Quantitative Metathesis in a continuous Ionic epic tradition

Brandtly N. Jones

Cornell University

            The dialect mixture of "epic Ionic" has provided tantalizing, and frustrating, clues to the pre-history of the Greek hexameter corpus. The numerous Aeolic features of epic diction, in particular, have led many scholars to posit a theory that Greek epic passed through a series of dialectal stages, namely, an original "Achaean" phase, an Aeolic phase, and finally the Ionic phase which has survived to us in the works of Homer, Hesiod, the hymns (and possibly in remains of other early hexameter poetry). Richard Janko has attempted to adduce further proof for the Aeolic phase with his statistical analysis of epic diction (Homer, Hesiod, and the hymns, p. 89-94.) in which he goes so far as to divine the (relative) date of the transfer of the epic tradition to the Ionian bards. Unfortunately, his relative dating of the Aeolic phase is based on exactly twelve masculine genitive forms in the Theogony, five in -ο and seven in –εω with quantitative metathesis (QM). This is indeed a slender peg on which to hang the Aeolic phase of epic diction.

            Nonetheless, only the distribution of forms showing QM in epic truly militates against the theory of a continuous Ionic tradition which admitted forms from concurrent poetic traditions in other dialects, notably Aeolic. Specifically, epic diction effectively lacks the expected Ionic mid-stages *-ηο or *-ηων  for the masc. ā-stem gen. sg. and fem. ā-stem gen. pl., respectively, showing instead the Aeolic (or archaic) variants –ο and –αων alternating with –εω and –εων showing QM and virtually always with synizesis. This absence of forms in *–ηο *–ηων has led some, like Janko, following Meister, to conclude that "genitive singulars in –ο did not become  –ηο because the Ionians adopted the ending when they were already using forms with quantitative metathesis, i.e. –εω." (ibid. p. 90.) Disyllabic forms of –εω and –εων are vanishingly rare, appearing instead as monosyllables with synizesis; this further development has been seen as a sign that the Ionian singers could not have gained possession of the epic tradition until some time well beyond even the development of forms with QM. This interpretation supposes, however, that apparent QM was indeed an exchange of quantity and that synizesis followed, a view very much open to challenge.

            J. Méndez Dosuna has revived an idea of Schwyzer that apparent quantitative metathesis, a typologically unusual transfer of length from one vowel to another, should be explained rather as a type of synizesis plus compensatory lengthening. (Emerita 61, 1993, pp. 95-134)  Rather than simply transfering quantity, a form in *-ηο becomes monosyllabic –εω with consonantal ε plus compensatory lengthening of *o > ω, i.e. exactly the form we find attested in our earliest metrical Greek. This interpretation provides a much more coherent account of our earliest evidence, such as the strictly constrained inputs for the sound change, plus the apparently irregular accentuation of πλεως; Dosuna also offers numerous typological parallels from other languages. He ultimately fails, however, to provide a satisfactory pathway to the ultimate outcome of the sound change in, say, Attic: descriptively a short vowel followed by long vowel, e.g. βασιλως, proposing rather weakly that the disyllabic outcome results from somber epic recitation. I will instead propose quite the opposite, that the epic Kunstsprache retained and promoted the early phonology as a token of epic diction, and the formula structure served to reinforce the retention, particularly given the ambiguity of such sequences as Πηληϊδεω χιλος, where we could easily reconstruct the ending *-η'(ο) or *-'(ο) before the vowel. The vernacular, on the other hand, underwent distraction of the on the basis of paradigmatic leveling. I will further show how this interpretation greatly favors a continuous Ionic model for the development of epic diction.


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