Explanation from Fixed Phrases

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401. The traces of ϝ may also be ascribed to the conventional phrases of the early epic style. The word ἄστυ, for example, is found very frequently in the combinations προτὶ ἄστυ, ἀνὰ ἄστυ, κατὰ ἄστυ, etc.; but these do not prove the pronunciation ϝάστυ for Homeric times any more than (e. g.) ἐπιεικής proves an Attic ἐπιϝεικής. Such phrases, it may be said, were handed on ready-made, with a fixed metrical value, and served as models for fresh combinations, in which the hiatus was retained as part of the familiar rhythm.

This explanation is inadequate, for the following reasons

  1. The instances of ϝ are not confined to the commonest words, or to frequently recurring phrases. Thus it is found in ἴον a νiοlet, ἴτυς the felly of a wheel, ἰτέη a willow, ἄρνες lambs. And it is used (generally speaking) in all the different forms of each verb or noun, whether of common occurrence or not (ἰδεῖν as well as ἰδέειν, ἴνεσι as well as ἴς and ἶφι, etc.).
  2. The other cases in which tradition can be shown to have had the effect of retaining older phrases and combinations are not really parallel. In the Homeric Hymns the ϝ can be clearly traced, but the proportion of instances which do not admit ϝ is markedly different. Taking the words already used as examples, viz. ἄναξ, ἄστυ, ἔργον, οἶκος, ἰδεῖν, we find them in the Hymns 152 times, while the ϝ is neglected in 36 places, or nearly one-fourth of the whole. Again if we look at the words which begin with ο, as οὐλαμός, ὄψ, etc. (§ 393), we find similar conditions. The traces of ϝ are undoubted, but do not predominate as with ἄναξ or ἄστυ. Other examples may be seen in the traces of the double consonants, σρ, σλ, σν, ϝρ discussed in § 371. Compare the free use of alternate forms, as ἔρεξα and ἔρρεξα, προ-ρέω and ἐπιρρέω, with the almost invariable recognition of δϝ in δέος, δείσας, etc. We seem to be able to draw a broad distinction between the predominating influence of the ϝ in Homer and the arbitrary or occasional influence of the older forms in other cases. And these other cases, we may conclude, give us a measure of the force of tradition in such matters, while in the case of the Homeric ϝ the effect is due to its retention as a living sound.
  3. A further argument in favor of ϝ as a real sound in Homer has been derived from the places in which ῾ϝε, ῾ϝοι suffer elision (§ 391) ; see Leafʼs note on Il. 24.154. The argument has much force, and would be conclusive if we could assume that an elided vowel was not sounded at all.