“Isn’t everything that is said by the storytellers and the poets a narrative of what has happened or what is or what is to come?”
“What else?” he said.
Plato Republic 392d
This book plumbs the virtues of the Homeric poems as scripts for solo performance. Despite the focus on orality for the last several decades, and on composition in performance, we have yet to fully appreciate the Homeric poems as the sophisticated scripts they are. When scholars speak of Homeric performance, they are usually referring to the composition process, or “input.” This book turns the focus from the “input” to the “output.” Composition in performance is, after all, composition for performance. Interpreting the poems as scripts changes our perspective in a thoroughgoing manner. Performance is a vehicle of meaning as vital for the one-man show of epic as it is for multi-actor, masked, costumed, staged tragedy. Restoring to the poems their performative nature, moreover, helps get beyond the “meaning” dimension of the poems into the dimension of “presence,” to borrow Gumbrecht’s terms. [1] It makes something happen.
Part of the book’s aim, then, is to do for Homer what scholars have been doing for drama and choral poetry: to bring out the totality of the experience of these works on the stage, as opposed to the page. [2] But the analogy is limited. This is not a “how-to” manual or an effort at historical reconstruction. I cannot emphasize this enough. This approach does not depend upon a particular phase of the development of the Homeric poems or even on particulars of performance style. It is rather a phenomenology of performance, aiming to tune the reader in to the “histrionic sensibility,” [3] the “histrionic force,” and the “histrionic patterns and devices” [4] of the poems as solo performances. The focus is on how the text, when performed, sets certain dynamics in motion, not on what a given performance “adds,” since performance is not an addition. Precisely how any performer embodied that script is unknowable, and, just as with drama, successful embodiments may have differed widely. I occasionally point out how a gesture, [5] a pause, or the use of a staff [6] would bring these dynamics to fruition. These suggestions make no historical claims, and are heuristic: they illustrate the potential embedded in a script that was, after all, embodied somehow. [7] These caveats being made, I hope readers will use not only their mind’s eye but their actual bodies to step into their own incarnations of Homer.
The other aim of the book is to show how performance is bound up with all aspects of the poems; the operations of performance form a continuum with such “textual” workings as imagery and background story. Establishing this entails that much of this book is concerned with, for example, background stories that come to light because of a concern with performance.
Some of my readers may more naturally find their way in to the argument through one of these aims or the other; but they are intertwined. Because composition blends with performance, stories must be approached both as traditional compositions and as scripts.
* * *
Many people who have seen a great performance of a play might resist the infamous assertion found in Aristotle’s Poetics [8] that one should be able to experience drama fully just by reading or by hearing the plot. [9] But what about epic? In justifying his claim, Aristotle continues: “Besides, tragedy does what it does even without movement, just like epic; for through reading it is manifest (φανερά) what sort of thing it is” (1462a11–13). Not only, he seems to say, is enactment even less necessary for epic than for tragedy, but also epic does not need gestures even when it is performed—its performance is already so minimal as to be a non-performance. [10]
But—before we delve further into Aristotle’s view of Homeric dramatics—on a basic level, a claim that performance is superfluous is even less, not more, true for epic than it is for drama. And performance is more crucial to understanding and experiencing epic precisely because epic, as a solo genre, does not “enact” in the same way that drama does, with transactions among multiple bodies and props. As we read a tragedy, we visualize multiple figures spread out in space, entering and exiting our mind’s eye, wielding objects, and addressing one another, all of which corresponds more or less to what would be happening on the stage. We do stage it in our mind. But if, as we read epic, we imagine Achilles confronting Agamemnon, Athena behind him, the Achaean camp as the setting, that corresponds to the performance not one bit. Staging Homeric action in our mind’s eye while reading diverts our attention from what would be happening in performance. The audience watching Homeric performance sees one man enacting, narrating, embodying: transforming himself and the space around him. The solo performer too “structures attention by means of the ear and the eye simultaneously,” [11] even without choreography or staging as normally conceived. And a large part of what the Homeric script is for, I hope to show in this book, is that. That is not to say that spectators do not complete the picture of what is happening in their imaginations, and map epic actions onto the actual space around the performer. Indeed, the script is often geared toward projecting a certain imaginative space, or even objects, within the space of performance; but the performer’s body is the origo of such a space, its center and its source. The solo performer feeds a “profound and largely unexplored human appetite” [12] for acting, but does so in a way slightly askew from that of actors in drama, a way that requires its own account.
One can quickly grasp the importance of the performer’s bodily presence by looking at the opening of the Iliad as a script. This passage will be examined in detail below; for now, simply consider the fact that the first character the performer “becomes” in the poem, in the sense of speaking his words, is Chryses, the priest of Apollo, supplicating the Achaeans to give him his daughter back. As the performer slips into being the priest, we, the audience, slot into place as the Achaeans listening to his plea. We are suddenly put in the physical position not of mere witnesses to a past event, but of being able to do something, as it were, about the action of the poem. The performer has already told us that the priest will be refused and that Apollo will then start to kill us. So when we are listening to the performer beg for his daughter’s life, we already know it is a bad idea to refuse him, but we do nothing, thereby becoming culpable, as it were, for the plot of the poem, implicated [13] in the story.
That is only the most basic way that performing these lines makes something happen that does not happen when we read it. Yet rarely do readers, including readers interested in the sound of the poetry, try to envision the Iliad and the Odyssey as solo performances, even in such a way as this.
Actually, despite his assertions about reading, and despite the usual interpretation of the Poetics, Aristotle understands this very well, and he cannot be blamed for our neglect of performance. First, Aristotle praises Homer precisely as a dramatist. He even singles out the mode of Homeric performance as more conducive to the thaumaston, the “to be wondered at,” than tragedy (1460a7–11). Why would this be? The short answer is that Homeric performance is an intriguing hybrid between acting and not-acting, for which Aristotle’s shorthand is “not seeing the one-doing” (1460a11–17).

Aristotle on Homer as Dramatist

To open the question of what is distinctively “to be wondered at” in Homeric performance, let us turn to the passage in which Aristotle praises Homer as dramatist: the famous discussion of the birth of tragedy (and comedy). Here Aristotle hints at, without detailing, the peculiar semi-embodied presencing of Homeric poetry, and sounds themes that will be taken up throughout the present study. [14]
In this passage, Homer plays a complex role. He is, first, the culmination of the natural activities that brought forth poiēsis little by little out of improvisations (1448b20–34). Second, he is the font of both tragedy and comedy (1448b34–1449a2). He is an endpoint and a starting point, τέλος and ἀρχή. But how Homer operates in this teleological process is far from clear. This very incongruity and contradiction is an important part of how Aristotle conveys the confounding transformation that occurs in Homeric performance itself.
Aristotle is saying that mimesis has its origins in nature: human beings naturally enjoy mimesis, and we are naturally prone to harmony and rhythm. Nature plays another role as well: before poetry proper exists, people of a certain character imitate certain types of people and their actions (1448b24–27)—and thus poiēsis at its very birth is “split according to (the people’s) own characters [κατὰ τὰ οἰκεῖα ἤθη]: the more solemn imitate noble actions and the actions of such people, and the cheaper sort imitate the actions of the base.” [15] Likewise, after Homer, people each according to their own nature (κατὰ τὴν οἰκείαν φύσιν) become either comedians or tragedians (1449a1–6). But Homer himself confounds this bipartite schema. He is both iambic and heroic, both comic and tragic. Homer, unlike the proto-poets before him and the tragedians and comedians who follow him, seems not to have his “own nature” or his “own character.” Sandwiched between these two groups of people, he problematizes the very schema of nature that Aristotle is setting up.
That is because he is either a genius or a madman: euplastos or ekstatikos (1455a34). In Chapter 3, Aristotle had aligned Homer with Sophocles and tragedy in imitating the spoudaioi (1448a27), as opposed to Aristophanes. In Chapter 4, with the emphasis on natural processes, we would expect Homer to be put once again with the semnoteroi and those disposed toward tragedy; we would expect Homer to be aligned exclusively with those who are attracted by tragedy’s “more honorable [ἐντιμότερα] shapes” (1449a7). But Aristotle does not even try to say this; he even tells us that Homer “displayed the gestures/shapes of comedy.” Homer controverts the model whereby poets who are better by nature will depict better characters.
Before we try too quickly to resolve these difficulties, we should note that Aristotle has subverted this puzzling account at its very start. For people by nature enjoy mimēseis of all kinds, not only the noble or base, depending on our own nature. We enjoy seeing “shapes of the most despised beasts” [θηρίων τε μορφὰς τῶν ἀτιμοτάτων] and of corpses (1448b12). Such enjoyment may not be problematic in the case of beasts, but we have to imagine it holds true for people as well: ἀτιμοτάτων (“despised”) does not really suit wild animals, and sits uncomfortably with his statement about tragedy’s “more honorable” (ἐντιμότερα) shapes.
If we have a good inner nature, we will be drawn to imitate good people and good actions. But a genius like Homer will imitate all sorts of people, like the poet banned by Socrates in the Republic. The better the poet, the more promiscuous or protean the nature.
These kinds of incongruities permeate this passage. Aristotle asserts that some people are drawn toward noble actions, some toward base, and they divide themselves into the encomiasts and blame poets accordingly. Yet immediately he concedes that we can’t speak of any such poem prior to Homer. But, he says, “for those beginning from Homer it is possible”—and one expects him to say, possible to see this division between noble and base. But instead, he points to Homer, not as a proto-tragedian as in Chapter 3, but as the author of the Margites. This is very odd, [16] but perhaps deliberately so.
There is a similar slippage in what Aristotle says about meter here. At first he claims that iambic meter came along in early blame poetry, fittingly, because people lampooned (ἰάμβιζον) each other in this meter. Poets were divided into those of heroic (hexameter) and those of iambic meter (1448b32). Later, however, Aristotle says that tragedy, from laughable and “satyr-ic” beginnings, became dignified, and only then changed from tetrameter to iambs. Here he remarks that iambs are most suited to speech, and so when tragedy moved from being more danced to more spoken, “nature itself found the proper meter” (1449a24). But have we already forgotten that iambs are suited for lampoons? Why does tragedy, when it becomes dignified, switch to the allegedly less dignified meter? And why does tragedy suddenly have its origins in the laughable? Wasn’t its origin in serious poets depicting serious people?
Homer would seem to be a promiscuous funnel through which improvisers divided by character flow and eventually become poets divided by nature, no thanks to Homer. Homer’s mixed nature problematizes the “natural” development of poetry, and so do other contradictions. It is not so that good people will prefer imitations of good praxeis.
How is it that Homer gives birth to both tragedy and comedy? Or is it even true, in Aristotle’s account, that he does? After Aristotle claims that Homer was the source for comedy and tragedy, he seems to back up and says that both came about “from an improvisatory beginning” (ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς αὐτοσχεδιαστικῆς, 1449a10). In particular, tragedy came about from the instigators of dithyramb, and comedy from the instigators of phallika. So how does Homer fit?
Homer’s role in the birth of these genres is as dramatizer. He alone made “dramatic mimēseis” (1448b37). Aristotle goes on to illustrate this process of dramatization:
ὥσπερ δὲ καὶ τὰ σπουδαῖα μάλιστα ποιητὴς Ὅμηρος ἦν (μόνος γὰρ οὐχ ὅτι εὖ ἀλλὰ καὶ μιμήσεις δραματικὰς ἐποίησεν), οὕτως καὶ τὸ τῆς κωμῳδίας σχῆμα [17] πρῶτος ὑπέδειξεν, οὐ ψόγον ἀλλὰ τὸ γελοῖον δραματοποιήσας· ὁ γὰρ Μαργίτης ἀνάλογον ἔχει, ὥσπερ Ἰλιὰς καὶ ἡ Ὀδύσσεια πρὸς τὰς τραγῳδίας, οὕτω καὶ οὗτος πρὸς τὰς κωμῳδίας. παραφανείσης δὲ τῆς τραγῳδίας καὶ κωμῳδίας οἱ ἐφ’ ἑκατέραν τὴν ποίησιν ὁρμῶντες κατὰ τὴν οἰκείαν φύσιν οἱ μὲν ἀντὶ τῶν ἰάμβων κωμῳδοποιοὶ ἐγένοντο, οἱ δὲ ἀντὶ τῶν ἐπῶν τραγῳδοδιδάσκαλοι, διὰ τὸ μείζω καὶ ἐντιμότερα τὰ σχήματα εἶναι ταῦτα ἐκείνων.
Just as Homer was preeminently the poet with respect to spoudaia (not that he alone composed well, but that he alone made dramatic mimēseis), [18] so too he first demonstrated the schēma of comedy, making dramatic not invective but the laughable. For, just as the Iliad and the Odyssey are analogous to tragedies, so too the Margites is analogous to comedies. And when tragedy and comedy had appeared, [19] people were attracted to each type of poiēsis according to their own nature: some became makers of comedy instead of lampoons, others became producers of tragedies instead of epics, on account of these schēmata [20] being greater and more honorable than those. [21]
Aristotle Poetics 1448b34–1449a6
The way this is put, Homer, the maker of dramatic mimēseis, indicates some shape(s) of comedy, and then tragedy and comedy suddenly “appear” for people to pursue according to their natures. What Homer indicates, or demonstrates, is the schēma or schēmata of comedy. Most editors print the singular schēma, which they take to mean the form, “the structure, the ‘set-up’, of comedy, hardly to be distinguished from εἶδος.” [22] However, the oldest manuscript has it that Homer indicated the plural schēmata of comedy, matching the schēmata at the end of the sentence. For some editors, [23] the plural causes difficulty for the abstract meaning “form” with comedy alone, so they read the singular for comedy as opposed to the plural “forms” of tragedy and comedy at the end of the sentence.
But what Homer did is to “make dramatic mimēseis” (or “make mimēseis dramatic”). He “demonstrated the shapes of comedy.” These “shapes” (reading the plural schēmata), in the context of the verb ὑπέδειξεν “demonstrated” and δραματοποιήσας “having made dramatic,” seem to be gestures. Aristotle uses σχήματα to mean gestures later in the Poetics at 1455a29, recommending that the poet work out the plot with gestures as well as diction. Gestures make sense, moreover, because Aristotle is talking precisely about Homer bringing poetry to life as drama. This stronger sense of gestures, or embodied, enacted visual forms, also suits the “revealing” or “epiphany” of tragedy and comedy in the next sentence. Yes, Homer is “revealing” tragedy and comedy in that he is uncovering an already existing dramatic potential, [24] but he does so by dramatizing. He is envisioning, gesturing, becoming, enacting. He is being the vessel through which heroes appear. He performs a mimesis of praxis such that the heroes, and then those tragedians and comedians, step into his shoes and put their hands into those gestures (cf. “greater and more honored gestures”). Thus he gives birth to an externalized life: the person who takes over from him, inherits from him, imitates him—the dramatist, and ultimately the actor. And this may be summarized by the startling, seemingly abrupt remark that tragedy and comedy came about “from an improvisatory beginning,” ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς αὐτοσχεδιαστικῆς (1449a9–10)—almost as though it is Homer doing the (gestural) improvising.
Only in the next sentence is this “improvisation” specified as that of the leaders (ἐξαρχόντων) of dithyrambs (circular dances) and phallika (processional dances). But Aristotle conceived of the hexameter as a dance meter, [25] so Homeric and dithyrambic/phallic improvisations are not as distinct as they may seem. Homer was no leader of dithyrambs, but he was stepping out from a dance tradition that already had a leader for the dance.
I suggest that Aristotle reinforces what he is saying by enacting it in ring composition (1448b18–49a15):
A nature as origin [κατὰ φύσιν, 1448b20] [26]
     B primitive song-and-dance (harmonia and rhythm)
        [κατὰ μικρὸν … προάγοντες, 1448b22–23]
          C improvisations [ἐκ τῶν αὐτοσχεδιασμάτων, 1448b23–24]
               D poetry divided “according to their own characters,”
                  solemn vs. cheap; encomia and hymns vs. invective, 1448b24–27
                    E before Homer, 1448b28
                         F  Margites, 1448b30
                              G lampoon, 1448b31
                                   X HOMER MAKES MIMĒSEIS DRAMATIC, 1448b35
                              G ′ comedy, 1448b36
                         F ′  Margites, 1448b38
                    E ′ after Homer, 1448a2
               D ′ poets divide “according to their own natures”;
                     tragedy and comedy replace epic and iambic, 1449a2–6
          C  improvisation [αὐτοσχεδιαστική, 1449a9–10]
     B ′ primitive song-and-dance (the leaders of dithyramb and phallika)
           [κατὰ μικρὸν … προαγόντων, 1449a13]
A ′ nature as telos [ἐπαύσατο ἐπεὶ ἔσχε τὴν αὑτῆς φύσιν, 1449a15]
The leader stands in the center of the dance and gives birth to tragedy by becoming an actor, using gestures. Or rather, the natural processes of poiēsis, divided by character, head toward Homer as their τέλος; once enlivened and given body, they recede again into their divided natures, reaching fulfillment in tragedy and comedy.
This “enlivening” at the center of a ring composition is a well-known highlight of Homeric poetics. It also has a specific potential when used as a solo performance technique; we will examine one particularly elaborate example in Chapter 2 and another in the first Interlude. The solo performer—“Homer”—in the Poetics’ Aristotelian ring is a point of arrival and a point of departure that gives birth to dramatic action, but he is also where one thing is transformed into another. Once it becomes clear how central this is to Homeric performance, one might ask whether Aristotle is here imitating Homer (as opposed to other varieties of ring composition) all the way down, in a way that would be apparent to anyone who had seen Homer performed.
Contrary to Aristotle’s idea about “not seeing the act-or” in Homer (1460a14), and his denigration of spectacle (opsis, 1450b18–20), here Homer is first and foremost a dramatist. He makes mimēseis dramatic, or makes dramatic mimēseis. His performance is redolent of epiphany, but also comedy. But how can he be a dramatist, if epic involves “not seeing the one-doing”?
Clearly Aristotle recognized that there is a problem with talking about Homer, and talking about Homer’s relation to drama and to the visual. Aristotle did see a virtue particular to Homeric solo performance, as opposed to Homeric poiēsis seen solely as composition or as the generous interlarding of narrative with direct discourse. He begins to articulate this virtue in terms of the alogon, the atopon, and the thaumaston, which are better accomplished in Homeric poetry than in tragedy (1460a11–17). He articulates it further through a kind of performance or mimesis of Homeric presencing through ring composition. This may seem to make the Poetics too ingenious, but then again, we are talking about Aristotle. If the Poetics is a set of lecture notes, it is even more like Homer than is the Republic, in that it is a script for performance. [27] In lecture, Aristotle would, for example, have been able to flesh out his discussion by reciting the Homeric passages at length.
* * *
Aristotle’s discussion of the dramatic quality of Homer points us toward what is confounding or troubling about Homer from a slightly different angle than that of Socrates in the Republic. He hints that Homer is a funnel of identities and characters, and that this has something to do with gesture, and gestural improvisation.
We learn more from Aristotle’s imitation, within the constraints of his own genre, of Homeric dramatics than we do from extracting individual pronouncements. Something about imitation helps him to convey these dual processes, even imitation within a treatise.
Aristotle’s ring-shaped treatment alerts us to the relation between drama and poetic structure; between transformation and linear construction; between “becoming” and “making.”
Performance, the embodied script, the totality of the poem as a work of art, can be thought of as two intertwined dimensions or axes: first, the fabrication, selection, and assembly of words, lines, images, scenes, episodes—all the way up to emplotment. I will call this the dimension of poetics, in the sense of poiēsis or composition/making. This is, roughly speaking, the “meaning” dimension. Second, the actualization and interplay of all of this among the poet/performer (“bard” [28] ), narrator, character, and audience: “presence.” Presence can be thought of as the opening out of the text into the space and time of the performance—keeping in mind that the “text” need not actually precede performance. If poetics is poiēsis, or making, presence is genesis, in the sense of “becoming” rather than “origin.” An example is how the bard becomes (γίγνεσθαι) a character. The performer transitions from narrator to character; he may appear to merge with a character, to create layers of presence within himself, or to cast his audience into a particular role. “Presence” in the present study [29] includes all the dynamics that solo performance activates, and deploys, among bard, audience, and character, the story-world and the world of performance. The interest in presence comes from the shifting of these dynamics, a “play” of presence rather than a steady “presencing forth.” This dimension may be said to exist in written works not meant for performance, such as novels, but in Homeric poetry the interplay is happening in the space of performance. Since the dimension of presence can at least be observed, if not fully experienced, by reading, it is clear that “presence” and “performance” are not coterminous. For instance, Longinus (Ch. 27) notes that “when a writer, narrating about a character, suddenly turns aside and changes into that very character,” this is “a sort of outburst of emotion.” But one must keep in mind that nothing about the Homeric poems was originally experienced on the page.
Likewise, performance embraces and informs the poems’ thematic concerns. That is, performance is intertwined with poetics as well as presence. Ghosts, doubles, repetition, and memory are important thematically because of the guiding performance aesthetics, including the play of presence, and vice versa, in a sort of “virtuous circle.” The dimension of “presence” is thus part of the fabric of the poems, not a special effect superimposed upon them by performance.
These two strands or dimensions, poetics and presence, may appear as two to us readers, in part because we have to make an effort to appreciate the performative part of “presence.” For a performer, however, there is no separation. Preparing to perform, even for actors working with a written script, involves working through the text at all levels. How much more so for the performer who is also a composer? If acting is “a way of learning to think with the body,” [30] so too the performing poet incarnates the poetic tradition he receives, and composes and recomposes with that same body. For the composer-in-performance, it is not only that a given phrase or episode must succeed with a series of audiences in order to be retained and transmitted to other poets. Performance sits at the very core of the composition process: the poet’s horizon is the performance.
If the two strands or helices are so intertwined, why note them separately? Because doing so helps to articulate the performance virtues of the script in the first place. Michael Goldman notes a similar relationship between the action of the character and the acting of the actor, and writes that while it is “notoriously difficult to say how acting and action actually work in drama … we can go a long way toward understanding their operation if we think of them not as separate processes, but as intricately allied.” [31]
To take a loose analogy from a related discipline, the linguist David McNeill shows how gestures not only reveal, but actually fuel, thought and speech. “Linguistic forms and gestures participate in a real-time dialectic during discourse and thus propel and shape speech and thought as they occur moment to moment.” [32] McNeill speaks of this dialectic as the “dynamic dimension” of language. The present book aims to uncover a somewhat similar real-time dialectic that occurs between poetics and presence, a dialectic that occurs in performance. I find the work on gesture by McNeill and others highly resonant with and suggestive of composition in and for performance, and his dialectic may serve as a useful analogy for my own interaction between two axes. The analogy is, however, very loose, since this book will only occasionally refer to the effect a given gesture would have, and the dialectic that I am tracing is not between speech and gesture but between poetics and presence.


