Volume II.1: Configuration
Part I: Battle scenes
Arming scenes, war preparation, and spoils in ancient epic
Abstract: The arming of the epic hero before he goes into battle is one of the most famous narrative structures of classical epic. The act of arming sheds light on the following battle, and conveys information on the character of the fighting hero.
The four prominent arming scenes of the Iliad (Paris in Book 3, Agamemnon in Book 11, Patroclus in Book 16, and Achilles in Book 19) are individualised and intertwined at the same time. While the individual elements of weaponry remain the same, they all point to specific qualities and weaknesses of the armed hero and foreshadow events, such as the tragic outcome of Patroclus’ fight or the cruelty of Agamemnon, to name but these two. In the Odyssey, arming does not appear as a type-scene that can be isolated from its immediate context; instead, the act is incorporated within the narrative. Odysseus and his allies take up the weapons one by one during the fight with the suitors, who act likewise. The main components of the arming scene are, however, still recognisable. The individual elements and different stages of arming can also be transformed or perverted in the epic tradition. In Book 3 of Apollonius’ Argonautica, Jason has to rely on magic charms while Aeetes arms himself to no avail, for he remains a spectator in the following narrative. In Book 2 of Vergil’s Aeneid, Aeneas is never fully armed during the battle and in Book 4 at Carthage, he is girded with a sword that is not suitable for fighting.
These examples show that the structural form of arming scenes can be fragmented; the individual elements convey a meaning which reaches beyond the immediate context, thus foreshadowing the outcome of the military conflict and referring to the moral positioning of the epic warrior.
Simply the best? Epic aristeiai
Abstract: The word aristeia, closely related to the verb ἀριστεύω, meaning “to be the best or bravest [in battle]”, for example, at Hom. Il. 6.208, is used by scholars to refer to scenes in which (epic) heroes demonstrate their martial prowess through one-to-one combat with a series of individuals. These various aristeiai are a stock feature of epic narratives, appearing repeatedly throughout Greek and Roman epic. As such, these scenes not only offer an epic hero the opportunity to be seen performing deeds worthy of renown, but – when viewed collectively – they offer insight into the changing poetic and political agendas of the epic poets.
This chapter will take as its focus the aristeia in epic poetry, from the Homeric through to Flavian poems, and will demonstrate its function as the forum in which epic heroism – as well as epic individualism – is vibrantly on display. To secure fame (kleos or fama, to name just two of the relevant terms) an epic warrior had to be seen in battle; the aristeia, through its focus on the individual, draws attention to this act of viewership and, by reflex, to the nature of the hero and the poetic work behind him. However, this intense focus on a single warrior is not without its problems. For in showcasing the prowess of the individual, the aristeia also highlights the tension between single heroic acts versus the achievements of the warrior collective.
In the epics of Homer and even Vergil, this individualism – harnessed for the collective good – can largely suppress such tension whilst simultaneously establishing the hero’s “credibility as a heroic warrior” (Harrison, 1991, p.xxvii). Yet, in post-Augustan epic this tension is overtly stressed as the aristeia becomes a showpiece for individual, even gigantomachic, ambition (e.g. Capaneus in Statius’ Thebaid) and for heroes fighting for the ‘wrong’ cause (e.g. Scaeva in Lucan’s Bellum Ciuile). As such, they can be said to reflect a change in poetic agendas, as poets increasingly used epic as a vehicle for exploring contemporary political events (e.g. Rome’s civil wars).
Through close readings of aristeiai in the works of authors including Homer, Apollonius, Ennius, Vergil, Lucan, Valerius Flaccus, Statius, and Silius Italicus, this chapter will chart the development of the aristeia in classical epic. It will focus on its status as a spectacle within epic narratives that are by nature “structured by the gazes of those watching” (Lovatt, 2013, 1) and will show how the aristeia encourages us – as spectators – to view the hero’s quest for fame as a microcosm of the poet’s claim for poetic recognition (Hom. Il. 6.206–10).
