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165 The Eros of Homeros: The Pleasures of Greek Epic inVictorian Literature and Archaeology1 M eilee Br id ges • Throughout the nineteenth century, topographical and archaeological explorations of ancient Troy (or Ilium) spawned controversy among Homeric scholars and enthusiasts about the status of the city in literature and history.Visits to and digs atTroy inspired artists and writers to bring the ancient site back to life by adapting scenes from or composing sequels to the Greek epics and translating Homer’s poetry.2 But literary re-presentations of Ilium also took the form of contributions and responses to contemporary debates about the status of the ancient Greek bard and his works—debates that emerged in the aftermath of textual excavations of the Iliad and the Odyssey as well as archaeological excavations of Homer’s Troy. In an 1884 article in the Fortnightly Review, Cambridge classicist Richard Claverhouse Jebb points to these various debates that spawned literary re-presentations ofTroy and Homer by contrasting the status of Pompeii as a historical and material reality with that of epic Ilium: Myth could deal with oral tradition as freely as romance with written history. Indeed, it would be natural to expect that the liberties of myth should be even bolder than those of romance, since the control was less definite. Pompeii was buried, and was rediscovered.The difference between the case of Pompeii and the case ofTroy is not merely in the degree of the evidence, but in the kind.That Pompeii (1) existed, (2) existed there, are facts as well attested as any in history. ForTroy all the evidence is, in its nature, only mythical. It depends on poetical fancy playing around unwritten legend. (Jebb,“HomericTroy” 446) In referring to the Iliad and the Odyssey as“myth,”“oral tradition,” and“unwritten legend,” Jebb foregrounds the Homeric Question—contemporary arguments about whether Homer had really existed or if the epics were rather a compilation of ballads that had been edited by various scribes over time. Jebb’s victorian review • Volume 34 Number 2 166 term“legend,” as well as his claim that“evidence” ofTroy“is, in its nature, only mythical,” suggests how uncertainties about the authorship and composition of the Homeric poems emerged alongside questions about their authenticity and thus the historicity ofTroy and theTrojanWar. Debates about the location and existence of ancient Ilium reached their peak in the 1870s, when amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann began excavating in theTroad and widely publicized his discoveries of monuments and relics that appeared to bring Homer’s Trojan and Greek cities back to life—archaeological breakthroughs to which Jebb is responding in this article. Finally, with his denigration of Schliemann’s digs as“poetical fancy playing around” (446), Jebb suggests the dialectic emerging in the late nineteenth century between scholarly criticism of Homeric epic and contemporary literature’s imaginative, affective, and ludic responses to and representations of reading ancient Greek poetry. This article examines how the relationship between the imaginative literature of antiquity and its reception in the nineteenth century can be complicated by archaeology and the materialization of mythological narratives of the past. I argue thatVictorian writers often express disenchantment with philological and archaeological engagements with Homer and HomericTroy because, for them, the desire to learn Greek, the eros3 of reading the Iliad and Odyssey, and the pleasure of translating ancient epic realize the dream of an intense, personal contact with the epic heroes of Homer’s poetry—and Homer himself. I show that even in the diverse genres of lyric poetry, literary criticism, and accounts of archaeological digs, Homer and hisTroy retained their significance because they were realities in the mind’s eye—in the memory, the imagination , and the affections—not because their historicity could be substantiated or questioned through close textual analysis and archaeological survey. Either through the literary act of translation or the literal act of excavation, these texts articulate a desire to resurrect the simple, ludic pleasures of reading ancient Greek epic and champion the authority of the mind and heart to reconstruct the ancient world. I begin with a close reading of Robert Browning’s poem “Development.” Published in 1889, this lyric meditation on how acquaintance with various renditions...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 165-183
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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