Recipients, Narrators, and Focalizers (R. Kirstein)

Narrative theory or ‘narratology’, to use the term coined by Tzvetan Todorov in the late 1960s, has in recent decades evolved into a key concept of literary theory. Its subject, the oral and written, literary and non-literary narrative has become almost a principal paradigm of Cultural Studies. In this view, narrative appears as an anthropologically given (culturally and socially variable) fact, as a ubiquitous means both of individual and collective interpretation of the world and of the making of cultural meaning. No other literary genre of modern literature is so closely linked to the aspect of the search for meaning in an increasingly fragmented and uncertain world as the novel.

This gives rise to two aspects that are relevant for the narratological interpretation of ancient Greek and Latin texts: First, a significant portion of current narratological theorizing takes place around the (modern) novel. Second, the special role of the ancient epic as an object of narratological analysis within the study of Classical Philology is explained by the fact that epic poetry has been viewed as the literary precursor of the novel since the 18th century. The occasional objection that narratology, with a certain arbitrariness, imposes unfitting, modern theories upon ancient texts proves problematic since the earlier research of the 20th century – in a time when the term ‘narratology’ was still unfamiliar – was partially based upon the same theoretical approaches that, together with (French) structuralism, led to today’s concept of narratology.

The first part of this article, starting from Irene de Jong's seminal narratological commentary on the Odyssey (2001), deals with the history, methodology, and terminology of narratological research in the field of epic poetry and presents key aspects such as time, space, and focalization. The second part surveys research on central epic texts by authors like Homer, Apollonius of Rhodes, Virgil, Ovid, Lucan and Claudian. The third and final section tries to establish lines of communication between the research on epic and narratological research with other types of text such as history, drama, elegy, and the antique novel, in order to highlight the transgeneric and interdisciplinary role of narratology for the analysis of ancient texts.