Single combat in ancient epic
Abstract: Single combat resolves significant issues in the epic narrative while re- vealing, through the sequence of the duel, the motives and moral traits underlying the valour of each hero. In the epic narrative single combat emerges from mass fighting in three differ- ent ways: in descriptions of a hero’s aristeia, as part of a sequence of vengeance killing, and, finally, when an agreement is made to replace the engagement of warring armies with the single combat of two leaders or chosen heroes. In this instance the warrior who dies in single combat becomes a substitute sacrifice or scapegoat for those whose lives are spared in consequence. Meanwhile, depending on the ethical direction of the epic, the victor of single combat may offer the onlookers a positive or negative exemplum of heroic valour.
Following the prerequisite definition and survey of significant literature on the subject, this paper aims to analyse through examples from Homer to Statius:
Distinctive literary patterns of single combat in ancient epic: the foreshadowing of ineluctable fate, the ‘glowing’ hero, akin the gods in his heightened sense of empowerment to destroy, ‘flyting’ and dialogue, slaughter.
The pervasive influence of Rome’s civil wars and the culture of the Roman amphitheatre in the literary representation of single combat in Roman epic.
The ways in which poets of Roman historical epic adapt and reconstruct the moral values evinced by historiographic spectacles of single combat such as Romans fighting giant Gauls or initiating single combat in the spirit of a military sacrifice akin to deuotio.
Mass combat in ancient epic
Abstract: The programmatic topics of combat, uiri and arma, are stock elements of ancient epic. Despite the collisions of armies on a grand scale, it is often the prominent single combat, the aristeiai, and the duels that stand out from the mass fighting and remain in our memories. At first glance, the masses only seem to serve as the narrative framework of battle descriptions, but the multitude of fighters and the vast number of armies (as, e.g., indicated by the topical catalogues) reveal the true extent of the battle and highlight its almost cosmic dimension.
In the course of the narration, the anonymous masses of opponents usually fade into the background whereas the striking depiction of details, the narrator’s focus on individual heroes and duels that exemplarily represent the entire battle fascinate the reader. This is why similes are regularly employed to direct the readers’ attention back to the masses. Although it is the epic protagonists who perform the greatest deeds of the battle, the cohortationes of the commanders leave no doubt as to the importance of the masses – they are a decisive factor for victory or defeat. Their depiction is crucial to the understanding of the diversity of the action, the different types of combat (close combat, long-range combat, etc.), and the density and perniciousness of the battlefield: Verg. Aen. 10.361 haeret pede pes densusque uiro uir. Nonetheless, accounts of the masses tend to remain rather brief and are often employed with a structuring function: they can mark the beginning or the end of a section, or a crucial turning point in the epic plot.
Throughout the epic tradition, the motif of ‘mass combat’ has undergone many changes, especially with regard to its mythological or historical setting. So far, individual studies have primarily focused on the depiction of the masses in the Iliad. The present contribution will illustrate the development of mass combat from Homer to the Flavian epics.
Chain-combats in ancient epic
Abstract: As Fenik demonstrated in his seminal analysis, the so-called “chain- reaction fight” or “Kettenkampf” is a typical structural element, especially occurring in Homer’s Iliad. The narrator generally combines two to five battle scenes, which are causally and chronologically linked, to characterise great heroes as well as less important or even unknown soldiers. A typical example would be: warrior A slays warrior B. Warrior C wants to take revenge on B. He throws a spear at A, but misses and kills warrior D instead, thereby incurring the wrath of warrior E. In Homer’s Iliad one can find more than a dozen accounts of this sort. In most cases, they follow a basic scheme with varying patterns (unsuccessful spoliation of a corpse, substitute killing, etc.). Generally references to wrath, grief, and desire for revenge serve as connecting elements between the individual scenes. It is partly the narrator who points out these emotions explicitly and partly the reader has to realise the different motivations for the battle’s continuation. Unlike a series of unremitting, narratively unrelated deaths on one side, chain-combats make the reader aware of alternating casualties on both sides. Therefore, chain-combats can be interpreted as close-ups of a mass combat highlighting its undecided course.
