Academic journal article Ancient Narrative

Music and Immortality: The Afterlife of Achilles in Philostratus' Heroicus

Academic journal article Ancient Narrative

Music and Immortality: The Afterlife of Achilles in Philostratus' Heroicus

Article excerpt

Of all the rewritings of epic tradition which Philostratus undertakes in the Heroicus,(1) one of the most striking is his depiction of Achilles. While Achilles still has his Homeric and Cyclic character as the great Achaean warrior, son of the sea-goddess Thetis, the musical aspect of the hero is dramatically increased. (2) After considering the aspects of Achilles as he appears in the Iliad which may have led Philostratus to develop him in this way, I shall consider the significance of the song which Philostratus' Achilles sings on Leuke. The song, I would argue, is important for an understanding of Philostratus' own ideas regarding literary creation within a traditional framework. Finally, I will examine the dialogue's broader presentation of Achilles' posthumous existence, and the curious, even unique, treatment of time and space which Philostratus' focus on this subject requires.

Achilles as musician and poet

There are, of course, traces of a musical Achilles already in the Iliad. It is well known that Achilles is the only character in the poem to play the lyre,3 singing 'the glories of men', [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE ASCII.] (4) Despite the uniqueness of Achilles musical performance in the epic, this may seem a rather slender foundation on which to base the much more developed musical Achilles of the Heroicus. In fact, there does seem to be a further prompt to Philostratus' development of Achilles, not just in this scene of the embassy, but in the Iliad as a whole.

It has often been remarked that Achilles' language is more 'poetic' than that of the epic's other characters, a claim which has received more rigorous verification in the studies of Martin (5) and of Friedrich and Redfield. (6) While a brief summary of these studies does not do justice to their detail, a few remarks will have to suffice, given the different focus of this paper. Friedrich and Redfield, comparing the speeches of Achilles with those of other characters, describe his language as follows: 'The positive rhetorical qualities are richness of detail, cumulative imagery, hypothetical comparison, and poetic directness; on the other hand, Achilles does not restrict his point, concede points, anticipate objections, or provide alternative reasons for action.' They find in addition that his speeches are like those of a lyric poet in their preference for expression over persuasion, in their use of similes to a greater extent than the other characters of the Iliad, and in the allusiveness of his use of narrative. 'While other characters use narrative like the orators in Herodotus, Achilles' use resembles that of Pindar.(7) Despite Martin's criticisms of the work of Friedrich and Redfield, he too comes to the conclusion that Achilles speaks more like a poet than the other characters in the Iliad, and in particular speaks more like Homer, or rather, the narrating voice of the poem, than any other character in the epic, 'foregrounding Homer's own aesthetic'.(8)

Though Philostratus did not have the benefit of statistical analyses of Homeric and Achillean language, he did of course have a native speaker's knowledge of ancient Greek, and seems to have come to a similar view of Achilles and his language. It is probable that the sophist is responding to the overall characterisation of Achilles, not simply to the few lines in which he appears as a bard, when he develops his own Achilles into a full-blown lyric poet and singer. In the hero's posthumous existence the musical/poetic side of his character comes to rival even his famous military prowess. (9) In addition to the general characterisation of Achilles as singer which Philostratus develops, the specific type of singer which he becomes also seems to be determined by Homeric tradition. For Friedrich and Redfield, the allusive use of narrative by Achilles compared to other Iliadic characters brings him close to the style of lyric poetry, (10) and Martin similarly comments that if 'Hector's memory-genre is praise, Achilles' is lament'. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.