Assemblies and Council Scenes (S. Finkmann)

Assemblies (here defined as prearranged formal gatherings of an entire people or community) and councils (organised meetings of a specific subgroup with a hierarchical structure) are among the most prominent and highly formalised stock scenes in ancient epic poetry.

They occur at pivotal moments in the epic plot, usually in the context of a societal crisis, imminent hardship, or a direct threat to the assembled group. They anticipate the danger and prepare the internal and external audience, i.e. both the epic characters present at the gathering and the reader, for the events to come. They furthermore characterize the individual speakers and the group whose collective reaction serves as a comment on the situation as a whole as well as the speech acts more specifically and by extension the speaker’s relationship to the assembled group.

At macro-level there are two principal types of organised assemblies and council scenes in ancient epic, mortal and divine gatherings, which follow a similar structural sequence and hierarchical organisation. Walter Arend established four central stages of this type scene in the Homeric epics in his seminal dissertation (Die typischen Scenen bei Homer, Berlin 1933, 116): 1. the summoning, 2. the seating of the attendees, 3. the discussion, and 4. the dismissal. However, like even the most strictly organised units of composition, mortal and divine council scenes, too, can take many different forms not only within the same epic, but also throughout the epic tradition.

In an intertextual study of the council scenes and assemblies in ancient epic from Homer to Nonnus this paper analyses the development in the representation of this narrative pattern from the purpose of the summoning, the number, role, and function of the involved characters, their communicative behaviour, gender and social status to the spontaneous or organised dismissal of the gathering. Special attention will be also be paid to the context of this type of scene in the epic plot and its strong links to other narrative patterns and related stocks scenes such as battle scenes, prophecies, and messenger scenes.