέος οἶον ἀκούομεν οὐδέ τι ἴδμεν“…you [Muses] are goddesses and are present and know everything,
we only hear the kleos ‘glory/epic song’ nor do we know anything…”

Iliad 2.485-486

Just to show how overdetermined things can become, the word kleos, the object of the verb ἀκούομεν ‘we hear’, designates the song that the poet transmits (as here and in the passage about Achilles’ singing) as well as the glory that it confers, but formally speaking, it is simply the root noun of the verb κλυ- that means ‘hear’ and is cognate with the English word ‘listen’ (originally klisten). So in every conceivable way, the singers are also hearers. In sum, there is no way to discriminate between any of the three present participles ἀκουόντεσσι | ἀειδόντεσσι | ἀϊόντεσσι on the basis of their traditional function within Epic diction. Even when it comes to their morphology, the metrically appropriate ‘aeolic’ dative plural ending –εσσι, it is equally unique but acceptable for each of them. [38]

§31. There remain the two variants for the response of the anthrōpoi ‘human beings’, who are said to epikleious’ (‘give glory/praise to’) in the medieval transmission or, in the text of Plato, epiphroneous’ (‘turn their minds to, attend to’) the song. Anthrōpoi is not a casual term in Homeric epic. It designates human beings (mortals as opposed to gods) both horizontally, that is, spread over the earth (πολλῶν δʼ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα ‘he saw the citadels of many human beings’ Odyssey 1.3), but also, in poetic contexts especially, to designate the audience across time, both now (as in 1.351), before (προτέρων ἀνθρώπων ‘humans of former times’, Iliad 5.635) and in times to come (ἀνθρώποισι πελώμεθʼ ἀοίδιμοι ἐσσομένοισι ‘that we may turn out to be subjects of song to humans about-to-be,’ Iliad 6.355). The epic flatters itself that human beings everywhere in time and space will hear the kleos that it bestows upon heroes (Odyssey 1.90, 1.280, 2.215, 3.75, 24.94 πάντας ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους, etc.). Either they (=all human beings) or the singers give a song kleos, as is clear from the two lines cited just above, Odyssey 1.338 and 1.351. In comparable passages in the Hesiodic Theogony (44 ‘they give kleos to the generation of the gods in song’ κλείουσιν ἀοιδῇ, 67 ‘they give the good haunts of the immortals kleos’ ἤθεα κεδνὰ / ἀθανάτων κλείουσιν), the agents of kleos are not just singers or all of mankind but the Muses themselves, and they in turn give the poet song in order that he may give kleos to events past and future (᾽they breathed song in me, divine song, so that I might give kleos to the things that were and those that will be’, ἐνέπνευσαν δε μ’ ἀοιδήν / θέσπιν, ἵνα κλείοιμι τά τʼ ἐσσόμενα πρό τʼ ἐοντα, 31–32). The fact that the vulgate text of Odyssey 1.351 has the form ἐπι-κλείω while the Hesiodic texts and Odyssey 1.338 have the simplex form κλείω is of no significance, especially given the thematic coherence of the texts: the addition of the preverb epi– (meaning, roughly, ‘in response to’) to a verb in Epic diction is a way of adding versatility to formulaic diction with little change in meaning. [39]

§32. To sum up, the reading epikleious’ (‘giving glory/praise to’) accords with the formulaic system and the ideas about poetic composition and transmission that actually occur earlier in the context of Odyssey 1.351 and also are “baked into” the conventions of Homeric and Hesiodic epic. But what about epiphroneous’? As Labarbe makes clear in his discussion (see above, n.24), there is a parallel for this word in form and hexameter line-localization at Odyssey 19.385, in a short speech that Odysseus makes to his nurse Eurukleia just before she bathes his feet. She has remarked on his resemblance in build, voice, and feet to Odysseus in 19.380–381, and here is his reply:

ὦ γρηῦ, οὕτω φασὶν ὅσοι ἴδον ὀφθαλμοῖσιν
ἡμέας ἀμφοτέρους, μάλα εἰκέλω ἀλλήλοιϊν
ἔμμεναι, ὡς σύ περ αὐτὴ ἐπιφρονέουσʼ ἀγορεύεις.
ὣς ἄρʼ ἔφη, γρηῢς δὲ λέβηθʼ ἕλε παμφανόωντα“Old women, so they say, as many as have seen with their eyes
the two of us, that we really resemble one another,
we really do, as you yourself, prudent as you are, are saying.”
So he said, and the old woman took the brightly gleaming pot…

Odyssey 19.383–386
§33. The metrical position of epiphroneous’ in 19.385 is the same as in 1.351, but the context, the form, and the meaning appear to be totally different: here we have a present participle in the nominative singular feminine, while in Plato’s text of 1.351 the form is a present indicative meaning something like ‘turn one’s mind to, attend to.’ The formal and metrical parallels are enough to have persuaded Labarbe, however, that Plato’s was ‘purer’ (sic) than the vulgate’s epikleious’, but without one more piece of evidence that he produced we might be inclined instead to dismiss it as an aberration of some kind.
§34. Before discussing that, though, there is more to be said about the verb epiphroneō and its cognate adjective epiphrōn and noun epiphrosunē, terms which are applied to epic personages like Zeus (Theogony 658 [noun], 661 [adjective]), Nestor (Odyssey 3.128 [adjective]) who uses it of Odysseus, [40] Odysseus (Odyssey 5.437 [noun]), and Telemakhos (Odyssey 19.22 [noun], all of whom are renowned for their cunning intelligence, which is the concept that the two forms of the word signal. That list comprises all the attestations of the verb and its derivatives except for the application of it by Odysseus in disguise to his nurse cited above, plus once more, in the mouth of Penelope (Odyssey 23.12), where it actually applies to Eurukleia herself again, though obliquely; and by no coincidence the attribution of epiphrosunai ‘acts of prudence’ to Telemakhos is made by Eurukleia as well, so she is not just an exemplar of epiphrosunē herself but a bestower of the term upon others. I suggest that the adjective means ‘attentive’ and the noun ‘attentiveness’ rather than the vaguer ‘prudent’ and ‘prudence’, because being alert to what others are doing is an attribute of cunning in general, [41] and because it suits the virtues of Eurukleia and Telemakhos in context.

§35. All this contextual information isolates the only other instance of the verb epiphronein, its use in Plato’s citation of the response of all human beings to the neōtatē song, even further. That response ought to have nothing to do with cunning — the word mētis ‘cunning’ and the terms associated with it are almost always the property of an individual, rarely of a group, and certainly not of all human beings. [42] But Plato’s variant can still be saved, and this by a single entry in the dictionary of Hesychius adduced by Labarbe (above, n. 24):

ἐπιφρονέουσιν· ἐπακούουσιν D
epiphroneousin: ‘they listen to/attend to’
Hesychius of Alexandria, Synagōgē (ed. K. Latte, #5402)

As the letter D after the definition indicates, this entry derives from the Diogeneianos lexicon of poetic words of which Hesychius’s lexicon was a new edition, and Diogeneianos’ lexicon itself was an abridgement of an earlier one by Pamphilus of Alexandria (50 BCE). As is conventional in Hesychius and also in our oldest medieval manuscripts like the Venetus A manuscript of the Iliad, the glossed (rare) word (also known as the lemma) is cited in the exact form in which it occurred in its original context, in this case with a nu-movable at the end of it. That particular form is incompatible with the metrical context of the word in Odyssey 1.351, so the lexicon’s entry cannot be based upon the citation of Homer in Plato that we are studying. It is an independent witness to the word’s occurrence in a poetic context, and its definition, ‘listen to, heed’ is perfectly harmonious with the context of Plato’s variant for Odyssey 1.351, namely, listening to poetry, as opposed to all the other attestations of its cognates in attested Epic, where it refers to the mental acuity of cunning individuals and their plans or plots. I conclude that although rare, the word that Plato used in his citation of the Homeric line in the Republic was attested in a text or more likely, texts, that have simply not survived; we could have made such an argument even without it, because our sample of Epic diction is by no means complete, but certainly the evidence from Hesychius makes the case stronger.

§36. Accordingly, Plato’s variants must be taken seriously. Understanding his epiphroneous’ as another conventional way to speak of the response of listeners to Epic poetry in general is harmonious with the conventional diction about reception and composition of Epic in Epic itself. In fact, all of these several variations in wording are consistent with a poetic system whose idea of identity and preservation is not based on the written word or a notionally fixed text, but on a generative system whose product, whose parole, can vary in just these ways from performer to performer or even performance to performance. Even though a given singer’s generative system at any given point is synchronically economical and therefore generally avoids multiple ways of saying the same thing, we cannot reasonably project that economy over the diachronic dimension of the evolution of the poetic system, nor is the synchronic economy of a given performer’s system ever going to be perfect. The upshot is that there is no valid way to demonstrate that one of these forms is superior to the other or should displace the other. They are potentially synchronic multiforms that attest to the versatility of expression built into a medium that has evolved over time.

