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

Barker, Elton T. E. and Christensen, Joel P. (2020). Homer’s Thebes: Epic Rivalries and the Appropriation of Mythical Pasts. Hellenic Studies, 84. Harvard University Press.

URL: https://chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/7012


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 emerge 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, the authors argue that the Homeric poems use heroes from Thebes to address key ideas—about politics, time and genre respectively—which set out the unique superiority of these texts in performance. In addition, by using evidence from Hesiod and fragmentary sources attributed to Theban tradition, the authors explore Homer’s appropriation of thematic elements of strife and distribution that demonstrate Homer’s wholesale ransacking of Thebes to promote his tale of the sack of Troy and the returns home.

This book shows how the use of Theban material sheds light on the exceptionality of the Homeric epics through the notions of poetic rivalry and Panhellenism. Furthermore, by emphasizing a non-hierarchical model of ‘reading’ the epics derived from oral-formulaic poetics, this book also contributes to recent debates about allusion, neoanalysis and intertextuality.

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