Volume II.2: Configuration
Part II: Journeys and related scenes
Arrival and reception scenes in the epic tradition from Homer to Silius
Abstract: Scenes of arrival and hospitality occur no less than four times in the Iliad, and about twelve in the Odyssey, with several variations according to the personality of the host; in the nostos epic, they are endowed with a structural function in order to draw a parallel between the Telemachy and Odysseus’ own adventures and to prefigure the latter’s arrival at Ithaca. In the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius, most of the arrival scenes are cheerful, but brief; narrative effects concentrate on the epic’s main arrival scene, Jason’s arrival at the palace of Aeetes which contains a network of allusions to Homer’s Phaeacian episode. In the Aeneid, Vergil alludes both to Homer and Apollonius to create an atmosphere of uncertainty in the scene of Vergil’s arrival at Carthage, and surpasses Homer’s Nestor in order to stress the theme of pietas in the arrival at Pallanteum; these two scenes are linked to one another by some echoes, parallels, and antitheses and also to the receptions by Helenus and Latinus. Valerius puts a greater emphasis on his arrival scenes than Apollonius, and accentuates the hosts’ sympathy for the heroic community, except Aeetes. In Statius, arrival scenes are full of latent irony, either tragic (Thebaid) or humorous (Achilleid). In Silius, they are generally associated with moral themes: uoluptas and luxuria (Hannibal in Capua), pietas erga parentem (Serranus) or erga deos (Falernus). Latin poets generally strive to establish connections, mostly through ekphraseis or symbolic objects, between the past and present on the one hand and/or the present and future on the other.
Banquet scenes in ancient epic
Abstract: Banquets are among the most prominent type-scenes in ancient epic. They provide an unobtrusive occasion to bring the protagonists together, to characterise them, and to introduce and negotiate new threads in the epic plot. They often include elaborate descriptions of the setting, the characters, and the entertain- ment held at the dinner table, and they also offer a chance to include the author’s metapoetic views in a meaningful way.
This contribution focuses on the presentation of the typical pattern of epic banquet scenes from a diachronic perspective. This pattern allows the poet to claim his own place in the history of the genre through skilful imitation and variation of traditional structures. The paper will also discuss questions of hierarchy and social status. For example, how does the exchange of gifts, a common feature in epic banquets, affect the social position of the characters? How does this process relate to past and future events in the poem? Other relevant questions include the way emotions are being conveyed to and created in the reader in order to guide his or her expectation and attention.
The present study will look specifically at examples in which events on the level of the plot are at odds with the superior knowledge of the reader. This includes instances of dramatic irony as well as examples in which banquets unfold in an uneventful way, but are presented to the reader in a new and unexpected fashion. These examples will be set against banquet scenes that, from a diachronic perspective, follow a more traditional pattern.
Scenes of departure by sea in the epic tradition from Homer to Silius
Abstract: Scenes of departure by sea are present in all the extant Graeco-Roman epics from the Odyssey to the Punica, even when the main narrative does not involve seafaring, such as Statius’ Thebaid. The aim of this paper is to examine the growth of this topos, from the brief scenes of Homer to the lengthy passages of Latin epic, the incorporation of elegiac elements from Ovid onwards (and the subsequent problem of the ‘elegisation’ of epic and/or ‘epicisation’ of elegy), the rewritings and reinterpretations of some motifs (sailing manœuvres, point of view of the narrator, individual or collective weeping, disappearance of the ship or the land, presence or absence of religious elements, status of the leader etc.) and to specify the narrative, structural and symbolical functions of such scenes.