Back to neōtatē and what’s ‘new’ within the Homeric Odyssey

§37. All of this, in other words, effectively frees us to address and focus on the last and perhaps most interesting question that the Homeric citation in Republic IV.424b raises, namely, what the word neōtatē in Odyssey 1.352 may have meant over the course of its reception and how Socrates’ interpretation stands in relationship to it. To repeat, we have established the endpoint of the arc that we wish to follow, the two interpretations that Socrates provides, one that is to his mind incorrect in that it endorses a concept of song generation that he deprecates: if neōtatē in 1.352 means ‘most novel’ of songs, then Homer can be cited as approving the praise or attention that such disruptive singings deserve. The other interpretation, the one that Socrates approves, is that the generalization in 1.351–352 speaks of the ‘latest/most recent song’ because there are always ‘new songs’ nea āismata being generated that have not been heard before. Then Homer is not in fact validating the cultivation of paranomia, [43] the search for tradition- and system-breaking novelty, but acknowledging that poets are composing and people prefer hearing new songs that they have not heard before.
§38. What, then, would be the starting point of this interpretative arc? Because the lines present themselves as a generalization about human beings and their preferences, Socrates cites them out of their context in the poetic narrative, and his way of arguing in favor of his interpretation has everything to do with his argument about how poetry should function in the ideal city-state and for the education of the Guardians. But it also has nothing explicit to say about Telemakhos and his mother at this point in the Odyssey. Experience teaches that when people within a poem generalize about almost anything, they often say more about themselves than about the world without. It can be dangerous to extract such items from their context. When Phaedra’s nurse says αἱ δεύτεραί πως φροντίδες σοφώτεραι ‘second thoughts are somehow wiser’, you’d better know when and why she’s saying it! [44] Accordingly, it is appropriate to ask, what happens if we try to understand young Telemakhos’ utterances about poetry in situ, informed by a comparative awareness of the dynamics of Homeric composition and respect for the resonance of the poetry’s diction as we can try to reconstruct it? [45]

§39. In fact the context of Telemakhos’ remark is the first instance of a recurring theme in the Odyssey that is based on a Homeric convention, the contrast between akhos ‘grief’ or penthos ‘suffering, song of lament’ and kleos ‘glory, epic song that glorifies heroes’, and the notion that what is a matter of akhos or penthos for a person who is directly involved in epic stories (the so-called klea andrōn ‘glorious songs of the heroes’) can be a matter of kleos for another who is distanced from it:

As we have seen from the internal evidence of epic itself, the κλέα ἀνδρῶν ‘kléos [plural] of the men’ are intended as an elevated form of entertainment, and they bring ákhos/pénthos only to those who are involved in the ákhos/pénthos that the kléos may happen to describe. For the uninvolved audience of epic, the death of Patroklos is a subject of kléos. For the involved Achilles, it is ákhos/pénthos. [46]

Nagy documented this contrast with countless examples, showing, for instance, that it is built into the names of the hero of the Iliad and of his beloved companion and alter ego — Akhilleus ‘who has akhos from/for the laos’ and Patroklos ‘kleos of/about the ancestors’ — as well as into the plot structure of the poem itself, where the akhos/penthos of Achilles over the death of Patroklos leads Achilles to enter the realm of kleos. [47]

§40. Nagy also points to a series of three passages in which this thematic notion is manifested over the course of the Odyssey, the first being Penelope’s response to the grievous (lugrēs) song of Phemios about the nostoi ‘homecomings’ of the heroes from Troy:

ἡ δʼ ὅτε δὴ μνηστῆρας ἀφίκετο δῖα γυναικῶν,
στῆ ῥα παρὰ σταθμὸν τέγεος πύκα ποιητοῖο,
ἄντα παρειάων σχομένη λιπαρὰ κρήδεμνα ·
ἀμφίπολος δʼ ἄρα οἱ κεδνὴ ἑκάτερθε παρέστη.
δακρύσασα δʼ ἔπειτα προσηύδα θεῖον ἀοιδόν·
“Φήμιε, πολλὰ γὰρ ἄλλα βροτῶν θελκτήρια οἶδας,
ἔργʼ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε, τά τε κλείουσιν ἀοιδοί ·
τῶν ἕν γέ σφιν ἄειδε παρήμενος, οἱ δὲ σιωπῇ
οἶνον πινόντων· ταύτης δʼ ἀποπαύεʼ ἀοιδῆς
λυγρῆς, ἥ τέ μοι αἰεὶ ἐνὶ στήθεσσι φίλον κῆρ
τείρει, ἐπεί με μάλιστα καθίκετο πένθος ἄλαστον.
τοίην γὰρ κεφαλὴν ποθέω μεμνημένη αἰεί,
ἀνδρός, τοῦ κλέος εὐρὺ καθʼ Ἑλλάδα καὶ μέσον Ἄργος.”

Odyssey 1.332–344
And when she, radiant among women, came upon the suitors,
she stood there beside a pillar of the well-joined roof,
holding glistening veils before her cheeks;
a proper handmaid stood on each side of her.
Then, shedding tears, she addressed the divine singer:
“Phemios, you know many other bewitching tales that mortals tell,
deeds of men and gods both, that singers give kleos to:
sing one to them as you sit, and let them in silence
drink their wine, but cease from this song,
this grievous song, which always wears away the dear heart
in my chest, since unforgettable grief (penthos alaston) has come to me especially.
Always remembering him I yearn for such a head as his,
the head of a man whose kleos is wide in Hellas and the middle of Argos.”

The kleos of Odysseus may be spread far and wide by singers, but for Penelope, there is instead penthos alaston, the kind of suffering that has no closure, not a song of the glory of a hero but a lament for his death; such grief is a constant aspect of her identity within the epic, and it is the central feature of this, her first appearance in the poem. [48] The contrast between kleos and penthos, explicit or implicit, plus the weeping, the veils before the face, and the identity of an individual closely related to the sufferer, compose a theme whose elements will recur, the next time when Telemakhos and Peisistratos visit Menelaos and Helen. After looking at that passage and the third and final example of this theme, we will be better able to contextualize Telemakhos’ response to his mother.

§41. Here is the end of Menelaos’ speech to the two sons of heroes, both as yet formally unidentified, whom he overheard whispering about the divine beauty of his palace, followed by Telemakhos’ response:

“…ἀλλʼ ἔμπης πάντας μὲν ὀδυρόμενος καὶ ἀχεύων
πολλάκις ἐν μεγάροισι καθήμενος ἡμετέροισιν
ἄλλοτε μέν τε γόῳ φρένα τέρπομαι, ἄλλοτε δʼ αὖτε
παύομαι · αἰψηρὸς δὲ κόρος κρυεροῖο γόοιο.
τῶν πάντων οὐ τόσσον ὀδύρομαι, ἀχνύμενός περ,
ὡς ἑνός, ὅς τέ μοι ὕπνον ἀπεχθαίρει καὶ ἐδωδὴν
μνωομένῳ, ἐπεὶ οὔ τις Ἀχαιῶν τόσσʼ ἐμόγησεν,
ὅσσʼ Ὀδυσεὺς ἐμόγησε καὶ ἤρατο. τῷ δʼ ἄρʼ ἔμελλεν
αὐτῷ κήδεʼ ἔσεσθαι, ἐμοὶ δʼ ἄχος αἰὲν ἄλαστον
κείνου, ὅπως δὴ δηρὸν ἀποίχεται, οὐδέ τι ἴδμεν,
ζώει ὅ γʼ ἦ τέθνηκεν. ὀδύρονταί νύ που αὐτὸν
Λαέρτης θʼ ὁ γέρων καὶ ἐχέφρων Πηνελόπεια
Τηλέμαχός θʼ, ὃν ἔλειπε νέον γεγαῶτʼ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ.”
ὣς φάτο, τῷ δʼ ἄρα πατρὸς ὑφʼ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο.
δάκρυ δʼ ἀπὸ βλεφάρων χαμάδις βάλε πατρὸς ἀκούσας,
χλαῖναν πορφυρέην ἄντʼ ὀφθαλμοῖιν ἀνασχὼν
ἀμφοτέρῃσιν χερσί. νόησε δέ μιν Μενέλαος,
μερμήριξε δʼ ἔπειτα κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμόν,
ἠέ μιν αὐτὸν πατρὸς ἐάσειε μνησθῆναι
ἦ πρῶτʼ ἐξερέοιτο ἕκαστά τε πειρήσαιτο.