“Performance” in Homeric scholarship since Parry has largely been focused on poetics/poiēsis rather than presence/genesis, i.e. with composition in performance. Composition seen strictly as a linear construction or reconstruction of lines, episodes, or plots [33] would seem to lie somewhat outside the focus of this study, which is pursuing the interplay between poetics and presence. But in reality poiēsis cannot be separated so cleanly from presence. In the first place, features of traditional epic poetry that frame it as performance, once “keyed,” project a certain image of the performing bard, and of the source of the action he is presenting, even absent any invocation of the Muse. This imputes to him a certain stance or role, and so to this extent belongs to presence. [34] And obviously oral composition is occasioned and shaped by the poet-audience interaction. But virtuosic composition can also fuel presence more dramatically, as Richard Martin notes when he concludes that, since the poet “fully reveals all the possibilities of his own poetic craft only in the extended speech of Achilles,” “the effect is to make Achilles sound like a poet.” [35] In a study mainly concerned with performance as depicted within the poem (in the story-world; poiēsis) Martin also shows how this identification of Achilles with the bard culminates in the narrator’s apostrophes to Patroklos. [36]
The Homerist will never produce a thick description of performance context such as Dwight Reynolds’s pellucid and poignant Heroic Poets, Poetic Heroes. Studying contemporary Egyptian poets of the epic Sirat Bani Hilal, Reynolds hears from the residents of al-Bakatush that, for example, they regard the poets as gypsy semi-outsiders who are “not from among us,” [37] in part because of ascertainable facts about the poets’ ancestors. This divide between the outsider poet families and their patrons figures into the shaping and the impact of the epic itself, such that “a modern epic poet playing rabab in front of an Egyptian audience sings of one of the epic heroes disguised as an epic poet playing the rabab singing in front of an Egyptian audience.” [38] The poets share other characteristics with the poem’s heroes, such as the possession of a secret language. Scenes within the epic thus mirror the ongoing performance and allow the poet to comment upon and guide the poet-patron relationship indirectly. All this makes for a considerably more pointed scenario, so far as we can know, than Odysseus reciting among the Phaeacians, or Phemius singing for the suitors. The mise en abyme [39] of performance in the Egyptian epic is similar to the Odyssey’s Phaeacian episode in general terms. But concrete social and personal facts about the performers and patrons themselves, not abstract narratological or story-world features alone, are key to the charge of the Sirat Bani Hilal performance, and nothing like them can be uncovered in the case of Homer. [40] We do not even have external evidence, for example, about precisely who formed the actual audience for the Homeric poems at a given stage of their development. [41] Nevertheless, recent scholarship elaborating the evidence we do have, [42] especially for the Panathenaia, shows that context makes a substantial difference to our interpretation. [43] Derek Collins, for example, situates rhapsodic competition within the larger Greek cultural practice of poetic “capping,” which yields insights into how audiences would have heard individual lines “thrown back at” the speaker. [44]
Attention to the performance of ancient poetry more generally has entailed identifying a social function associated with genre or with a type of occasion. In this view, poetry as performance, with a defined social function, predates poetry proper, which is not so delimited. [45] There is no external evidence about the social function the epic is supposed to serve. Although some of the settings (like the Panathenaia) of epic performance are known, Homeric epic is not defined by a ritual or other communal context in the way laments or hymēnaioi are; [46] rather it assimilates these genres, synthesizing traditions as it proliferates throughout the Greek world. [47]
Although Homeric epic integrates ritual performances (rather than comprising a ritual in any straightforward fashion), it is nevertheless significant that scholars have often reached for terms such as epiphany, ritual, presence, and enactment to describe the extraordinary vividness, or ἐνάργεια, of Homeric poetry. [48] Martin, discussing the intrusion of Achilles’ perspective into the Homeric narrator, compares this with other oral traditions in which the hero is conceived of as present for the performance of the epic, or where the performer is possessed by the hero. This kind of language has been criticized [49] as inappropriate for poetry whose performance is not itself ritual.
Homeric performance may not constitute a ritual. Its mode of mimesis, however, like that of archaic lyric and even tragedy, is not mere imitation but has a share in the reenactment of archetypal situations in the manner of ritual. Dramatic reenactment, in archaic Greece as in other traditional societies, “entails an interaction of myth and ritual.” [50] All of this belongs to the realm of “presencing” or genesis. Though we cannot trace precisely the bearing of choral and lyric group dynamics upon epic, and the mutual evolution of epic with tragedy, these other genres help account for, and imagine, the intense interplay between performer and audience/group, or performer, audience, and hero. [51] It is in part due to this kind of “ritual context,” retaining “the mentality of group performance,” that rituals within epic retain their power in a peculiar manner. When a female character like Andromache sings a lament within Homeric poetry, “[i]t is as if the lamenting woman were addressing not only her group but also the audience that is listening to the performer as he re-enacts the woman.” [52]
Leave aside for a moment the relation of epic to ritual. It is the case that drama in general, even modern drama, aims at some kind of peculiar presencing in its performance or representation that is difficult to attain but much treasured by audiences. Music too, for that matter, partakes of the same strange dynamic: in witnessing a great musical performance, “we understand that ordinary men and their clumsy instruments are transformed by an art of possession.” [53] The dimension of presence in Homeric poetry has links with this broader category of dramatic presence, and the even broader category of performative presence. Moreover, as noted above, some of the phenomena falling under the category of “presence” or genesis can be observed in texts not composed for performance at all. So even if we did not know anything about the context of Homeric performance, some of these “presence” phenomena would be visible on the page.


Indeed, studies not focused on performance have shed light on many of these phenomena. A trail-blazing illumination of Homeric presence is Paolo Vivante’s The Epithets in Homer, which shows how objects as well as characters are made to stand out [54] from the background by means of epithets. Taking into account pragmatic linguistic factors, such as deictic pronouns and the subtleties of particle usage, Egbert Bakker has, in a series of studies, illuminated the mediating stance of the bard “presencing” the past, and precisely that quality of vividness or enargeia that has led many scholars to use terms such as “epiphany” of the Homeric poems. [55]
So the bard makes objects and characters in the past present, as it were, by pointing to them; but he also, in moving from one persona to another, makes them present through himself. Now even within his role as narrator, “the ‘I’ who narrates,” [56] the performer reenacts “Homer,” in the act of performing the words “sing to me, Muse.” This “I” then “melts,” or blends, into the listener, in that the performer now becomes a listener to the Muse’s words. [57]
The performer makes characters present through speech and, more generally, through his body. Although he enacts all characters insofar as he speaks their speeches, this enactment varies widely from character to character. Achilles by virtue of his superiority in speaking and thought seems to merge [58] with the poet in an intense fashion—to speak through him or emerge from him.
If the character can speak through the poet, the poet can also use the character as a channel; more dramatically, he may “pivot out” from his usual stance in what Paul Friedrich calls “lyric breakout,” or lyric epiphany,
a metamorphosis of the poet from being a bard telling about epic protagonists, to being the otherwise latently or underlyingly lyric poet who is now expressing himself or herself through the eyes or voice or gestures of one of the epic protagonists. [59]
Friedrich illustrates how such metamorphosis occurs in several genres, not all of them composed for performance. Deixis, speech-act theory, phonic density—all help us to appreciate the Iliad and the Odyssey as one-man shows. Friedrich’s emphasis on “phonic density,” however, points toward the importance of the performer’s body. One of Friedrich’s examples of “phonic density” is Penelope’s reaction to the disguised Odysseus’ Cretan tale (Odyssey 19.203–213), a lyric poem erupting in “chords of sound and meaning,” expressing “the sensitive and haunted woman of Homer’s art.” [60] The guttural stops, perhaps mimetic of sobbing, become voiced toward the end of the passage, in keeping with a move from crying (κλαιούσης 209) to lamenting (γοόωσαν 210, γόοιο 213). It would be pedantic to try to decide whether this is Penelope breaking out through the narrator or the narrator breaking out through Penelope.
As the Iliad opening shows, we need to take into account the bodily presence of the performer and the space of performance. Friedrich’s meditation on lyric epiphany points us further on this track, since it is only when a performer embodies Penelope’s words that phonic density effects a merging between character and performer.
The mere bodily presence of the performer before an audience makes more of a difference to our interpretation than any particular prop or gesture. But bodily presence may also supplement other “presencing” modes. For example, Felson [61] sees the suitors as stand-ins for the members of the audience, some of whom identify with, but eventually distance themselves from, the suitors. Such psychological identification [62] already falls within the realm of presencing, in that it shapes the relation between audience and character, or puts us into the minds and seats of the suitors in a qualified sense. But the identification is also concretely accomplished in space, while the performer speaks as the prophet Theoclymenos: [63] as long as the bard looks at or through the audience as he performs this speech, they are literally in the place of the suitors.


