Arming Scenes (C. Reitz)

The arming of the epic hero before he goes into battle is one of the typical scenes, as Werner Arend called them in his famous dissertation from 1933. The act of arming sheds light on the following battle, and conveys information on the character of the fighting hero.

In the Iliad, the four prominent arming scenes (Paris in Bk. 3, Agamemnon in Bk. 11, Patroklos in Bk. 16, and Achilles in Bk. 19) are both individualized and intertwined. While the individual elements of weaponry remain the same, they all point to specific qualities and weaknesses of the armed hero and foreshadow the following events, such as the tragic outcome of Patroklos' fight or the cruelty of Agamemnon, to name but these two. In the Odyssey, arming does not appear as a type scene that can be isolated from its immediate context, but the act is incorporated within the narrative. Odysseus and his allies take up the weapons one by one during the fight with the suitors, and so do they. The main components of the arming are, however, still recognizable. The individual elements and different stages of arming can also be transformed or perverted in the epic tradition. In Apollonius’ Argonautica, Jason has to rely on magic charms while Aietes arms himself to no avail, for he remains a spectator in the following narrative (3.1225ff.). In Bk. 2 of the Aeneid, Aeneas is never fully armed during the battle; in Aen. 4.261f. at Carthage, he is girded with a sword that is not suitable for fighting.

These examples show that the structural form of the arming scene can be fragmented; its single elements convey a meaning which reaches beyond the immediate context, thus foreshadowing the outcome of the military conflict and referring to the moral positioning of the epic warrior.



Teichoskopia (M. Fucecchi)

Teichoscopy is a favorite and very problematic narrative device from the outset of the epic tradition onwards. In Iliad 3, Helen is looking at the battlefield from Troy’s walls: she watches the duel between Menelaus and Paris, and, at the same time, informs Priam about other Greek heroes. In so doing, she embodies several roles (spectator, addressee, but also ‘author’ and actor), problematizing her own status as narrative character.

Teichoscopy opens a new window on the stage of action and stands as a ‘free zone’, or rather a complementary ingredient of the primary level of narration. It provides readers with the internal eye of a character who, from her (more often than his) peculiar viewpoint, reacts emotionally to the spectacle of war. This affects the epic objectivity in various ways and to a varying degree and raises thematic questions that can even introduce crucial turning-points within the plot.

After surveying the multiple implications of the Homeric episode, “the original moment of epic teichoscopy” (Lovatt 2013, 220), this paper will seek to pinpoint the most important steps of its reception in Greco-Latin literature until Late Antiquity (Quintus of Smyrna and Nonnus of Panopolis). The strong trans-generic quality of teichoscopy is exemplified by its presence in tragedy (e.g. Euripides’ Phoenissae) and its consequent ‘specialization’ as a setting for stories of forbidden love in Hellenistic and Augustan love poetry (Partenius of Nicaea and Propertius). Particular attention will be given to the Flavian epic revival of the Ist CE, when – like other ‘Homeric situations’previously exploited by other genres – teichoscopy again enters the field of poetic war narrative: Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica 6 (following in the footsteps of Ovid met.8.1 ff.), Statius’ Thebaid 4, 5 and 7 – a notable diffraction of the topic –, and Silius’ Punica 12.


Naval Battles (T. Biggs)

Naval battles are surprisingly rare within Greek and Roman epic, especially given the importance of the maritime to the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean. Although battles such as Salamis and Actium are often cast as titanic moments of conflict elevated to cosmic dimensions, the near lack of extended epic narration for such events is astounding. Nevertheless, a variety of naval battles do occur in extant epic poetry, especially in Roman epic, and it is possible from these accounts to sketch their structural features and narrative implications. Accordingly, this study will survey all extant epic depictions of naval conflict, fragmentary and complete, with an eye to their intersections with epic predecessors and with works of prose historiography, tragedy, and lyric poetry.