Odyssey 4.100–119
But as it is, weeping and grieving over them all [=those who died in Troy]
often, as I sit in our halls
sometimes I delight my heart with lament, and then again at other times
I stop: having too much of mind-numbing lament happens quickly.
Aggrieved as I am (akhnumenos), I do not weep so much for all of them
as I do for one of them, who makes both sleep and food my enemy
when I am mindful of him, since not one of the Achaeans toiled as hard as he,
as much as Odysseus toiled and endured. For all that, his destiny was about to be
woe upon woe (kēdea), and mine was to have unforgettable grief (akhos alaston)
for him, that he is gone for so long, and we do not know
if he is alive or has died. Surely they weep for him,
old man Laertes, and clever Penelope,
and Telemakhos, whom he left new-born in his household.”
So he spoke and roused in him [=Telemakhos] the desire to mourn his father.
Hearing of his father, he shed a tear to the ground from his eyelids,
holding his purple cloak up before his eyes
with both hands. And Menelaos noticed him,
and he pondered in his mind and his spirit
whether he should allow him to bring to mind his father on his own
or if he should first question him and probe him for details.

The tables are turned here from the scene in 1.332–364: no singer is present, [49] but Menelaos plays the role of one (note the key word kēdea, a frequent topic of epic song) in recalling Odysseus’ toils at Troy and suffering on the way home. In addition, he models a response for Telemakhos in speaking of his own absolute and unending grief and sorrow at the absence of one he so admires and the pain of not knowing whether he is alive or dead. Then to cap things off, Menelaos brings to mind and justifies the grief for Odysseus of Laertes and of Penelope and Telemakhos himself. Unlike the first time, Telemakhos now responds the way that his mother had, by weeping and veiling himself — with his cloak, while she used her veil. Furthermore, we learn from the narrator’s intervention in the last four lines of the passage (4.116–119) that when Menelaos spoke of Odysseus and his grief, it was his way of confirming his as yet hidden intuition about the identity of his young guest (based on the resemblance of his hands, feet, gaze, head, and hair to Odysseus’s, as we learn just below, 4.149–150). In the conversation that he holds with Helen about their guests that follows this passage, Menelaos makes the connection between Telemakhos’s weeping and his identity explicit to her and everyone else immediately after describing the physical features of Telemakhos that remind him of Odysseus:

καὶ νῦν ἦ τοι ἐγὼ μεμνημένος ἀμφʼ Ὀδυσῆι
μυθεόμην, ὅσα κεῖνος ὀιζύσας ἐμόγησεν
ἀμφʼ ἐμοί, αὐτὰρ ὁ πικρὸν ὑπʼ ὀφρύσι δάκρυον εἶβε,
χλαῖναν πορφυρέην ἄντʼ ὀφθαλμοῖιν ἀνασχών.

Odyssey 4.152–154
And now in fact as I was reminiscing about Odysseus,
I was telling them how much that man suffered miserably
On my behalf, and then he (=Telemakhos) started shedding a bitter tear under his brows
holding his purple cloak up before his eyes.

In other words, Telemakhos’ way of grieving in response to Menelaos’ talk of his and his mother’s akhos proves to Menelaos that he is Odysseus’ son, establishes his identity, presumably because only a person directly involved in the suffering exhibits that grief, weeps that way.

§42. There are two additional examples of this theme, in Odyssey 8, and they match up as the beginning and end of a ring composition. They bound a unified, multi-part performance that gets interrupted several times and restarted, and they are meant to be considered together. Among other things, the first and third songs are interrupted by a second song, the love affair of Ares and Aphrodite, which is qualified at 8.429 as a humnos, the only attestation of that word in the Iliad and Odyssey. As Gregory Nagy has argued, all of this takes place in the context of a festival (called a dais, and featuring a sacrifice). By contrast to that humnos, the first and third songs are both on epic themes, and in their scope and in the way the narrative topic shifts from the first to the third, the two of them constitute a performance of poetry of the so-called Epic Cycle – in fact the two even form a cycle themselves, and the “divine burlesque” content of the humnos that intervenes is a demonstrably archaic performance genre. [50] Furthermore, this archaizing, pre-Homeric or as Nagy calls it “preregular” performance of old-style songs is set up in contrast and in competition (the word agōn ‘ordeal, contest’ is applied strategically) to the massive one that follows it, the decidedly Homeric, now “regular” performance by Odysseus himself.

§43. With this overview in mind, we turn to Odysseus’ reaction to Demodokos’ ‘first song’ in Odyssey 8.72–92. It is introduced as klea andrōn / oimēs, tēs tot’ ara kleos ouranon eurun hikāne ‘glories (=kleos in plural) of men, a thread whose glory (=kleos in singular) at that time was reaching the broad sky’, and it describes a quarrel between Odysseus and Agamemnon, the pēmatos arkhē ‘beginning of the suffering’. Here is Odysseus’ response:

ταῦτʼ ἄρʼ ἀοιδὸς ἄειδε περικλυτός· αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσεὺς
πορφύρεον μέγα φᾶρος ἑλὼν χερσὶ στιβαρῇσι
κὰκ κεφαλῆς εἴρυσσε, κάλυψε δὲ καλὰ πρόσωπα·
αἴδετο γὰρ Φαίηκας ὑπʼ ὀφρύσι δάκρυα λείβων.
ἦ τοι ὅτε λήξειεν ἀείδων θεῖος ἀοιδός,
δάκρυ ὀμορξάμενος κεφαλῆς ἄπο φᾶρος ἕλεσκε
καὶ δέπας ἀμφικύπελλον ἑλὼν σπείσασκε θεοῖσιν·
αὐτὰρ ὅτʼ ἂψ ἄρχοιτο καὶ ὀτρύνειαν ἀείδειν
Φαιήκων οἱ ἄριστοι, ἐπεὶ τέρποντʼ ἐπέεσσιν,
ἂψ Ὀδυσεὺς κατὰ κρᾶτα καλυψάμενος γοάασκεν.

Odyssey 8.83–92
These were the things the far-famed singer was singing; meanwhile Odysseus
taking a great purple cloak in those mighty hands of his
and pulling it down from his head, he covered up his beautiful face,
since he was ashamed to be shedding tears from his eyelids before the Phaeacians.
Indeed whenever the divine singer ceased singing,
He would wipe away a tear and keep taking the cloak from his head,
and then he would take a two-handled wine cup and pour a libation to the gods;
then when he [=Demodokos] would start up again and they would urge him to sing,
I mean the best of the Phaeacians, since they were delighting in his words,
once again Odysseus covered his head and began weeping.

These words recall the responses of Penelope and of Telemakhos in Odyssey 4 to tales that were connected to Odysseus, with the difference this time being that Odysseus is both the (still disguised) listener and the actor in the songs being sung, an index of his absolute ‘involvement’ in the song. When Demodokos takes up the divine burlesque narrative, the humnos that follows this song, there is no veiling or weeping forthcoming from Odysseus. It calls forth only delight (root terp– in Greek) in the mind of Odysseus (8.368, terpet’ eni phresin hēsin akouōn ‘he delighted in his heart to hear it’) echoing the word terpont’ used above of the ‘best of the Phaeacians’ response to the first song. The last song of Demodokos, however, sung at Odysseus’ request, concerns the Trojan horse and the capture of Troy, events that were the listening hero’s signature achievements, at least before his homecoming. [51] The song concludes with a description of Odysseus himself and Menelaos going together to the home of Deiphobos and fighting bravely (tolmēsanta) a ‘most dreadful battle’ (ainotaton polemon, 8.519) that he won (nikēsai) through the help of Athena, and at that point Odysseus totally dissolves into tears:

ταῦτʼ ἄρʼ ἀοιδὸς ἄειδε περικλυτός· αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσεὺς
τήκετο, δάκρυ δʼ ἔδευεν ὑπὸ βλεφάροισι παρειάς.
ὡς δὲ γυνὴ κλαίῃσι φίλον πόσιν ἀμφιπεσοῦσα,
ὅς τε ἑῆς πρόσθεν πόλιος λαῶν τε πέσῃσιν,
ἄστεϊ καὶ τεκέεσσιν ἀμύνων νηλεὲς ἦμαρ·
ἡ μὲν τὸν θνήσκοντα καὶ ἀσπαίροντα ἰδοῦσα
ἀμφʼ αὐτῷ χυμένη λίγα κωκύει· οἱ δέ τʼ ὄπισθε
κόπτοντες δούρεσσι μετάφρενον ἠδὲ καὶ ὤμους
εἴρερον εἰσανάγουσι, πόνον τʼ ἐχέμεν καὶ ὀιζύν·
τῆς δʼ ἐλεεινοτάτῳ ἄχεϊ φθινύθουσι παρειαί·
ὣς Ὀδυσεὺς ἐλεεινὸν ὑπʼ ὀφρύσι δάκρυον εἶβεν.
ἔνθʼ ἄλλους μὲν πάντας ἐλάνθανε δάκρυα λείβων,
Ἀλκίνοος δέ μιν οἶος ἐπεφράσατʼ ἠδʼ ἐνόησεν,
ἥμενος ἄγχʼ αὐτοῦ, βαρὺ δὲ στενάχοντος ἄκουσεν.