Sea-storms in ancient epic
Abstract: This chapter traces the sea-storm from Homer to Quintus of Smyrna. Through the investigation of the formal dimensions of the sea-storm in epic and related genres, especially tragedy, it outlines a core set of structural features. This set allows for a broad understanding of the primary poetic methods of activating and employing the typological conventions of the sea-storm. At the outset of the tradition, scenes of sea-storm depict confrontations between the hero and the overwhelming forces of gods and nature. They illustrate the disparity between divine and human perspectives, moving from the omniscient view of the gods to the confusion of the hero faced with his own mortality. As such, early instances of the sea-storm serve as a proving ground for the hero’s endurance and piety. The sea-storm also provides a space for illustrating the parameters that govern the behaviour of poetic worlds. With Vergil’s construction of Aeneas as the representative Roman hero, this struggle takes on wider implications through political allegory. The opposing forces that meet in the space of the sea-storm figure the obstacles and imperatives that dictate Rome’s historical narrative.
Beginning with Homer, a defining feature of the sea-storm is its extremes, the hyperbolic movement between sea and sky, and the mixing of elements as the two become confused. Through this elemental disruption, the sea-storm illustrates the hierarchies that structure each epic narrative. Foremost among these is the relationship between gods and men. By illustrating the gods’ instigation and reso- lution of the storm, the poet shows the competitive forces at work in his narrative, those that aid or oppose the hero’s journey and, more importantly, dictate the outcome of that journey. The gods’ involvement or absence from the mechanisms of the sea-storm frequently functions to illuminate the divine apparatus of the poem as a whole in relation to its epic models. Furthermore, the heroes’ response to the terrifying melee of the storm – whether despair, Stoic calm, or rage – offers a rubric that measures his heroic qualities against those of earlier epic heroes who had confronted the same circumstances. As such, the sea-storm can serve as a point of differentiation between cultural identities, most notably in the shift from Greece to Rome.
Part III: Time
Time in Greek epic
Abstract: While many things do not change in the history of Greek epic (we are, for instance, never told the exact age of the protagonists), and other structural elements that indicate time fluctuate (e.g. the importance of dawn or the phases of the moon), the treatment of the seasons undergoes considerable change. The seasons are not mentioned in the main narrative of the Iliad but they may feature to some extent in the Odyssey, although we are never told in plain words which season it is at any point in the narrative. In the first two books of Apollonius’ Argonautica the seasons play a considerable role: for example, the Etesian winds and one of the autumnal phases of Arcturus are applied once each to narrow down the date, even though Apollonius makes fun of the use of the latter. Quintus of Smyrna very possibly employs the rising of the Pleiades as a phase date in the main narrative of his Posthomerica, but Nonnus of Panopolis, despite toying with astrology (unlike his predecessors), shows no sustained interest in chronology.
‘Time as such’: chronotopes and periphrases of time in Latin epic
Abstract: This paper analyses the depiction and function of ‘time’ in Latin epic poetry. Time is not only the very basis of the narration and as such organises the narrative, but it also constitutes a series of type-scenes. The overall rather scarce research on the topic is indicative of the insufficient scrutiny of time as an important cultural and historical convention. There is no ‘temporal turn’ equivalent to the ‘spatial turn’, yet.
In epic poetry time has a twofold function: on the one hand, it is used explicitly as the motif of ‘time’ in which the special nature of time becomes the subject of the text itself (e.g. in the case of Medea’s manipulation of time for Aeson in Ovid’s Metamorphoses); on the other hand, it serves as the formative power of individual chronotopes.
This contribution builds on Bakhtin’s definition of chronotopes as interactive forms in which space and time are related to each other in specific ways and generate further elements of the epic plot. An example of a typical chronotope in epic poetry is the sunrise, which frequently marks the beginning of a book or an individual action.
The following aspects and perspectives are taken into consideration in this paper: discussion of ‘time’ as such (time magic, time reversal, timelessness, cosmic time, and proper time); semantisation of the different methods of time measurement (natural vs. cultural time references, circular versus linear descriptions of time); semantisation of space-time, i.e. the connection of places and conditions with a specific mode of time (timeless islands, times of alterity, places with multiple attributions of time, the underworld); semantisation of time periods, i.e. the ascription of time to certain plot elements (daytime, season, era); tradition vs. innovation; individual characteristics of the authors under discussion.
