Saturday, June 14, 2014


The Iliad

G.S. Kirk (1921-2003), The Songs of Homer (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1962), p. 75:
The things that can happen in battle are themselves limited, and the descriptions of them, within an oral formular convention that does not encourage variegated or introspective analysis, are even more so. Thus two heroes, one from each side, meet in the mêlée of battle; they utter threats and boasts; if in chariots, they dismount; one of them hurls a spear, which usually misses; the other reciprocates. Then there are second spear-casts, one of which usually hits; the victor boasts, the victim dies and his armour is stripped from him. Then the poet moves on to a fresh incident, which may follow a similar pattern. In this pattern there are many minor variations: the first spear-throw may hit not its intended victim but his friend or charioteer; swords may be drawn; the victim may be wounded rather than killed outright, then carried to safety by his comrades; or he may collapse in some unusual way, or with a dying plea or threat. Yet the general course of the heroic encounter is fixed, and the poet selects at will from a limited range of well-known variants.
Nevertheless, it's endlessly fascinating.

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