Odyssey 8.521–531
These things the far-famed singer sang; but Odysseus
was dissolving, and a tear wet the cheeks below his eyelids.
As a woman weeps collapsing around her beloved husband,
who falls before his city and his people
trying to ward off the pitiless day for his town and his children;
seeing him dying and gasping for air
she falls in a heap around him, shrieking; but from behind they are
smacking her in the back and shoulders with their spearshafts,
and they lead her off into slavery, to gain both toil and misery;
her cheeks wither with the most piteous grief (eleeinotatōi akhei);
so Odysseus was shedding a tear of pity under his brows.
Then none of the others noticed him shedding tears,
only Alkinoos observed him and perceived it,
sitting near him, and he heard him groaning deeply.

§44. In describing Odysseus’ response to the first song, the narrator spoke of the kleos of the song (8.73: klea andrōn ‘famous songs of heroes’ of the song about to be sung, and 8.74 kleos of its fame) and the purple cloak with which Odysseus covered himself when weeping; his akhos is implicit in his weeping and the covering of his head and face. [52] Here in the third song, the narrator does not mention the cloak and the covering, but it is implicit in the fact that only Alkinoos took notice and heard his groans, and the akhos is deflected to the subject of the simile that describes the treatment of a captive woman, a simile that at once augments and conceals the grief of Odysseus, which is here qualified as eleeinon ‘piteous’. But just below, Alkinoos describes Odysseus’ response to all in attendance as akhos (l. 541) and recommends that the singer hold off so that there may be a return to delight (terpōmetha again, l. 542) for all. Then he finally asks Odysseus who he is, but in an elaborately extended fashion, over 36 lines, beginning with a request for the names of his parents, and ending in this way:

εἰπὲ δʼ ὅ τι κλαίεις καὶ ὀδύρεαι ἔνδοθι θυμῷ
Ἀργείων Δαναῶν ἠδʼ Ἰλίου οἶτον ἀκούων.
τὸν δὲ θεοὶ μὲν τεῦξαν, ἐπεκλώσαντο δʼ ὄλεθρον
ἀνθρώποις, ἵνα ᾖσι καὶ ἐσσομένοισιν ἀοιδή.
ἦ τίς τοι καὶ πηὸς ἀπέφθιτο Ἰλιόθι πρὸ
ἐσθλὸς ἐών, γαμβρὸς πενθερός, οἵ τε μάλιστα
κήδιστοι τελέθουσι μεθʼ αἷμά τε καὶ γένος αὐτῶν;
ἦ τίς που καὶ ἑταῖρος ἀνὴρ κεχαρισμένα εἰδώς,
ἐσθλός; ἐπεὶ οὐ μέν τι κασιγνήτοιο χερείων
γίγνεται, ὅς κεν ἑταῖρος ἐὼν πεπνυμένα εἰδῇ.

Odyssey 8.577–586
And tell us why you weep and lament in the spirit within you
hearing the fate of the Argive Danaans and of Troy.
The gods contrived it, and they have spun destruction
for humans, so that there may be song also for people in the future.
Or did some relative of yours perish before Ilion,
noble as he was, an in-law either father or brother, who are especially
most cherished (kēdistoi) among blood and family members?
Or was it perhaps a companion who knew how friends reciprocate,
a noble person? Since not at all less than a brother
is one who is a companion and knows wisdom and courage.
§45. I have quoted this passage at length because it brings to the surface an essential component in this theme that is hidden only from the surface of the first example, which is the one that really concerns us, namely, that the response of the person(s) who weeps is a sign of their identity, as manifest in their relationship to the characters in the narrative being sung or spoken of. That point is all too clear in Menelaos’s interaction with Telemakhos and again here in Skheriē, in the way that Alkinoos elaborately prompts Odysseus about his identity because of the way that he wept in response to the tale of the capture of Troy.

Back to Odyssey 1.351–352 and the Identity of Telemakhos

§46. Alkinoos also tries to console Odysseus by distancing the song and the notion that the gods have contrived all this suffering for human beings (l. 580, anthrōpois) so that people in the future could hear songs of it — a generalization that is similar in tone and content but not in effect to Telemakhos’s remarks about Zeus’s responsibility for the woes of the returning heroes and about the neōtatē song and the way that humans (anthrōpoi, see 1.351) respond to it. [53] But in the text from the Odyssey that Socrates cites from, the interaction between Penelope and Telemakhos in Odyssey 1.325–1.364, there is something missing: yes, Penelope’s sadness is a given, but Telemakhos should reflect it as well. He should be sharing her sorrow, but he is significantly not sharing that sorrow, because there is a big problem with him at this early stage of his narrative. He is not yet connected to his father and therefore to his own identity, so how could he betray it by weeping? Earlier in Odyssey 1 (1.213–220) in response to a direct question, he actually denied that he knew who he was despite his mother’s assertion, and he even expressed the wish that he was the son of a blessed man instead of the most ill-starred of men on earth. Here is what Athena tells him after advising him to go on a journey to learn about his father (1.281–283), and, on his return, to wait for a year, and if his father does not return by then, to have a funeral for him, and then plot how to kill the suitors:

φράζεσθαι δὴ ἔπειτα κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμὸν
ὅππως κε μνηστῆρας ἐνὶ μεγάροισι τεοῖσι
κτείνῃς ἠὲ δόλῳ ἢ ἀμφαδόν· οὐδέ τί σε χρὴ
νηπιάας ὀχέειν, ἐπεὶ οὐκέτι τηλίκος ἐσσι.

Odyssey 1.295–297
Then devise in your mind and your spirit
how you may kill the suitors in your hall,
either by trickery or openly: it is not at all necessary that you
cling to your nēpieē, since you are no longer of that age.

The word nēpieē has been understood as ‘’childishness” or “foolishness,” but it has been shown to be a term related to the root of Latin aptus and ineptus and means ‘detachment’. [54] What Athena is telling Telemakhos is to stop clinging to being detached from his father and his identity, an oxymoron, and a powerful one. It is important that Telemakhos separate himself, spatially as well as emotionally, from his mother, in order to attach himself subsequently to the world of his father. But at this point in the story, he has not accomplished either objective. The way that he responds to Menelaos in Odyssey 4 proves the point: by then he has at least begun to become connected to his father.

§47. This thematic perspective sheds light on the problem before us, namely, the meaning of the word neōtatē in Telemakhos’ rebuke to his mother about begrudging (phthon-) Phemios from giving delight (terp-) by singing the nostos of heroes from Troy. Telemakhos is grappling with his own detachment even as he is making general remarks to his weeping mother about poetry and the distance one should feel from it. The standard response is Alkinoos’, that the gods made the bad things that are the subject of song happen so that people in the future could sing about them, a mise en abyme that brings to mind the emotional distance that the people of the future are supposed to have from events far in their past but that such a statement, paradoxically and powerfully, radically shortens, in that it indirectly acknowledges us, the world audience usually signified by the noun anthrōpoi. Instead of speaking about us, though, Telemakhos asserts the value that people within the epic present place on songs of events that are most recent for them and that are becoming or have become the subjects of song — that is what he means by the neōtatē song that people prefer and engage with. It is assuredly not the ‘newest’ song because Penelope literally speaks about hearing this song of Phemios before (she uses the word aei ‘always’, 1.341) and because Telemakhos uses the verb amphipelētai ‘circulates, comes round (again, as in a cycle)’ of the neōtatē song that people supposedly prefer.
§48. The point is that young Telemakhos is currently in the middle ground, in a kind of no man’s land, between a person who is too close (like his mother) to attain detachment and those who are distant enough to take delight in tales of the sufferings of those who are not near or dear to them. So he generalizes, unconventionally so, about the temporal nearness of songs and the engagement (not the emotional engagement) that it generates. The reason for Telemakhos’ switch is that he is trying to justify his own insouciance, his own lack of vulnerability to a performance that should involve him. Moreover, as a move towards detachment from her, his mother, he inappropriately reproves her altogether appropriate grief, a person intimately connected to the suffering of one in particular of the heroes on their return from Troy.
§49. A consequence of Telemakhos’ position is that his statement has the opposite effect on us, the unacknowledged audience, from the conventional statement about heroic suffering becoming the subject of song for the people of the future. [55] Instead, Telemakhos’ words tell us that the epic world is far away from our own in time and therefore much less likely to engage us than it did those who inhabited it; the message of Alkinoos to Odysseus in Odyssey 8 brought us near to him, while Telemakhos sets us apart in the way that he himself is distanced from what should be near.

§50. Pindar’s epinicians have been invoked in connection with Telemakhos’ remarks, because epinicians do refer to the current world in a way that seems to resemble the way that Telemakhos speaks of the recent past within the epic world — but unlike Homer, Pindar can overtly refer to his own time, and his central task is to praise the victor of the current moment. As Andrew Miller and Gregory Nagy have demonstrated, what is neos or nearos in the epinicians is “a specific category of subject matter”, to wit, the praiseworthy achievement of the athlete in the here and now — for instance, the neōtaton kalōn ‘most recent of the glories’ in Pythian 8.33 is Aristomenes’ success in wrestling which it is the poet’s task is to praise by linking it to what is palaio– ‘old’, the mythological past. [56] A preference for the contemporary is a topos in Pindar, who claims that because the poet chooses to link the object of his current attention to the past, the past comes into bloom — otherwise it would escape mortals’ attention:

ἀλλὰ παλαιὰ γὰρ
εὕδει χάρις, ἀμνάμονες δὲ βροτοί,
ὅ τι μὴ σοφίας ἄωτον ἄκρον
κλυταῖς ἐπέων ῥοαῖσιν ἐξίκηται ζυγέν.

