You are here

Performance Markings in the Bankes Homer

Thyra-Lilja Altunin

University of Pittsburgh

Over the past century, scholars have largely reconstructed the performance tradition of the Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, their meter and composition, social context, and dissemination, yet the sound of Homeric song remains shrouded in mystery. What little we know has come largely from the study of the songs depicted in the poems themselves, from the descriptions of Homeric performance in other ancient authors, and through comparison with living traditions of oral composition. Another source of information, rare and underappreciated, is the body of surviving material texts (e.g. papyri) of the Homeric poems themselves.

An example of this sort of text, one that may contain clues to the history of Homeric epic performance, is the “Bankes Homer” (= P. Lond. Lit. 28). This papyrus, dating from the 2ndcentury CE, is one of the best preserved and longest Homeric papyri that has been discovered, preserving 677 verses from Book 24 of the Iliad (lines 127-804). One of its unique features, besides its length, is the markings that are present above nearly every line of text. These appear to be diacritical markings (accents, breathings, and diareses), metrical markings, punctuation, and symbols for various scholia, which indicate a sort of organization of the text. Scholars have hypothesized that these markings are more than just reading or pronunciation guides, and in fact they are also performance markings (Nagy 2009: 146; Parsons 2011: 21-22); but no scholar to date has made an extensive study of the text and its markings, and the only critical edition (the editio princeps) is nearly two centuries old (Lewis 1832).

This paper introduces a new, diplomatic transcription of the Bankes Homer, which I completed in 2019, and presents an analysis of the markings in the Bankes Homer as a whole. The goal is to use the system of accentuation employed in this papyrus to learn about the history of Homeric performance at the time of the papyrus’s creation. My analysis of the Bankes Homer, when compared with the Allen’s OCT (1920) and editio maior (1931) and West’s Teubner (2001), reveals striking discrepancies in accentuation systems. For example, grave and circumflex accents are written above syllables that any modern student of Ancient Greek “knows” should never carry a grave or circumflex. The noun φρεσι is accented with a grave accent on the penult, φρὲσι, four times at lines  9, 26, 45, and 71(= Allen’s lines 135, 152, 171 and 197); and circumflex accents appear over the letter ε at lines 100 and 127 (= Il. 24.226 and 253) and over ο at line 348 (= Il. 24.474). Conversely, many words and phrases are not accented at all, as in the common formula ως εφατο (“so he/she said”). Elsewhere, circumflex or grave accents appear on the last syllable of a verse, suggesting a relationship between the accentuation and the verse structure. I build upon Nagy’s hypothesis that the diacritical markings in the Bankes Homer papyrus reveal a pre-Byzantine system of accentuation in which accents mark phrases. Through the analysis of the full text of the Bankes Homer I am able to conclude that the diacritical markings in the Bankes Homer function in a different capacity than the accents that are included in Greek editions of the texts today. In turn, this leads to questions about their function, what can the patterns that are observed show us?

Session/Panel Title

Eta Sigma Phi

Session/Paper Number


Share This Page

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy