Phrase and Figure

'So with the Soma-offering I bring to birth for you, Indra and Agni, a new praise-poem' (RV 1. 109. 2). This is one of nearly sixty places in the Rigveda where the Rishi refers to his song as new or the newest.1 Zarathushtra sings 'I who will hymn You, Truth, and Good Thought as never before' (apaourvim, Y. 28. 3). In the Odyssey Telemachus justifies the bard Phemius' singing of a recent event on the ground that 'men set in higher repute that song which falls newest on the listeners' ears'. Alcman calls upon the Muse to sing 'a new song' for the girls' chorus to sing. 'Praise old wine,' says Pindar, 'but the flowering of new songs'; and another of his odes too he characterizes as a 'new winged song'.2

There may seem something paradoxical about this insistence on newness by poets writing in traditional genres and availing themselves of many linguistic and other archaisms. It is not as if the old was scorned and tradition seen as something to be repudiated. 'Ancient songs' was an honourable term in several Indo-European cultures. Varro wrote of the old Roman praise-songs as carmina antiqua, and Tacitus uses the same phrase of the Germans' mythological poetry, surely echoing a native claim. Slavonic narrative poetry was referred to similarly. The Russian poems now generally called byliny were until the early nineteenth century known as stariny or stariny, and likewise the Serbo-Croat epics as starinskepjesme, 'ancient songs'.3

The point about the 'new song' is not that it is novel or breaks with tradition, but on the contrary that it is an addition to the body of older poetry. This is made explicit in many of the Vedic hymns: 'I would guide him here for new praise, (him) who has been fortified by former praise-songs, by

1 e.g. 1. 27. 4, 60. 3, 105. 12, 130. 10, 143. 1; 2. 17. 1, 24. 1, 31. 5; 5. 42. 13; 6. 49. 1; 7. 53. 2, 61. 6; 8. 20. 19, 25. 24, 51. 3, 95. 5; 9. 91. 5; 10. 4. 6. Cf. Campanile (1977), 51 f.; B. W. Fortson IV, 'navam vacah in the Rigveda', in Mir Curad 127-38.

2 Old. 1. 350-2; Alcman, PMGF 14, cf. 4 fr. 1. 6; Pind. Ol. 9. 48, Isth. 5. 63; cf. perhaps Simonides(?) in PMG 932. 3. The motif is familiar also from the Hebrew Psalms (33. 3, 40. 3, 96. 1, 98. 1, etc.; Isa. 42. 10).

more recent and by present ones' (3. 32. 13); (Indra) 'who has been fortified by former and present songs of the praise-singing Rishis' (6. 44. 13); 'thus for Indra and Agni has an ancestral, new (song) ... been voiced' (8. 40. 12); 'him (I praise) alike with (my) song and with the fathers' poems' (8. 41. 2).4 In the passages from Greek poets cited above the word used for 'new' is vios or veox^os, that is, new in the sense of young, newly appeared, not Kaivos 'novel'; Timotheos (PMG 736) is the first to boast of his Kaivorns. The traditional poet can advertise his new song while at the same time acknowledging his older models, as the twelfth-century Welsh poet Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd does when he writes (6. 45 f.) 'I compose an original song, music of praise such as Myrddin sang'.

Poets who write in a tradition, having been trained in the style and techniques proper to that tradition, do not strive for novelty of manner. They take over vocabulary, formulaic phrases, and typical expressions from older poets, and their language in general tends to have a more archaic appearance than that of contemporary speech. Archaism and formularity are conspicuous attributes of most of the older Indo-European poetic traditions: Indic, Iranian, Greek, Celtic, Germanic, Slavonic.5 The poet of the Lay of Igor asks at the outset if it is not fitting to tell his story 'in ancient diction', starymi slovesy.