Isthmian 7.16–18
But in fact the old
grace (kharis, = compensation through song for glorious deeds) sleeps, and mortals are unmindful of it,
Unless the peaking blossom of the art of song
Turns out to be wedded to the glory-bringing streams of sung words.

For Pindar, there is so much emotional intensity in the current moment that the poet must manage his task with great care and tact, so that his praise carries weight; otherwise, there is ‘every danger’ hapas kindunos that his poetic performance will give rise to phthonos, vicious criticism motivated by jealousy and envy, whereas the poet’s goal is intense approbation. [57] In Odyssey 1.346 Telemakhos says to his mother, you ‘begrudge’ phthoneeis the poet his prerogative, which is to give delight (root terp-). In contrast to Pindar and his concern for the way that praise of the present and familiar can become envy and distrust, Telemakhos claims for Phemios the right to give delight with what is closest to the present in time — he has none of Pindar’s concern with intensifying praise of the present up to and not into the point of envy (=phthonos). It cannot be a coincidence that the song that Telemakhos associates with the word neōtatē, that of the heroes returning from Troy, is decidedly the most recent in the internal past of the poem, as against Pindar’s focus on what is recent in the external present of the poem’s performance.

Back to Plato and Conclusions

§51. If we now return to Plato and his interpretation of Odyssey 1.351–352 as referring to ‘new songs’ nea āismata, taking neōtatē to refer to songs that have not been heard before as against songs that are novel and strange, it is clear that those whose interpretation he is refuting have, as often happens with the citation of Homer in antiquity, taken the words out of their Homeric context, but there is nothing untrue to Telemakhos’s moment in Socrates’ reading, whereas ascribing an interest in novelty of form to the traditional performer of epic and his internal audience is problematic in itself as well as irrelevant to Telemakhos. On the other hand, we have pointed out the Homeric text’s stipulation both by Penelope and, through the implications of amphipelētai, by Telemakhos himself, that the song of Phemios has been heard before and is therefore neither ‘new’ in Socrates’ sense nor ‘novel’ in the view that he opposes. What is clearly of overriding importance to Socrates is the moral character of song composition and the dangerous equipoise of a new composition between kainotomia ‘invention’ and paranomia ‘transgression of convention’, to use later terminology that is more pointed than Plato’s. Socrates wants the moral consistency of ‘new songs,’ songs in the traditional form that have not been sung before, and not ‘new music’ = a new way of singing, because for him, those other kinds of poetic newness endanger the whole fabric of civic existence that the Republic is constituting. It should be said, however, that Plato’s Socrates has not misquoted (literally) the Homeric text, since its variations from the Homeric vulgate are, as we have shown, consistent with evidence about the traditional diction, and his reading of it is concerning ‘new songs’ as against ‘new kinds of singing’, is clearly consistent with a debate about mousikē that belongs to his time and place and is not inherent in the performance traditions of Homeric epic.

§52. In any cases, Plato’s holistic moral stance with regard to mousikē brings us back to our starting point, the remark of George Balanchine to the mother of one of his young ballet students, in French, “La danse, madame, c’est une question morale.” Balanchine also had strong opinions about newness and dance. Here is what Lincoln Kirstein reports:

Two epithets [Balanchine] particularly detested, though they were frequently invoked to qualify his “genius,” were “creative” and “original.” The first, he felt, was the more false; only less offensive was “original” or its twin, “authentic.” Any unique human explosion of initiative was usually mutation, but more often dilution…His deep and oft-repeated generous obligation and respect for predecessors — Lev Ivanov, Marius Petipa in particular, but also Mikhail Fokine and Kasyan Goleizovsky — continually surprised commentators, who were quick to flatter Balanchine’s surprising movement as “revolutionary.” Few of these had been familiar with the late Diaghilev repertory or its St. Petersburg ancestry. [58]
§53. This whole statement, and in particular, the sentence “Any unique human explosion of initiative was usually mutation, but more often dilution,” resonates to a remarkable degree with Socrates’ use of the word neōterismos (above, #12, and n. 18) meaning ‘change for the worse’, but it suggests a different, higher level at which Socrates’ quoting of Odyssey 1.351–352 is not in fact misquoted. Ballet is a performance tradition like Ancient Greek epic, and Balanchine’s debt to his predecessors is the same as theirs to those who preceded them. People like Ivanov and Petipa taught their successors who in turn taught Balanchine generative systems for choreographing ballets to new works of music. One can add that until Sergeyev invented a system in the 19th Century for recording the ballets of the Russian school on paper, everything about dancing and each dance was transmitted from person to person and body to body and from memory to memory. Plato’s Socrates’ experience of Homeric epic was of just such a system. The ‘new songs’ nea āismata that Socrates thinks of as epic commonplaces are just like the not-at-all “original” dances of Petipa or Fokine or Balanchine. Moreover, the stability of the tradition that produces them corresponds to the higher reality of what the Guardians of the Republic need to learn and take part in: a living, enriching, stable tradition that requires no “unique human explosion of initiative” to keep a community stable and safe from both internal and external threats to its solidarity. Also relevant is the cogent insight of Douglas Frame that shows how Homeric epic actually arose in the 7th Century BCE to be performed at the Panionion as a way to build community and identity among the cities of the Ionian Dodecapolis. [59]
§54. One might want to ask, given that he was an artist in a performance tradition, what was Balanchine’s goal in generating ‘new ballets’ (vs. the nea āismata ‘new songs’ of Socrates) like Apollon musagète to the music of Stravinsky? According to Kirstein, what he most often said he wanted was “to make audiences see music and hear dancing.” My guess is that he was not talking about effectuating synaesthesia in them; instead, it was a way of saying that the music and the dance should be so totally integrated that they were seamlessly indistinguishable to the audience. Anyone can witness the perfection that Balanchine achieved in this regard if they choose to view even a YouTube video of one of his ballets. [60] But as a recent study of the Ballets Russes makes clear, precisely that integration between music and dance had been an explicit goal of the Russian school of ballet long before Balanchine. [61] So the ballet tradition has had its own internal mechanisms for enforcing and enriching the expressive power of its compositional process. In Homeric poetry, the heroes of Greek epic are vying for kleos, which means both unwithering glory and the traditional song that perpetuates it. One can say, then, that its perpetuation as the ultimate value-conveyor is similarly built into it from the start. [62]
§55. One last point about performance traditions and the way that they function. It has to do with the reason that Balanchine answered in French the American mother’s question about her daughter, in English. Balanchine was born in St. Petersburg in 1904, of Georgian parents, and he emigrated to Paris in 1924, where he lived and worked, until he migrated to the US in 1934. He was likely a fluent French speaker from those days, but he ‘code-switched’ from English to French in responding to the mother’s question not from a snobbish reversion to his life in Paris. Ballet, and a fortiori the Russian variant of it, is a French tradition and an all-encompassing way of life, with its own language. His answer to the mother’s question evoked his visceral citizenship in that world, a citizenship that mirrors the conviction of Perikles’ mentor, Damon, about the holistic integration between instruction in mousikē and the virtues that a citizen in the ideal city-state should embody. In any event, his code-switching dramatizes the disconnect between Balanchine and his young pupil’s mother, which is the whole point of his response.