We have already seen hints that the Homeric script produces effects quite beyond the mere representation of a world that is pregiven and that the poet makes present to us. Although he does present this world to us, the bard also plays with his stance with respect to the action of the poem and with the audience’s position.
Such sophisticated play is often taken to be typical of modern rather than ancient texts. [64] For instance, Wolfgang Iser describes the play involved in a text as follows: “author, text, and reader are closely interconnected in a relationship that is to be conceived as an ongoing process that produces something that had not existed before.” [65] For Iser, this kind of activity is a modern phenomenon, whereas in “closed systems” such as “the cosmos of Greek thought” there reigns a stagnant “Aristotelian” mimesis, a mimesis that “entails reference to a pregiven ‘reality.’” It takes modernity to “puncture” the “closed system” and replace it with “open-endedness,” such that “the mimetic component of representation declines and the performative one comes to the fore.” [66]
John Herington would rotate 180 degrees the contrast between ancient and modern. Modern poetry and drama
express the lonely individual’s comforting fiction—the structure that he has built for himself (and possibly for a vaguely perceived audience) to stand solid and coherent in an otherwise fluid and inexplicable universe. [67]
Herington contrasts this with the ancient situation, where “a world of heroic and divine myth” is “the common property and theme not only of poetry, not only of tragedy, but of the very audiences, the very society, within which these arts had their being.” [68]
Such a shared mythology constitutes an open playground rather than a closed cosmos. Certainly in the Iliad and the Odyssey, traditional story, shared between poet and audience, is a thing to be used, framed and reframed, ruthlessly examined, and turned inside out. It is in following Homer’s lead that Sophocles “has not manipulated myths so much as man-handled them.” [69]
Homeric experimentation extends to narrative and theme, where it has inspired musical analogies. Létoublon writes that the Odyssey “contains a technique for the exploration of possible narratives, in a sense analogous to Bach’s experimentation with keys in the preludes and fugues of The Well-tempered Clavier.” [70]
The work of Neoanalysis has shown that the Homeric poems do not simply transmit story, they unfold a story in the foreground while opening allusive portals to other stories, portals crucial to the meaning of the entire poem. The poet counts on the audience’s knowledge of the tradition to complete the meaning of the poem. [71] It is already in front of this background that Létoublon’s Bach-like experimentation goes on: an arrangement and rearrangement of materials in the poetic foreground.
In contrast to Herington and Létoublon, Iser’s notion of play emphasizes not the manipulation of themes and plots (poetics) but the manipulation of the roles of author, audience, and text to make something happen (included under the rubric of presence).
We started moving from simple “presencing” in the direction of such play above with examples of the performer or narrator merging with a character. Perhaps the most straightforward case of such play vis-à-vis the audience in Homer involves deictic shifts, such as when the narrator suddenly addresses the audience in the second person. These received considerable attention from the scholiasts and Longinus and recently from narratologists. [72] But they are more playful than the narratologists have it. De Jong discusses the five instances in the Iliad when this happens, such as:
So they fought on in the body of fire, and you would not say
that the sun was ever safe, nor the moon.
Iliad 17.366–367
which de Jong analyzes, using her technical vocabulary:
All five passages contain an optative with ἄν/κεν, which I analyze as follows: I, NF1 [primary narrator-focalizer], tell you, NeFe1 [primary narratee-focalizee], that you certainly would (not) have seen, thought/said x, (if you had yourself been present at that moment and at that place) ... Now the external NeFe1, of course, has not been present, but the effect of these five passages is to turn him temporarily into an eyewitness: in fact, the focalizee here functions as focalizer, yet, of course, as a focalizer who is instructed by the NF1 what to see and think. [73] (my emphasis)
But does the passage really “turn him into an eyewitness”? Is not the audience usually in a “witnessing” position, and is not that witnessing being toyed with here? Does the narrator not imply “you would have seen/said this if you were there, but you were/are not”? Or is it possible that the two positions of the audience (both there on the battlefield and not there) are held in tension?
The position of the audience inside or outside the poem’s action can also be manipulated. In the Iliad opening, we are suddenly implicated in the action within the poem. At the other end of the spectrum, the second half of the Odyssey lures the audience into imagining they recognize Odysseus more deeply than the characters do, but shuts them out when Odysseus and Penelope go to bed and he catalogues for her his adventures—in indirect discourse, such that we cannot hear them. [74] Yet shut out as we are, we can still discern a note of self-censorship [75] in his story. The Odyssey, like the Sirens, “deludes [readers] into believing that they are privileged and granted the truth and that a responsible author lies behind the story” only to suddenly deprive us “of our pleasurable and privileged view of the spectacle” portrayed in the poem, as when Athena “vanishes in an unreadable simile.” [76]
The Odyssey, with its reflexivity and disguises is more conspicuously playful, in the sense of carnivalesque or comic, than the Iliad. [77] But both poems manipulate the dynamics existing among bard, audience, and the action within the poem to create an uncertainty as to the audience’s “location” with respect to that action and its source. The bard does not stand as an authoritative channel between the past and the present. For much of the time he sets up a process of “joint visualization” [78] with his audience. But the Homeric script also sets up a performance that evokes or hints at the “curious indecisiveness of the playing consciousness which makes it absolutely impossible to decide between belief and non-belief.” [79] And, like “the structure of play,” the script “absorbs the player into itself,” with the player being both the bard and the audience.
Homeric absorption is not something stable, like “transport” or the thelxis (spell) that Phemius provided to the suitors. Yet I shall argue that both poems ultimately exploit these shifting dynamics to an end that is in Pucci’s sense “readable” or in Doherty’s sense “closed.” This is in part because of the fact of performance. Performing a script closes some doors and opens others. One has to decide: What is the virtue of this material for me as a performer? But as anyone who has seen a good performance recognizes, that virtue will involve mystery, a sense of “reading” the actor.
This book pursues the play of presence among bard, audience, and characters with a view to the variety of its effects in performance. I trace these dynamics “outward” to incorporate the space of performance, and the “kinesthetics” of performance. I also trace them “inward” to include the background stories that constitute further roles into which performer, audience, and character might step, and further “layers” within the body of the performer. These background stories, that is, do not remain hermetically sealed within the ‘story-world’ of the poem, any more than the bard represents a story-world that is pre-given to the audience. Rather the back-stories directly affect the performative interplay among bard, audience, Muse, god, and hero.
One way to put it is that, as a character within epic “becomes,” or comes under the sway of, another character further in the past, there seems to be a congruent movement, or “becoming,” of the character by the bard. Such a continuum between what happens in the world of the poem and what is happening in the performer harmonizes with, for example, Martin’s observations on the Patroklos apostrophes or Friedrich’s on the sobbing of Penelope. In these instances, the bard so fully “becomes” a character that the character’s point of view affects the syntax or the sound of the narration, or he himself does things that the characters do, and vice versa.
At the same time, though this continuum between story-world and performance, and between poetics and presence, makes sense, the effects of the moves within that continuum—like the apostrophes—are often strange and disorienting, rather than merely impressive, epiphanic, or authoritative. In fact, I shall be arguing that such disorientation is often what is aimed at in the passages most virtuosic from a performance point of view. It is as though the performance is aimed at making the audience ask themselves, “Who is this person standing up there performing? And does he really have control of what is going on here?” The play of presence yields a ghostly or uncanny quality to the performance that does not quite come across on the page, and that is also to be distinguished from what transpires in the best dramatic performances.

Plato and Homeric Performance

This haunted quality, this confusion of agency, lies behind the responses to Homer of Plato and Aristotle, two people who saw the Homeric poems performed. Although they are relatively late witnesses, they are the most articulate ones we have, [80] and their responses go much deeper than reportage. I have already suggested that Aristotle reveals more about Homeric dramatics by his imitation, as in his ring composition, than in his overt statements; but this will only be fully appreciated when we have seen ring composition at work in Homer (see below, Chapter 2).
In this section, I examine two Homeric examples discussed in Platonic dialogue. As with Aristotle, I do not wish to use Plato as a simple lens by which to interpret Homer; one must after all use Homer to interpret the philosophers, in a sort of virtuous circle. Their responses help flesh out the qualities of the Homeric poems in performance as well as their inner workings.
As we saw above, Aristotle found the mode of Homeric performance, “not seeing the one-doing,” more conducive to the thaumaston, the “to be wondered at,” than tragedy (1460a7–11). It is this quality of “not seeing the actor,” as Aristotle put it, the solo performer’s occupying a space between acting and not-acting, his ability to occupy various “musical chairs,” that is responsible for its charisma and its strangeness. [81]
Aristotle’s brief note on the thaumaston quality of Homer echoes Plato’s elaborate treatment of Homer in the Republic. Plato’s characters discuss Homer as though he is a ghost, a dead hero, or else a necromancer, someone who traffics in ghosts. The poet is a maker of phantoms (εἴδωλα εἰδωλοποιοῦντα Republic 605b; cf. φαντάσματα, 599a). These phantoms interfere with the audience by short-circuiting their souls. The spectator in turn becomes an εἴδωλον, in his involuntary, automaton-like reaction: like a denizen of the underworld, he flits around without a νοῦς (mind; what steers us). Or rather, the poet qua maker of phantoms operates upon a part of the soul that, like the souls in Hades, lacks powers of judgment and an internal steering mechanism. The poet is said (605c) to “awaken” (ἐγείρει) and “nourish” (τρέφει) this low part of the soul somewhat as though raising the dead. [82] Plato combines the image of creating εἴδωλα, “images/phantoms,” with raising the deadest part of the soul; the poet thus operates on εἴδωλα in his poetry, and on εἴδωλον-like parts of his audience, through one and the same process. Likewise, puppetry (“wonder-making”: θαυματοποιία) and shadow-painting, along with “many other tricks” that “do not fall short of γοητεία [magic; necromancy],” are used as an analogy to poetic imitation (602d).
The kind of poet subject to banishment in the Republic is “a man, as it seems, capable by his wisdom of becoming παντοδαπόν [‘multifarious’] and imitating all things” (398a). This recalls the phrase Plato and Aristotle use elsewhere in discussing performance; [83] both philosophers were manifestly impressed by the way Homer “becomes something else.” [84]
What precisely do Plato’s Socrates, and Aristotle, mean by “becoming the character,” and what is so impressive, so disturbing, about it? Why does it inspire analogies to ghosts, necromancers, and puppets? In the remainder of this chapter, let us proceed, not to a “Platonic” or “Aristotelian” reading, but to see why the Homeric poems would inspire such comparisons by these invaluable native (if late) informants. We turn in particular to two Homeric passages treated by Plato, to their “presence” effects and their performative potential.

