The Poetics of Supplication: Homer's Iliad and Odyssey

The Poetics of Supplication: Homer's Iliad and Odyssey

The Poetics of Supplication: Homer's Iliad and Odyssey

The Poetics of Supplication: Homer's Iliad and Odyssey


In this penetrating and compelling reinterpretation of the Iliad and the Odyssey, Kevin Crotty explores the connection between the "poetic" nature of supplication on the one hand, and, on the other, the importance of supplication in the structure and poetics of the two epics. The suppliant's attempt to rouse pity by calling to mind a vivid sense of grief, he says, is important for an understanding of the poems, which invite their audience to contemplate scenes of past grieving. A poetics of supplication, Crotty asserts, leads irresistibly to a poetics of the Homeric epic.


Gregory Nagy

The Homeric Iliad cannot give us the last word on Achilles. Despite the claims of various recent studies, including an influential commentary on the last of the twenty-four books of the Iliad, the hero of this epic does not come to terms with our own expectations of his humanity when he encounters face to face, in the epic's near-final scene of vicarious grief, the mourning father of his deadliest enemy. The ceremony of supplication that takes place at this moment in the Iliad creates an emotional effect so powerful--and so troubling--that it will take another epic, this time, the Odyssey, to follow up on its resonances.

This insight into the interplay of the Iliad and Odyssey becomes a central achievement of Kevin Crotty Poetics of Supplication, which explores how the emotion of eleos forces the main hero of each of these two epics to reengage his whole life experience. This emotion, which we translate as "pity" and which the ancient Greeks publicly enacted in ceremonies of supplication, is the driving force behind the poetics of heroic redefinition in these epics. Moreover, this distinctly Greek idea of pity becomes the rationale for epic's own continuing self-redefinition. For Crotty, supplication thus serves as a model for the poetics of the Iliad and the Odyssey. The suppliant's message of grief must turn things around: the winner's perspective must be reshaped by that of the loser.

The myth of the hero--and thereby the poetic form of epic itself--is being shaped by the ceremony of supplication, since the pity that is generated by this ceremony will radically affect the hero's outlook on his own identity. Thus this book amounts to a defense of pity, following a line Aristotle himself had taken in rehabilitating eleos after Plato's attack.

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