Part IV: Space
Cities in ancient epic
Abstract: In the wake of the so-called ‘spatial turn’ in the humanities in the last decades, literary scholarship has recognised the importance of space in literature. This applies to cities in ancient epic, too. From the archaic time onward throughout antiquity, we can observe the significance of urban landscapes in Greek and Latin epic poetry. The cityscape of Troy, for instance, is the indispensable setting for the action of the Homeric Iliad, while Rome represents the narrative aim of Vergil’s Aeneid.
The general significance of cities in epic can be demonstrated in a twofold way. On the macro level, this kind of narrative space often supports the division of a given work into books or main sections; on the micro level, cities can be a part of the evoked literary space of each single episode. On both levels, the urban landscape is always inseparably connected to the plot, and the description of an urban space or a reference to a city can also fulfil important narrative functions by foreshadowing an action as a sort of prolepsis, by contributing to the characterisation of a figure, or by clarifying borders and boundaries of all kinds.
This chapter contains sections on Thebes, Troy, Carthage, and Rome, with subsections on ‘minor’ cities like Buthrotum, Pallanteum, and Saguntum. It investigates their literary representation by scrutinising several ‘subtype-scenes’ (i.e. a city before its foundation, the foundation of a city, a city under siege, at war, or civil war, the fall of a city, and the ‘afterlife’ of a fallen city) that can be traced back between individual authors and works. My analysis shows how by a complex network of analepseis and prolepseis, every city represented in epic narrative refers backward to earlier cities and/or prefigures the capital of the Roman Empire.
Landscapes in Greek epic
Abstract: My overview of landscape descriptions in Greek epic – albeit restricted to the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Argonautica – can only take into account a repre- sentative selection of text passages due to the limited scope of this chapter. This constraint, however, is most severe in the case of Homer’s νόστος-epic and of Apollonius’ ‘travel epic’. My analysis calls attention to the manifold ways in which landscapes may affect the epic action unfolding within them. Apart from rather brief descriptions of literary space, this interdependency will be scrutinised with regard to the structural element ‘river battle’ and the holy wedding in the Iliad, Calypso’s island Ogygia and the Goat Island in the Odyssey, as well as the Hylas- episode in the Argonautica. Among many other aspects, my analysis concludes that Apollonius Rhodius uses intertextual references to Homer so as to transform the spatial dimension and overall literary composition of his epic.
Landscapes in Latin epic
Abstract: Although landscapes elude the formal definition of a so-called type-scene, both real-world locations like Sicily and merely fictitious places like sacred groves are an important feature of epic poetry (with a parallel literary history in other genres). Despite their partly rhetorical character, such landscapes do not have a solely ornamental function as backdrop to the plot, but often mirror or foreshadow the action. Landscape settings may either be introduced by synoptic descriptions (often by an ekphrasis loci with an introductory formula) or by what de Jong (2014, 110) fittingly describes as “stray indications sprinkled over the text.”
This contribution traces the literary tradition of select natural earthly places (as opposed to cities, the abodes of the gods, and the underworld) in Latin epic. Some overlaps with the chapter on mythical places are inevitable due to the equal literary status of all the types of landscapes treated, irrespective of whether they are retrievable on a map of the Mediterranean world or not. This paper examines the narrative representation of individual scenes by analysing the narrative “functions of space” (as defined by de Jong, 2014, 122–9) and their context in order to assess their respective interpretive impact.
In a necessarily exemplary approach that focuses on the landscapes of Arcadia and Sicily, my chapter examines the intertextual play of recurring landscape patterns in Latin epic poetry from Vergil to Claudian. The analysis tries to identify the continuities and changes of idealised literary landscapes like the so-called locus amoenus and its sub- and anti-types (e.g. the locus horridus) in individual authors. Particular emphasis will be placed on Ovid, whose settings constitute the focal point in the tradition of literary landscapes between his Greek predecessors and Vergil on the one hand, and Lucan, the Flavian poets, and the later tradition on the other.