Epics that will receive treatment include Choerilos of Samos’ Persica, Naevius’ Bellum Punicum, Ennius’ Annales, Vergil’s Aeneid, Albinovanus Pedo’s fragment on Germanicus’ fleet, Lucan’s Bellum Civile, Silius Italius’ Punica, Nonnos of Panopolis’ Dionysiaca, and the numerous Latin epics on the Battle of Lepanto (1571). This range extends from the Persian Wars to Late Antique Egypt and the Renaissance, but is striking for the absence of Homeric epic, wherein naval battles are completely absent, and the various Greek and Roman versions of the Argonautica.

While a focus on ships and the maritime is nearly omnipresent in the genre, actual naval battles are far more restricted. Among other genres intricately tied to epic’s crafting of a grammar of naval conflict, historiography is the most influential. Historians such as Herodotus and Thucydides set a standard ultimately followed by numerous Roman epicists, especially in the former’s narrative of Salamis (8.66-100), and the latter’s use of the spectacular and visual in his narrative of the sea battle in the harbor at Syracuse (7.59-72). The depiction of naval battle in other genres such as tragedy and lyric will also be considered (e.g. the respective Persae of Aeschylus and Timotheus of Miletus).

This study will ultimately suggest that epic appears to have developed its own conventions and poetic uses for naval battle sequences, but that scenes of naval combat are also marked locations of generic interaction, drawing formal features and literary resonance from historiographical predecessors. While the strategic features of ancient naval warfare were widely known (e.g. diekplous, periplous, ramming, the corvus and harpax), extant epic depictions focus less on these technical aspects of conflict than one might anticipate, instead integrating features of traditional, land-based combat from earlier Homericizing epics and marked epic topoi such as the storm at sea. The Roman literary tendency to view the sea as a place of confusion and danger further shapes the specific modes of casting epic naval conflict. A detailed exposition of such features will be achieved through a close reading of the naval battles in Lucan (Bellum Civile 3.298–762, Massilia) and Silius Italicus (Punica 14.353–585, Syracuse).


River Battles (T. Biggs)

The type scene of the river battle (mache parapotamios; Flußkampf) can already be found in Homer’s Iliad. In Book 21, Achilles chokes the river Scamander with corpses, an act that leads to direct confrontation between hero and river, individual and nature (21.1–384). The structural components of all subsequent scenes depicting combat between a hero and a river (or river god) in Greek and Latin epic are firmly dictated by Homer’s episode. In Vergil’s Aeneid, Aeneas is at times characterized through allusion to Achilles in Iliad 21 (10.557–60), and Turnus is cast as the swollen Ganges and Nile in his attack on the Trojans and their fleet at 9.25–76.Nevertheless, despite the striking quality of the Iliadic narrative, it is not until the epics of Flavian Rome that an extant example of this specific type scene once again emerges. In both Sillius Italicus’ Punica and Statius’ Thebaid, heroes engage in Homericizing battle with rivers at key narrative junctures. In Punica 4, Rome faces Carthage at the Battles of the Rivers Ticinus and Trebia. During the latter, Scipio himself clashes with the river in verbal and physical warfare (4.135–479, 573–704; cf. esp. 4.638–703). In the Thebaid, it is Hippomedon in Book 9 who takes on the role of Achilles in his battle against the Ismenus (9.225–540). Statius innovates in his handling of the scene by utilizing imagery drawn from visual art to depict the river as a personified god. The most expansive example of the mache parapotamios is found, however, in Books 21–24 of Nonnos’ Dionysiaca (especially Book 23). In a climactic sequence of this late antique epic on the exploits of Dionysus as he earns his place in the divine order, the god of wine engages the Indian River Hydaspes in a major battle. Unlike his epic predecessors, Dionysus is a god at war against nature, not a hero, a distinction that plays a major role in the divine interventions that usually mark such episodes.