The Iliad Opening

In Republic Book 3, Socrates and the young men have just discussed what must be said by the poets in the city they are constructing, and are now discussing how it must be said.
“Isn’t everything that is said by the storytellers and the poets a narrative of what has happened or what is or what is to come?”
“What else could it be?” he said.
“Now do they not recount either by simple diēgesis or by [diēgesis] coming about through mimesis or by both?”
“Even with this,” he said, “I still need to get a clearer idea.”
“I seem,” I said, “to be a laughable teacher and unclear: so just like those who are not good at speaking, instead of speaking about the whole, I’ll slice off a part and try to make clear to you what I want. Tell me: do you know the first things of the Iliad, in which the poet said that Chryses asks Agamemnon to release his daughter, and he is harsh, and he, since he was not succeeding, was cursing the Achaeans to the god?”
“I do.”
“You know, then, that up to these lines:
               καὶ ἐλίσσετο πάντας Ἀχαιούς,
Ἀτρεΐδα δὲ μάλιστα δύω, κοσμήτορε λαῶν
the poet himself is speaking and he is not trying to turn our thought elsewhere as if it is someone else speaking other than himself. And the part after that he speaks as though he himself were Chryses and tries as hard as he can to make it seem to us that it is not Homer speaking, but the priest, being an old man. And the rest, in fact, just about all the narration, he has made in this way—about the events in Ilium and about those in Ithaka and all the pathēmata of the Odyssey.”
“Very much so,” he said.
“So narration is both when he speaks the speeches in each case and when (he speaks) the stuff between the speeches?”
“How could it not be?”
“But when he speaks a speech as if he is someone else, won’t we then say that he is likening himself as much as possible in his own speech (lexis) to each [character] that he announces on the point of speaking?”
“We’ll say that—what else?”
“So: to liken himself to another either in voice or in gesture/form (schēma) is to imitate that one to whom one likens oneself?”
“Of course, so ...?”
“In such a mode, as it seems, this one and other poets make their narration through mimesis.”
“Very much so.”
“If the poet nowhere hid himself, his poetry and narrative as a whole would have come about without imitation. And so that you don’t say that you still aren’t understanding, I’ll show you how it would be. If Homer said that Chryses came bringing ransom for his daughter as a suppliant of the Achaeans, and most especially the kings, and then after this he spoke not as though he’d become Chryses, but still as Homer [μὴ ὡς Χρύσης γενόμενος ἔλεγεν ἀλλ’ ἔτι ὡς Ὅμηρος], you realize that it wouldn’t be mimesis but simple narrative. And it would be somewhat like this—I’ll speak without meter, I’m not poetic: Having come, the priest prayed that the gods grant them to sack Troy and save themselves, and that they release his daughter, taking the ransom and revering the god. And when he himself said these things, the others showed respect and consented, but Agamemnon got angry, telling him to go away now and not to come back again, lest the scepter and fillets of the god not protect him. And before releasing his daughter, he said she would grow old in Argos with him.”
Plato Republic 392d–393e [85]
In this paraphrase Socrates successfully drains all the life out of the opening of the Iliad. He shows us vividly what is lost when one foregoes the dramatic mode of Homer [86] and banishes this kind of poet from the city. After inducing Adeimantus to say they will only admit the poet who is “the unmixed imitator of the decent” (someone who narrates and only imitates good men, and that just a little), Socrates reminds Adeimantus of the pleasing quality of “the man who is mixed” as a way of warning him of the harshness of what they are doing. We may read “Homer” into “the mixed man” in this sad exchange:
“However, Adeimantus, the man who is mixed (κεκραμένος) is pleasing, and by far the most pleasing to boys and their teachers, and to the great mob too, is the man opposed to the one you choose.”
“Yes,” he said, “he is the most pleasing.”
“But perhaps,” I said, “you’d say he didn’t fit with our regime, since there is no double man among us or a multi-layered man (πολλαπλοῦς), since each does one thing.”
“No, he doesn’t fit.”
Plato Republic 397d–e
Step by step, Socrates has led his interlocutors to conclude that they cannot admit the performer who is able to “become all sorts of things” (παντοδαπὸν γίγνεσθαι) (398a). In the immediate context, the reasons have to do with “not doing more than one thing.” In the city they are founding, everyone must do only one thing: the farmer is a farmer, and not a judge along with his farming (397e).
What is so alarming about “becoming all sorts of things,” and what all is entailed in this process, is not fully explicated here. But the example, the opening of the Iliad, is well chosen to illustrate precisely what is lost that is “most pleasing” when we rid ourselves of Homer’s “becoming something else.” This passage—familiar though it is [87] —repays meticulous attention to its performative virtues: to launch the poem, the bard does not merely, as is sometimes said, plunge us into the poem’s world, but gives a rapid-fire display of the techniques involved in becoming the character. Much more is at work in the “becoming” process than impersonation (“likening oneself to another”) or direct discourse.
          μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
          οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε,
          πολλὰς δ’ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν
          ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν
5         οἰωνοῖσί τε δαῖτα, Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή,
          ἐξ οὗ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε
          Ἀτρεΐδης τε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.
          τίς τ’ ἄρ σφωε θεῶν ἔριδι ξυνέηκε μάχεσθαι;
          Λητοῦς καὶ Διὸς υἱός· ὃ γὰρ βασιλῆϊ χολωθεὶς
10      νοῦσον ἀνὰ στρατὸν ὦρσε κακήν, ὀλέκοντο δὲ λαοί,
          οὕνεκα τὸν Χρύσην ἠτίμασεν ἀρητῆρα
          Ἀτρεΐδης· ὃ γὰρ ἦλθε θοὰς ἐπὶ νῆας Ἀχαιῶν
          λυσόμενός τε θύγατρα φέρων τ’ ἀπερείσι’ ἄποινα,
          στέμματ’ ἔχων ἐν χερσὶν ἑκηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος
15      χρυσέῳ ἀνὰ σκήπτρῳ, καὶ ἐλίσσετο πάντας Ἀχαιούς,
          Ἀτρεΐδα δὲ μάλιστα δύω, κοσμήτορε λαῶν·
          Ἀτρεΐδαι τε καὶ ἄλλοι ἐϋκνήμιδες Ἀχαιοί,
          ὑμῖν μὲν θεοὶ δοῖεν Ὀλύμπια δώματ᾽ ἔχοντες
          ἐκπέρσαι Πριάμοιο πόλιν, εὖ δ᾽ οἴκαδ᾽ ἱκέσθαι·
20      παῖδα δ᾽ ἐμοὶ λύσαιτε φίλην, τὰ δ᾽ ἄποινα δέχεσθαι,
          ἁζόμενοι Διὸς υἱὸν ἑκηβόλον Ἀπόλλωνα.
          ἔνθ᾽ ἄλλοι μὲν πάντες ἐπευφήμησαν Ἀχαιοὶ
          αἰδεῖσθαί θ᾽ ἱερῆα καὶ ἀγλαὰ δέχθαι ἄποινα·
          ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ Ἀτρεΐδῃ Ἀγαμέμνονι ἥνδανε θυμῷ,
25      ἀλλὰ κακῶς ἀφίει, κρατερὸν δ᾽ ἐπὶ μῦθον ἔτελλε·
          μή σε γέρον κοίλῃσιν ἐγὼ παρὰ νηυσὶ κιχείω …

          Sing wrath, goddess, the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus,
          baneful, which laid myriad pains on the Achaeans,
          and pitched into Hades many strong souls
          of heroes, and was preparing them themselves as prey for dogs
          and a feast for birds, and the plan of Zeus was being fulfilled,
          from the time when, you see, first they stood apart, having quarreled,
          the son of Atreus, lord of men, and godlike Achilles.
          Who was it, after all, of the gods, that brought them together to fight?
          The son of Leto and Zeus: for he, angered at the king
          sent a plague through the army, and the soldiers were dying,
          because he dishonored Chryses, the priest—
          the son of Atreus, that is. For he came to the swift ships of the Achaeans
          trying to ransom his daughter, bringing countless ransom,
          holding in his hands fillets of far-shooter Apollo
          on a golden staff, and he beseeched all the Achaeans,
          the Atreidai most of all, marshals of the people:
          “Atreidai and the rest of you well-greaved Achaeans,
          may the gods who live in Olympian halls grant to you
          to sack the city of Priam, and go home safe.
          But let my dear child go, and accept this ransom,
          revering the son of Zeus, far-shooter Apollo.”
          Then all the rest of the Achaeans shouted approval—
          to revere the priest and accept the splendid ransom:
          but not to the son of Atreus, Agamemnon, was it pleasing,
          but he sent him off roughly, and dispatched a harsh word:
          “I don’t want to come across you, old man, by the hollow ships...”
Iliad 1.1–26
Let us take the elements as they arise. To begin the Iliad, the performer asks the goddess to sing wrath: the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus. This wrath is murderous and sent ψυχάς to Hades, independently of the person it inhabits (lines 2–3). [88] Its activity is also connected somehow to the βουλή (plan) of Zeus, as we now learn. Zeus (lines 5–6) may or may not be the origin of strife (ἐρίσαντε, 6) between two leaders, one of whom turns out to be that same Achilles: either he is, or else ἐξ οὗ (line 6) refers to the point at which the singer wants the goddess to start, and the bard leaps from his long description of the wrath back to his request to the goddess. Or the plan starts in motion with the quarrel itself. [89] Or a nice ambiguity is created as to whose wrath is causing whose. This would be in keeping with the rest of the proem, which continues to mix containers and forces in a sort of Klein bottle.
Having plunged his audience into this morass of causes, divine and semidivine, the bard then begins again (τίς τ’ ἄρ) with a question about ἔρις (strife, line 8). Which of the gods flung the two together in ἔρις to fight? The son of Zeus and Leto (line 9): not, now, Zeus himself. Having fixed on this as the answer, he now explains (γάρ) that this god was angered at the king. But since the bard has just evoked the strife between Achilles and Agamemnon, the audience may map this anger of Apollo’s onto that of Achilles. The jerky wide-angle lens begins to zoom in on the camp. The λαοί (troops) are being killed (line 10); Apollo, or the νοῦσος (plague) he incited throughout the army, now performs the same action as Achilles, or rather Achilles’ wrath (line 2)—or even Zeus or his βουλή (plan) [90] —i.e. sending souls of heroes to Hades. The performer continues: because he dishonored Chryses the priest—Atreides did (lines 11–12). Apollo is angry because Atreides dishonored someone; an audience who knows what is coming is increasingly binding Apollo and Achilles together. [91] For “he” came to the swift ships of the Achaeans to get his daughter freed, bringing countless ransom.
Ah, here is “he”—the priest: he enters the visual field, arriving at the ships. He has fillets in his hands, fillets of Apollo who shoots from afar; he represents Apollo, who is not present but operates at a distance (14 ἑκηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος; drilled home at line 21 as the last words of Chryses’ speech). Fillets on a golden scepter: as our mind’s eye zooms in on this significant object, we become present at the scene of the priest’s arrival; “recognizing” the priest by his attributes, [92] we “arrive” somewhat as the priest does. (And there may be a more concrete sense in which the performer arrives and we come to the scene to see him: if the performer is carrying a staff, as he holds it (up?) it becomes this scepter. [93] The staff, as we focus upon it, is the first thing in our space to transform into that long-ago camp by the ships.) And he supplicated all of the Achaeans, the two Atreidai most of all, marshallers of the host: “Ἀτρεΐδαι τε καὶ ἄλλοι….” A man speaks among us. Strife is about to be sparked.
Atreidai and the rest of you well-greaved Achaeans,
may the gods who live in Olympian halls grant to you
to sack the city of Priam, and go home safe.
But let my dear child go, and accept this ransom,
revering the son of Zeus, far-shooter Apollo.
Iliad 1.17–21
The performer is speaking to us. We, addressed by the performer-as-Chryses, become the Achaeans in the camp. We are no longer being told a story; we are cast as characters within the poem, faced with a choice in the here and now. This choice will determine whether we will die a horrific death. It is a profoundly bad idea to refuse the man before us. We do not intervene, however, because this is only a show. [94]
Someone from another world (the deep past; the world of the poem; a foreign land) has arrived in our midst. There is something behind him, emphasized by the repeated “shooting from afar.” If the performer wields a staff, this force from afar is connected to the man before us via his staff: his “golden scepter.” When the man speaks, we are plunged into that other world. But there is yet another world behind him, a world of forces, including divine forces, already operating through him. Several wrathful figures are evoked, layered onto one another, and then compressed into whatever this man before us represents.
How did he get here, again? Let us take a more detailed look, focusing upon the person of the performer as a portal through which forces are made present.
The man before us in line 1 invoked wrath. Wrath is what he wants the goddess, invisible to us, to sing, through his mouth. The wrath is then said to be a force operating through someone else—Achilles, not the singer. Wrath then is a force operating independently of the bard and Achilles, but through them. Thus is set in motion a play on the identity of the singer that will return again and again: his eerie relation to Achilles. Wrath, μῆνις, a divine resentment that “taps a cosmic power released by the disorder of a basic order,” [95] becomes a social situation, a strife between two men (ἔρις / ἐρίσαντε, 6), becomes an organic condition, χόλος (χωόμενος, 44; χωομένοιο, 46), a liquid seething within the body. μῆνις, an “objective relation, an anger dangerous to someone,” descends into χόλος, “a subjective condition, experienced by the angry person.” [96] At the same time, the figures, divine and heroic, who are wrathful, angry, or subject to strife bleed into one another.
The first seven lines invoke the goddess to sing the wrath, ending on the vivid line of Atreides and Achilles, names and epithets chiasmically filling the hexameter, standing apart in strife. With line 8 the bard starts over with the question of who brought the two together. They need to be brought together (ξυνέηκε) before they can stand apart (διαστήτην). The question induces the first step backwards in time.
Answer: the son of Leto and Zeus—for he drove a plague (νοῦσος) through the army. If the bard gestures toward the audience as he says νοῦσον ἀνὰ στρατὸν ὦρσε κακήν (“a plague through the troops he drove, evil”), thus “driving” it through us with a movement, there is already a subtle transformation of the space of performance, even before the performer speaks as Chryses to us as the Achaeans. Someone is sending something forward to us, or arousing it within us. The performer at once describes a god who incited something in our midst, and also, to whatever degree, himself embodies that god, that action. Then there is an explanation (οὕνεκα, 11), and another step back in time: Atreides dishonored τὸν Χρύσην. Why τὸν [this/that] Χρύσην? [97] Does the performer gesture at an absent figure—perhaps behind him, ready to emerge through him? Immediately, another explanation (γάρ, 12): he came to the swift ships of the Achaeans. The performer either does or does not enact this arrival. He might do so with even the hint of a step—really any gesture at all. He came, to get his daughter freed and bringing countless ransom, holding fillets in hand, of far-shooter Apollo—on a golden scepter. If the performer has a staff, it snaps crisply into the place of the priest’s scepter. The fact that the scepter is golden (χρυσέῳ) and so echoes the name of Chryses may seem insignificant, but we eventually learn that scepter, priest, priest’s daughter (simply called Chryseis), and fatherland all have versions of the same name. Does the staff represent Chryses as Chryses represents Apollo? At any rate, the staff “stands in” for the priest until he arrives more fully into the body of the bard. And he beseeched all of the Achaeans:
          Ἀτρεΐδα δὲ μάλιστα δύω, κοσμήτορε λαῶν·
17      Ἀτρεΐδαι τε καὶ ἄλλοι ἐϋκνήμιδες Ἀχαιοί,

