Banquet Scenes (A. Bettenworth)

Banquet scenes are among the most prominent type scenes in ancient epic poetry. They provide an unobtrusive occasion to bring the protagonists together, to characterize them, and to introduce and negotiate new threads in the epic plot. They often include elaborate descriptions of the setting, the characters and the entertainment held at the dinner table and they also offer a chance to include the author’s metapoetic views in a meaningful way. They are thus closely linked to and intertwined with other epic elements such as ekphraseis, speeches and similes.

This contribution focuses on the presentation of the typical pattern of epic banquet scenes from a diachronic perspective. This pattern allows the poet to claim his own place in the history of the genre through skillful imitation and variation of traditional structures. The article will also discuss questions of hierarchy and social status. For example, how does the exchange of gifts, a common feature in epic banquets, affect the social position of the characters? How does this process relate to past and future events in the poem? Other relevant questions include the way emotions are being conveyed to and created in the reader in order to guide his or her expectation and attention.

The present article will look specifically at examples in which the events on the level of the plot are at odds with the superior knowledge of the reader. This includes instances of dramatic irony as well as examples in which banquets unfold in an uneventful way on the level of the plot, but are presented to the reader in new and unexpected ways. These examples will be set against banquet scenes that from a diachronic perspective follow a more traditional pattern.