Friday, May 1, 2015

Articles on the multiformity of Homeric poetry now on-line

The Center for Hellenic Studies has published on-line two articles by Associate Editors of the Homer Multitext that directly address the multiformity of Homeric poetry.

The first of these, "Homeric Poetry and Problems of Multiformity: The 'Panathenaic Bottleneck'," by Gregory Nagy, was one of the works of scholarship that originally inspired this project. Nagy argues that the text fixation of Iliad and Odyssey occurred not through writing but in the context of the increasingly limited performance tradition at the Panhellenic festival of the Panathenaia in Archaic and Classical Athens. As the poems passed through this “bottleneck” the degree of variability became increasingly limited. The article offers an explanation for how the Iliad and Odyssey came to be crystallized into the relatively un-multiform versions in which we now have them. Nagy suggests that the highly regulated performance context of the Panathenaic Festival provided the mechanism by which multiformity was gradually screened out and a relatively fixed, "Panathenaic" text emerged for the two poems. Nagy's arguments also account for the fact the Iliad and Odyssey (which were performed at this festival) survive, whereas the poems of the Epic Cycle do not.

Leonard Muellner's article, "Grieving Achilles," explores Archaic vase paintings that depict Achilles in a silent gesture of mourning (veiling his head) and suggests that they are drawing on an variation of the epic tradition of the taking of Briseis and the subsequent embassy to Achilles that we find in Iliad 9. As Muellner writes, his work shows that these "vase paintings are not illustrations of epic poetry, or ad hoc inventions, or mistakes that intentionally or unintentionally disregard or misrepresent the putatively uniform Homeric versions of epic tales that served as their supposed models. Instead, the vase painter, just like a singer of tales, is engaged in a traditional, creative effort to select among myths that are by nature multiform." For more on the relationship between the multiforms of myth, vase paintings, and the Homeric epics, see also "Briseis and the Multiformity of the Iliad" (Chapter 1 in C. Dué, Homeric Variations on a Lament by Briseis.)

 Embassy to Achilles — Phoinix, Odysseus, Achilles veiled, and unnamed youth. Athenian red-figure hydria, Staatliche Antikensammlung, München 8770. Photo Bibi Saint-Pol, Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

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