[ back ] 1. Lincoln Kirstein, “Beliefs of a Master,” New York Review of Books, March 15, 1984, §1.
[ back ] 2. G. Grewal points out to me that at Phaedo 60e–61a, in his ironical way, Socrates speaks of how he had, before his trial, interpreted a recurrent dream that exhorted him to mousikēn poiein ‘practice mousikē’: he had understood it to mean ‘practice philosophy’ on the grounds that ‘philosophy is the greatest mousikē’ (ὡς φιλοσοφίας μὲν οὔσης μεγίστης μουσικῆς), but now, after his trial, he says, he began to wonder if it was instructing him ‘to practice ‘music’ in the popular (dēmōdē) sense of the word’. The integrated sense of ‘music’ as poetry, song, and dance is foregrounded in the Republic, but Socrates’ other interpretation of philosophy as the greatest mousikē backgrounds and enhances the significance of the term as the sum total of the education of the Guardians, since it demonstrates in practice how the two interpretations of his dream can intersect.
[ back ] 3. An important distinction here: “Unlike what happens in literature, where reception by the public happens only after a piece of literature is transmitted, reception in oral traditions happens during as well as after transmission,” G. Nagy, “Hesiod and the Ancient Biographical Traditions,” in The Brill Companion to Hesiod, ed. F. Montanari, A. Rengakos, and Ch. Tsagalis, Leiden, 2009, p. 283; online at https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/gregory-nagy-hesiod-and-the-ancient-biographical-traditions (accessed 7/14/2021).
[ back ] 4. See F. de Saussure, Cours de linguistique générale, 3rd edition, published by C. Bally, A. Sechehaye, and A. Riedlinger, Paris, 1967, First Part, Chapter IV, “Linguistique de la langue et linguistique de la parole,” pp. 36–39. Langue in Saussure’s terminology is the underlying sign system for the production of speech in an individual, which is parole. Saussure thought of parole in limited terms, as an individual’s way of generating language, having died before basic research on performance traditions and on speech acts even began, so the concept that he articulated is more useful and broader in both practical and theoretical terms than he might have anticipated. For more on these terms, see also the crucial expansion of them by E. Benveniste, “La forme et le sens dans le langage,” conveniently available as reprinted in Problèmes de linguistique générale, II, Paris, 1974, pp. 215–219.
[ back ] 5. A.B. Lord, The Singer of Tales, Cambridge, 2000 (2nded.), p. 27 and Lord’s discussion, p. 28.
[ back ] 6. An extreme, exceptional case is the modern Tibetan singer in the Geysar tradition, Guru Gyaltsen, who died in 2019 at the age of 59. He had learned to write his songs, but he wrote them in the same way as he sang them, composing them in performance (personal communication from Dr. Yeshi Lhamo, Institute for Ethnic Literature, Beijing). In other traditions, singers will carry with them a scroll (supposedly of their song) that they unroll as they sing, but the scroll is a prop to signal their faithfulness to the tradition, and they never actually look at or still less refer to it: I have witnessed this myself in a performance of the Iranian epic, the Shahnameh.
[ back ] 7. G. Nagy, Homer’s Text and Language, Urbana and Chicago, 2004, p. 78.
[ back ] 8. G. Grewal points out to me an engaging parallel: Socrates describes the desires that compete within the democratic man as similarly all equal (homoiās) and all to be honored on an equal basis (timeteās ex īsou), Republic 561c.
[ back ] 9. A. B. Lord, The Singer of Tales, 2nd ed. 2000, p. 99.
[ back ] 10. My thanks to G. Grewal for pointing this out to me; for poets as muthologoi, see Republic 398b–c, and compare Republic 420c where Socrates speaks of himself and Glaukon as painters of statues.
[ back ] 11. τὰ μὲν δὴ λόγων πέρι ἐχέτω τέλος· τὸ δὲ λέξεως, ὡς ἐγὼ οἶμαι, μετὰ τοῦτο σκεπτέον, καὶ ἡμῖν ἅ τε λεκτέον καὶ ὡς λεκτέον παντελῶς ἐσκέψεται. “So then, concerning the logoi, let the discussion conclude; and the matter of lexis, I suppose, should be investigated after it – both what is to be said and how to say it will have been investigated as a complete whole (pantelōs).”
[ back ] 12. For this translation of mimēsis, see just below and n. 15.
[ back ] 13. Some (for example the commentary of J. Adam) have misread this structure and understand ōidai kai melē ‘songs and singing’ as lyric poetry by contrast with the earlier discussion of epic, as though epic were not also sung. But rhuthmoi ‘rhythms’ and harmoniai ‘scales’ which are the only topics in the discussion of ‘songs and singing’ are also explicit attributes of the poetry of Hesiod and Homer (397b), and in fact, some of the best Homeric papyri mark the melodic peaks of each line (see G. Nagy, “Reading Greek Poetry Aloud: Evidence from the Bacchylides Papyri,” Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica 64, p. 17 = http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:Nagy.Reading_Greek_Poetry_Aloud.2000). Furthermore, the Muse invoked in Iliad 1.1 is asked to sing (aeide) the epic, whether the singers (aoidoi both words from the same root as Plato’s ōidai) hold a lyre (as the singers within Homeric epic always do) or a staff (as the singers in performance venues like the Panathenaic festival in Athens did). It is also worth noting that the only poetry that we have that features noises and animal songs, a topic in the first part of the discussion of lexis, is choral lyric like the Frogs and Birds of Aristophanes.
[ back ] 14. I owe to G. Grewal the suggestion that Socrates may be implying here that Damon is not “in tune with” his argument. She points out to me that Socrates uses the term harmottei (Republic 397e) ‘be in tune with’ and sumphōnein (398b) ‘harmonize with’ metaphorically of his argument; see also below, #7 and #8. I note that the term anablēsthō ‘postpone a thing in which one is concerned’ is also a musical term for ‘strike up a song’ (referring to the beginning of a performance), which Socrates is then postponing for the future. More on Damon below, n.30 and the text annotated there.
[ back ] 15. I owe this translation of mimēsis to G. Nagy, Pindar’s Homer: The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past, Baltimore and London, 1990, p. 42 = Chapter 1, §42 in the online version, citing the work of the anthropologist Sir Edmund Leach.
[ back ] 16. See the previous note: if we think of mimēsis as ‘imitation’ instead of ‘reenactment’, the significance of this prohibition is lost; if we think of it as reenactment, taking on the role of, for instance, a wicked person is by this argument not very different from doing what a wicked person does. See also 395b, where Socrates says that a human being is by nature unable to reenact many things well or to do [well] the [many] things themselves of which the reenactments are likenesses. Nagy also takes up the other side of the coin in a foreword to a collection of articles by Nicole Loraux entitled Mothers in Mourning, where he shows that for both Plato and Aristotle, from the standpoint of their epistemology (as opposed to the mainstream of the Hellenic song culture), the world of tragedy is only an imitative fiction profoundly removed from what is real (https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/gregory-nagy-foreword-to-mothers-in-mourning/).
[ back ] 17. This discussion inevitably raises questions about the Platonic dialogues themselves, which consist almost exclusively of speeches with a bare minimum of narration, even including those that are framed as narrated in their entirety, like the Symposium and, at least notionally, the Republic itself, as Gwen Grewal reminds me. Presumably it is the content of the speeches that makes the difference. See also the way that Socrates metaphorizes his whole discussion with Glaukon of mousikē as a poetic performance, above, page 8 and n. 10. Gwen Grewal also points out to me an earlier passage where Socrates uses reading letters small and large as a metaphor, 368d, when the argument turns from the justice of the individual to that of the city “writ large,” as we might say.
[ back ] 18. G. Grewal raises an interesting internal contradiction in this principle, which is that it will result in a city being constructed as a container of complexity, of many simple elements interacting harmoniously.
[ back ] 19. That Socrates has musical strings and not the reins of a charioteer in mind becomes clear a few lines below, 412a: τὸν κάλλιστʼ ἄρα μουσικῇ γυμναστικὴν κεραννύντα καὶ μετριώτατα τῇ ψυχῇ προσφέροντα, τοῦτον ὀρθότατʼ ἂν φαῖμεν εἶναι τελέως μουσικώτατον καὶ εὐαρμοστότατον, πολὺ μᾶλλον ἢ τὸν τὰς χορδὰς ἀλλήλαις ξυνιστάντα ‘the person mixing gumnastikē with mousikē most beautifully and applying it with due measure to the soul, that person we would most correctly call the most mousikos and most well-tuned, much more than the person who sets up the strings [of an actual instrument] in harmony with each other.’