From a diachronic point of view there are much fewer chain-combats in Roman epic from Vergil’s Aeneid to Silius Italicus’ Punica. By comparison, these accounts are characterised by their minimal narrative exposition: warrior A attacks warrior B, which causes an intervention of warrior C. A closer examination of the scenes, however, reveals further notable modifications of the Homeric pattern.
This contribution argues that these narrative patterns cannot be identified as static-formalistic configurations but rather as dynamically mutable, narrative elements.
Teichoscopies in classical and late antique epic
Abstract: Teichoscopy is a favourite and very problematic narrative device from the outset of the epic tradition onwards. In Iliad 3, Helen is looking at the battlefield from Troy’s walls: she watches the duel between Menelaus and Paris, and, at the same time, informs Priam about other Greek heroes. In so doing, she embodies several roles (spectator, addressee, but also ‘author’ and actor), problematising her own status as narrative character. Teichoscopy opens a new window on the stage of action and stands as a ‘free zone’, or rather a complementary ingredient of the primary level of narration. It provides readers with the internal eye of a character who, from her (more often than his) peculiar viewpoint, reacts emotionally to the spectacle of war. This affects the epic objectivity in various ways and to a varying degree. It raises thematic questions that can even introduce crucial turning points within the plot. After surveying the multiple implications of the Homeric episode, “the original moment of epic teichoscopy” (Lovatt, 2013, 220), this paper will seek to pinpoint the most important steps of its reception in Graeco-Roman literature until Late Antiquity (Quintus of Smyrna and Nonnus of Panopolis). The strong transgeneric quality of teichoscopies is exemplified by their presence in tragedy (e.g. Euripides’ Phoenissae) and their consequent ‘specialisation’ as a setting for stories of forbidden love in Hellenistic and Augustan love poetry (Parthenius of Nicaea and Propertius). Particular attention will be given to the Flavian epic revival of the first century AD, when – like other ‘Homeric situations’ previously exploited by other genres – teichoscopy again enters the field of poetic war narrative: examples include Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica 6 (following in the footsteps of Ov. met. 8.6–151), Statius’ Thebaid 4, 5, and 7 – a notable modification of the topic –, and Silius’ Punica 12.
Nyktomachies in Graeco-Roman epic
Abstract: Nyktomachies (derived from the Greek νυκτομαχεῖν) are a rare but very complex and influential structure of ancient epic which describes military engagements at night that begin after nightfall and end at sunrise. This bauform is not only a stock element of ancient epic, but it also plays an important role in other genres such as historiography and tragedy. In particular, the urbs capta motif and comparable scenes of nocturnal destruction that have their origin in the iconography of the Iliupersis are so pervasive in classical literature that they have also become a popular subject of parodic adaptations. This joint contribution traces the development of the bauform ‘nyktomachy’ in the epic tradition from its prototype, the Homeric Doloneia, to Triphiodorus’ Sack of Troy. The main focus of the analysis is to establish a common framework and to identify the typical characteristics of an epic nyktomachy scene in its different variations from nocturnal scouting expeditions and ambushes on one or more individuals to night raids on camps and entire cities. The diachronic study aims to establish the most important structural elements and narrative patterns for the individual epics under discussion as well as its main intra- and intertextual models. In addition to literary motifs that are recurring or exclusive to the context of a nocturna pugna, the role of the narrator, the author’s treatment of this rare and morally ambivalent military strategy, and the impact on its participants shall receive special attention.
Theomachy in Greek and Roman epic
Abstract: Theomachy (a combat with or between gods) is an important structural el- ement of epic poetry from Homer’s Iliad through Roman imperial epic. Theomachy can be divided into two categories: intradivine theomachy (combat amongst gods such as the Gigantomachy) and human-versus-divine theomachy (combat between humans and gods such as the fight between the Scamander and Achilles in Iliad 21). Despite its diverse manifestations, at its core theomachy represents an assault on the established order, whether that be Olympian rule, as is the case with the Gigantomachy, or the divine-mortal hierarchy, as is the case with human-versus-divine battles. Nevertheless, no theomachy is successful after Zeus’ usurpation of Cronos, so it becomes synonymous with futility or impious overreaching.