          And especially the two sons of Atreus, commanders of the people:
          Sons of Atreus and other well-greaved Achaeans
What happens in the echo Atreida/Atreidai in lines 16–17? Striking as they are, the two instances are already the third and fourth times this word has appeared in line-initial position. [98]
Line 16 particularizes the object in the previous line: the Achaeans, but mostly the Atreidai. Yet, in its anticipation of Chryses’ speech in the next line, it also forms a bridge from narration to performing of direct discourse. (Notice that Socrates’ quotation stops at line 16, just before the bard “becomes someone else.”) Since the line invokes the Atreidai in the dual, it can almost be spoken as a vocative. In the Homeric script there are no stage directions, only opportunities. Line 16 is an opportunity for the performer to make his way into the persona of Chryses by anticipating his words with his own, perhaps with a gesture singling out the two brothers in the audience. Once we hear line 17, we are firmly planted in the position of the Achaean audience. Yet we hear those words of the priest as an echo of words coming from the performer: we hear a rehearsal, and then the real speech; a speech arising out of description; a swivel from telling to doing; a meditation and a praxis; a warmup and the real thing erupting. The staff, the possible gestures, the echoing line-initial Ἀτρείδης, and the grammar make possible a gradual entry into the character that blurs the line between recounting and reenacting. It is somewhat akin to the awkward moment familiar from solo performances of our own time, wherein the audience squirms because we are afraid the performer may start talking to us. [99]
Once Chryses’ speech starts, we are again going forward in time: the description has taken us back to this moment, and from here on we are in the time of the poem’s action, moving forward.
So far as direct discourse goes, the first person the performer becomes is a foreigner angry with the king, someone with divine backup from afar. Or rather, he has cause for anger, but he speaks as a suppliant, [100] invoking the divine backup only at the end of his speech.
But the layers of embodiment here complicate the equation of direct discourse and “becoming the character.” We are told the rest of the Achaeans acclaimed the priest’s request—but not Atreides; he sent him away harshly. Then the performer becomes Agamemnon, and we are now his audience, forced to judge him. He insults the scepter of the god, the very pivot by which the performer, and the forces he invoked, emerged into our world—an object whose power we have witnessed.
When Agamemnon has angrily sent Chryses away, the performer describes Chryses walking beside the sea [101] in silence, “going apart” (35) for his prayer to Apollo. The performer then once again becomes Chryses, insofar as he speaks the prayer. (He may also gesture with his arms in prayer.) The performer-as-priest invokes Apollo to wreak vengeance, and curses the Achaeans (42), enacting the emergence of the mēnis he called down in line 1 into speech and gesture. We already know Apollo’s reaction: he is angry (9). The priest, then, is calling down the anger of Apollo. But the man before us has already invoked wrath—his opening gesture was to ask for the unseen muse to sing wrath. Now he, as the priest, invokes Apollo. But Apollo is also the leader of the Muse he invoked to initiate everything. It is by assuming his position as a singer leading the Muses that Apollo rounds out Book 1 (1.603), peeking through briefly as someone like the bard. So the dovetailing of the two invocations, each taking place in the body before us, each invoking wrath as an engine of action, is made strange. What exactly is the relation between this man and his character(s)?
The two invocations are not simply variations on a theme, lined up along a horizontal axis for scholars to compare. One can see this by following the course wrath takes through the body of the performer. Rather than standing alongside the priest’s invocation in the linear sequence of events, the opening invocation of the Muse brings on what follows. It invokes a song, in effect, to enter the performer so that he can sing it. For the performer himself to “sing wrath,” the wrath enters him along with the song. The script dictates that he bring the divine wrath to earth, to internalize it, in order to nurse it bodily like χόλος and release it as someone else.
The performer invokes wrath from the Muse, then first describes its effects: sending souls to Hades. Then he backs up into its causes, presenting them one by one, and bringing it down to earth [102] to the performance space: the staff, the embodiment of the priest, our becoming the Achaeans. Once he has brought the wrath here and stands before us as the priest, he speaks as a person in the then and there, not the here and now—though now our “here and now” has changed. It is anger that has been invoked and internalized, and anger that we know must be released to do its work of killing, for we have been told that is the poem. It is this temporarily confined anger that fuels the emergence of presences being played out before us.
When he is refused, there is a break in the performer’s embodiment. He describes the priest’s movement into a space apart, for a prayer that we then witness, but, from the description of the scene, are not present for. Once “backstage,” as it were, he gives vent to his anger, as he becomes the priest again: both of his entrances into the priest are powered by anger.
He asks “silver-bow” (line 37) to hear him, “you who straddle Chryse”—and here the name of the place recalls his own name, such that he invokes a presence towering over him protectively. The “golden” words are spatialized into man (priest), implement (scepter), surrounding space, abducted child. He then widens that protection out to neighboring cities. “If I ever roofed over for you a pleasing temple”: here, ἔρεψα (“I roofed,” 39) echoes spatially ἀμφιβέβηκας (“you straddle”) in 37 and ἀνάσσεις ‘you are lord over’ in 38: he points, whether with actual gestures or not, to the roof, moving from Apollo, as it were, roofing over Chryse (himself/his city) to himself roofing over the house of Apollo. “... or if I ever burned fat thigh bones”: gradually the referent of his speech is lowered to the ground, to the altar that sends up its savor, connecting him with the god. Note how the lowering of the referent parallels the bringing down to earth of μῆνις (wrath) by the bard. [103] Finally he prays: “may the Danaans pay for my tears with your missiles.” The gradual descent of the actions both describes the priest’s past placating gestures and brings on the straddling god’s descent to shoot down the mortals below. The performer embodies the priest, who in turn first embodies the god and then “imitates” his action. Once again we have a conjuring of forces and an embodiment; a rehearsal and an enactment. Having brought into being several strata of wrathful forces, the bard now taps into the force lying behind the priest. It is a force at once “operating from afar” and lying in wait inside him, from which his actions are bodied forth.
The invocation has its effect, and Apollo descends in anger in the celebrated lines, to which the English translation, unfortunately, cannot do justice.
βῆ δὲ κατ’ Οὐλύμποιο καρήνων χωόμενος κῆρ,
τόξ’ ὤμοισιν ἔχων ἀμφηρεφέα τε φαρέτρην·
ἔκλαγξαν δ’ ἄρ’ ὀϊστοὶ ἐπ’ ὤμων χωομένοιο,
αὐτοῦ κινηθέντος· ὃ δ’ ἤϊε νυκτὶ ἐοικώς.
ἕζετ’ ἔπειτ’ ἀπάνευθε νεῶν, μετὰ δ’ ἰὸν ἕηκε·
δεινὴ δὲ κλαγγὴ γένετ’ ἀργυρέοιο βιοῖο·
οὐρῆας μὲν πρῶτον ἐπῴχετο καὶ κύνας ἀργούς,
αὐτὰρ ἔπειτ’ αὐτοῖσι βέλος ἐχεπευκὲς ἐφιεὶς
βάλλ’· αἰεὶ δὲ πυραὶ νεκύων καίοντο θαμειαί.

And he strode down the peaks of Olympus, seething in his heart,
bow on his shoulders, and a lidded quiver:
they clanged—the arrows—on his shoulders as he raged,
his body stirred: and he came like the night.
Then he sat far off from the ships, and let go an arrow.
A terrible clang came forth from the silver bow:
the mules, first of all, he laid into, and the swift dogs,
but then, releasing a piercing arrow at the men themselves
he was shooting them: and pyres thick with corpses ever burned.
Iliad 1.44–52
Once he starts shooting, the burning thighbones invoked by the priest are replaced by the burning corpses of the Achaeans (52).
Achaeans are dying and burning, but Achilles has not been involved at all. But was it not his wrath that was to send souls to Hades (line 2)? Have we just had a dumb show of the actual poem? [104] Logically, from the perspective of plot, we may anticipate the wrath of Achilles as arising out of the current situation. But here is someone who “represents” anger—anger that fuels his presence before us—a persona who “acts from afar” within a recursion of embodied anger. Of anger as a force powering forth presence but also reaching back for an unseen presence to come forward. Wrath, as an external force brought inside, is fecund soil not only for a maker of plots, but for a bard who traffics in presences.
So when the bodies are burning and the wrath of Achilles has yet to appear, the audience may experience that wrath not only as about to occur, temporally, but also as still one layer further back in that recursion of wrath, spatially: something to be brought forth from the performer in whom that invoked wrath now resides, from one layer further inside himself.
There is a Russian-doll quality to this opening, and we have not yet reached the last doll. Rather than the performer opening dolls for us, however, he is the dolls. [105] The bard becomes each doll, moreover, in a way that is hard to keep track of. While the uncovering of a Russian doll may be surprising, what is happening is clear. In the Iliad opening, however, the layers—the goddess sending the song, the wrath sending the souls to Hades, the hero embodying wrath, the god whose plan the wrath was, the priest, the god invoked by the priest, the performer himself—collapse and intermingle.
This intermingling makes schematizing difficult but at the same time makes the whole dynamic possible. The performer enacts a quasi-ring composition as he moves from describing Achilles, Apollo, and then Chryses, to embodying Chryses, Apollo (shooting), and finally Achilles (when he calls the assembly).
[description] Achilles → Apollo → Chryses
[embodiment] Achilles ← Apollo ← Chryses
This broad movement from representation into action, from description into enactment, encapsulates the layered or multidimensional quality of Homeric performance.
Such a movement is seen elsewhere in Homeric ring composition, as we shall see especially in Chapter 2. It is similar to the physician’s movement of thought to action described by Aristotle in the Metaphysics: [106]
γίγνεται δὲ τὸ ὑγιὲς νοήσαντος οὕτως· ἐπειδὴ τοδὶ ὑγίεια, ἀνάγκη εἰ ὑγιὲς ἔσται τοδὶ ὑπάρξαι, οἷον ὁμαλότητα, εἰ δὲ τοῦτο, θερμότητα· καὶ οὕτως ἀεὶ νοεῖ, ἕως ἂν ἀγάγῃ εἰς τοῦτο ὃ αὐτὸς δύναται ἔσχατον ποιεῖν. εἶτα ἤδη ἡ ἀπὸ τούτου κίνησις ποίησις καλεῖται, ἡ ἐπὶ τὸ ὑγιαίνειν. ὥστε συμβαίνει τρόπον τινὰ τὴν ὑγίειαν ἐξ ὑγιείας γίγνεσθαι καὶ τὴν οἰκίαν ἐξ οἰκίας, τῆς ἄνευ ὕλης τὴν ἔχουσαν ὕλην
And the healthy comes about from him thinking in this way: since such-and-such is health, it is necessary that, if there will be health, so-and-so must obtain, for instance homogeneity, and if this, heat: and so he keeps on thinking, until he brings (the thought process) to that which he himself has the power, in the end, to do (poiein). Then the movement away from this point is called poiēsis, poiēsis toward becoming healthy. So it follows in a certain way that health comes about from health, and a house from a house; out of that without matter, that which has matter.
Aristotle Metaphysics Z 1032b 6–14
The physician thinks his way back and back until he reaches the last thing, which is the starting point for action. Similarly the bard reaches back through description, backing up in time, until he reaches the starting point for action, that is, the point at which he springs forward into the body of Chryses—or Chryses enters his body—and action begins. The performer, like Aristotle’s physician, backtracks into the “wellsprings” of action, something external to himself, which when reached gives him the power to go forward. Only with the Iliad 1 bard, he first sets up a world, and within that representation uncannily “finds” something to fuel his continued performance.
What I have uncovered in the Iliad opening differs from what Socrates brings to the attention of the young men. When Socrates speaks of a performer “trying as hard as he can to make us believe it is Chryses speaking,” he singles out the performer’s use of voice and gesture or stance (schēma), as well as lexis in the sense of how a character would speak. Certain features of performance would sharpen its effect: a confluence between performer’s staff and priest’s scepter, and the gestures connecting bard, priest, and god. See for yourself. But it is the workings of the script itself, when embodied by a bard before an audience—independent of particular actorly mediations—that produces “presencing” effects such as the emergence of Chryses. To summarize:
 1. the sudden casting of the audience into the position of Chryses’ addressees, and its use of their stance qua audience to involve them in a troubling fashion
 2. the invocation of μῆνις (wrath) and its transformation through description and then embodiment (poetics to presence), such that a force invoked into the body of the bard seems to emerge through a character, in a detour around the barrier between story-world and the world of performance
In this way, μῆνις fuels both the events within the poem and the bard’s performance: the emergence into the world of the audience.
 3. the threading of the μῆνις through several divine and human characters, producing a “layering” effect
The bard becomes a container for forces to course through and a mask behind which other figures, of an uncertain metaphysical relationship to one another (what is causing what?) wait to emerge. There is metaphysical confusion, a displacement of the “source of action” outside the body of the bard himself. The source of action “wanders.”
All of these dynamics transcend mere “impersonation” and are more threatening to a carefully regulated city such as the young men are creating in speech. So why does Socrates neglect them? Has he, or Plato, simply missed those dynamics, in his description of the opening of the Iliad? Has he deliberately left out a full discussion?
The Republic, however radically it differs from the Iliad, itself recapitulates some of these dynamics. Above we noted how the similarities among bard, priest, and Apollo contributed to the dynamics flowing through the opening of the Iliad. Here again, Plato has, rather than explicitly describing such things, carried them into the space of the dialogue in a haunting fashion. Socrates, after transposing the opening of the Iliad into deadly narrated prose, virtually coerces Adeimantus into banning the poet, precisely when he is describing Agamemnon’s banishment of the priest of Apollo, Chryses. This is not only a clue that Plato is not ultimately in earnest about such a ban; it also shows how Plato reveals far more through imitation, and through his transposition of the dynamics of Homeric poetry into the genre of written dialogue, than his characters do in their individual remarks. [107] Indeed, to banish the priest is to banish the poet, and the god and hero lying behind both of them.
But Plato imitates Homer here not only by banning the representative of Apollo. The particular way in which Plato uses this passage is itself a Homeric technique. I discuss three instances of this technique later: the Meleager story (Chapter 2), the Trojan Horse story in Odyssey 8 (see Chapter 1) and the Cloak Story in Odyssey 14 (Chapter 4). All are virtuoso performance moments. In the Republic’s “banning” and in these Homeric examples, someone recounts a traditional story, breaking off just before a moment of troubling salience to the current situation. It is extraordinary that in both Odyssey passages, the stories told utterly undermine the hero (in each case, he commits vile acts just after the point at which the retelling stops), even though in the first case, Odysseus has requested the story from a bard, and in the second, he himself is telling it. It is, one might say, an anti-epic type scene, one that brings out a psychic split within the hero and within the performer. The workings of the Cloak Story do not seem to have registered with modern readers. But perhaps Plato understood. [108] It would have been much more obvious in performance. It is not surprising that he imitates this sophisticated Odyssean dialectic in a dialogue that owes so much to the Odyssey, precisely at the moment of banning Homer.
The Republic imitates, as well as probes, the dynamics of Homeric performance. [109] The layered, ghostly or haunted quality that Plato saw in Homeric performance is manifested in his imitation rather than analyzed overtly. And that quality is integral to the script, however it is embodied.