[ back ] 20. One of the topics that Socrates explicitly skips over is dancing (khoreia, 412b, a term that implies music and song along with the dance) and as well hunting and athletic contests as topics of discussion because the basic ideas treated to that point are sufficient and details about such topics can be discovered on the basis of what has already been said. To be clear, dancing, hunting, etc. are presumed to be part of the Guardians’ education, even though they are not part of the discussion. For more remarks on the centrality of χόρεια to education, see Laws 654b: [AΘ] οὐκοῦν ὁ μὲν ἀπαίδευτος ἀχόρευτος ἡμῖν ἔσται, τὸν δὲ πεπαιδευμένον ἱκανῶς κεχορευκότα θετέον; …χορεία γε μὴν ὄρχησίς τε καὶ ᾠδὴ τὸ σύνολόν ἐστιν… ὁ καλῶς ἄρα πεπαιδευμένος ᾄδειν τε καὶ ὀρχεῖσθαι δυνατὸς ἂν εἴη καλῶς. “Surely the uneducated person will be for us a person without training in dance, as we posit that one who has been sufficiently educated has learned to dance…Khoreia at the very least is dancing and singing as an integral whole…the person who has been well-educated, then, would be well able to sing and dance…” The ensuing discussion in the Laws fills in details about what are appropriate songs and dances.
[ back ] 21. For the significance of the terms timai and geras in hero cult, see G. Nagy, The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greece, Baltimore, 2nd ed. 1999, p. 132 and §19n3 = https://chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/5444.7-the-death-of-pyrrhos#noteref_n.57; and for the ritual overtones of the verb λαγχάνω, see Odyssey 11.304, which speaks of Kastor and Poludeukēs ‘having won’ (λελόγχασιν) their tīmē ‘like gods’ (isa theoisi), and Sappho’s Tithonos Song (formerly fr. 58.25–26, now lines 15–16 of the new fragment), ‘passionate love for the Sun has won [λέλογχε] for me its radiance and beauty’, as translated by G. Nagy, “Echoes of Sappho in two epigrams of Posidippus,” Classical Inquiries 2015.11.19, https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/echoes-of-sappho-in-two-epigrams-of-posidippus/.
[ back ] 22. For the Prague School of Linguistics terms ‘marked’ and ‘unmarked,’ see L. Waugh, “Marked and unmarked: A choice between unequals in semiotic structure,” Semiotica 38, 3–4, 1982, pp. 299–318). A familiar example of kainos is from the charge of Meletus against Socrates that is summarized in Apology 24c καὶ θεοὺς οὓς ἡ πόλις νομίζει οὐ νομίζοντα, ἕτερα δὲ δαιμόνια καινά ‘and not acknowledging/believing in the gods that the city-state acknowledges/believes in but other kaina divinities; see also Euthyphro 5a7, where Socrates also speaks of the charge of Meletus against him as με…αὐτοσχεδιάζοντα…καἰ καινοτομοῦντα ‘[he says that] I make up on the spot and am inventing [things about the gods]’ (I thank Gwen Grewal for this reference, which elaborates nicely on the supposed mental process of Socrates). Note that the use of the word mēden in this expression in the Republic is semantically as opposed to grammatically motivated as a more dramatic choice over ouden , as in the Delphic proverb, mēden agan ‘nothing (whatever) to excess.’
[ back ] 23. For the term ‘song culture’ designating a society in which myths and a wide range of media that represent them are ubiquitous in everyday life, see C. J. Herington, Poetry into Drama: Early Tragedy and the Greek Poetic Tradition, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1985, pp. 3–5.
[ back ] 24. For an understanding of alētheia based on a song culture of myths composed in performance, see G. Nagy, Pindar’s Homer, Baltimore, 1990, Chapter 2, pp. 52–81, = http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Pindars_Homer.1990, Chapter 2.
[ back ] 25. Plato, The Republic, trans. T. Griffith, ed. G. R. F. Ferrari, Cambridge, 200, p. 114.
[ back ] 26. Republic VIII 555d speaks of neōterismos in a clearly political context. My thanks to G. Grewal for this valid and important attestation; it shows by contrast that the context of the attestations here are not yet clearly political.
[ back ] 27. Galen, Commentary on Hippocrates’ Epidemics, 3.1.12; 3.1.14; Commentary on Hippocrates’ On Regimen in Acute Diseases, 4.50
[ back ] 28. One may wonder how the verb neōterizō and its derivative noun can come to mean ‘change’, and I offer a possible explanation based on the fact that both the verb and the noun that derives from it are based on the comparative form neōteros as opposed to the positive form neos. The suffix -teros (whose cognate survives in English comparatives like ‘better’) means ‘as distinct from’, not ‘more’, as Emile Benveniste has shown. So the pronoun he-teros ‘one or the other of two’ means he who is (he-) distinct from another; or in the words for ‘right’ and ‘left’ in both Greek and Latin, one of the two in the pair originally had the –teros suffix while the other did not, because it means ‘right (as distinct from left)’ or vice versa, not ‘more right’ or ‘more left’ (Greek dexios vs. aristeros, Latin dexter vs. laevus; forms like sinister or dexiteros being secondary formations); the same is true of the Homeric adjective thēluterai ‘female’ as distinct from male, not ‘more female’. Thus the comparative form neōteros meant ‘new (as distinct from old, palaios)’ and then simply ‘worse (new and distinct, but in a bad way, from what was)’, so that the verb derived from it comes to mean ‘make different, cause change for the worse’. On the meaning of –teros, see E. Benveniste, Noms d’agent et noms d’action en indo-européen, Paris, 1948, pp. 115–121, who does not discuss neōteros.
[ back ] 29. For the meaning of the verb epainein in Homer and in Plato’s Ion and Republic as ‘to approve/ratify in performance the Homeric utterance,’ see D. Elmer, The Poetics of Consent, Baltimore, 2013, pp. 217–219. It is important, I think, that the object of both infinitives, to toiouton, has as its antecedent touto ‘this thing’ in the previous sentence, and that the antecedent of touto is ‘a new way of singing.’ On another level, the Homeric text is in fact being cited here to ratify an idea.
[ back ] 30. R. W. Wallace, Reconstructing Damon: Music, Wisdom Teaching, and Politics in Perikles’ Athens, Oxford, 2015, p.xix, cites A. Barker, Greek Musical Writings, volume 1, p. 168, “…there is probably nothing ironical about the Republic’s suggestion that [Damon] is the expert to be consulted on the details of its musical proposals,” with approval, though others claim that Plato treats him with irony or mockingly (he cites W. Anderson, G. M. Rispoli, and R. P. Winnington-Ingram).
[ back ] 31. This passage also reflects on the qualification of the noble lie as mēden kainon ‘absolutely not novel’, which is an assertion of its appropriateness as a mythical multiform at the same time as Socrates calls it pseudes ‘false,’ which might be because it is at least intended to reinforce the integrity of the whole city.
[ back ] 32. Note that the word neos is unmarked and includes both what is new and consistent with a system as well as what is not, whereas the word kainos is marked and restricted to what is new and not consistent with a system. On the point and the unmarked/marked distinction between neos and kainos, see above, #10 and n.21.
[ back ] 33. For a brilliant description of the features of the papyrus fragment of Timotheus’ Persians, a quintessential example of the New Music, a so-called nomos negotiating the space between kainotomia ‘invention’ and paranomia ‘transgression of convention’ see T. Power, The Culture of Kitharôida, Washington, 2010, pp. 516–522. These two bounding principles for Timotheus are actually consistent with the space allowable for change that Socrates envisions; from a historical perspective, musical revolutions can indeed be socially and politically disruptive, but over time they may well be less innovative than they at first seem. See below on the Ballets Russes and Le sacre du printemps. See also Power, p. 500, for the political and social aspects of the New Music, specifically its appeal to the dēmos as opposed to the aristocratic old guard.
[ back ] 34. The restriction here to rhythm and tunings may surprise, but those subjects were probably also the focus of Damon’s interest, on which see A. Barker, Greek Musical Writings, vol. 1, Cambridge [UK], 1984, p. 169, making inferences from Plato’s discussion here and in the Laws, but corroborating it with others’. R. Wallace (Reconstructing Damon: music, wisdom teaching, and politics in Perikles’ Athens, Oxford, 2015, p. 32) claims that the evidence for Damon correlating harmoniai with character and behavior is late, but he has missed the precise meaning of Plato’s phrase tropon ōidēs neon in this passage; in the light of it, his ‘late’ evidence, from Galen, is corroborative. Besides innovation in these areas, the New Music also featured disruption in content and mimētikē, on which see T. Power, Kithardôdia (above, n.21) pp. 500–506. Socrates has already spoken of and ruled out completely those aspects of mousikē in his discussion of the paideia of the Guardians, however, so it makes sense that they are not the topic of discussion here.
[ back ] 35. L’Homère de Platon, Liège, 1949, pp. 202–206.
[ back ] 36. Van Thiel in his edition of the Odyssey (Hildesheim, 1991) cites 17.453 for the variation between ἀίοντες, the text that he prints there, and ἀκοὐοντες, which is the reading in C and D, but W. Schulze, “Zwei verkannte aoristen,” Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung auf dem Gebiete der Indogermanischen Sprache (=Kuhn’s Zeitschrift) 29, 3–4 H., 1888, pp. 249–255, especially p. 253, has a host of examples.
