The Madness of Epic: Reading Insanity from Homer to Statius

By Debra Hershkowitz | Go to book overview

3
Homeric Epic: The Greeks and the Rational?

Homeric 'Psychology'

In Iliad 6, Glaucus tells the story of his ancestor Bellerophon, an exile who accomplished a series of labours and won a bride and a country.

But when he too became hateful to all the gods, he wandered alone along the Alean plain, eating his heart out, avoiding the tracks of men. (Il. 6. 200-2)

While the passage does not actually describe Bellerophon as mad, later on the Homeric1 Bellerophon becomes a paradigmatic example of the madman. Thus in the pseudo-Aristotelian Problem 30 this passage is quoted to support the assertion that Ajax and Bellerophon were both melancholics, (ὡ+̂ν ὃ μὲνἐκστα2TGRτικὸç ἐγένετο παντελῶç, ὁ δὲ τὰç ἐρημίαç 1F10ωκεν, διὸ οὺ+̔τωç 1F10ποίησεν Ομηροç . . . ('of whom one was completely, and the other sought solitude, on which account Homer thus described him . . . ').2 Two aspects of Bellerophon's story in particular connect it to madness, the wandering, which becomes an important image in later representations of madness,3 and the idea that his wandering was a sort of disease sent by the gods, whose hatred he had incurred.4 Yet there is

____________________
1
Throughout this chapter I will be using the adjective Homeric to refer to characteristics shared by the Iliad and the Odyssey, and the name Homer to refer to the composer or composers of the Iliad and the Odyssey. For my purposes, the controversial issue of the authorship of the epics is not relevant, since I am interested in looking at the way in which certain concepts are presented and function in the texts as we have them, not in inferring things from the texts about the poet or poets, or the epics' original audience.
2
O'Brien-Moore ( 1924), 68-9; Simon ( 1978), 68-70; Rütten ( 1992), 57-61; Padel ( 1995), 55-7, 102 n. 14; and cf. Pigeaud ( 1988a).
3
Padel ( 1995), 22, 102-6, 112.
4
Cf. e.g. O'Brien-Moore ( 1924), 69; Striömberg ( 1961), 11-12.

-125-

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The Madness of Epic: Reading Insanity from Homer to Statius
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Oxford Classical Monographs i
  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Abbreviations and Texts xii
  • 1 - Introduction: Fragments D'Un Discours Furieux 1
  • 2 - Vergil's Aeneid: the Romans and the Irrational 68
  • 3 - Homeric Epic: the Greeks and the Rational? 125
  • 4 - Ovid's Metamorphoses: Shifting Boundaries of the Divided Self 161
  • 5 - Lucan's Bellum Ciuile: Epic in Extremis 197
  • 6 - Statius' Thebaid: Furor Without Limits 247
  • Epilogue 302
  • References 305
  • Index of Passages 333
  • General Index 343
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