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Homer's Roads Not Taken: Stories and Storytelling in the Iliad and Odyssey


This dissertation is a consideration of how narratives in the Iliad and Odyssey find their shapes. Applying insights from scholars working in the fields of narratology and oral poetics, I consider moments in Homeric epic when characters make stories out of their lives and tell them to each other. My focus is on the concept of "creativity" -- the extent to which the poet and his characters create and alter the reality in which they live by controlling the shape of the reality they mould in their storytelling.

The first two chapters each examine storytelling by internal characters. In the first chapter I read Achilles' and Agamemnon's quarrel as a set of competing attempts to create the authoritative narrative of the situation the Achaeans find themselves in, and Achilles' retelling of the quarrel to Thetis as part of the move towards the acceptance of his version over that of Agamemnon or even the Homeric Narrator that occurs over the course of the epic. In the second chapter I consider the constant storytelling that occurs at the end of the Odyssey as a competition between the families of Odysseus and the suitors to control the narrative that will be created out of Odysseus's homecoming. The war that the two sides begin to fight literalizes the combativeness with which Homeric narratives are created.

The final two chapters consider the process by which the poet(s) of the Iliad and Odyssey have shaped the epics themselves. With special emphasis on the linear process through which oral poetry is created, I examine the gods for their role in managing and controlling plot. In the third chapter I consider ways in which gods represent the voice of the audience, and in which divine intervention allows the epics to be expanded and modified constantly through the process of composition in performance. In the fourth chapter, I read Zeus as a stand-in for the poet, and consider his words, actions, and Will as part of the machinery through which the poet controls the central plot of an epic poem.

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