Reading Epic: An Introduction to the Ancient Narratives

By Peter Toohey | Go to book overview

2

HOMER, ILIAD

THE WORLD OF THEILIADAND THEODYSSEY

What sort of a world produced the Iliad and the Odyssey? The poems were probably composed between 750 and 700 BC, with the Iliad preceding the Odyssey by a generation (Kirk 1965:197). If the compositional date of the poems was in the mid 700s, the events they describe took place during the Mycenaean period (1600-1100 BC). Mycenaean civilization, located in the Greek Peloponnese, gives the appearance of being an advanced culture: palace-based, possessing its own bureaucracy, it had even developed a syllabic form of writing known as Linear B (Kirk 1965:45ff.). Commerce may provide the link between Mycenaean civilization and Troy. The Mycenaeans were active maritime traders. One of their trading regions was the littoral coast of Turkey. Archaeological research suggests that it was here in north-western Asia Minor, not far from the Aegean and the Hellespont, that Troy was situated. The ruins of an ancient stronghold, these days called Hissarlik, may represent the site of what was once Troy. In the remains preserved there, at what archaeologists term Troy VIIa, there are the traces of a city which suffered a violent sack (Kirk 1965:39-44), perhaps in the 1100s. That is the period during which Mycenaean civilization disappeared. Perhaps the events are linked. The reasons for this eclipse are unclear. The epic sack of Troy may preserve traces of the cataclysm.

Armoury, battle tactics, names, burial habits-many of the details of the Homeric poems preserve traces of the Mycenaean era. Yet, detail also mirrors the bleak period (c. 1100-800 BC), known as the Dark Ages, which followed the Mycenaean civilization. Many historians believe that the Iliad and the Odyssey show more of the Dark Ages than of Mycenae (Thomas 1970). Historians point to two

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Reading Epic: An Introduction to the Ancient Narratives
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction xi
  • 1 - Epic- The Genre, Its Characteristics 1
  • 2 - Homer, Iliad 20
  • 3 - Homer, Odyssey 44
  • 4 - Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 68
  • 5 - Beginning Epic in Rome 90
  • 6 - The Alexandrian Miniature Epic 100
  • 7 - Virgil, Aeneid 121
  • 8 - Ovid, Metamorphoses 144
  • 9 - Lucan, the Civil War 166
  • 10 - Roman Epic and the Emperor Domitian 186
  • 11 - Ends and Beginnings; Late Ancient Epic 211
  • Appendix- The Epic and the Novel 224
  • Bibliography 230
  • Index 242
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