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The Abduction of the Classical Past
Vol. 34 (2007) through current issue
Helios is a forum for the scholarly synthesis of close readings of philological text with contemporary critical approaches. Articles analyzing Greek and Roman literature and cultural history employ feminist theory, poststructuralism and deconstruction, psychoanalysis, reader-response theory, and current theoretical models.
Homer the Preclassic considers the development of the Homeric poems-in particular the Iliad and Odyssey-during the time when they were still part of the oral tradition. Gregory Nagy traces the evolution of rival "Homers" and the different versions of Homeric poetry in this pretextual period, reconstructed over a time frame extending back from the sixth century BCE to the Bronze Age. Accurate in their linguistic detail and surprising in their implications, Nagy's insights conjure the Greeks' nostalgia for the imagined "epic space" of Troy and for the resonances and distortions this mythic past provided to the various Greek constituencies for whom the Homeric poems were so central and definitive.
Neoplatonist Allegorical Reading and the Growth of the Epic Tradition
Here is the first survey of the surviving evidence for the growth, development, and influence of the Neoplatonist allegorical reading of the Iliad and Odyssey. Professor Lamberton argues that this tradition of reading was to create new demands on subsequent epic and thereby alter permanently the nature of European epic. The Neoplatonist reading was to be decisive in the birth of allegorical epic in late antiquity and forms the background for the next major extension of the epic tradition found in Dante.
The "Homeric Question" has vexed Classicists for generations. Was the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey a single individual who created the poems at a particular moment in history? Or does the name "Homer" hide the shaping influence of the epic tradition during a long period of oral composition and transmission? In this innovative investigation, Gregory Nagy applies the insights of comparative linguistics and anthropology to offer a new historical model for understanding how, when, where, and why the Iliad and the Odyssey were ultimately preserved as written texts that could be handed down over two millennia. His model draws on the comparative evidence provided by living oral epic traditions, in which each performance of a song often involves a recomposition of the narrative. This evidence suggests that the written texts emerged from an evolutionary process in which composition, performance, and diffusion interacted to create the epics we know as the Iliad and the Odyssey. Sure to challenge orthodox views and provoke lively debate, Nagy’s book will be essential reading for all students of oral traditions.
The Homeric Iliad and Odyssey are among the world’s foremost epics. Yet, millennia after their composition, basic questions remain about them. Who was Homer—a real or an ideal poet? When were the poems composed—at a single point in time, or over centuries of composition and performance? And how were the poems committed to writing? These uncertainties have been known as The Homeric Question, and many scholars, including Gregory Nagy, have sought to solve it. In Homeric Responses, Nagy presents a series of essays that further elaborate his theories regarding the oral composition and evolution of the Homeric epics. Building on his previous work in Homeric Questions and Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond and responding to some of his critics, he examines such issues as the importance of performance and the interaction between audience and poet in shaping the poetry; the role of the rhapsode (the performer of the poems) in the composition and transmission of the poetry; the “irreversible mistakes” and cross-references in the Iliad and Odyssey as evidences of artistic creativity; and the Iliadic description of the shield of Achilles as a pointer to the world outside the poem, the polis of the audience.
Traditionally, Homer's epics have been the domain of scholars and students interested in ancient Greek poetry, and Aristotle's rhetorical theory has been the domain of those interested in ancient rhetoric. Rachel Ahern Knudsen believes that this academic distinction between poetry and rhetoric should be challenged. Based on a close analysis of persuasive speeches in the Iliad, Knudsen argues that Homeric poetry displays a systematic and technical concept of rhetoric and that many Iliadic speakers in fact employ the rhetorical techniques put forward by Aristotle. Rhetoric, in its earliest formulation in ancient Greece, was conceived as the power to change a listener’s actions or attitudes through words—particularly through persuasive techniques and argumentation. Rhetoric was thus a “technical” discipline in the ancient Greek world, a craft (technê) that was rule-governed, learned, and taught. This technical understanding of rhetoric can be traced back to the works of Plato and Aristotle, which provide the earliest formal explanations of rhetoric. But do such explanations constitute the true origins of rhetoric as an identifiable, systematic practice? If not, where does a technique-driven rhetoric first appear in literary and social history? Perhaps the answer is in Homeric epics. Homeric Speech and the Origins of Rhetoric demonstrates a remarkable congruence between the rhetorical techniques used by Iliadic speakers and those collected in Aristotle's seminal treatise on rhetoric. Knudsen's claim has implications for the fields of both Homeric poetry and the history of rhetoric. In the former field, it refines and extends previous scholarship on direct speech in Homer by identifying a new dimension within Homeric speech: namely, the consistent deployment of well-defined rhetorical arguments and techniques. In the latter field, it challenges the traditional account of the development of rhetoric, probing the boundaries that currently demarcate its origins, history, and relationship to poetry.
