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The Poetics of Consent

Collective Decision Making and the Iliad

David F. Elmer

Publication Year: 2013

The Poetics of Consent breaks new ground in Homeric studies by interpreting the Iliad’s depictions of political action in terms of the poetic forces that shaped the Iliad itself. Arguing that consensus is a central theme of the epic, David Elmer analyzes in detail scenes in which the poem’s three political communities—Achaeans, Trojans, and Olympian gods—engage in the process of collective decision making. These scenes reflect an awareness of the negotiation involved in reconciling rival versions of the Iliad over centuries. They also point beyond the Iliad’s world of gods and heroes to the here-and-now of the poem’s performance and reception, in which the consensus over the shape and meaning of the Iliadic tradition is continuously evolving. Elmer synthesizes ideas and methods from literary and political theory, classical philology, anthropology, and folklore studies to construct an alternative to conventional understandings of the Iliad’s politics. The Poetics of Consent reveals the ways in which consensus and collective decision making determined the authoritative account of the Trojan War that we know as the Iliad.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book has been years in the making, and I have benefited from the advice, support, and friendship of many people along the way— too many, in fact, to list them all here. Some of my debts, however, are too great to go unmentioned. ...

A Note on Texts, Translations, and Transliterations

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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii-xiv

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Introduction. From Politics to Poetics

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pp. 1-18

At the conclusion of the chariot race described in the Iliad’s twenty-third “book”— to use the misleading but conventional modern term for what ancient scholars more accurately called rhapsōidiai, “rhapsodies” or “songs”— a question arises. An unforeseen and unaccountable mishap has caused the best team to come in last; how then should the prizes be awarded? ...

Part I: Frameworks and Paradigms

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Chapter 1. The Grammar of Reception

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pp. 21-47

This book is fundamentally a study of the Iliad’s vision of community. Since this vision is constructed and communicated in language, it is also, in the first instance, a study of the words and formulas employed in the Iliad to describe the essential activities of communal life, that is, the activities by which a community constitutes itself as such. ...

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Chapter 2. Consensus and Kosmos: Speech and the Social World in an Indo- European Perspective

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pp. 48-62

So far I have focused my discussion of the key verb epaineîn strictly on the patterns of usage attested by the system of Homeric diction and formulaics. This is an essential first step made necessary by the constraints of formulaic phraseology, which, by virtue of an ecology that assigns to each expression a more or less discrete niche in the overall system, ...

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Chapter 3. Achilles and the Crisis of the Exception

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pp. 63-85

The Iliad begins with a question. After invoking the Muse and stating the overarching themes of Achilles’ wrath (mēnis) and his strife (eris) with Agamemnon, the narrator begins to zero in on a starting point for the narrative by asking, “which of the gods set them on to contend in eris?” (Il. 1.8). The answer— Apollo— leads the narrator to work backward in time ...

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Chapter 4. Social Order and Poetic Order: Agamemnon, Thersites, and the Cata logue of Ships

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pp. 86-104

For Joseph Russo, the basic aesthetic impulse of Homeric poetry, from the microlevel of the verse’s metrical structure to the macrolevel of the story of the Trojan War, is to reimpose order and regularity after temporarily permitting free play to disorder and abnormality.1 As a paradigmatic example of this pattern, Russo offers Book 2 of the Iliad, ...

Part II: The Iliad’s Political Communities

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Chapter 5. In Search of Epainos: Collective Decision Making among the Achaeans

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pp. 107-131

In the previous chapter, Book 2 emerged as a paradigmatic instance of the Iliad's overarching drive to move from the free play of eccentricity to the reassertion of the normative. The key to this movement is the epainos achieved by Odysseus’ speech to the assembled troops, the exemplary value of which is underscored by the fact that this is the first instance of epainos in the poem. ...

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Chapter 6. A Consensus of Fools: The Trojans’ Exceptional Epainos

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pp. 132-145

At the close of the Iliad's third day of battle, the Trojans hastily convene a battlefield assembly. Achilles has just appeared at the Achaean fortifications, scattering the Trojan charge with a powerful war-cry and thereby creating an opportunity for the rescue of Patroklos’ corpse. The Trojans gather to discuss whether they should camp on the battlefield ...

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Chapter 7. The View from Olympus: Divine Politics and Metapoetics

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pp. 146-174

The practice of politics is not a solely human activity in the Iliad. The gods, too, are subject to the political imperatives of collective decision making. No less than their human protégés, they must make accommodations and negotiate conflicting preferences in pursuit of a common basis for group action. ...

Part III: Resolutions

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Chapter 8. The Return to Normalcy and the Iliad’s “Boundless People”

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pp. 177-203

In elucidating the crisis that sets the Iliad in motion, I identified several interlocking norms whose violation or suspension defines a state of exception that is more or less coterminous with the Iliad’s plot. The most important of these is the norm of collective decision making through epainos, but implicated in this are several others, ...

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Chapter 9. The Politics of Reception: Collective Response and Iliadic Audiences within and beyond the Text

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pp. 204-224

Previous chapters have advanced the claim that the Iliad's depictions of collective decision making point, implicitly but unmistakably, beyond the poem to its real-world audiences. In the transference of epainos from the Achaeans to the Trojans, in the metapoetic character of the debates on Olympus, and especially in the image of the “boundless people” ...

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Afterword. Epainos and the Odyssey

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pp. 225-232

George Bolling stipulated that “a Homeric grammar should be written in three parts: a description of the Iliad, a description of the Odyssey, a comparison of these descriptions.”1 This principle certainly holds true for what I have called the “grammar of reception,” with respect to which we find significant differences between the two Homeric poems. ...


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pp. 233-284


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pp. 285-302


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pp. 303-313

E-ISBN-13: 9781421408279
E-ISBN-10: 1421408279
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421408262
Print-ISBN-10: 1421408260

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2013