Study of the Homeric scholia has recently shifted from purely textual matters to their use in reconstructing lost chapters in the history of ancient literary criticism (Dickie 19-20). My paper addresses one area in which the scholia reveal a more nuanced criticism than their abbreviated form at first suggests, that of character (ethos) and characterization (cf. Richardson 272-75, Nünlist 2009: 246-54). I take Agamemnon as my example and consider the scholia that discuss his notorious “test” (πεῖρα) of the Achaean army in Iliad Book 2 (110-41), and the subsequent scenes in Books 4 (155-81), 9 (13-30), and 14 (65-81) where Agamemnon waxes despondent or recommends retreat – passages that evidently presented difficulties for a generally philhellenic criticism. The scholia preserve a tradition according to which Agamemnon uses calculated insincerity to test the Achaeans in all of these passages, and they posit a characteristic rhetoric for the king quite unlike that of any other hero. In my discussion I will focus on the following four points:
1) Agamemnon uses unusual gestures of dubious sincerity, e.g. crocodile tears in Book 9 calculated to stir pity and ensure the success of his test of the leaders (ἵνα ἐλεεινὸς γεγονὼς μὴ καταλειφθῇ παρ' αὐτῶν, sch. bT on 9.14; cf. sch. A and bT on 19.77).
2) Agamemnon is aware not only of his audience but of the presence or absence of bystanders who may overhear his words: Agamemnon’s despondent speech in Book 9 is shown to be yet another test because it is delivered to his inner circle rather than the whole army, i.e. Agamemnon is careful not to risk a general flight like that in Book 2 (sch. bT on 9.17). Conversely in Book 4 Agamemnon’s speech of despair, while formally addressed to the wounded Menelaus, is actually intended to inspire the Achaean bystanders with fighting spirit (sch. bT 4.156, 171; cf. Sammons 167-68).
3) Agamemnon doubts his own power and uses indirect methods to obtain obedience where an outright show of authority may fail: The test of Book 2 is devised to avoid a repeat of Achilles’ rebellion by actually inviting insubordination and hence creating a “win/win” for Agamemnon (sch. AT on 2.73); in Book 14, Agamemnon knows his authority has collapsed and seeks to manipulate the army through his generals (sch. bT on 14.75-81).
4) Agamemnon’s speeches show a pervasive and thematic ambiguity: It is hard to tell whether Agamemnon means what he says, for example in his proposal for flight in Book 14 (ἢ νοσῶν οὐχ ὁρᾷ τὸ χρειῶδες ἢ τῶν ἀριστέων πειρᾶται, sch. bT on 14.75-81) where a careful choice of words undercuts his apparent meaning (bT on 14.80). In Book 9 the silence of the Achaeans after Agamemnon’s speech reveals that “they doubt the speaker’s intention” in light of his earlier test (ἅμα δὲ καὶ τὴν προτέραν πεῖραν εἰδότες ὑποπτεύουσι, τίς ὁ νοῦς τοῦ λέγοντος, bT on 9.30); the poet himself seems to doubt who should respond to Agamemnon’s “skillful and guarded rhetoric” (ἔοικε δὲ αὐτὸς ὁ ποιητὴς διστάζειν, τίνα ἀντιτάξει τῇ ῥητορείᾳ Ἀγαμέμνονος εὖ ἐχούσῃ καὶ κηδεμονικῶς, bT on 9.30).
To some extent these explanations may reflect a strained effort to put a positive spin on an essentially negative depiction (cf. Taplin 65-66). Yet whatever the motive, the interpretations adduced imply an ethos of Agamemnon that goes beyond mere rhetorical self-presentation and delineates the attributes of a vividly imagined personality: Mercurial, evasive, and underhanded, diffident yet determined, Agamemnon is preternaturally aware of the impression he makes on others, yet remains fundamentally hard to interpret. This suggests a development in the idea of literary “character”, from the mainly rhetorical sense first formally outlined by Aristotle (Frobish, cf. Dale) towards a sense of “characterization” as literary device per se.
Metageneric Excursions in Early Greek Epic