Beyond scenes focused on single combat between heroes and rivers, depictions of naval combat between river fleets also may have appeared in Greek and Roman epic, but no strong examples survive. Scenes within Vergil’s Aeneid focus on fleets marshalling and sailing on the Tiber (8.66–101; 10.118–214), but no episodes depict combat between vessels. Possible influence on the largely unattested tradition of depicting infantry battles set in rivers can likely be traced to touchstone scenes from historiography, for instance the tragic battle at the River Asinarus in Thucydides (7.84–5), while episodes like the battle of the Sabis in Caesar’s Bellum Gallicum offer Roman examples of river battles between infantry (2.9–10). Without specific evidence, it is only possible to surmise that multiple generic modes of depicting river combat would have been built into epic’s take on these narratives. A fragment of the epic composed by Albinovanus Pedo on Germanicus’ northern campaigns indicates a potential narrative focus on the deeds of river fleets (Sen. Suas. 1.15), but too little survives for firm conclusions. The topographical depiction of combative rivers during the Ilerda campaign in Book 4 of Lucan’s Bellum Civile has been read as symbolic of the civil rifts among the Romans, an interpretation that results in a very different type of river battle.


Nyktomachia (C. Stoffel)

The fairly broad term ‘nyktomachy’ (deriving from Greek nyktomachia [= night-battle] and nyktomachein [= to fight by night], the Latin language has various paraphrases such as nocturnapugna or nocturnumproelium) denominates a recurrent scene of ancient narrative, in which battles at night and in darkness are described: Their extent, the participating protagonists (duels or whole armies, main heroes or minor characters), their aims and achievements, and their narrative position vary very much. Thus, a nyktomachy can range from a brawl to a military expedition and from a night raid or cold-blooded murder to the capture and destruction of whole cities (with the Iliupersis being the archetype).

Enclosed by dusk and dawn and, at times, even by a comment of the narrator or by his invocation of the Muses, and, therefore, strongly highlighted in the text, the heterogeneous nyktomachy is without a doubt a self-contained, easily recognisable and identifiable typical scene. At times it can reach such a high level of autonomy that it may be viewed as an epyllion. Having its roots in the Book 10 of Homer’s Iliad, the so-called Doloneia, the nyktomachy has been intertextually highly productive since then; it has been utilized, varied, and adapted in nearly every ancient (war) epic. As a result, there is a long continuity of epic night battles that interact and comment on each other. Overall, the interpretation of a nyktomachy has rightly been called a litmus test not only for the assessment of its protagonists, but also of the poem of which it is a part and of the epic tradition in general.

The nyktomachy, like other typical scenes, can be modelled and altered to achieve certain effects and follow certain narrative strategies so that it can either highlight the infernal atmosphere and the fatal and tragic nature of the nocturnal events, or it can bring to light the glory and audacity of the protagonists during the night episode and their use of ingenious stratagems and perfidious ploys. Other typical characteristics of the nyktomachy are the narrative arrangement of the confusing and chaotic events by the narrator, the limited perception, lack of knowledge and disorientation of the characters on the battlefield and their occasionally misguided aristeia, including friendly fire and collateral damage, forms of tragic irony, the focus on audio-visual signs (e.g. yelling, shiny armour, fire, purple blood) and aftermath-scenes that provide both sunlight and insight.

The nyktomachy, however, is not only an important feature of ancient epic; being a stock element of the rhetorical repertoire, it is also transferable to other genres such as historiography or tragedy. Particularly the (nocturnal) urbscapta-scene and similar scenarios of destruction, which are based on the iconography of the Iliupersis, enjoy great popularity in virtually all ancient genres and even become objects of parody.


Single Combat (J. Littlewood)

Ancient epic records the rise and fall of cities and the fate of their rulers and heroes.  Significant crises are resolved and turning points in the epic narrative achieved when heroes from opposing sides meet in single combat. The courage, strength and military prowess of each hero is evaluated through the essential dynamic of ancient epic: arma virumque.   

In the epic narrative single combat emerges from mass fighting in three different ways: in descriptions of a hero’s aristeia, as part ofa sequence of vengeance killing, and, finally, when an agreement is made to replace the engagement of warring armies with the single combat of two leaders or chosen heroes. In this instance the warrior who dies in single combat becomes a substitute sacrifice or scapegoat for those whose lives are spared in consequence. Single combat highlights national, ethical or generational distinctions between the combatants. Crucially the public spectacle of their life and death struggle generates the empatheia which is the essence of Virgil’s narrative (cf. Conte, 1999, 45-57) or heightens the nefas which permeates Statius’ Theban duels. 