Such imitation is more overt in Plato’s Ion, where Socrates becomes a rhapsode. In this dialogue the accent is on the comic rather than the ghostly. But the Homeric moment around which the dialogue is designed, the prophecy of Theoclymenos, illustrates precisely the dynamics that Plato saw in Homeric performance.
The Ion, being a drama, lacks the layer of narrative that the Republic shares with the Iliad and Odyssey. Nevertheless a shifting of roles similar to that in the Iliad opening is at work in the Ion, and the way the Ion uses Homeric passages brings out their own role-shifting among god, poet, performer, character, and audience.
This is only part of the comedy of the Ion, an overtly playful dialogue in which Socrates subverts his own arguments in an egregiously funny way, and the Homeric examples are designed for something other than what they are cited to illustrate. To show Ion the rhapsode that he is only inspired and possesses no art (τέχνη) of his own, Socrates becomes the rhapsode, putting before Ion’s eyes his own rhapsodic experience. Socrates invokes scenes that transport Ion—Odysseus making his epiphany to the suitors, Achilles chasing Hektor—and thus transports Ion onto the platform, such that Ion praises Socrates as though he were an epic poet-performer:
How ἐναργές (clear, palpable) to me, Socrates, is this τεκμήριον (sign) you’ve spoken: not hiding anything from you I will speak. For, whenever I speak something pitiful, my eyes are full of tears; and when something fearful or δεινόν, my hair stands up under the fear and my heart leaps.
Plato Ion 535c
Socrates asks Ion whether he thinks someone is in his right mind (ἔμφρονα, 535d) who, decked out in a fancy cloak and golden crowns, cries at festival and feast, even though he has lost none of these things and is among 20,000 friends, none of them hurting him. Ion admits he is not at all in his right mind. Socrates asks whether he knows that he does the same to the audience. And now, a few seconds after describing his tears, this shift of focus to the audience prompts Ion to say:
For I’m looking down, each time, at them, from above, from the platform, them crying and gazing at me awestruck, and συνθαμβοῦντας (astounded) at what’s being said. Now I have to pay close attention to them—because if I see them crying, I will laugh, taking their money, but if they’re laughing, I’ll cry, losing money!
Plato Ion 535e
Same moment, different Ion: he weeps and laughs at the same time, in different parts of himself.
As Plato elsewhere creates a tension between the poet as dominating shaper and as slave, the Ion too has many means of conveying the same tension. This can be seen in the dialogue’s treatment of prophecy. Socrates (531b) raises the art of the prophet as something both Homer and Hesiod talk about, something upon which Ion might be expected to expound. When asked whether he or an actual prophet would speak better about passages involving prophecy, Ion admits the prophet is better qualified. Although this is only the first of several arts Socrates holds out hope that Ion might possess, it is crucial in that, by the end of the dialogue, Socrates is congratulating Ion that, although he has no τέχνη, he is inspired by a god: in short, he is just like a prophet after all. The fact that Ion lacks the prophetic art has been used to launch the argument that ends with Ion as a prophet.
The dialogue’s use of Homeric examples, while seemingly as facetious as its argument, is more sophisticated. In asking whether Homer speaks correctly of the medical art, Socrates (538c) cites a passage (Iliad 11.639–640) in which a slave woman serves a wine concoction to a passive doctor. For chariotry (537a), he cites the grandiose speech of Nestor (Iliad 23.335–340), who recalls how in his youth he won all athletic events except the chariot race, to his son, who proceeds to cheat his way to second prize. For prophecy he cites two passages. One of them (Iliad 12.200–207, cited at 539b–c) is an elaborate description of a bird-sign. The reason this passage is famous is because of what follows it: Hektor’s charismatic dismissal of the sign. Yet Socrates stops abruptly just before Hektor responds, “One bird sign is best: to fight for your country.” Presumably the point is to prompt the reader to recall Hektor’s unforgettable response and to see the nonsense Socrates is making. Each example carries with it an ironic twist, a lesson to the reader, which is left out of the beating being administered to Ion.
The other passage, the prophecy of Theoclymenos (Odyssey 20.351–357, Ion 539a), is more complicated. The Odyssey passage itself is a pyrotechnic display of Homeric poetics [110] as well as performance or “becoming,” issuing a devastating critique of the Homeric audience under the guise of a prophecy to the suitors. “No other incident in [Homer] approaches the uncanniness of this,” [111] and its uncanniness is only fully appreciated in performance. The passage is queerly introduced within the Ion, as Socrates ventriloquizes Ion, quoting a hypothetical Ion asking Socrates a comically long question about where in Homer are the passages that concern prophecy. Socrates obliges the ventriloquized Ion, who is by now in fact quite at sea, by quoting Theoclymenos prophesying to the deranged suitors. Socrates quotes only the speech of Theoclymenos, without the troubling context, which is included here:
345                                 μνηστῆρσι δὲ Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη
          ἄσβεστον γέλω ὦρσε, παρέπλαγξεν δὲ νόημα.
          οἱ δ’ ἤδη γναθμοῖσι γελώων ἀλλοτρίοισιν,
          αἱμοφόρυκτα δὲ δὴ κρέα ἤσθιον· ὄσσε δ’ ἄρα σφέων
          δακρυόφιν πίμπλαντο, γόον δ’ ὠΐετο θυμός.
350    τοῖσι δὲ καὶ μετέειπε Θεοκλύμενος θεοειδής·
          ἆ δειλοί, τί κακὸν τόδε πάσχετε; νυκτὶ μὲν ὑμέων
          εἰλύαται κεφαλαί τε πρόσωπά τε νέρθε τε γοῦνα.
          οἰμωγὴ δὲ δέδηε, δεδάκρυνται δὲ παρειαί,
          αἵματι δ’ ἐρράδαται τοῖχοι καλαί τε μεσόδμαι·
355    εἰδώλων δὲ πλέον πρόθυρον, πλείη δὲ καὶ αὐλή,
          ἱεμένων Ἔρεβόσδε ὑπὸ ζόφον· ἠέλιος δὲ
          οὐρανοῦ ἐξαπόλωλε, κακὴ δ’ ἐπιδέδρομεν ἀχλύς.

                                                                       Pallas Athena
          stoked unquenchable laughter in them, and deranged their mind.
          And they were laughing with the jaws of another,
          and they were eating blood-spattered meat, and their eyes
          were filling with tears, and their spirit was fixing on lamentation.
          And Theoclymenos like a god addressed them:
          “Mean creatures, what is this evil you are suffering? In night
          are all your heads wrapped, and your faces and your knees beneath.
          Lamentation blazes forth, and cheeks have tears upon them,
          and with blood the walls are spattered and the beautiful columns,
          and the door is full of specters, full the courtyard,
          running to Erebos under pall: and the sun
          is all out of heaven, and mist runs evil in.”
Odyssey 20.345–357
Before we turn to the Odyssean context, consider their application to the Ion and to Ion himself. Socrates’ omission of the introductory lines encourages the reader to interpret the speech as though it is directed at Ion himself. [112] Like the suitors, Ion has undergone a strange combination of tears and laughter (535c–e) at a feast. Like the suitors, he is out of his mind (535b). Ion both recalls this experience—brought on by his performance before an adoring audience—and re-experiences it in the here and now, due to Socrates’ rhapsodic skill. His tears and laughter sit ill together, but so does the way his laughter is a response to his audience’s tears (535e). Ion describes his experience (535c) in terms recalling the suitors: “my eyes are filling with tears” (δακρύων ἐμπίμπλανταί μου οἱ ὀφθαλμοί). This echoes both Theoclymenos’ prophecy, δεδάκρυνται δὲ παρειαί (20.353), and the narrator’s description “their eyes were filling with tears” (ὄσσε δ’ ἄρα σφέων / δακρυόφιν πίμπλαντο, 20.348–349). The suitors “were laughing with the jaws of another,” while their minds “were fixing on lamentation,” just as Ion laughs as he tells of something pitiable while his audience, and he himself, weep. If Socrates earlier played rhapsode to Ion’s audience, here he takes the role of prophet, diagnosing the hapless Ion, who seats himself in the chairs of the poetry-obsessed suitors. Ion experiences these feelings before an audience of robots whom he “looks down upon” (536e), somewhat as Theoclymenos sees specters, eidōla, “running to Erebos.”
Plato was interested enough in these resonances to design his dialogue around them. The example is chosen not only because it concerns prophecy but also for the eerie merging among bard, character, and audience, a merging orchestrated to seem prompted by the audience’s transformation into charmed automata.
The setting of Theoclymenos’ vision is the increasingly bestial continuous feast the suitors are conducting at Odysseus’ house. The suitors’ behavior is of course generally seen as simply justifying their slaughter. But because of Athena’s role, and because of scenes such as Theoclymenos’ prophecy, there seems to be something more self-reflective at work running alongside that triumphalist vision. [113]
The suitors would seem to need no divine help to bring on their fate, but the way Athena prevents them from restraining their outrage (20.284–286; cf. 266) casts a pall over their stupid insults and their hurling of animal parts. Most disturbingly, Athena’s goal being to cause Odysseus further pain, and thus spur him on (20.285–286), he smiles sardonically instead (302 σαρδάνιον μάλα τοῖον, “quite sardonically, like so [?]” [114] ). In their specter-hood, not only do insults issue from the suitors’ mouths, but also indications of Odysseus’ arrival leak out of what they are saying (20.332). If the suitors were beasts before, they are now drained of their phrenes to the point where explicit prophecies of their own doom issue from their lips completely disconnected from their actions. They lose sight of their goal, Odysseus’ wealth and kingdom, and now only imagine Penelope going off with one of them (336): despite Athena’s efforts, an eminently reasonable suggestion. The way they envision it is that Telemachus will be left alone, enjoying himself, eating and drinking, forever after (336–337). And after Telemachus declares that he will not force out an unwilling Penelope, inexplicably, Athena chooses the moment to arouse laughter in the suitors and “blast their mind.”
In this vision of Theoclymenos, the suitors have had their being shattered and taken over by something else. Then the narrator is taken over by something as well, and the way this happens ruptures our experience of the bard’s vision of the scene: he has suddenly and without warning seen behind the scene. It is not clear whether we are seeing what the narrator sees (347–349) at all, or whether we have already launched into a metaphorical realm unusual for the narrator of this poem. [115] Then Theoclymenos doubles, or takes over, this vision in 351. What he reports has an indefinite relation to what we may or may not have seen. His vision leaps beyond the suitors to the walls and spirals outward as the horror itself spreads uncontrollably from suitors to surroundings.
Theoclymenos’ vision is an extension of the narrator’s; the line between them is blurry, and the effect is to make strange the voice of the narrator, and the performer. It is as though the performer/narrator is invaded by a strange vision that has no source, before Theoclymenos comes on the scene and he speaks as the prophet. This is due not only to narratological arrangement, and to Theoclymenos’ flagrant extraneousness to the plot (he “belongs to another story” [116] ), but to things like the narrator’s customary avoidance of phrases like “laughing with jaws of another,” and to the awkward ethical situation, in which we ourselves are being set up to enjoy a spectacle of violence while the victims of that violence are being systematically de-brained by an authorial goddess.
Part of the power here lies in a consonance and dissonance between visuality and speech. Imagine yourself in the audience for this passage. If it is done right, your hair will stand up, as Ion said earlier (535c), while the performer describes what he is seeing. And what is he looking at? Or past? Or through? You! You, you avid consumers of poetry, are now the suitors, [117] but what I am describing will contrast with your orthostatic hair. I see you laughing with the jaws of another, which vision is, when reported, what makes your hair stand straight in the first place. A short-circuiting of causation has been created among bard, characters, and audience, which any spectator, particularly one as intrigued with Homer as Plato, would have noted with relish. As in the Iliad opening, the bard has folded the audience into the ongoing story-world. In both passages, he does so by merging with a representative of Apollo, [118] this time a prophet rather than a priest. As for the audience, we become, in the Iliad opening, the Achaean masses, ethically superior to Agamemnon but helpless, while in the Theoclymenos scene we play greatly diminished human beings. The merging is enacted by different means and aims at different effects. In both cases we are strangely implicated, but in Theoclymenos’ vision, it is our automatic enjoyment of poetry itself that is held up before us. Our eager anticipation of the slaughter is glimpsed, while the fact that we have been set up for such enjoyment is highlighted.
Theoclymenos is ostentatiously introduced (15.223–286) to play a very brief role. [119] And this very fact contributes to the dramatic effect. When the narrator recites the lines about the suitors, how could he not look around at his audience as though they are the suitors? It is the sudden merging of audience with suitors, the sudden “seeing something there” that had not been seen before, that sparks the becoming of Theoclymenos—that brings on the presence of this new figure who has wandered into the world of the story.
If what is being drawn on here is the audience’s anticipation of the slaughter, this concurs with Plato’s description of the poet’s effect upon the lowest part of the soul. Here, however, he does not merely manipulate said part by dangling eidō̄la before it, but weirdly exposes it to view while he twists it into the picture of the suitors. The “components” of performer and audience, being manipulated in order to induce enjoyment (laughing with foreign jaws), are spread out for view just as the suitors themselves are being broken down. [120] This recalls the way Socrates and the young men, in the Republic, build a city in speech that is partly composed of their own desires. How much they are discovering something new in the city, and how much they are mistaking their own desires for something out there in the world, is blurry. Here in the Odyssey a portal suddenly connects the audience’s desires, the suitors, the performer, and the characters—and similar “buried” desires are at stake. Where in the Republic we are watching these dynamics staged, in the Odyssey example we are dramatically seen through.
Precisely how an individual performer would handle the Theoclymenos scene is something for which there is no external evidence (other than Plato’s building the Ion out of it). What is clear is that the script hands over to the performer, to harness as he will, the audience’s latent potential of being seen as characters in the story-world. This fourth-wall breaking [121] finds a startling counterpart in the “frontal face” in vase painting, an unusual occurrence that effects an eerie communication between the figure and the viewer. As Mackay notes, the “frontal face” often belongs to a figure in a state such as drunkenness or extreme grief, or one with a supernatural power to break boundaries, such as Dionysus or a Muse. Frontisi-Ducroux and Mackay each draw richly suggestive analogies between the frontal face in vase painting and apostrophe or the narrator’s address of the audience in epic. [122] Apostrophe is a precise parallel for the visual piercing-through on vases. (For further discussion of apostrophe see Chapters 1, 3, and 4 below.) But there is a more general link to the bard’s modulating engagement of the audience. When the external audience suddenly slots into place as the internal, or seems to have an effect on the story-world, the bard’s normal visual contact slides over into a strange portal between the story-world and performance space, with a variety of effects. The effect created here, an uncanny “seeing through,” is one that we will meet with again. In the next chapter, a series of moments ringing changes upon the same dynamics will confirm that this play among parties is not a special effect but the stuff of which Homeric poetry is made.
To sum up the play that goes on among bard, audience, and characters: the bard undergoes a strange merging with one of the characters. We the audience are observed by the bard-becoming-Theoclymenos, and our experience is both reflected by that personage (in the speech of the narrator) and seems to bring on the actual speech of Theoclymenos (the full becoming of the character by the bard). The bard seems both to control the situation and to be subject to it, and likewise with us. The chain of causation is in a pretzel similar to the Iliad opening, but this time with a much more uncanny effect.
While we cannot reconstruct the performance milieu in which Odyssey 20 took shape, the Theoclymenos scene is more or less a mise en abyme of the current performance situation, insofar as the suitors are poetry aficionados sitting comfortably at a feast. While the Odyssey elsewhere provides vignettes about the dangers of poetry—the suitors in Odyssey 1, the Sirens, the oblivious Phaeacians, Helen and her drugs—here the script foments the enactment of the dangerous dynamics.
* * *
“Homer”—the Homeric poet-performer—“becomes all sorts of things,” but this turns out not to refer to his skill in characterization or the high proportion of direct discourse. If it did, Plato would not have compared him to a magician who summons the dead, or a wandering dead hero. The “becoming” that is peculiar to Homer is an elaborate interplay among the people and actions of the worlds of the poem and the world of performance, and a strange layering of figures within the body of the performer. Plato, rightly understood, shows how the poems are ekplēktika ‘wonder-producing, powerfully striking’: not in that they fully transport us to the there and then, but in that, as it were, we do not know where we are. [123] We do not know from where the action is proceeding. Doors are opened between the world inside the poem and the world outside it, but what takes place at these doors is not mere representation or “presencing,” nor is it simply “transport.”
Such a play with our bearings can have a variety of effects, including comic effects. These will be explored in the chapter that follows. But what Homeric performance aims at is not so much the vivid, the real, the past, the truth, ethical complexity, pity, fear, meaning, or tradition, as what we would call the uncanny. As Freud noted, literature is not uncanny by virtue of what it represents: ghosts and speaking animals in literature are rarely uncanny. So too with Homeric performed poetry. The Iliad’s world has some features of the uncanny—the events of the beginning of the war eerily replay themselves through the events currently unfolding near the war’s end—yet the performer does not make present an uncanny world so much as he generates uncanniness through his performance. The performer’s body provides one site through which the uncanny can emerge. It is this uncanny or haunted quality of Homeric poetry that most of all comes to light when one envisions the poems as performed, and it is this quality that especially occupied Plato, who saw such performance. And, though Aristotle is ostensibly out to rescue poetry from the daemonic and irrational, he agrees. Of Aristotle’s terms for the kind of strangeness at work in the Homeric poems, one he inherited from the sophists, the ἄτοπον (the un-placed, the out of place), is a near calque of das Unheimliche and overlaps with it in meaning. The experience of Homeric performance as at once tapping into the sources of human action and estranging itself from them is, perhaps, at the root of its philosophical significance, or of the philosophers’ engagement with it. At any rate, this frisson of forces, this vertigo, seems to be what the Homeric script is for. And this is precisely what is disturbing, fascinating, and deeply lovable about these poems.


