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Genealogical history and character in Homeric epic

This thesis examines how individual characterisation in the Homeric poems is informed by and reflects the traditional narrative of genealogical history which is embedded in the early hexameter tradition. By reading specific characters in the context of their place in traditional history, I move closer to how they may have been received by their earliest audiences, while also interpreting them as individual mimetic characters as may be found in a work of written literature. My aim is to demonstrate that large-scale patterns which can be seen across the hexameter tradition have relevance to the small-scale details which create a compelling character in an individual poem. In part I of the thesis I examine how the Hesiodic and Homeric poems present a narrative of cosmic history which is structured by certain repeated patterns of change over each generation. Over a vast and unspecified period of time, men become gradually more distant from the gods, and are physically weaker; but this is balanced by social strengthening and an increasing awareness of justice. Although the different poems of the hexameter tradition articulate this history in different ways, they share an awareness of these patterns. In part II I examine how this traditional narrative of genealogical history can help us to understand three Homeric characters, chosen as particularly fruitful examples because they mark crucial changes in genealogical history. I argue that the characterisation of the Homeric Helen reflects her role in the wider tradition as an instrument of Zeus’ plan to destroy the heroes, and this is one reason why she is depicted as so detached, isolated, and as uttering uniquely vehement expressions of self-hatred. I then examine the characters of Penelope and Telemachus, both of whom are subject to the competing imperatives of traditional patterns of change on the one hand, and Odysseus’ inevitable return on the other hand. While Penelope’s struggles to suspend the passage of time in her husband’s absence are rewarded on his return, Telemachus’ partial but incomplete transition to manhood leaves him frustrated. The traditional patterns of genealogical history have varying effects on each of these three characters, but in each case I show that we can gain a fuller and more coherent understanding of their presentation by placing them in the context of that wider tradition.
Date January 2015
CreatorsGoode, Catherine Felicity
PublisherDurham University
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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