Mythical places in ancient epic
Abstract: The term ‘mythical’ combines quite a few different concepts, which render a definition rather difficult: a place may, for example, be called mythical, when it has a special (e.g. paradisiac or fantastical) appearance, when important things have happened there, or when god and man can have contact there. Especially in the tradition of the Odyssey, such places form an important part of the epic narrative.
Their description can also be a point of rest within the plot that provides an opportunity for ekphrastic descriptions of historical or geographical sites or interesting facts about the venue. Literary interactions can be made visible at mythological places, which are thereby characterised as places of special intertextual relevance or even, quite literally, as topoi. At the same time, however, what does (or does not) happen at such a place, may have some significance for the interpretation of the narrative as a whole.
This chapter scrutinises mythical places in Graeco-Roman epic from Homer to Silius with regard to their narrative representation, the link between the readers’ and the characters’ knowledge about them, and their potential interpretive impact.
Abodes of the gods in ancient epic
Abstract: The abodes of the gods are an epic setting that is very similar to mythical places with regard to their outer appearance. However, since they seem to exist outside the plot, and, in fact, often even outside the conventions of epic space and time altogether, and since they are usually inaccessible for mortals, they should be considered a structural element of epic poetry in their own right. As manifestations of the divine, they may distinctly shape the theological dimension of the narrative.
For an ancient poet, there are principally two ways to deal with divine settings. The first, which is mainly represented through the Iliad, is to apply anthropomorphic images like a palace abounding in gold. The other, which can, to some extent, be traced back to the Odyssey, is to express the remoteness of the gods by using negations or abstractions.
Abodes of the dead in ancient epic
Abstract: There are mainly two types of scenes that describe an epic character’s meeting with the netherworld – the katabasis and the nekyia. Their main purpose is to meet a particular inhabitant of the underworld in order to receive advice from them for the future. In the Odyssey 11, Odysseus recounts his encounter with the world of the dead as part of the Apologoi. In the nekyia the epic hero never really enters the netherworld, but the souls of the dead appear to him close to the entrance of their abode. On the other hand, the katabasis comprises a journey down to the underworld as well as a description of its topography and inhabitants. Both kinds of scenes contain specific rituals and sometimes a guide person is needed to gain access.
The katabasis is a structural element of epic poetry that is also present in the narrative tradition of the Near Orient (e.g. the much older Epic of Gilgamesh). This ultimate adventure and proof of an epic hero’s courage and prowess is rarely absent in the epic tradition after Homer; however, it undergoes specific variations. In Aeneid 6, Aeneas is guided by the Sibyl and meets his dead father Anchises who unfolds the theory of metempsychosis in a long speech. In Bellum Ciuile 6 Lucan introduces the witch Erichtho who performs a necromantic ritual on the corpse of a dead soldier in order to gather information about the outcome of the civil war. In Flavian epic, probably under the influence of Senecan drama, the contact with the underworld is often established by appearances of the dead (e.g. Laius in Statius’ Thebaid 2). Silius Italicus has Scipio Africanus seek solace and advice from his dead father and uncle (Punica 13). Claudian in De raptu Proserpinae uses the well-known myth to develop his description of the underworld. The topic of the visit to the dead is related to the motif of the journey to remote destinations – e.g. the Argonauts to Colchis (Argonautica), Telemachus to Helen and Menelaus (Odyssey 4), Aeneas to Andromache and Helenus (Aeneid 3).
Part V: Communication
Messenger scenes in Greek epic
Abstract: Messenger scenes lie at the heart of communication in ancient Greek epic, both between characters as well as between epicists and their audiences. In the former case, they act as catalysts for action by motivating heroes towards the fulfilment of their respective missions; in the latter, they convey necessary details for interpreting character relationships and plot arcs. As the intermediary through whom these transfers of information take place, the messenger figure plays a role comparable to that of the epicist himself. Yet, not all messengers and their messages are helpful or even accurate: disguised heralds may bear distorted truths which lead to the downfall of the recipient. Whether genuine or duplicitous, however, all messenger scenes generally follow the four-stage structure laid out by Arend (1933): the messenger is commissioned, then dispatched, and arrives at the appointed destination, at which point he or she delivers the message. To this backbone, Richardson (1974) appends various mini-scenes ranging from the messenger’s journey to the recipient’s reaction.
