Svetlana Kleiner, Michael Pozdnev. Zieliński’s «chronological inconsistency»: The Epinomis. Vol. 1. No. 1. 2016

Publication Details

Zieliński’s «chronological inconsistency»: The Epinomis
Title in the language of publication: Хронологическая несовместимость» Ф. Ф. Зелинского: Послезаконие
Svetlana Kleiner
PhD in Philology, Junior Researcher at the Institute for Linguistic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Address: 9 Tuchkov Lane, St. Petersburg 199053, Russia.

Michael Pozdnev
Doctor of Philology, Professor at the Department of Classical Philology of the Faculty of Philology of the Saint Petersburg State University.
Address: 7/9 Universitetskaya emb., St. Petersburg 199034, Russia.
P. 367–377.
Language: Russian
Document type: Research Article (afterword)


Tadeusz Zieliński’s “Law of Chronological Inconsistency”, as is generally known, concerns the impossibility of simultaneous actions in the Homeric epics. Zieliński defines four modes of dealing with such actions: 1. one action remains hanging while the other continues (this case is the most apparent; its discovery seems to have inspired the scholar to point out the further three, which are by far less universal), 2. one action unfolds but the course of the other is only traced; it will meet the first at some point, 3. the parallel action is not shown at all, thus leaving a “sensible gap”, 4. to describe parallel actions as consecutive.

The rebirth of interest in Zieliński’s law in the last two decades manifested by a number of discussions and a selective English translation of his German essay on the subject has not yet resulted in a thorough monographic study — partly because the reference works still exist mostly in Russian, partly due to the marginalizing the principle of inconsistency as commonplace in modern folkloristics and narratology. The examples given by Zieliński should however be re-examined. The main point of interest lies in demonstrating that Zieliński’s interpretations are largely influenced by his epoch. He wants, for instance, to be told by Homer how the Trojans came to the idea that they should attack the Achaeans after the Pandar’s peace-breaking shot, when he stroke Menelaus by an arrow. This is the point of view of a tolerant European of the Vorkriegszeit. However, by narrating about negotiations in Troy, Homer would destroy the effect of surprise; the impression of Trojans as treacherous enemies would be lost. In other cases Homer, as well as the narrators of the Russian Byliny or other epic songs, is focused on the act of the greatest interest leaving the parallel acts without mention. Homer shows no incapacity in describing simultaneous actions as simultaneous. What his narrative style really exhibits is economy of the audience’s attention.


Homer, Zieliński, classical philology, folklore, epic, Homeric question, chronological inconsistency, narrative techniques.


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© Svetlana Kleiner, 2016  © Michael Pozdnev, 2016

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