This contribution provides an overview of the major theomachies in Greek and Roman literature from Homer’s Iliad to Silius’ Punica and traces common elements, such as formulaic language (τρίς . . . / τρίς . . . / τὸ τέταρτον or ter . . . quarter/quatro), epithets (ἴσος δαίμονι or contemptor superum/deum), and settings (the river or the wall). Thematically, theomachy always meditates on excess, distinction, and the relationship between the divine and mortals by prompting reflection on the difference between larger than life mortals and the divine. Theomachy is also a versatile structural element and authors can use it for different purposes. Some poets forego physical combat entirely and instead turn theomachy into a debate about gods and their knowability by drawing on contemporary philosophical debates.
The structural element also changes in response to historical context. In the early imperial period, theomachy becomes freighted with political undertones as the principate identifies itself closely with the divine and as imperial cult becomes enmeshed with contemporary politics. Simultaneously, then, theomachy becomes a structural element with which writers can think about impiety and opposition to established systems of power. Given theomachy’s affiliation with high subject matter, the structural element is tangled up in discourses about fame (κλέος/fama), the sublime, and literary aesthetics. Furthermore, one of theomachy’s prime functions is as a site of literary self-styling. Poets can use their theomachic hero to represent their own literary ambitions and directly compete against epic’s prototypical theomach, Homer’s Achilles.
Naval battles in Greek and Roman epic
Abstract: This chapter surveys extant depictions of naval conflict in epic poetry, fragmentary and complete, with attention to intersections with epic predecessors and with works of prose historiography, tragedy, and lyric poetry. Epics that receive treatment include Choerilus of Samos’ Persica, Naevius’ Bellum Poenicum, Ennius’ Annales, Vergil’s Aeneid, Lucan’s Bellum Ciuile, Silius Italius’ Punica, and Nonnus of Panopolis’ Dionysiaca. This range extends from the Persian Wars to late antique Egypt, but it is striking for the lack of Homeric epic, wherein naval battles are completely absent, and the various Greek and Roman versions of the Argonautica. While a focus on ships and the maritime is nearly omnipresent in the genre, actual naval battles are far more restricted. Among other genres intricately tied to epic’s crafting of a grammar of naval conflict, historiography is the most influential. This study ultimately suggests that epic appears to have developed its own conventions and poetic uses for naval battle sequences, but that scenes of naval combat are also marked locations of generic interaction. A detailed exposition of relevant features is achieved through a close reading of the naval battles in Lucan’s Civil War (Lucan. 3.298–762: Massilia) and Silius Italicus’ Punica (Sil. 14.353–585: Syracuse).
River battles in Greek and Roman epic
Abstract: The structural element ‘river battle’ (μάχη παραποτάμιος, mache parapotamios) can already be found in Homer’s Iliad. In Book 21, Achilles chokes the river Scamander with corpses, an act that leads to the direct confrontation between hero and river, individual and nature (Hom. Il. 21.1–384). The structural components of all subsequent scenes depicting combat between a hero and a river (or a river god) in Greek and Latin epic are firmly dictated by Homer’s episode. In Vergil’s Aeneid, Aeneas is at times characterised through allusion to Achilles in Iliad 21 (Verg. Aen. 10.557–60), and Turnus is cast as the swollen Ganges and Nile in his attack on the Trojans and their fleet at 9.25–76. Nevertheless, despite the striking quality of the Iliadic narrative, it is not until the epics of Flavian Rome that an extant example of this bauform once again emerges. In both Silius Italicus’ Punica and Statius’ Thebaid, heroes engage in Homericising battle with rivers at key narrative junctures. In Punica 4, Rome faces Carthage at the battles of the rivers Ticinus and Trebia. During the latter, Scipio himself clashes with the river in verbal and physical warfare (Sil. 4.135–479, 4.573–704; cf. esp. 4.638–704). In the Thebaid, it is Hippomedon in Book 9 who takes on the role of Achilles in his battle against the Ismenus (Stat. Theb. 9.225–540). Statius innovates in his handling of the scene by utilising imagery drawn from visual art to depict the river as a personified god. The most expansive example of the mache parapotamios can be found, however, in Books 21–24 of Nonnus’ Dionysiaca (especially Book 23).