[ back ] 1. Gumbrecht 2004.
[ back ] 2. The work of Oliver Taplin, Ruth Padel, David Wiles, and Rush Rehm on tragedy is particularly useful for thinking through the differences, as well as the analogies, between epic and tragic performance. For Pindar, Mullen 1982 is essential, taking on pointed significance for the Homerist in light of David 2006, on the implications of hexameter’s origins in dance.
[ back ] 3. Fergusson 1949:250–255 and passim.
[ back ] 4. Goldman 1975:77; Goldman 1985:31.
[ back ] 5. On gestures, proxemics, and the like within the world of the Homeric poems, see Lateiner 1995. Lateiner considers Homeric poetry “a nonmimetic (nontheatrical) medium” (p. 48) and so does not discuss performance. Boegehold (1999: Ch. 3) shows how a gesture by a rhapsode would clarify the meaning of syntactically “incomplete” Homeric sentences. Purves’s (2019) treatment of the poetics of gesture in Homer fruitfully analyzes gesture along the lines of formulaic composition. Although Purves does not discuss gesture in performance, her linking of kinesthetic effect and sensibility on the one hand and composition on the other is in many ways companionable with the present study.
[ back ] 6. The evidence from vase painting and from the use of the word ῥαψωιδός (“rhapsode”) (Appendix A) motivates an inquiry into how such an object would make a difference in performance (Appendix B). Since it makes no fundamental difference to my readings whether the performer used a stringed instrument, a staff, or nothing at all, I confine discussion of the evidence to the Appendices, while making the occasional observation about the effect a rhapsodic staff would produce.
[ back ] 7. Bölte 1907:573. Goldman’s formulation (1985:31; cf. p. 60) is apt: though there are “dozens of ways” to a successful performance, choosing one, “as an actor does,” allows one to “illustrate the presence of larger histrionic patterns and devices which make themselves felt—and whose meanings remain substantially the same—over a very wide range of possible local readings.” In the context of tragedy, see the stimulating exchange between Wiles (1987) and Goldhill (1989).
[ back ] 8. δεῖ γὰρ καὶ ἄνευ τοῦ ὁρᾶν οὕτω συνεστάναι τὸν μῦθον ὥστε τὸν ἀκούοντα τὰ πράγματα γινόμενα καὶ φρίττειν καὶ ἐλεεῖν ἐκ τῶν συμβαινόντων (1453b3–6). “One should put the plot together such that, even without seeing, the person who hears the actions as they come about shudders and feels pity at what is happening.” Aristotle does not have in mind at this point a dramatic reading or a recitation by a slave (pace Halliwell 1998:340–341), a sort of minimalist performance, for he continues, “which very thing someone would experience who is listening to the plot (μῦθον) of the Oidipous” (1453b6–7).
[ back ] 9. Brook 1968:42. As to the grounds for such a reaction, Brook 1968 and Goldman 1975 are excellent guides.
[ back ] 10. Cf. Plato Republic 396c–d.
[ back ] 11. Mullen 1982:4, on Pindar.
[ back ] 12. Goldman 1975:3.
[ back ] 13. Frontisi-Ducroux 1986a:28.
[ back ] 14. An expanded version of this argument about Aristotle’s account of the birth of tragedy appears in Kretler 2018, where I connect the shape and inner workings of Aristotle’s account to the mechanics and imagery of Homeric and choral poetry.
[ back ] 15. In context, ἤθη indicates the characters of the poets rather than the poetry, but of course the point is that they are similar. Cf. Lucas 1968:75.
[ back ] 16. “It is astonishing that in a passage of this sort Homer should first be mentioned in connexion with the Margites and comedy” (Lucas 1968:76, ad Poetics 1448b28).
[ back ] 17. τὸ … σχῆμα Β: τὰ … σχήματα Π. See Gudeman 1934:128 on 1448b36.
[ back ] 18. As Gudeman points out, from the use of σπουδαῖα in the previous clause, one would expect μιμήσεις τραγικάς here and not the more general δραματικάς, since σπουδαῖα are precisely what distinguish tragedy from comedy. In the Republic, of course, Homer is the forefather of tragedy only. For later writers, the Odyssey is a forerunner of comedy (see Gudeman 1934:128 ad 1448b35). We do not know what Aristotle said about the Odyssey in Poetics Book 2. Another complication is that Π has ἀλλ’ ὅτι for ἀλλὰ, disturbing the construction: my translation (as, it seems, Janko’s) follows this reading, which has the advantage of eliminating the difficulty of Homer “alone” composing well.
[ back ] 19. παραφανείσης, a “not extremely common” (Else 1957:147n77) compound. Else (1957:146–147n77) notes that the “sense of παρα- in παραφανείσης is a little harder to define” than the ὑπο- in ὑπέδειξεν; but “the connotation in our passage is perhaps that of something being caught sight of, then lost to view again for a time.” Else’s entire discussion, which harmonizes the connotation of παραφανείσης with that of ὑπέδειξεν, is worth reading. But the verb’s usage in the context of a divine, or quasi-divine, revelation, including in some of the passages Else mentions, is also worth considering. See e.g. Aristophanes Frogs 1361; Cratinus fr. 70 Austin; Philemon fr. 70 Kock; Callimachus Hymn 3.214 Pfeiffer; Plato Gorgias 527e. Cf. esp. Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 94 with Aristotle On the Pythagoreans fr. 191 Rose. It is tempting to take the passive here as passive in meaning: “once tragedy and comedy had been pointed out, revealed” (i.e. by Homer).
[ back ] 20. Janko 1987: “because comedy and tragedy are greater and more honourable in their forms than are lampoon and epic.” Else 1957: “because these genres were greater and worthy of more esteem than the others.”
[ back ] 21. What are the “these” and “those”? Janko 1987 and Else 1957 seem to assume “these” are comedy and tragedy, whose forms are greater and more honorable than epic and lampoon (“those”). Halliwell limits the phrase to the last pair mentioned: “these” are the tragic, those are the epic. Gudeman (1934:130 ad 1449a6) indicates the problem with this and gets around it: “ἐκείνων sc. σχημάτων der nachhomerischen Epen, denn der Übergang von den ἔπη des Homer zur Tragödie von seiten der σεμνότεροι wäre wohl kaum mit διὰ τὸ μείζονα καὶ ἐντιμότερα τὰ σχήματα εἶναι motiviert oder begründet worden, wenn auch A. in c. 26 die Tragödie als Kunstform über das Epos stellt.” The word “more honorable” would seem better suited to a contrast between tragedy and comedy, rather than the pairs available by the syntax of the sentence, as though Aristotle is willfully shifting the meaning of “more honorable.” “Greater” makes sense in terms of the emphasis on gestures and enactment that I am suggesting: the gestures of tragedy are larger and more demonstrative than those of epic, and so comedy’s are larger than lampoon.
[ back ] 22. Lucas 1968:77 ad Poetics 1448b36. Gudeman 1934:128 notes that earlier commentators, who did not have access to the manuscript that has the singular, did not know what to do with the plural.
[ back ] 23. LSJ however accepts the plural and keeps the abstract meaning “characteristic forms.” Similarly for Else (1957:144) the plural is explained by comedy having two different σχήματα: dramatic form and “the substitution of humor for invective.”
[ back ] 24. Halliwell 1987:82.
[ back ] 25. Metaphysics 1093a29–b1: see David 2006:96–99.
[ back ] 26. Cf. 1448b5–6, τό τε γὰρ μιμεῖσθαι σύμφυτον τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἐκ παίδων ἐστὶ ….
[ back ] 27. Aristotle’s extant works reflect lectures “which would have been fleshed out … with examples, jokes, dramatic material—in short, with the oral analogue of some of the ‘literary’ elements we miss” (Nussbaum 1986:392). One must consider not only what “view” the passage conveys, but what is its pedagogy.
[ back ] 28. There is no satisfactory term in English for the Homeric performing poet. “Singer” is not right, and “rhapsode,” for some readers, connotes a performer who is not a composer. “Poet-performer” is a mouthful; “performer” has the same problems as “rhapsode.” “Bard” has its own unfortunate connotations, among them a traditional association with the singers and kitharists Demodokos and Phemius. But since it succinctly connotes poet and performer, I use “bard,” alternating with “poet” and “performer,” and sometimes, as Plato and Aristotle use the term, “Homer.”
[ back ] 29. This distinction between poetics/poiēsis and presence/genesis overlaps somewhat with Aristotle’s distinction (Poetics 1455a22–29) between constructing plots (τοὺς μύθους συνιστάναι) and working them up with diction (τῇ λέξει συναπεργάζεσθαι). This becomes clear in the examples he uses, as I demonstrate in a separate study.
[ back ] 30. Goldman 1975:89.
[ back ] 31. Goldman 1985:3. Goldman too resorts to quasi-Aristotelian terms for the related but ambiguous senses of “action,” calling the action of the characters praxis and that of the actors poiēsis (contrary to my terms). My two axes differ from his in large part because of the Homeric performer’s moving between narration and direct discourse, rather than enacting a single role. He “becomes” as well as “acts.”
[ back ] 32. McNeill 2005:3.
[ back ] 33. Even if one considers this linear process as itself proceeding along two axes, combination and selection (Nagy 1996a:50), both of which are appreciated by the audience.
[ back ] 34. See Foley 2002:91; Bauman 1984:15–24. “Keying” is Goffman’s term (Goffman 1974).
[ back ] 35. Martin 1989:223; cf. 233: “Hektor, whose speech is often reduced or merely summarized by the poet, recedes from view, while Achilles comes closer to us because the poet chooses him as the channel to contact his audience.” Achilles is as close to the voice of the poet as we get. But the relationship is more complex than the image of the channel implies.
[ back ] 36. Martin 1989:236, and on the speech of Achilles, Ch. 4, responding to the seminal studies of Adam Parry (1964) and Friedrich and Redfield (1978). I return to the apostrophes of Patroklos in Chapter 1 and again in Chapter 3, below.
[ back ] 37. Reynolds 1995:56.
[ back ] 38. Reynolds 1995:73.
[ back ] 39. Mise en abyme in the strict sense refers to “a narrative inserted into another narrative that the inserted component reproduces in whole or in part on a reduced scale” (Létoublon 1983:21–22, following Dällenbach; translation from Loraux, Nagy and Slatkin 2001:377). Létoublon gives as a prime example the dream of Penelope in Odyssey 19. Casey Dué’s (Dué 2002) “micronarratives” often have a similar mirroring function with respect to the “macronarrative.”
[ back ] 40. But Reynolds’s work (esp. Chapter 4 and the chart on p. 164) is of great suggestive value for the study of Homer. To be compared with “becoming the character” in Homer is the movement from prose to poetry in the Sirat Bani Hilal: “The critical juncture between prose and poetry is always effected in the same manner: a character within the epic must be emotionally moved to speak. Situations and emotions must reach a confluence that impels a character to stand up and sing: ‘and he sang, saying verses which you shall hear, and all who love the beauty of the Prophet, wish God’s blessings upon him’ ...” (Reynolds 1995:156). Cf. Martin 1989:234.
[ back ] 41. Internal evidence, however, may offer hints. Doherty (1991:164) writes, “The implied audience of the Nekuia, and of the epic as a whole, thus includes women, whether or not women were present in the original external audience for the monumental Odyssey. … What [Samuel Butler] mistook for evidence of authorship is actually evidence for the inclusion of females in the implied audience of the poem.” Louden (1997:111–112) suggests the “inclusion of lower-class people among the intended audience,” given Eumaeus’ importance as an internal audience. Rose (1992:90, 112–114) concludes in part from internal evidence, including even the depiction of Phemius and Demodokos, that the most frequent audience of the Odyssey would consist of peasants. At the other end of the social spectrum, Frame (2009:590–599) considers the audience for the “instruction of princes” speech in the Odyssey. For Haubold (2000:145–196), a given archaic or classical audience would contrast their own founding people with the λαοί of Homer, with their incompetent leaders, and breathe a collective sigh of relief. But no audience is homogeneous (Scodel 2002:7–16), and different people may have been attuned to different aspects of the poetry. We must, finally, examine our own assumptions about what a given audience is capable of enjoying (Ebbott 2005).
[ back ] 42. See especially Taplin 1992, Cook 1995, Nagy 2002, Collins 2004, Frame 2009: Ch. 11.
[ back ] 43. Of particular relevance to the current study, Cook (1995) relates the action of the Odyssey to the rituals and themes of the cycle of new-year festivals that includes the Panathenaia; cf. Austin 1975. One nexus of background myths uncovered later in this volume (see Chapters 2 and 4, and Interlude 1) reinforces this aspect of the poem. The themes at the heart of any new-year festival operate on several levels. For epigraphic evidence of rhapsodes at other venues, see West 2010. Skepticism about early performance of the full text of either Homeric poem: Ford 1997b.
[ back ] 44. Collins 2004; cf. Ford 1997b. Although rhapsodic competition and “capping” are not central to the present study, these practices illuminate certain features of the Odyssey explored in Chapter 4.
[ back ] 45. Ford 2002:9 and passim. This dovetails with the sociolinguistic conception of performance following Bauman (e.g. Bauman 1984), which stresses the culturally specific framing of performance as performance, as well as culturally determined genres of performance or “speech acts” (Bauman 1984:27). This latter is the focus of Martin 1989.
[ back ] 46. Ford 1997a:400.
[ back ] 47. Nagy 1979:6–9.
[ back ] 48. In this they are assisted by the archaic poets themselves. Ford 1992:195, in a discussion of the epithets and diction associated with poets within archaic poetry (here, thespis aoidē), writes: “The poet’s ‘divine human voice’ is not an oxymoron or ventriloquism but an epiphany: divine knowledge appears in sound and presents to human senses a world not otherwise apparent. This sound, the body of the poet’s voice, is the substance of the heroic world in all its presence; in it the human account of the past and the divine perspective upon it, as far as they can, appear together on earth.”
[ back ] 49. Scodel 2002:12.
[ back ] 50. Nagy 1996a:54. We might say that archaic Greek poetry has a share in the “liminal” as well as the “liminoid,” in Victor Turner’s terms, though debate will continue about what that share is.
[ back ] 51. Even more broadly, on the confluence among rhapsody, prophecy, oratory, and drama from a diachronic perspective, see González 2013.
[ back ] 52. Nagy (1996a:84), in a discussion of the link between “audience” and “group”; Martin 1989:87–88. On the power of lament at the center of a complex dramatic structure, see Chapter 2 below.
[ back ] 53. Brook 1968:42.
[ back ] 54. Vivante 1982 passim, e.g. p. 91.
[ back ] 55. Bakker 2005:60; Bakker 1993; Bakker 1997a:25–32. Bakker (1997a:32) speaks of the epic text as a transcript, in the context of relating it to regular speech patterns—orality or “vocality”—and to theories of cognition.
[ back ] 56. Nagy 1996:80.
[ back ] 57. Frontisi-Ducroux (1986a:18): “Et l’émetteur premier, l’aède, s’efface, apparemment fondu dans l’auditoire, devenu récepteur lui-même, puis réémetteur.”
