Epic and Epyllion (M. Baumbach, N. Hömke)

The epyllion, or miniature epic, which can probably first be identified as a distinct literary genre in the Hellenistic period, is especially suitable for a literary analysis of epic structural forms. This is because by detaching evident patterns of action and motifs from their original epic narrative and making them productive for this shorter form of composition – with its very different selection of subjects, characters, narrative mode, narrator’s attitude and so on – a poet demonstrates the ways in which each structure usually functions, utilising its high recognition-value to evoke complex associations in a very restricted compass. However, the poet at the same time activates a hitherto unused potential for creative effect, by setting the structures into a different narrative frame, assigning them to different vehicles, combining them with each other in new ways and, in specific aspects, boldly de-familiarising them.

In research to date it has been primarily a parodic effect of the epyllion that has been detected, such as that, for example, which results from the carefully constructed discrepancy between the original and the new narrative contexts. In the present study, further mechanisms for creative effects will be identified and, by referring back to the traditional way in which the structure is applied, its function will be defined more precisely.

This project will start with an analysis of epic structures in the pseudo-Virgilian epyllia Culex and Ciris. The issue of the re-functionalisation of traditional epic forms has special importance in both these texts. In the case of the Culex the unknown author does not explicitly reveal the primacy of his epic model but, through pseudo-epigraphic play on his identity as poet and the direction of reception, he creates an unusual tension without abandoning his principle of imitatio and aemulatio. In the case of the Ciris, the intradiegetic narrator himself appears in the guise of literary critic and so elevates intertextuality, in general, and the re-functionalisation of epic structures, in particular, into a constitutive element of his epyllion. In a later phase of the project, the investigation will be extended from the neoteric beginnings (e.g. Catullus) to Late Antiquity (Ausonius, Claudian, Dracontius etc.) in order to examine the Roman epyllion further from a diachronic perspective.