Homer's Thebes: Epic Rivalries and the Appropriation of Mythical Pasts

Homer's Thebes: Epic Rivalries and the Appropriation of Mythical Pasts

by Elton T. E. Barker, Joel P. Christensen


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Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are the only early Greek heroic epics to have survived the transition to writing, even though extant evidence indicates that they emerged from a thriving oral culture. Among the missing are the songs of Boeotian Thebes.

Homer’s Thebes examines moments in the Iliad and Odyssey where Theban characters and thematic engagements come to the fore. Rather than sifting through these appearances to reconstruct lost poems, Elton Barker and Joel Christensen argue that the Homeric poems borrow heroes from Thebes to address key ideas—about politics, time, and genre—that set out the unique superiority of these texts in performance. By using evidence from Hesiod and fragmentary sources attributed to Theban tradition, Barker and Christensen explore Homer’s appropriation of Theban motifs of strife and distribution to promote his tale of the sack of Troy and the returns home.

As Homer’s Thebes shows, this Theban material sheds light on the exceptionality of the Homeric epics through the notions of poetic rivalry and Panhellenism. Furthermore, by emphasizing a nonhierarchical model of “reading” the epics derived from oral-formulaic poetics, this book contributes to recent debates about allusion, neoanalysis, and intertextuality.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674237926
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 03/17/2020
Series: Hellenic Studies Series , #84
Pages: 328
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Elton T. E. Barker is Reader in Classical Studies at The Open University.

Joel P. Christensen is Associate Professor of Classical Studies at Brandeis University.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements vii

Note on Text and Translations ix

Introduction 1

1 Troy, The Next Generation: Politics 47

2 The Labors of Herakles: Time 91

3 Homer's Oedipus Complex: Form 131

4 Doubling Down on Strife 173

5 Theban Palimpsests 205

6 Beyond Thebes 245

7 Conclusion: Endgame 275

Works Cited 287

Index Locorum 307

Subject Index 315

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