Flight club: the new Archilochus and its resonance with Homeric epic

Barker, Elton and Christensen, Joel (2006). Flight club: the new Archilochus and its resonance with Homeric epic. Materiali e discussioni per l'analisi dei testi classici, 57(2) pp. 9–41.

URL: http://www.libraweb.net/riviste.php?chiave=17&h=45...


This paper analyses the new Archilochus fragment (POxy. LXIX 4708), which tells the story of Telephos’ rout of the Achaeans, in terms of its resonance with Homeric epic. Where previous scholarship has read Archilochus’ poetry as indebted to and derivative on Homer, we instead use the idea of ‘traditional referentiality’ – the process by which a word, phrase or even story pattern resonates with other examples across a broader tradition – to explore the poetics of the new Archilochus and to shed light on the narrative dynamics of the Homeric poems.

In our first section, we analyse scenes from the Iliad in which the spectre of flight is set against the backdrop of the sack of Troy. We examine speeches by various Achaean heroes on the issue of flight, concentrating in particular on the leader of the coalition forces, Agamemnon, and the hero of the rival tradition, Odysseus. Our aim is to show that this fragment reflects one version of a discussion about fight or flight that is present and on-going in the Iliad. In our second section, we consider comparable scenes from the Odyssey as evidence that this exploration extends far beyond the bounds of any one representation. Rather, we suggest, the new fragment appropriates the motif of deliberation on flight or flight as an entry point into an interpoetic ‘play’ or competition that projects an ‘Odyssean’ voice consistent with other fragments of Archilochus.

Thus we aim to show that both Homeric epics engage in the deliberation over flight in ways that underline their own poetic strategies: the Iliad casts retreat as inappropriate to the aims of heroic narrative, at least as it is represented among the Achaeans; the Odyssey employs the motif of flight in the context of sympotic tale-telling, but subordinates it to the epic drive towards the hero’s return. In turn the new Archilochus fragment resonates with the language, motifs and story-pattern of an epic tradition only to construct a very different world view that rejects both the Iliadic martial anxiety about the shame of flight and the Odyssean appropriation of flight for the achievement of nostos. Instead, it celebrates flight for its own sake. In this way, the fragment leaves us with a tantalizing glimpse of a ‘flight club’, where singers compete in plying their versions of a wider poetic inheritance, and where the values inherent to that tradition and its performance contexts are set out, contested and enacted.

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