Narrative Gambits

Under this heading I collect some typical programmatic expressions used at the outset of a poem or story. One thing that naturally has its place there is the call to attention. Franz Specht observed the similarity between the openings of two Vedic hymns and of the Eddic Vgluspa:

idam janaso vidata: mahad brahma vadisyate.

Know this, peoples: a great song will be uttered. (AV 1. 32. 1)

idam jana upa sruta: narasamsa stavisyate.

Hear this, peoples: a heroic eulogy will be proclaimed. (AV 20. 127. 1)

Hlioös biö ec allar helgar kindir, meiri oc minni mogo Heimdalar: vildo at ec, Valfo ör, vel fyrtelia forn spioll fira, bau er fremst um man.

59 Durante (1976), 114. For Semitic parallels see West (1997), 239.

Hearing I ask from all holy-born, the greater and lesser sons of Heimdall!

You desired me, Odin, to tell forth well the old tales of men, those earliest that I recall. (Voluspa 1)

Many skaldic poems too begin with a call for attention.60 Specht inferred an Indo-European opening formula, which he tried to reconstruct as idem, gonoses, upo £lute, 'Hear this, men!' Schaeder added from the Gathas at fravaxsya: nugusodum, nu sraota, yaeca asnat yaeca durat isa9a.

I will tell forth—now listen ye, now hear ye, who come seeking from near and from far, (Y. 45. 1)

and also Y. 30. 1-2, 'Now I will proclaim, O seekers . .. Hear (sraota) with your ears the best message'.61 Schaeder's further claim that all these poems were cosmogonic is questionable, but the parallelism in the form of incipit seems real. One might recognize the same pattern in Helen's interpretation of an omen in Od. 15. 172, KXvTi /oi, avTap eyw /avTevao/ai, 'Hearken ye, I am going to prophesy'. It is to be noted that hliod, sruta, sraota, KXvTe are all from the same root.

A narrative very often begins with the verb 'to be' in the present or past tense and in initial position: 'There is .. .', 'There was . . .'.62 The present tense is appropriate for specifying a place where the story is set. There are several Homeric examples, such as Il. 6. 152 ¿Wi noXis E^vpn ¡ivx^i Apyeos inno otoio ktX., 'there is a city Ephyra in a nook of horse-pasturing Argos, and there Sisyphus dwelt, most cunning of men'. In the Hittite story of Appu the verb is omitted: 'A city, its name Sudul, and it is in the land Lulluwa on the sea coast. Up there lived a man named Appu.'63 So in the Ramayana (1. 5. 5), Kosalo nama, '(There is a land), Kosala its name . ..'.

The pattern 'There was a king, N his name' has been widely traced, from MBh. 3. 50. 1 asid raja Nalo nama, 'There was a king, Nala (was his) name', to the Old Irish Scela mucce Meic Datho (Story of Mac Datho's Pigs), boi ri amrae for Lagnaib, Mac Datho a ainm, 'There was a famous king in Leinster, Mac

61 F. Specht, ZVS 64 (1937), 1-3 = Schmitt (1968), 50 f.; H. H. Schaeder, ZDMG 94 (1940), 399-408 = Schmitt (1968), 61-71. Cf. Schmitt (1967), 30-2, 201-4.

62 Briefly noted by Wackernagel (1943), 18; cf. K. H. Schmidt, ZCP 28 (1960/1), 224; Schmitt (1967), 274 f.; W. Euler in W. Meid, H. Ölberg, H. Schmeja, Sprachwissenschaft in Innsbruck (Innsbruck 1982), 53-68; Watkins (1994), 681; (1995), 25.

63 J. Siegelova, Appu-Märchen und Hedammu-Mythos (Studien zu den Bogazköy-Texten 14; Wiesbaden 1971), 4. For an Akkadian parallel cf. West (1997), 259.

Dathó his name'.64 The subject need not of course be a king; the same structure appears in Od. 20. 287 f. /v 8e Tis ev pvr¡aTypaiv dvr¡p adepíarta el8ws, KTr¡ainnos 8' ovop eaKe, 'There was among the suitors a man of lawless character, and Ctesippus was his name'. But stories about kings are universal, and the pattern is recurrent, subject naturally to slight variations. Thus in Greek, Alcman, PMGF 74 /aK¿ Tis Kafievs Faváaawv; Xeno-phon of Ephesus 1. 1 /v ev 'Efyéawi avrp tmv tci npwTa eKei 8vvapevwv, AvK0pr8ns ovopa; in Latin, Ovid, Met. 14. 320 f. Picus in Ausoniis, proles Saturnia, terris II rex fuit; Apuleius, Met. 4. 28. 1 erant in quadam ciuitate rex et regina; in Lithuanian, buvo karalius; in Russian «ra (or 6bi.n) Kopo.nb (or ^apb); in the Armenian oral epic, Sassountsy David 5 'There was an Armenian king named Cakig', cf. 113.

What is the narrator's authority for the tale? As we saw in the last chapter, he must 'recall' it to mind; but as it is always represented as true and not a fiction, what he recalls must be knowledge derived either from sight or from hearing. The Greek poet claims to have it from the Muses, and in Il. 2. 485 f. the rationale is given: they are always present and witness events, whereas the poets 'only hear the fame of them' (kAíos). Other Indo-European traditions have nothing corresponding to the Muses, but the poet sometimes says 'I have heard . ..': Vedic smomi, asravam, susrava, Old Irish ro-cúala, all from the root *£lu: RV 5. 32.11 'I hear that you alone (Indra) were born as true lord of the five peoples'; 10. 88. 15 'I have heard from the fathers that there are two paths, of gods and mortals'; cf. 1. 109. 2, 5; 2. 33. 4; 8. 2. 11; 10. 38. 5, 42. 3. The Hildebrandslied begins 'I have heard it said that (two) challengers met in single combat . ..', and similarly in the apocalyptic poem Muspilli (37) we read 'I heard it told by those learned in worldly wisdom, that the Antichrist was to fight with Elias'. The ninth-century Norse poet Thiodolf in his Haust-lgng (12) says 'I have heard thus, that afterwards the trier of Hrenir's mind [Loki] by trickery won back the ^sir's darling . . .'.65

Occasionally the poet introduces a subject by asking a factual question, which is immediately followed by the answer.

kás te jamír jánanaam, I Ágne? kó dasúadhvarah? I kó ha, kásminn asi sritáh? tuvám jamír jánanaam, I Ágne, mitró asi priyáh, I sákha sákhibhya ídiyah.

Who of men is your kinsman, Agni? Who your sacrificer? Who is it, to whom do you lean?

64 Similarly in Togail bruidne Da Derga: buí rí amra airegda for Érinn, Eochaid Feidleach a ainm, 'There was a king, famous (and) noble in Erin, Echu Feidlech his name'. For the nominative interpretation of nama in the Sanskrit formula see Euler (as n. 62), 63, and compare the Hittite text quoted above.

You are men's kinsman, Agni, you are their dear partner, a friend for friends to call upon. (RV 1. 75. 3-4)

The question is addressed to Agni, but it is not Agni who answers, it is the Rishi himself. At the outset of the Iliad the poet, having requested the Muse to sing of the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, proceeds by asking (1. 8),

Which of the gods was it that set them at each other in strife? The son of Leto and Zeus: for he, wroth with the king ...

Here we must take the question to be directed to the Muse,66 but formally there is no difference from the Vedic example. We find the same technique in Serbo-Croat epic, which knows no Muses: 'Who was the leader of the raiding band? The leader was Mujo .. .' (SCHS ii, no. 31. 12 f.).

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