Following the prerequisite definition and survey of significant literature on the subject, this paper aims to analyse through examples from Homer to Statius:

1. Distinctive literary patterns of single combat in ancient epic: the foreshadowing of ineluctable fate, the ‘glowing’ hero, akin the gods in his heightened sense of empowerment to destroy, ‘flyting’ and dialogue, slaughter.

2. The pervasive influence of Rome’s civil wars in the literary representation of single combat in Roman epic from Virgil’s duel of Aeneas and Turnus.

3. Influences on Roman historical epic of the spectacle of single combat described by Livy, for instance duels with giant Gauls, and single combat as form of military sacrifice (not unlike devotio) in the Roman republic.


Chain-Reaction Fights (H.-P. Nill)

As Fenik demonstrated in his seminal analysis, the so-called “chain-reaction fight” (Fenik 1968, 10) or “Kettenkampf” (Heinze 1915, 195) is a typical structural element (‘Bauform’) especially occurring in Homer’s Iliad. The narrator generally combines two to five battle scenes, which are causally and chronologically linked, to characterize great heroes as well as less important or even unknown soldiers. A typical example would be: warrior A slays warrior B. Warrior C wants to take revenge on B. He throws a spear at A, but misses and kills warrior D instead, thereby incurring the wrath of warrior E. In Homer’s Iliad one can find more than a dozen accounts of this sort (e.g. Hom. Il. 4.452–504, 5.519–589, and 14.442–505). In most cases, they follow a basic scheme with varying patterns (unsuccessful spoliation of a corpse, substitute killing, etc.). Generally references to wrath, grief, and desire for revenge serve as connecting elements between the individual scenes. It is partly the narrator who points out these emotions explicitly and partly the reader has to realise the motivations for the battle’s continuation. Unlike a series of unremitting, narratively unrelated deaths on one side, chain-reaction fights make the reader aware of alternating casualties on both sides. Therefore, chain-reaction fights can be interpreted as close-ups of a mass combat highlighting its undecided course.

From a diachronic point of view there are much less chain-reaction fights in Roman epic. By comparison, they are characterised by their minimal narrative exposition: warrior A attacks warrior B, which causes an intervention of warrior C. A closer examination of the scenes, however, reveals further notable modifications of the Homeric pattern. In Vergil’s Aeneid (Verg. Aen. 10.399–404), for instance, the narrator describes a typical substitute killing, which can be found several times in the Iliad. But the difference lies in the chronological order of the narrated events: when Pallas strikes Rhoetus, the reader is told only afterwards that the spear was meant to hit Ilus, and Rhoetus just incidentally got in the way while fleeing from Teuthras and Tyres.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses the extensive wedding brawl between Perseus’ guests and Phineus’ companions is initiated by a chain-reaction fight (Ov. Met. 5.30–40): Phineus aims at Perseus with a spear, misses, and hits a seat cushion instead. Perseus thrusts the same weapon in backward direction. He likewise misses and unintentionally hits Rhoetus in the forehead. As a consequence, a mass combat arises, partly consisting of further chain-reaction fights.

In Lucan’s Bellum Civile (Lucan. 3.709–751) especially one chain-reaction fight stands out from the battle narrative. It follows the pattern ‘A hits B – B hits C – D kills himself’: Lygdamus blinds Tyrrhenus with a bullet. Tyrrhenus instructs his comrades to adjust him like a catapult, throws a spear, and causes a fatal injury to Argus. Mourning his dying son, Argus’ father subsequently commits suicide by falling in his sword first, and then hurling into the sea.

In Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica (Val. Fl. 6.189-202; 6.210-227) and Statius’ Thebaid (Stat. Theb. 9.252-255) chain-reaction fights can be found twice and once, respectively – each of them delineated in the shortest exposition possible. Silius Italicus’ Punica, in contrast, demonstrate a larger amount of more differentiated fighting sequences. Rather than merely linking individual named opponents, the narrator occasionally involves anonymous groups in the chain-reaction fights (e.g. Sil. 4.445–465; 5.480–529). This contribution approaches the epic structure of chain-reaction fights from a diachronic perspective. It argues that these narrative patterns cannot be identified as static-formalistic configurations but rather as dynamically mutable, narrative elements.


Mass Combat (J. Telg genannt Kortmann)

The programmatic topics of combat and arma are stock elements of ancient epic poetry. Despite the collisions of armies on a grand scale, it is often the prominent single combat, the aristeiae, and the duels that stand out from the mass fighting and remain in our memories.

At first glance, the masses only seem to serve as the narrative framework of battle descriptions, but the multitude of fighters and the vast number of armies (as, for instance,  indicated by the topical catalogues) reveal the true extent of the battle and highlight its almost cosmic dimension.

The anonymous masses of opponents usually blur in the course of the narration whereas the striking depiction of details, the narrator’s focus on individual heroes and duels that exemplarily represent the entire battle fascinate the reader. This is why similes are regularly employed to direct the readers’ attention back to the masses. Although it is the epics’ protagonists who perform the greatest deeds of the battle, the cohortationes of the commanders leave no doubt as to the importance of the masses – they are the difference between victory and defeat. Their depiction is moreover crucial to the understanding of the diversity of the action, the different types of combat (close combat, long-range combat etc.) and the density and perniciousness of the crowds: haeret pede pes densusque viro vir (Verg. Aen. 10.361). Nonetheless, accounts of the masses tend to remain rather brief and are often employed with a structuring function: They can mark the beginning or the end of a section and highlight a crucial turning point (cf. Hellmann, 2000, 92f.).

Throughout the epic tradition the motif of mass combat has undergone many changes, especially with regard to its mythological or historical setting. So far, individual studies have primarily focused on the depiction of the masses in Homer and the Iliad (Fenik 1968, Latacz 1977, Van Wees 1994, Hellmann 2000). The present article will illustrate the development of mass combat from Homer to the Flavian epics.



Aristeiae (C. Stocks)

The word aristeia,closely related to the verb ἀριστεύω, meaning ‘to be the best or bravest [in battle]’ (LSJ; e.g. Iliad 6.208), is used by scholars to refer to scenes in which (epic) heroes demonstrate their martial prowess through one-to-one combat with a series of individuals (Stover, 2012, 182). These various aristeiai are a stock feature of epic narratives, appearing repeatedly throughout Greek and Roman epic. As such, these scenes not only offer an epic hero the opportunity to be seen performing deeds worthy of renown, but – when viewed collectively – they offer insight into the changing poetic and political agendas of the epic poets.

This chapter will take as its focus the aristeia in epic, from the Homeric works through to the Flavian, and will demonstrate its function as the forum in which epic heroism – as well as epic individualism – is vibrantly on display. To secure fame (kleos or fama to name just two of the relevant terms)an epic warrior had to be seen in battle; the aristeia, through its focus on the individual, draws attention to this act of viewership and, by reflex, to the nature of the hero and the poetic work behind him. But this intense focus on a single warrior is not without its problems. For in showcasing the prowess of the individual, the aristeia also highlights the tension between single heroic acts vs. the achievements of the warrior collective. 

In the epics of Homer and even Virgil, this individualism – harnessed for the collective good – can largely suppress such tension whilst simultaneously establishing the hero’s ‘credibility as a heroic warrior’ (Harrison, 1991: xxvii). Yet in post-Augustan epic this tension is overtly stressed as the aristeia becomes a show-piece for individual, even gigantomic, ambition (e.g. Capaneus, Statius’ Thebaid) and for heroes fighting for the ‘wrong’ cause (e.g. Scaeva, Lucan’s Bellum Civile).  As such they can be said to reflect a change in poetic agendas, as poets increasingly used epic as a vehicle for exploring contemporary political events (e.g. Rome’s civil wars).

