Tradition and Design in the Iliad

By C. M. Bowra | Go to book overview

I
TRADITION AND DESIGN

FOR more than a hundred years Homeric scholarship concentrated on a single, vital, and fascinating problem --Who made the Iliad and the Odyssey? The struggle between Unitarians and Analysts created such an atmosphere of controversy that hardly any conclusion met with common acceptance. But in recent years both sides have begun to agree on the opinion that, whatever the authorship of the Iliad may be, it is still in Some sense a work of art and has undergone some formative influence from a single poet.1 This poet may have composed the whole poem or he may have transformed independent poems into a unity, but in either case the poem may, and indeed must, be considered as a single work of art. This conclusion alters the conditions of Homeric criticism, and shifts the burden of scholarship from the special question of authorship to other general questions which the Iliad raises. It is now possible to take the Iliad as we have it and to consider it as poetry, and particularly we may try to distinguish in it those elements which belong to the traditional epic art and those which seem to betray the hand of the creative poet. Such an inquiry does not assume that the Iliad is the unaided work of one man, but it does assume that its present form is the product of a single mind transforming traditional material into an artistic whole. On the one hand it excludes the view that the completed poem is largely the result of chance and caprice, and on the other hand the view that the poet was completely his own master and the Iliad is what it is simply because Homer chose so to compose it. It seems probable that there was a single poet called Homer, who gave the Iliad its final shape and artistic unity, but who worked in a traditional style on traditional matter. If this assumption can be accepted, we may try to differentiate between the traditional heritage and the uses

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1
Cf. E. Bethe, Homer, i. pp. 57-68; C. Rothe, Die Ilias als Dichtung; J. T. Sheppard , The Pattern of the Iliad; H. van Leeuwen, Commentationes Homericae, pp. 1-45; K. Goepel, Von homerischer Kunst.

-1-

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Tradition and Design in the Iliad
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • I - Tradition and Design 1
  • II - The Origins of the Epic 27
  • III - The Hexameter 53
  • IV - Some Primitive Elements 67
  • V - Repetitions and Contradictions 87
  • VI - The Similes 114
  • VII - The Language 129
  • VIII - The Historical Background 156
  • IX - The Characters 192
  • XI - Homer and the Heroic Age 234
  • XII - Homer's Time and Place 251
  • Index 275
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