Catalogues (R. Lämmle, C. Reitz, C. Scheidegger, K. Wesselmann)

The epic catalogue is one of the most striking features of ancient epic poetry. Why should a narrative include long lists of troops, as in our oldest example, in Bk.2 of the Iliad, of gifts, of places, of plants, and names of persons that are not important for the development of the plot? Research has long since shown that lists and catalogues are present in our tradition from the very beginning of writing, and probably even much earlier in oral form.

Lists appear in different contexts and pursue different aims - incantation, administration, and memorization. Within an epic poem, the catalogue can provide a range of narrative functions: it broadens both the temporal and the geographical space of the narrative, it enhances the authority of the poet who is able to bestow broader or even complete knowledge about a certain topic on his audience, and it enrols divine help through a distinct invocation, thereby linking itself with the most prominent programmatic and poetological element of a poem, the proem. On the other hand, the catalogue offers manifold possibilities for poetic innovation. It can be included or transferred into a teichoscopy, into the description of a banquet, into the narration of a journey, and other structural elements of epic poetry.