[ back ] 58. On “mergers,” see Nagy 1996a:84, 97.
[ back ] 59. Friedrich 2001:238–239.
[ back ] 60. Friedrich 2001:238.
[ back ] 61. Felson 1994:109–10.
[ back ] 62. See the systematic treatment by Jauss 1974. For identification and related phenomena in drama as opposed to written fiction, see Goldman 1975:119–123; Zamir 2010. Kozak 2017 shows how the audience’s relation to the Iliad’s characters, especially Hektor, is bound up with the episodic structure (and on a smaller scale, the “beats”) of the narrative.
[ back ] 63. This speech is analyzed below, pp. 40–46.
[ back ] 64. Létoublon 1983:19. Létoublon is speaking of reflexivity; the play Iser describes is related to, or a form of, such reflexivity.
[ back ] 65. Budick and Iser 1989:325.
[ back ] 66. Budick and Iser 1989:326, a less subtle account of the supposed “frozenness” of ancient literature than Bakhtin 1981. As Peradotto notes (1990:53n13), “close readers of Homer are far more likely to recognize the Odyssey in Bakhtin’s characterization of the novel than in his account of epic.”
[ back ] 67. Herington 1985:xi.
[ back ] 68. Herington 1985:x–xi.
[ back ] 69. Ringer 1998:212.
[ back ] 70. Létoublon 2001:376.
[ back ] 71. Scodel (2002:6) warns against “romanticization of the relation between bard and audience,” i.e. postulating audiences who are uniformly ideally conversant with the tradition. It is true that audiences can follow what happens in the epics without extensive knowledge, just as modern readers do. But the meanings generated by allusivity and “traditional referentiality” are not limited to following the plot. One need not imagine homogeneous audiences, only audiences some of whom know the stories being used. For the “ludic” or “puzzle-solving” aspect of the Iliad, on analogy with other serial narrative, see Kozak 2017.
[ back ] 72. Frontisi-Ducroux 1986a:27–28; de Jong 1987; Richardson 1990:174–178.
[ back ] 73. De Jong 1987:54–55. Cf. Bakker 2005:63.
[ back ] 74. David 2006:189–190. Similarly Lowe (2000:147–148) observes: “the stratagem of the bow … is revealed to the reader only at XXI.4—even though it has evidently been premeditated by the hero since Penelope’s announcement at the end of XIX, and by the goddess even longer.”
[ back ] 75. Penelope also “launders her own image” in her own tale (Felson 1994:41). Cf. Doherty 1995:140, 146–147.
[ back ] 76. Pucci 1995:99, 117.
[ back ] 77. Pucci’s (1995:80) view that “even the strategic situation of Patroclus’ wearing the arms of Achilles is hardly exploited by the text” seems extreme, but there is something to it. One would not say that the situation is exploited by the “text” in the way that it is in the Odyssey. Pucci’s Odyssey delights in disguise and indeterminacy for its own sake. But the poet-performer of the Odyssey reserves his pyrotechnics for exposing what a limited source of pleasure this is (cf. “Trojan Horse,” pp. 96–104 below, and the Cretan Tale to Eumaeus, Chapter 4, in this volume).
[ back ] 78. Bakker 1993.
[ back ] 79. Gadamer 1989:104, referring to Huizinga.
[ back ] 80. Herington (1985:13) reviews the problems with Plato as evidence for performance in any time period, but concludes that the poems as scripts call for a histrionic performer such as Ion.
[ back ] 81. I examine Aristotle’s treatment of the thaumaston in Homer at length in a separate study.
[ back ] 82. Normally the verb used of raising the dead is ἀνάγω or ἀνίστημι, but see e.g., Aeschylus Libation Bearers 495, which has ἐξεγείρῃ.
[ back ] 83. Republic 392d–e, Aristotle Poetics 1448a21.
[ back ] 84. Cf. Poetics 1455a29; Meijering 1987:15; Nagy 1996a:170, on the third century CE inscription “He became Alexander” above the name of Demetrius the Homeristes. Cf. Bakker 2005:61; Halliwell 2002:18, 52; Schechner 2003:xviii, 197–202. For caveats on, and nuances in, the notion of “becoming,” see Zamir 2010.
[ back ] 85. Unless otherwise indicated all translations are my own. For the Republic, I have borrowed freely from Bloom.
[ back ] 86. Contra the usual view that the passage simply illustrates the difference between narrative and represented speech, e.g. Lucas 1968 on Aristotle Poetics 1448a20–24: “… it would seem that this distinction was unfamiliar.” Even if the distinction is unfamiliar to Adeimantus, the reach of the illustration extends beyond him to Plato’s reader. Direct discourse is of course key to the dramatic mode, but much more goes into “becoming Chryses,” let alone all the other layering involved. Nor does “creating a fictional voice” (Kosman 1992:52) cover either what Socrates singles out or everything else that goes into the “becoming” in the Iliad opening.
[ back ] 87. See esp. Kullmann 1955; A. Parry 1972; Redfield 1979 (with bibliography in n. 1); Frontisi-Ducroux 1986a:17–18, 47–48; Rabel 1988; Edmunds 2016 (with bibliography).
[ back ] 88. On the personification of the wrath, see Redfield 1979:100.
[ back ] 89. See Redfield 1979:96–97; Edmunds 2016:9–12.
[ back ] 90. On Zeus’ plan as the destruction of the human race, rather than the honoring of Achilles or something else, see Kullmann 1955 and 1956.
[ back ] 91. On the ritual antagonism and “thematic and formal convergences” between Achilles and Apollo, see Nagy 1979:142–143. As Nagy notes, Burkert “is so struck by the physical resemblances in the traditional representation of the god and the hero … that he is moved to describe Achilles as a Doppelgänger of Apollo.” Here I am talking about the instantiation of this doubling as layers within the body of the performer, but the Doppelgänger quality feeds into such layering.
[ back ] 92. “Like the Greeks, the external audience initially recognizes the priest from his attributes, which he confirms by warning his internal audience of the wrath of Apollo. The sequence puts the external audience in a position close to that of the internal audience” (Scodel 2002:101).
[ back ] 93. Martin (1989:233–234) notes performance traditions in which a scepter or other object carried by the bard suggests his identity with the principal hero. Here the staff would serve a slightly different, more tangibly “performative” purpose: the first “becoming” of a character, a character who then turns out to be parallel to Achilles in various ways.
[ back ] 94. Alternatively, if members of the audience do react to the priest’s speech (like the “other Achaeans,” line 22), they are put in their place by Agamemnon, adding dramatic power to that speech. Whatever the audience might do in practice, their presence is key to the script in this opening passage.
[ back ] 95. Redfield 1979:97.
[ back ] 96. Redfield 1979:97n5; cf. Redfield 1994:14. On μῆνις, see Watkins 1977; Muellner 1996.
[ back ] 97. Bakker (1999:5) remarks that we “might want to see some demonstrative force” in some examples of ὁ ἡ τό near the beginning of the Iliad, especially τὸν Χρύσην, but like others sees these uses as approximating the Attic article. But Chryses has not yet been mentioned, so the demonstrative force may be to the fore; cf. Chantraine 1953:192. Scodel (2002:101n16) suggests a cognitive reading: the poet “selected ‘that man, Chryses, the priest,’ from the characters in his memory.” I suggest that thinking in terms of performance allows us to preserve the likely original demonstrative force.
[ back ] 98. There is a similar “hammerfall” (Redfield 1994:7) of “Atreides” in line-initial position in Achilles’ great speech in Iliad 9; another link between narrator and Achilles. A suggestive parallel is the echo Ἠετίωνος / Ἠετίων “of Eetion / Eetion” in Iliad 6.395–396, in the voice of the narrator, making his way into becoming Hektor and focalizing through him the vision of the approaching Andromache. The narrator registers the approach of Andromache by suddenly having a vivid picture of her father. (It is as though the narrator’s sudden vision of Andromache brings on his transformation into Hektor.) This is understandable from the perspective of her husband, and also for the narrator looking ahead with dread.
[ back ] 99. That is, to us as ourselves individually—which happens often in standup comedy, because it works. The comedian is obviously, by default, addressing the whole audience directly; likewise the epic performer interacts intensely with his audience as a matter of course. What I am pointing to is the shift as the performer is in the process of becoming Chryses, but is not quite there yet. The standup analogy is not a precise one, but is familiar enough to evoke a useful visceral recollection in many of my readers. Reynolds (1995:167) describes an analogous “element of tension” in Egyptian epic performance, when “no one knows who or what will be the target of the poet’s wit.”
[ back ] 100. “The epic itself is constructed around one vital speech-act, supplication” (Martin 1989:147). Cf. Crotty 1994.
[ back ] 101. Just as Achilles will go to the beach, apart, and pray to his mother (1.349–351): another way the two figures are layered on top of one another through the body of the performer. On Achilles and Chryses, see Rabel 1988.
[ back ] 102. Redfield (1979:108): “There is … a shift from theme to plot, from the μῆνις to its causes. In the process the wrath is somewhat ‘demystified’; we shift from the more numinous μῆνις to the more mundane ἔρις which underlies ἐρίσαντε. Διίστημι, similarly, is a rather colorless verb …”
[ back ] 103. On the traffic up and down a “vertical axis” in Pindar, see Mullen 1982:86, 138. The lowering of the referent will be actually seen in a performance that gestures subtly at (with hands, eyes, or whatever) the objects. This also makes the speech easier to memorize, such that it is in memorizing the lines that one realizes the kinesthetics. The Homeric poet thinks and composes spatially/kinesthetically more readily, perhaps, than the writer, but not out of mere convenience.
[ back ] 104. See Rabel (1988) on the Chryses episode as “the Iliad in miniature,” a paradigm “which shapes the form Achilles’ wrath will assume” (p. 473). Cf. Republic 602d on shadow-painting. See Whitman (1958:201) on the death of Patroklos as a “shadow play” of the death of Achilles, and Chapter 3 in the current volume.
[ back ] 105. Cf. the statues of the gods inside silēnoi to which Alcibiades likens Socrates, Symposium 215a–b.
[ back ] 106. We return to this example below, in Interlude 1.
[ back ] 107. This transposition or imitation is the subject of a separate study.
[ back ] 108. Cf. Nagy (2002:62–63), on Plato’s Critias and the practice of one rhapsode leaving off for another.
[ back ] 109. This is obviously true for the Ion, as seen below. But the Republic has an additional layer of narration to work with, and so is closer than the Ion to the complex situation in Homer. For an extraordinary passage linking Plato’s thinking about drama with the staging of the Mysteries at Eleusis, see Artaud 1958:50–52.
[ back ] 110. On the prophecy, see especially Benardete 1997:119–120.
[ back ] 111. Stanford 1996 ad 20.351–357.
[ back ] 112. Recall the similar move in the Republic whereby a banishment in the poetic world runs underneath the surface of the banishment enacted in the space of the dialogue.
[ back ] 113. For more on this counter-thread in the Odyssey, see below, Chapter 1, “Trojan Horse,” and Chapter 4, esp. pp. 254–259.
[ back ] 114. The suggestion in τοῖον is that the bard is referring to his own expression. Cf. Stanford 1996 ad loc.: “implies a gesture indicating intensity here: cp. 15,451 and 23,282.” This has an especially strange ring coming just after μείδησε δὲ θυμῷ (line 301): “and he smiled in his spirit”? Or “inwardly” (Russo in Russo, Fernandez-Galiano, and Heubeck 1992 ad loc.)? De Jong 2001:500 approves “inwardly” even though “the intensifying adverb τοῖον, ‘so much’, belongs to the character-language (three times narrator text, eight times direct speech).” The fact that τοῖον is typical of character-language (especially given the way it is used in narrator-speech; see LSJ) fits with a bold histrionic interpretation; the performer strangely unmasks Odysseus in order to put his face on. Lateiner 1995:193–195 well describes the baffling nature of this one-of-its-kind smile.
[ back ] 115. Benardete (1997:119): “This quasi-Bibical prophecy pulls the future into the present: the descent of the suitors into Hades is being prepared. It is a vision without the visible. It turns hearing into sight—‘lamentation has flared forth’—and sun and night into metaphors.”
[ back ] 116. Benardete 1997:120. Theoclymenos also, as the Man in the MacIntosh, wanders into Joyce’s Ulysses. Cf. Gilbert 1955:171–173; Peradotto 2002:12–13.
[ back ] 117. Cf. Felson (1994:109) on the suitors as stand-ins for the audience: “Clearly, the entire audience, of whatever age or gender, will gain confidence and solidarity from rebuking the villainous suitors and will experience relief at their destruction. Special beneficiaries are those listeners who identify, even temporarily, with the suitors’ plight.” On my interpretation this passage rebukes rather than encourages our enjoyment of the slaughter to come.
[ back ] 118. Odyssey 15.225–255, esp. 252. On the figure of the rhapsode and its connection with prophecy more broadly, see González 2013.
[ back ] 119. The disproportion between Theoclymenos’ introduction and his brief appearances plays a part in Reece’s theory that, in another version of the Odyssey, Odysseus returns disguised as a prophet. See Reece 1994:162–163 with n9 (citing similar theories by Lord and Kirk). If the disproportion is a trace left by a previous version, the Odyssey has ingeniously redeployed even this.
[ back ] 120. Compare this situation, where the prophet sees the poetry-loving suitors as laughing with the jaws of another, and thus intrudes into the voice of the narrating bard, with the critique of epic glory in Odyssey 8 (see Chapter 1, “Trojan Horse”), where the internal bard induces the hero to weep with the eyes of another, and so to surface through the narrating bard.
[ back ] 121. How can there be a “fourth wall”? Ibsen this is not. The bard’s shuttling between narrator and character makes the term “wall” an overstatement from the start. And one cannot know how any actual performer acknowledged his audience; some performance styles have a more permeable “fourth wall” than others. While the phrase generally refers to modern realistic drama and so carries connotations beyond what I have in mind, I use it because it is well known and gives a general idea to begin with. What I mean by “breaking the fourth wall” becomes clear in further examples, and is tied to the structure of the script, not performance style. The term indicates a striking contact made between bard-as-character and audience, a reaching out to the audience “over the heads” of characters.
[ back ] 122. Mackay 2001; Frontisi-Ducroux 1986b.
[ back ] 123. Freud, in his essay on “The ‘Uncanny’” (1955:220), quoting Jentsch (disapprovingly): “so that the unheimlich would always, as it were, be something one does not know one’s way about in. The better orientated in his environment a person is, the less readily will he get the impression of something uncanny in regard to the objects and events in it.” Jentsch’s definition brings out the “un-home-y” sense of unheimlich, the dis-placement it shares with the ἄτοπον.