Homer establishes key conventions for messenger scenes which are received first by Greek tragedians and then by later epicists. These include the wide range of possible ‘messengers’, including dreams, prophets, and heralds, the latter of which can be mortal or divine in nature, as well as the potential of messenger scenes to act as windows into power hierarchies both within and between factions. Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides emphasise three further conventions: the unreliable messenger, the equation between messenger and bard – the Greek noun for the former, κῆρυξ, is cognate with the Sanskrit term for the latter (karu) – and the trope of the messenger-dream.
The concept of a ‘message’ also lends itself to innovation. Apollonius of Rhodes experiments with the idea of encrypted messages, which are delivered in public view but are only comprehensible to designated interpreters, such as the prophet Mopsus, who translates divine omens conveyed through birds for his less enlight- ened comrades. Quintus of Smyrna, who otherwise keeps strictly to convention, likewise plays with the possibility that living beings may simultaneously become both messengers and messages. He thus transmutes the Homeric tale of Medon, the sole suitor who survives Odysseus’ slaughter, into that of Sinon, who is vio- lently mutilated by the Trojans and emerges, nose-less and ear-less, as a walking testament to the Trojan War. Nonnus of Panopolis is equally subversive in portraying the two most commonly-depicted messengers, Hermes and Iris, as flouters of epic convention. Eschewing his usual rod and winged sandals, Hermes appears to Electra as an unrecognisable and invisible being. His paraphernalia are instead appropriated by Iris, who is similarly not her usual self: in another passage, she delivers a garbled message to Dionysus, having gotten drunk on the way. These variations highlight the intertextual connections between messenger scenes in Greek epic, which bloom from a basic structure into countless forms, each characterised by a unique permutation of ‘message’ and ‘messenger’.
Messenger scenes in Roman epic
Abstract: This contribution analyses the three different types of messenger scenes in Roman epic: 1. messages between gods, 2. messages commissioned, delivered, and received by mortals, and 3. messenger scenes crossing the boundaries of at least two or all three spheres: divinely-sent messages to mortal or deceased recipients via mortal, deceased, or divine messengers. The analysis focuses on the narrative technique (especially the author’s use of oratio recta, oratio obliqua, and narrative reports of speech acts) employed in the individual epics under discussion to depict the three different types of messenger scenes and its four main stages: 1. the commissioning of the message, 2. the dispatching of the messenger, 3. the messenger’s arrival, and 4. the delivery of the message. Further important aspects included in this study are the speech context, the placement of the messenger scenes, and the length of time that passes between the message commissioning and its delivery, as well as the expansion of the core stages with replies or narrative digressions, some of which can include another messenger scene. This paper also identifies the most significant intertextual models for the individual messages and traces the development of the use of syncopated narration (i.e. the omission and/or summary of individual stages of the messenger scene) for this bauform in Roman epic from Vergil to Silius Italicus.
Dream scenes in ancient epic
Abstract: Dream scenes bridge the gap between reality and mythology in ancient epic. They open channels of communication between the living and the dead, as well as between gods and mortals. Epicists also use dream scenes to connect past, present, and future timelines; characters do not only recall old friends and family members in their dreams, but also receive omens and warnings upon which to act. Conceptions of what constitutes a ‘dream scene’, however, have evolved over the past century: while Arend (1933) suggests that only sleeping characters dream, recently Hanson (1980) and Dodson (2009) demonstrate that waking visions are structurally and narratively indistinguishable from those which take place during sleep.
Homeric dream scenes establish key patterns upon which later epicists build. Dreams often centre upon instructions which the dream-figure – most often a character on familiar terms with the dreamer – delivers; while their purpose is at times couched in symbolism and pathos, all dreams in epic – unlike their real-life counter-parts – contain information significant to the overall plot. As a result, dream scenes effectively emphasise intratextual connections. Lucan thus contrasts the dreams of Caesar and Pompey so as to trace their changing fortunes within the Bellum Ciuile, and Silius Italicus similarly charts Hannibal’s rise and fall through three highly symbolic dreams.