Through close readings of aristeiai in the works of authors including Homer, Apollonius, Ennius, Virgil, Lucan, Valerius Flaccus, Statius, and Silius Italicus, this chapter will chart the development of the aristeia in epic. It will focus on its status as a spectacle within epic narratives that are by nature ‘structured by the gazes of those watching’ (Lovatt 2013: 1) and will show how the aristeia encourages us – as spectators – to view the hero’s quest for fame as a microcosm of the poet’s claim for poetic recognition.


Flight and Pursuits (P. Roche)

The description of flight and pursuit was an enduring (and celebrated: Pl. Ion 535B) component of epic battle narratives from the age of Homer to Late Antiquity. The structural patterns of this type-scene may be analysed in various sub-categories. Each of these sub-categories contributes its own nuances of meaning to the narrative in which it is embedded and each is subject to meaningful adaptation over time.

Flight and pursuit may be recounted in the form of quite unelaborated notices (marked by the key vocabulary φεύγω, διώκω, fugio, sequor) of collective flight from a single warrior or an army. These may mark major turning points within a battle narrative, such as at Hom. Il. 8.343-349 (the Greeks flee before Hector to their ships), Hom. Il. 21.606-611 (the Trojans flee before Achilles into the city) or Verg. Aen. 1.466-468, where the major turning points of the battle at Troy are cast as flight and pursuit. Collective flight may reflect the prowess of the individual hero, or alternately the cowardice or shame of his opponent(s). Individual encounters on the battlefield may also lead to flight and / or pursuit. Warriors may flee when they are outnumbered, or at the prompting of a god, or when wounded; they may also flee in compliance with evidence of divine will. Such flight may result in wounding, death, or escape. Scenes of individual flight and pursuit attain their most complex and fully elaborated narrative structure when they recount the flight and pursuit of the poem’s main protagonists as part of their climactic confrontation. This subcategory may be enriched by similes, topographies and itineraries of flight, narrative interruptions, speeches of observers, topoi, such as the ‘prize motif’, as well as exhortations to and from the individuals in the pursuit. The archetype is provided by Hector’s flight from Achilles at Hom. Il. 22.136-246; its most prominent point of reception within later epic is Turnus’ flight from Aeneas at Verg. Aen. 12.733-790. 

It will be the purpose of this chapter to establish the normative narrative patterns by which scenes of flight and pursuit in epic are conveyed under such categories. The chapter will consider how the various sub-categories of flight and pursuit interrelate within their own poems, and how divergences from and fragmentations of established narrative patterns generate new meanings in the succession of epic poems from Homer to Late Antiquity.



Death, Violence and Wounds (M. Dinter)

The wealth of casualties in ancient epic is legendary. For the poets introduce a large number of minor heroes who function as cannon fodder to showcase the prowess of the major heroes. Each and every one of them has to be shown out with a bang which explains the genre’s abundance of violence and wounds.

Johnston provides a complete list of deaths in the Iliad which shows in a nutshell how to kill a hero in an epic way ( Epic successors expand and vary the Homeric repertoire. In addition, through his statistical survey Most (1992) has proven the overwhelming preference among all epic poets for puncture wounds; he also points out that more serious injuries such as amputations and their detailed depiction are on the rise in post-Augustan epic.

Post-Augustan literature’s desire to outdo its literary predecessors leads to ever the more impressive depictions of violence and wounds culminating in Lucan’s BellumCivile, an epos that is brimming with mutilated bodies. Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Lucretius’ DeRerumNatura play a crucial part in smoothing the way towards these excesses by developing novel ways of body language, that is ways to describe violence induced bodily metamorphoses. Statius, Valerius Flaccus, and Silius Italicus both problematize and complicate the inherited pattern of gaining glory through violence while cutting back on excess violence. Often they also expand the motifs that accompany minor heroes: Virgilian models are evoked and combined with Ovid’s body language and Lucan’s civil war imagery providing rich layers of epic intertextuality.