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Gilgamesh among Us Cover

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Gilgamesh among Us

Modern Encounters with the Ancient Epic

by Theodore Ziolkowski

The world's oldest work of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh recounts the adventures of the semimythical Sumerian king of Uruk and his ultimately futile quest for immortality after the death of his friend and companion, Enkidu, a wildman sent by the gods. Gilgamesh was deified by the Sumerians around 2500 BCE, and his tale as we know it today was codified in cuneiform tablets around 1750 BCE and continued to influence ancient cultures-whether in specific incidents like a world-consuming flood or in its quest structure-into Roman times. The epic was, however, largely forgotten, until the cuneiform tablets were rediscovered in 1872 in the British Museum's collection of recently unearthed Mesopotamian artifacts. In the decades that followed its translation into modern languages, the Epic of Gilgamesh has become a point of reference throughout Western culture.

In Gilgamesh among Us, Theodore Ziolkowski explores the surprising legacy of the poem and its hero, as well as the epic's continuing influence in modern letters and arts. This influence extends from Carl Gustav Jung and Rainer Maria Rilke's early embrace of the epic's significance-"Gilgamesh is tremendous!" Rilke wrote to his publisher's wife after reading it-to its appropriation since World War II in contexts as disparate as operas and paintings, the poetry of Charles Olson and Louis Zukofsky, novels by John Gardner and Philip Roth, and episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Xena: Warrior Princess.

Ziolkowski sees fascination with Gilgamesh as a reflection of eternal spiritual values-love, friendship, courage, and the fear and acceptance of death. Noted writers, musicians, and artists from Sweden to Spain, from the United States to Australia, have adapted the story in ways that meet the social and artistic trends of the times. The spirit of this capacious hero has absorbed the losses felt in the immediate postwar period and been infused with the excitement and optimism of movements for gay rights, feminism, and environmental consciousness. Gilgamesh is at once a seismograph of shifts in Western history and culture and a testament to the verities and values of the ancient epic.

Give, Eat, and Live Cover

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Give, Eat, and Live

Poems of Avvaiyar

Translated from the Tamil by Thomas H. Pruiksma

Give, Eat, and Live is a selection of poems translated from the 12th century Tamil poet Avvaiyar, arguably one of the most important female poets in Tamil's two-thousand-and-five-hundred years of literary history, and certainly one of the best known, of any gender. Although people across the state of Tamil Nadu know many of her works by heart, she has received little attention outside India, owing largely to the lack of decent translations. The one comprehensive work in English, Avvaiyar, a great Tamil poetess, by C. Rajagopalachari (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1971), has long since been out of print and renders Avvaiyar's poems in accurate but wooden translations. This book, by contrast, seeks to render her finest songs in a supple and poetically charged English that allows both her intellect and poetry to shine.

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Grafting Helen

The Abduction of the Classical Past

Matthew Gumpert

History is a love story: a tale of desire and jealousy, abandonment and fidelity, abduction and theft, rupture and reconciliation. This contention is central to Grafting Helen, Matthew Gumpert's original and dazzling meditation on Helen of Troy as a crucial anchor for much of Western thought and literature.
Grafting Helen looks at "classicism"—the privileged rhetorical language for describing cultural origins in the West—as a protracted form of cultural embezzlement. No coin in the realm has been more valuable, more circulated, more coveted, or more counterfeited than the one that bears the face of Helen of Troy. Gumpert uncovers Helen as the emblem for the past as something to be stolen, appropriated, imitated, extorted,  and coveted once again.
Tracing the figure of Helen from its classical origins through the Middle Ages, the French Renaissance, and the modern era, Gumpert suggests that the relation of current Western culture to the past is not like the act of coveting; it is the act of coveting, he argues, for it relies on the same strategies, the same defenses, the same denials, and the same delusions.

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Helios

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.

Holy Foolishness in Russia Cover

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Holy Foolishness in Russia

New Perspectives

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Homer the Preclassic Cover

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Homer the Preclassic

Gregory Nagy

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.

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Homer the Theologian

Neoplatonist Allegorical Reading and the Growth of the Epic Tradition

Robert Lamberton

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.

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Homeric Questions

By Gregory Nagy

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.

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Homeric Responses

By Gregory Nagy

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.

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Homeric Speech and the Origins of Rhetoric

Rachel Ahern Knudsen

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.

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