Dream scenes are also richly intertextual; later receptions frequently cite and subvert earlier models. Vergil and Quintus Smyrnaeus both play upon the dreams of Homer’s Odyssey, the former in explicit terms by reinterpreting the ‘gate of horn and ivory’ metaphor and the latter implicitly by drawing parallels between Hecuba and Penelope. Statius in turn builds upon the dream scenes of the Aeneid, imbuing them with added violence to underscore the divisive reality which his characters inhabit. Ovid, on the contrary, utilises dreams to build a world in which boundaries – most notably that between truth and fiction – are blurred. The formulaic core which underpins dream scenes moreover facilitates subversive receptions. Medea dreams of her future in both Apollonius of Rhodes’ and Valerius Flaccus’ interpretations of her myth; however, the former’s characterisation of her as a naïve and fearful girl contrasts with her portrayal as a prophetic and tragic heroine by the latter. These transmutations indicate the versatility of epic dream scenes, which, though always recognisable across works and eras, are treated so idiosyncratically by each author that they emblematise individual approaches to the epic genre itself.
Prophecies in Greek epic
Abstract: Prophecy in Greek epic offers mortals a method of communicating with the gods, facilitated by a seer. Scenes of prophecy characterise both the seers themselves and the various groups who hear them explaining what a given portent or omen reveals about the gods’ intentions and motivations. How individuals and groups respond to divine authority as manifested through a human interpreter sheds light on characters’ varying attitudes toward structures of power and authority. These attitudes, in turn, play a key role in epic characterisation. At the same time, the topic, frequency, and clarity of the prophecies themselves help to depict the limits of human agency and the nature of mortal relations with the gods.
Like other heroes, a seer is a respected member of a group of comrades (the Greeks, the Trojans, the Argonauts) and his activities in the specific area in which he excels help his group to accomplish its aims. The seers in Greek epic are consistently presented as skilled and knowledgeable practitioners of the technical art of prophecy. Most of them become seers because of a close relationship to Apollo, and individual prophecies often arise from specific events or portents sent by a god. Mainly because of their skill in prophecy, but also because of their social standing, seers possess an authority that under normal circumstances lies outside the usual mortal quarreling about what to do in challenging or unclear situations. At the same time, the special ability and closeness to the gods that characterise prophecy often come with a cost. Like heroes with extraordinary skill in strength, military valour, or cleverness, prophets’ abilities can lead to both benefit to the community and serious difficulty, or sorrow for the prophet himself. As with other kinds of heroes, a human with the extraordinary ability conferred by prophecy nonetheless remains a mortal who is bound by the most fundamental parameters of human existence. His unusual ability emphasises, rather than transcends, his limits as a human being.
Prophecy offers a basically straightforward avenue for the gods to communicate with mortals, in the absence of complicating factors at the human end of the process. When prophecy leads to problems, these arise from the human interpreters rather than the divine originators of an omen. A well-functioning human society relies on seers to interpret divine portents in particular (rather than to give general advice), and it bases its future course of action on their recommendations. On the other hand, if a leader rejects the advice of a seer or disparages his authority, this is indicative of broader conflicts within the group about questions of power. Conflicts about power and the nature of authority, in very different ways, play a key role in the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Argonautica, and in each poem a disagreement about prophecy helps to depict both the conflict itself and the personalities of the major characters who are involved in it.