The Poetry of Venantius Fortunatus
The Humblest Sparrow is a superbly illuminating study of one of the major Latin poets of late antiquity. Every chapter is marked by a thorough, accurate, and up to date knowledge of the historical and material setting of the Merovingian upper classes. As a deep treatment of Fortunatus' poetry, this book will surely appeal to readers with a serious interest in the Latin verse of late antiquity. ---William Klingshirn, Catholic University of America In The Humblest Sparrow, Michael Roberts illuminates the poetry of the sixth-century bishop and poet Venantius Fortunatus. Often regarded as an important transitional figure, Fortunatus wrote poetry that is seen to bridge the late classical and earlier medieval periods. Written in Latin, his poems combined the influences of classical Latin poets with a medieval tone, giving him a special place in literary history. Yet while interest has been growing in the early Merovingian period, and while the writing of Fortunatus' patron Gregory of Tours has been well studied, Fortunatus himself has often been neglected. This neglect is remedied by this in-depth study, which will appeal to scholars of late antique, early Christian, and medieval Latin poetry. Roberts divides Fortunatus' poetry into three main groups: poetry of praise, hagiographical poetry, and personal poetry. In addition to providing a general survey, Roberts discusses in detail many individual poems and proposes a number of theses on the nature, function, relation to social and linguistic context, and survival of Fortunatus' poetry, as well as the image of the poet created by his work. Michael Roberts is Robert Rich Professor of Latin at Wesleyan University. Jacket illustration: L. Alma Tadema, Venantius Fortunatus Reading his Poems to Radegonda VI AD 555. (Courtesy of Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum.) Also of Interest Abandoned Women: Rewriting the Classics in Dante, Boccaccio, and Chaucer, by Suzanne Hagedorn The Augustinian Epic, Petrarch to Milton, by J. Christopher Warner Early Modern Autobiography: Theories, Genres, Practices, edited by Ronald Bedford, Lloyd Davis, and Philippa Kelly
Structure, Myth, and Meaning
Extending his distinctive analysis of Homeric epic to the Iliad, Bruce Louden, author of The "Odyssey": Structure, Narration, and Meaning, again presents new approaches to understanding the themes and story of the poem. In this thought-provoking study, he demonstrates how repeated narrative motifs argue for an expanded understanding of the structure of epic poetry. First identifying the "subgenres" of myth within the poem, he then reads these against related mythologies of the Near East, developing a context in which the poem can be more accurately interpreted. Louden begins by focusing on the ways in which the Iliad's three movements correspond with and comment on each other. He offers original interpretations of many episodes, notably in books 3 and 7, and makes new arguments about some well-known controversies (e.g., the duals in book 9), the Iliad's use of parody, the function of theomachy, and the prefiguring of Hektor as a sacrificial victim in books 3 and 6. The second part of the book compares fourteen subgenres of myth in the Iliad to contemporaneous Near Eastern traditions such as those of the Old Testament and of Ugaritic mythology. Louden concludes with an extended comparison of the Homeric Athena and Anat, a West Semitic goddess worshipped by the Phoenicians and Egyptians. Louden's innovative method yields striking new insights into the formation and early literary contexts of Greek epic poetry.