[ back ] 37. On Iliad 9.191 δέγμενος Ἀιακίδην, ὁππότε λήξειεν ἀείδων ‘waiting for the son of Aiakos, whenever he would cease singing,’ see G. Nagy, Poetry as performance: Homer and beyond, Cambridge, 1996, pp. 71–73, who explains why Patroklos is said to be waiting for his companion to stop singing: the diction of the passage is that attested elsewhere for rhapsodic sequencing in performance, one performer taking up the song when the previous performer leaves off. It is not that Patroklos can’t wait for it to end!
[ back ] 38. On the ending and its analogical extension for metrical purposes, see E. Schwyzer, Griechische Grammatik, I, Munich, 4th ed., 1968, p. 564, §§3–4 and P. Chantraine, Grammaire homérique I, Paris, 1958, §87, pp. 204–207. Analogous forms are twice attested elsewhere: Iliad 2.296: μιμόντεσσι (as in Od. 1.352, before the penthehimimeral caesura) and Odyssey 12.310 κλαιόντεσσι (line initial position).
[ back ] 39. I have documented the semantic equivalence but formulaic versatility of ἐπεύχομαι vs. εὔχομαι in L. Muellner, The Meaning of Homeric ΕΥΧΟΜΑΙ through its Formulas, Innsbruck, 1976, pp. 25–26, and there are many other examples; Nagy Best of the Achaeans, §6n4 compares αἰνέω and ἐπαινέω, both meaning ‘praise’, this in the same semantic field as κλείω and ἐπικλείω; the latter two are also in free variation in the Odyssey 1 passage (lines 338 vs. 351).
[ back ] 40. On the attribution to Odysseus in this passage, see D. Frame, Hippota Nestor, Washington, 2009, p. 192 =  http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Frame.Hippota_Nestor.2009, §2.70.
[ back ] 41. See the discussion devoted to the verb dokeuein ‘keep an eye on’ in the index of M. Detienne and J.-P. Vernant, Les ruses de l’intelligence: la mètis des grecs, Paris, 1974, pp. 21, 32, 37, 70.
[ back ] 42. There is, however, at least one example, in Herodotus.
[ back ] 43. See above, n. 33, on the opposition between kainotomia and paranomia with respect to the reception of the New Music of Euripides and Timotheus.
[ back ] 44. For an example from Homer, see the generalization in Iliad 6.339 νίκη δ᾽ ἐπαμείβεται ἅνδρας ‘victory comes to men by turns,’ a match for our expression, ‘you win some, you lose some’ usually spoken by those who have just lost. It embodies to perfection the character of its speaker, Paris, who is trying to defend his withdrawal from battle to his stalwart brother, Hector.
[ back ] 45. For a recent attempt to do this in a book on Greek innovation, see A. D’Angour, The Greeks and the New: Novelty in Ancient Greek Imagination and Experience, Cambridge, 2011, pp. 184–205. Citing S. West ad loc. in the Heubeck-West-Hainsworth commentary on the Odyssey (vol. 1, Oxford, 1988, p. 119), who claimed that Telemakhos was “the poet’s spokesman in his plea for artistic freedom and his emphasis on the importance of poetic novelty,” he first takes up the context but then ends up deciding that “Phemios’s innovative aoidē is to be identified with [Homer’s] own, the newest song that listeners more readily acclaim (epikleiousi).” This is an example of the intentional and the biographical fallacies combined, but even so D’Angour tries to justify his stance on the ‘common sense’ ground that the singers inside the Odyssey get flattered and praised to such an extent that their portrayal must be self-reflexive and self-interested. Yet portraying singers in a very good light does not prove that when they speak within the poem or when others speak of them, they speak in the poet’s voice. In other words, an interpreter’s interest in innovation writ large is a skewing vantage point for the interpretation of this Homeric text.
[ back ] 46. G. Nagy, Best of the Achaeans, 2nd ed., Baltimore, 1999, p. 102, §10, citing D. Sinos 1975, p. 104; see also §25, p. 113, and §§24–26, pp. 111–114 for the whole topic and its ramifications in cult, as well as the earlier discussion of Odyssey 1.351–352, pp. 97–102, §6–§11. For the notion of theme in traditional poetics, see A. Lord, The Singer of Tales, 2nd ed., Cambridge, 2000, Chapter 4 “The Theme,” pp. 69–98, and L. Muellner, “Homeric Poetics,” in The Cambridge Guide to Homer, ed. C. Pache, Cambridge [UK], 2020, pp. 29–33.
[ back ] 47. Nagy 1999, p. 111–112, §23. One can cite as a parallel to this complementary pair the names of the two conflicting sons of Oedipus. They express a mutually exclusive conventional contrast, between praise (kleos) and blame (neikos), Eteo-kleēs ‘whose kleos is genuine’ vs. Polu-neikēs ‘whose reproaches are many’, on whom see Nagy 1999 p. 262 §12n.3.
[ back ] 48. For Penelope’s role as the lamenting wife/widow, see O. Levaniouk, “Chapter 5: Penelope and the Pênelōps,” in Nine Essays on Homer, ed. M. Carlisle and O. Levaniouk, Baltimore, 1999, pp. 95–136 on the various mythological associations of the pēnelōps, including with mourning birds like the halkuōn or the nightingale, who famously mourn the capture of cities and its disastrous aftermath for women and children.
[ back ] 49. On the other hand, Helen’s appearance a few lines below is replete with diction appropriate to the Muses: see L. L. Clader, Helen: the Evolution from Divine to Heroic in Greek Epic Tradition, Leiden, 1976, p.33 and n. 13; the name of the substance that she puts in everyone’s wine to keep them from weeping, nē-penthes ‘anti-grieving’, relates to the theme we are discussing here but also to the purpose of the existence of the Muses espoused in the Hesiodic Theogony 55, λησμοσύνην τε κακῶν ἄμπαυμά τε μερμηράων ‘forgetfulness of evils and ceasing of cares’, and in Theogony 98–103, which informs us that even someone with penthos in a newly grieved heart (neokēdēi thumōi, line 98) forgets their kēdea ‘cares’ when a singer sings the kleea proteron anthrōpōn ‘songs of former [sic] men’ (Theogony 100)— note that emotional distance is built into this scenario, because the song does not feature the kēdea ‘cares’ of the grieving listener.
[ back ] 50. As argued in detail by G. Nagy, Homer the Preclassic, Berkeley, 2010, pp. 79–102=I§§189–231 https://chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/3273.4-homer-in-the-homeric-odyssey, as well as his Homer the Classic, Washington DC, 2009, pp. 326–353, for analysis of the third song of Demodokos.
[ back ] 51. At Odyssey 9.263–266 Odysseus identifies himself and his men to Poluphēmos as “the army of Agamemnon, whose kleos is now the greatest under the sky / because he sacked so great a city and destroyed so many armies,” in contrast to the second line of the poem (1.2), where the poet gives credit to Odysseus alone for the sack of Troy. Presumably the feint to Agamemnon in the Cyclops episode is the wily hero concealing his own name from Poluphēmos, wisely so as we learn later, but the last song of Demodokos would have been Odysseus’ only kleos if he had not gone astray on the way home and displaced it.
[ back ] 52. For more on the conventional relationship between akhos and veiled weeping, see L. Muellner, “Grieving Achilles,”in F. Montanari, A. Rengakos, and C. Tsagalis, eds.. Homeric Contexts, pp. 205–209, available online at https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/leonard-muellner-grieving-achilles/ (as of 5/19/21).
[ back ] 53. Indeed, the formulaic language in line 8.579, ἐσσομένοισιν ἀοιδή ‘even a song for the [people] to be’ often includes the word anthrōpoi, as it does in Iliad 3.287, 3.460, and 6.358 and a form of the verb pelomai that occurs in Odyssey 1.352, amphi-pelētai ‘comes round again.’
[ back ] 54. As demonstrated by Susan Edmunds, Homeric Nepios, New York, 1990 = http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_EdmundsS.Homeric_Nepios.1990.
[ back ] 55. As by Alkinoos (just above) or Helen, Iliad 6.356–358.
[ back ] 56. A. Miller, “Phthonos and Parphasis: The Argument of Nemean 8.19–34,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, vol. 23, no. 2 (1982), pp. 111–120 and esp. p. 113; G. Nagy, Pindar’s Homer: the Lyric Possession of an Epic Past, Baltimore, 1990, pp. 55–69, esp. p. 69, “In the diction of Pindar the present performance is conventionally described as neo– or nearo– ‘new’, which refers not to the novelty of a theme but to the ad hoc application of a myth to the here and now of those who attend and are the occasion of the performance.”
[ back ] 57. Nemean 8.19–22, as expounded by Bundy and Miller 1982, p. 113–114.
[ back ] 58. Lincoln Kirstein, “Beliefs of a Master,” New York Review of Books, March 15, 1984, §2 (last paragraph). Ivanov and Petipa were 19th Century ballet dancers/ballet masters/choreographers in St. Petersburg, and Fokine and Goleizovsky were their 20th Century successors; Fokine choreographed the first performances of Stravinsky’s Firebird and Petrouchka for the Ballets Russes in Paris in the 1910’s. Sergei Diaghilev was the impresario of the Ballets Russes, and Balanchine joined it as ballet master in 1924.
[ back ] 59. Douglas Frame, Hippota Nestor, Washington DC, 2009, pp. 515–647.
[ back ] 61. See Davinia Caddy, The Ballets Russes and Beyond: Music and Dance in Belle-Epoque Paris, Cambridge [UK], 2012. In addition, her book is a revisionist attempt to situate the Ballets Russes in its tradition, to follow other recent authorities who “upturned the usual claims of ‘newness’ and ‘renovation’ by pointing to the Ballets Russes retrospective tendencies: in particular, to Diaghilev’s fascination with the late seventeeth and eighteenth centuries”, Location 408 (Kindle edition).
[ back ] 62. Gregory Nagy, The Best of the Achaeans, 2nd ed. Baltimore, 1996, was the first research publication to bring to light this fundamental principle of Homeric poetry.