Beyond scenes that focus on single combat between heroes and rivers, depic- tions of naval combat between river fleets also may have appeared in Greek and Roman epic, but no strong examples survive. Scenes within Vergil’s Aeneid depict fleets marshalling and sailing on the Tiber (Verg. Aen. 8.66–101; 10.118–214), but no episodes show combat between vessels. A possible influence on the largely unattested tradition of depicting infantry battles set in rivers can be traced to touch- stone scenes from historiography. Without specific evidence, it is only possible to surmise that multiple generic modes of depicting river combat would have been built into epic’s take on these narratives.
Flight, pursuit, breach of contract, and ceasefire in classical epic
Abstract: The description of flight and pursuit was an enduring (and celebrated: Pl. Ion 535B) component of epic battle narratives from the age of Homer to Late Antiquity. The structural patterns of this type-scene may be analysed in various sub-categories. Each of these sub-categories contributes its own nuances of meaning to the narrative in which it is embedded and each is subject to meaningful adaptation over time.
Flight and pursuit may be recounted in the form of quite unelaborated notices (marked by the key vocabulary φεύγω, διώκω, fugio, sequor) of collective flight from a single warrior or an army. These may mark major turning points within a battle narrative, such as at Hom. Il. 8.343–9 (the Greeks flee before Hector to their ships), 21.606–11 (the Trojans flee before Achilles into the city), or Verg. Aen. 1.466–8, where the major turning points of the battle at Troy are cast as flight and pursuit. Collective flight may reflect the prowess of the individual hero, or, alternately, the cowardice or shame of his opponent(s). Individual encounters on the battlefield may also lead to flight and/or pursuit. Warriors may flee when they are outnumbered, or at the prompting of a god, or when wounded; they may also flee in compliance with evidence of divine will. Such flight may result in wounding, death, or escape. Scenes of individual flight and pursuit attain their most complex and fully elaborated narrative structure when they recount the flight and pursuit of the poem’s main protagonists as part of their climactic confrontation. This sub-category may be enriched by similes, topographies, and itineraries of flight, narrative interruptions, speeches of observers, topoi, such as the prize motif, as well as exhortations to and from the individuals in the pursuit. The archetype is provided by Hector’s flight from Achilles at Hom. Il. 22.136–246; its most prominent point of reception within later epic is Turnus’ flight from Aeneas at Verg. Aen. 12.733–90.
It will be the purpose of this chapter to establish the normative narrative patterns by which scenes of flight and pursuit in epic are conveyed under such categories. The chapter will consider how the various sub-categories of flight and pursuit interrelate within their own poems, and how divergences from and fragmentations of established narrative patterns generate new meanings in the succession of epic poems from Homer to Late Antiquity.
Epic games: structure and competition
Abstract: This chapter explores epic games as structural building blocks of epic poems. It takes a chronological approach, examining games from Homer (Iliad 23) to Silius (Punica 16), while drawing out continuities and thematic connections. Themes include leadership, masculinity, and different types of heroism; structures of power; lament and commemoration; social integration and dissent; generational conflict and continuities; narrative transitions, order of events, and internal structures; metapoetic imagery and generic negotiations.
The chapter begins by looking in some detail at Iliad 23, the relationship between games and funeral; the narrative structure and order of events; the structural effects of imagery; the relationship between the games and the rest of the poem, as well as the games and the wider Epic Cycle; the different types of masculinity and heroism on display; the way that conflicts are resolved to reverse the splintering of Greek society in Iliad 1, with generosity leading to reconciliation, especially in the case of Achilles and Agamemnon.