Simone Finkmann, Christiane Reitz, and Anke Walter
Prophecies in Roman epic
Abstract: This paper examines the structural use and typical features of prophetic and oracular speeches as well as the interpretation of divine portents in Roman epic from Vergil to Silius Italicus. In addition to the role of the gods, prophets, and other characters, both living and deceased, who have been bestowed with the gift of foresight or the ability to interpret oracles and omens, the analysis focuses on the content, scope, and placement of prophecy scenes, as well as their impact on the epic plot. The truthfulness of the prophetic proclamations and their interpretations are assessed, and potential inconsistencies and ambiguities are highlighted in order to establish the purpose and structural function of the individual prophecy scenes. Another point of interest is the period of time covered in the speeches under discussion in this joint contribution, which, especially in Roman epic, often adds a historical perspective to these scenes: predictions of future events frequently go beyond the confines of the epic narrative and result in a discrepancy between the knowledge of the poet and his external audience on the one hand, and the ignorance of the recipients of the individual prophecies on the other.
Apparition scenes in ancient epic
Abstract: This chapter offers an exemplary overview over epiphanies as a means of communication and of structuring the action within epic narratives. Dreams, apparitions of ghosts to the living, and divine messenger scenes share common features, and it proves fruitful to subsume these encounters between the living and the supernatural under one heading. All epic poets under consideration use different modes of contact between gods and humans. The encounters often take place in liminal spaces, during the night or at dawn. But in the epic tradition, the distinction between epiphanic acts, dreams, and divine interference in human action becomes more and more blurred. Especially after Lucan’s elimination of the Olympians from the epic plot, the later Flavian poets react by handling the motif innovatively: tutelary deities, personifications, and abstract concepts have an influence on the human sphere, whereas the Olympian gods often struggle in vain to direct the personal fate of a mortal against the overpowering reign of fate, and of history.
Divine council scenes in ancient epic
Abstract: Divine council scenes appear in most epic poems. They serve as a means to present the epic plot as based on divine intentions, and to promote the gods into actively influencing and participating in the action. Otherwise, the gods take part in the events one by one, for instance, by appearing on the battle field, or they perform the role of onlookers. The structural element of the divine council is much older than the Homeric Iliad, playing an important part also in the Babylonian epic poems.
In the Homeric poems, council scenes always feature Zeus and Hera, with other gods playing more or less important roles in the debate (e.g. Athena), and with the gods of a lower hierarchic position, as Hermes or Iris, taking orders for the execution of the divine decisions. Already in the Argonautica by Apollonius of Rhodes, and in all later epic poetry, it becomes evident that the bauform of the council scene is prone to variation in form, such as visit, symposium, conversation and dialogue between gods. Apollonius does not include a council scene in the strict sense. In the Roman tradition, Lucan is the only poet whose poem does not contain a divine council, for obvious reasons. For other poets, such as Ovid, the council is an opportunity to characterise the hierarchic organisation of Mount Olympus, and to problematise divine decision making in connection with the narrative plot.
Necromancies in ancient epic
Abstract: The interaction between the dead and the living is one of the stock scenes and most popular topics in Graeco-Roman epic since Homer (Hom. Od. 11.13–640). Many important studies have been dedicated to the analysis of the great importance of this bauform from a metapoetic perspective with necromancies affording the epic poets the opportunity to incorporate popular myths and historical figures of the past or (retrospective) future into their narrative, and to go beyond the scope of the epic plot. The same applies for Homer’s, Vergil’s, and more recently also Seneca’s and Lucan’s great influence on the descriptions of the underworld and the necromantic rituals in the Flavian epics of Valerius Flaccus, Statius, and Silius Italicus. One of the core elements of this type scene, the communication between the living and the dead, which is the climax of and the main reason for necromancies, has, however, been widely neglected – and with good reason, as the nature of the dead is
“notoriously complex, ambiguous, and even contradictory.”1 While it is not possible to reconcile and explain all contradictions of the obscure verbal interactions in the necromantic episodes under discussion, this contribution delineates the most important narrative patterns and intra- and intertextual allusions in the depiction of the dead and their conversation with the living throughout the epic tradition from Homer to Silius Italicus. It argues that the obscurity and inconsistencies in the portrayal of the dead are a deliberate literary device used to compress the narrative and to highlight that life after death and the nature of the dead surpass human comprehension and that each epic poem gives its own unique voice to the dead in the underworld – either through striking innovations or interesting and unusual combinations of the already established narrative patterns.