Preface

Since my programmatic article 'The Rise of the Greek Epic' (JHS 108 (1988), 151-72) much of my work has been related to the Homeric poems and the tradition behind them. My 1997 opus The East Face of Helicon began as an investigation of the extent to which that tradition was modified under the influence of Near Eastern poetry, though in the event the volume grew to take in more than Homer. The present work may also be seen as part of a series of 'Prolegomena to Homer', or, if you like, to Greek literature.

However, Greece is not here the central point of reference. My subject is the Indo-European poetic and narrative tradition as a whole, and while Greek poetry supplies part of the evidence, it is not itself the object of inquiry. That is one reason why it would not have been appropriate to call the book The North Face of Helicon. Another reason is that a different kind of relationship is involved. Helicon, once it was colonized by the Muses, did face east and did not face north; the Indo-European element was a heritage from the past, not a continuing irradiation.

It remains the case that I write as a professional Hellenist, as much an amateur in Indo-European studies as in oriental. I have furnished myself with a working knowledge of some of the relevant languages. I have explored the literatures, roaming far and wide through unfamiliar landscapes, some rugged, some lush, a stranger in Paradise with a clipboard. But when it comes to the reconstruction of proto-Indo-European roots constipated with hypothetical laryngeals, I defer to the authority of the pundits—those black-belt analysts whom I personally hold in the highest admiration, but whom some may view as the unreadable in pursuit of the unpronounceable.

Specialists may look askance at my practice of quoting the Vedic texts with punctuation and capitalized initials for names, and adjusting them as necessary to restore the metre where it has suffered in transmission. I see no merit in the convention of transcribing the verses exactly as transmitted in the samhita text, that is, often unmetrically (where it is obvious that an older form h as given way to a newer one) and with no punctuation to guide the reader. We do not do this with Greek or Latin texts; why do it with Indian ones? It may be argued that punctuation and capitalization prejudice the interpretation. But if one is going to make use of a text, one must at some point come to an opinion on its articulation and interpretation; usually this will be uncontroversial, and in any case it is only reasonable to share it with the reader, using the means customary with texts in other languages.

The East Face of Helicon was written during my tenure of a Senior Research Fellowship at All Souls College. Most of the present work was too (until my retirement date arrived), and I will once again voice my gratitude to that excellent institution for its benign (but watchful) support. Of individuals, my thanks are due especially to Calvert Watkins and John Penney, who willingly read the chapters as I produced them and gave me the benefit of their expert comments and criticisms. No sensible person would infer that they endorse everything in the final version. I am further indebted for help on occasional questions to Margaret Clunies Ross, Stephanie Jamison, Ann Matonis, Michael Meier-Brugger, Alexis Sanderson, and Gerald Stone.

Calvert Watkins is of course himself the author of a big book with kindred subject matter. It will be apparent how much I owe to it. Mine is different enough in scope and timbre to avoid (I hope) the charge of flogging a dead dragon. Neither he nor I will claim to have exhausted the subject. The field is so large, and its boundaries so far from being set, that it is impossible to read everything that might be relevant. I may well have overlooked ancient texts and modern scholarly works that I would have thought important if I had seen them. I have indeed found it impossible to accommodate everything that I have read while imposing something like an orderly structure on the book. What is presented here, accordingly, is to be regarded not as a compendium of all the material that I and previous researchers have accumulated, but as a selection representing a personal vision, or rather vista.

Vista is the better word, because the object of perception is not something at a fixed distance like a line of hills on the horizon. Vistas have depth. As I will explain in the Introduction, the elements of shared inheritance that can be abstracted from the extant Indo-European literatures cannot all be followed back to proto-Indo-European. Much the greater number lie in the foreground or the middle distance, corresponding to pools of common tradition that must have extended over wide areas of Europe or Eurasia in the later Bronze or early Iron Age. Perhaps they reach further back, but we cannot see; the mists come and go.

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