It moves on to Odyssey 8, in which we see a very different context and arrangement of games, as part of hospitality, internally focused. Yet, these games, too, foreshadow later events in the poem and display multiple models of heroic behaviour and achievement. Intergenerational tensions characterise the games’ contribution to the poetics of the Odyssey.
Next, we see the effective integration and powerful leadership of Aeneid 5, which is nevertheless integrated into a more complex wider narrative structure. The chapter then moves on to look briefly at deconstructed games and individual athletic events in Apollonius, Ovid, and Lucan. It finishes by comparing Statius’ complex and often negative games of Thebaid 6 with the more Roman and militaristic presentation of Punica 16. Overall, it shows the complexity of epic games and the variety of ways they are used in epic to explore central and important themes.
Death, wounds, and violence in ancient epic
Abstract: The wealth of casualties is a stock element in ancient epic, for the poets introduce a large number of minor heroes who function as cannon fodder to showcase the prowess of the major heroes. Each and every one of them has to be shown out with a bang which explains the genre’s abundance of violence and wounds.
Johnston provides a complete list of deaths in the Iliad which shows in a nutshell how to kill a hero in an epic way (http://records.viu.ca/∼johnstoi/homer/iliaddeaths.htm). Epic successors expand and vary the Homeric repertoire. In addition, through his statistical survey Most (1992) has proven the overwhelming preference among all epic poets for puncture wounds; he also points out that more serious injuries such as amputations and their detailed depiction are on the rise in post-Augustan epic.
Post-Augustan literature’s desire to outdo its literary predecessors leads to ever the more impressive depictions of violence and wounds culminating in Lucan’s Bellum Ciuile, an epic that is brimming with mutilated bodies. Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura play a crucial part in smoothing the way towards these excesses by developing novel ways of body language, that is ways to describe violence-induced bodily metamorphoses. In turn, Statius, Valerius Flaccus, and Silius Italicus both problematise and complicate the inherited pattern of gaining glory through killing while cutting back on excess violence. Often they also expand the motifs that accompany minor heroes: Vergilian models are evoked and combined with Ovid’s body language and Lucan’s civil war imagery providing rich layers of epic intertextuality.
Death, ritual, and burial from Homer to the Flavians
Abstract: Already in early Greek epic, ritual and sacrifice feature prominently in the narrative, with a special emphasis on their performance surrounding death. From the beginning of the Iliad, Achilles and Agamemnon’s fight is framed by sacrifice; at the end of the poem, Achilles sacrifices men in honour of Patroclus. The pattern of ritual sacrifice continues in the Odyssey, as Odysseus, for instance, performs sacrifice during the nekyia in a form of necromancy. One does not fail to notice the role of lament in death scenes, especially burial, in connection with ritual, in this case ascribed to women. In Hellenistic epic, Apollonius’ description of ritual in connection with death and sacrifice presents a rather complex image: Jason’s and Medea’s ritual mutilation of Absyrtus results in the purification ritual performed by Circe.
When we turn to Roman epic, Vergil’s Aeneid presents many instances of ritual purification, sacrifice, and death: Dido’s and Turnus’ death can be read as acts of deuotio, a sacrifice that becomes a catalyst for the epic protagonist’s development. Conversely, in Ovid’s Metamorphoses ritual and sacrifice punctuate the narrative in important moments, such as the Theban Cycle, the Trojan War, and recent Roman history. Even though in Lucan’s Bellum Ciuile the narrator keeps a distance from matters of religion and ritual in general, Pompey’s murder can be read as a ritual sacrifice: a bull led to the altar. With the Flavian epicists, ritual, sacrifice, death, and burial are privileged, as the macabre and grotesque take over the narrative. For instance, Statius’ Thebaid features prominent scenes of necromancy, chthonic ritual, sacrifice, and death accompanied by ritual lamentation through the very end of the epic narrative.