Classical Literature: A Concise History (Blackwell by Richard Rutherford

By Richard Rutherford

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Gods, being immortal, cannot die or suffer lasting pain; their lives of eternal feasting and security are contrasted with the misery and death of their human favourites. Both the seriousness and EPIC 25 the frivolity of the Homeric gods serve to bring out in different ways the human cost of the Trojan war. Describing Apollo’s attack on the Greek defensive wall, Homer uses a simile, as he often does in order to make divine intervention comprehensible: between them narrative and simile show both the awesome power and the light-heartedness of the god’s assault.

As for the text itself, punctuation was often absent or minimal. Texts were frequently written without spaces between words; it was not until the Middle Ages that an effort was made to systematize word-division, though in some Latin texts around the time of Augustus there is a step towards it in putting small dots between words. In texts of plays, not much was done to identify the names of speakers, and this has led to many problems and doubtful attributions. On papyri of drama, we can see that a change of speaker was often indicated only by a dash.

Homely detail and personal reminiscence were more prominent than heroic action. This example and others show that epyllion is almost epic turned inside out. Moschus’ poem lingers on Europa’s dream, her visit to the seaside, her games with her maidens: the model is the Princess Nausicaa in book 6 of the Odyssey, but what was a brief episode in Homer’s massive epic becomes the main focus in Moschus. Catullus’ epyllion is at least as bizarre: it begins with the Argo but swiftly moves to the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, then spends half the poem describing the scenes on a coverlet adorning their marriage-couch, scenes from the independent tale of Theseus and Ariadne.

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