Two further features characteristic of Indo-European poetry, both of them favoured by the nature of the ancient language, are modification of word order and the use of formal figures of speech of various kinds. The figures will be studied in the latter part of this chapter. As to word order, it was not a matter of licence to arrange the words in any scrambled sequence, but of a greater freedom than in 'unmarked' speech to move a word into a position of emphasis: the verb, perhaps, or an adjective separated by the verb from its noun. Watkins has collected some illuminating material on this topic, but it would certainly repay a more systematic, large-scale study.6

Wackernagel drew attention to a particular type of modified word order in which, by an inversion of the normal Indo-European naming pattern 'X the son (or descendant) of Y', we have 'the son of Y, X'. He cited only Greek and Latin examples: the Homeric nnXn'idSew AxiXnos, TuSeiSnv Aio/^Sea, TeXa/iwvios Ai'as, and the Scipionic epitaph CIL i.2 7 (Saturnian

4 Cf. also 1. 62. 11, 13; 3. 31. 19; 6. 22. 7; 8. 95. 5; Fortson (as n. 1), 131.

5 Numerous formulae common to Vedic and Avestan are identified by Schlerath (1968). For the Mahabharata and Ramayana see Brockington (1998), 103-15 and 365-73. On linguistic archaism as a poetic feature cf. Campanile-Orlandi-Sani (1974), 236; Campanile (1990b), 156-61.

6 See Watkins (1995), 36 f., 40 f., 128 f., 132 f., 146, 191, 280, 319; id. in H. Hettrich (ed.), Indogermanische Syntax: Fragen und Perspektiven (Wiesbaden 2002), 319-37.

verse), Cornelius Lucius Scipio Barbatus.7 But they can be found in many other poetic traditions: in the Rigveda, as 5. 33. 8 Paurukutsydsya ... Trasddasyoh 'of Purukutsa's son Trasadasyu'; 10. 14. 1 Vaivasvatdm . .. Yamdm rtljanam 'the son of Vivasvat, Yama the king', with the Avestan parallel at Y. 32. 8 Vlvaghuso . .. Yimasclt; in Lydian, inscr. 12. 1 SivamlX SaroX 'of Sivams's son Saros'; in Venetic, text 232 Lavskos Kuges 'L's son K.', 239a [I] nijo Kapros 'I.'s son K.';8 in Old Irish, Campanile (1988), no. 1. 2 hua Luircc Labraid 'the grandson of Lorc, Labraid', and similarly in K. Meyer (1913), 40, lines 22, 24, 26, 30; in Old English, Waldere B 9 Welandes bearn Widia; Battle of Maldon 155 Wulfstanes bearn Wulfmczr; in Serbo-Croat epic, SCHS ii, no. 7, lines 20, 26, 45, etc., Kraljevica Marka, 'of Marko Kraljevic'.

Archaic vocabulary, disturbed word order, and, above all, metaphors and periphrases that reveal the identity of a thing only with the application of some intellectual effort, present a challenge to the hearer, which he may be able to meet only with difficulty or after acquiring familiarity with the style. It was not just a matter of using obscure vocabulary, but also of hiding meanings in symbolisms. Such verbal techniques were part and parcel of the Indo-European poet's stock-in-trade, of what gave him his claim to special status. His obscurities were not necessarily perceived as faults; what is not fully understood may seem more impressive than what is. In some branches of the tradition the poet seems to have positively gloried in his mastery of a language beyond common comprehension. I have elsewhere quoted Pindar's lofty lines (Ol. 2. 83-6):

Many are the swift shafts under my elbow, within the quiver, that speak to those who understand, but for the generality require interpreters.

An Indian poet centuries earlier had stated (RV 1. 164. 45):

Language (vac) is measured out (pdrimita) in four steps (paddni), known to the Brahmans who are mindful (manlsinah). Three, stored in secret, they do not put about; the quarter of language humankind speaks.

This antithesis between the Brahmans' secret language and the language that 'humankind speaks' resembles that sometimes made between the language of the gods and the language of men. The gods' language, which will be discussed in the next chapter, is in fact a special vocabulary deployed by the poet; as in the Vedic passage, it is a poetic language that is contrasted with that of human beings. In this context Toporov aptly quotes Encolpius' remark to the

7 Wackernagel (1943), 13 f.

8 Lejeune (1974), 292, 296, cf. 45. For poetic word order in Lydian cf. Gusmani (1975), 266-8.

poet Eumolpus in Petronius, saepius poetice quam humane locutus es. Watkins cites a Middle Irish treatise on grammar and poetics, the Auraicept ne n-Eces, in which 'arcane language of the poets' and 'language of the Irish' are recognized as two of the five varieties of the Gaelic tongue.9

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