Epic Fragments (S. Bär and E. Schedel)

The epic poems of antiquity that have survived to the present day in their complete form constitute only a small part of what ancient Greek and Latin epic poets originally composed. In most cases, we only know the titles and/or have synopses of the numerous epic poems which are now lost. In some cases, we certainly have sparse fragments; however, most of them consist of only single words or verses that were cited by grammarians and antiquarians, generally without any larger contexts. The few fragments and/or contextualized summaries are barely long enough to allow coherent propositions on structural elements or narrative patterns, which are thus no more than guesswork and speculation.

The first part of this paper will approach a number of questions that arise from a severe methodological problem, namely from the seemingly inescapable conflict between the fragmentary state of the poems in question and a narratological approach. In other words: is it possible, at all, to find recurrent narrative structural elements in epic fragments? If so, which methodological requirements could plausibly be useful with respect to analysing fragments from a narratological perspective? And what additional value concerning our understanding of the fragmentary poems will we gain from analysing epic fragments narratologically?    

Based on those theoretical considerations, the second part will discuss a number of selected ancient Greek and Latin epic poems which are in fragmentary form today, yet were of crucial significance in antiquity. The epic cycle, Hesiod’s Catalogues of Women, Panyassis’ Heraclea, Callimachus’ Hecale, and a selection of the innumerable epic poems produced in the imperial period will be surveyed in the Greek part. An analysis of the first-ever written three Roman epic poems will introduce the Roman part of the essay (Livius, Naevius, Ennius), followed by selected historical epic poets (Furius Antias, Furius Bibaculus) and poets of didactical epic poetry (Cicero’s Arati Phaenomena, Lucius Varius Rufus’ De morte, Nemesianus Cynegetica).