Porter, Andrew. 2019. Agamemnon, the Pathetic Despot: Reading Characterization in Homer. Hellenic Studies Series 78. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_PorterA.Agamemnon_the_Pathetic_Despot.2019.
1.1 Characterizing Agamemnon
1.2 Epic Characterization
1.3 Reading Characterization Traditionally
Epic narrative moments cannot be fully heard and appreciated without an understanding of the tradition as context (“familiar situations”). Although Wyatt employs a simple analogy, his comments meant to support Foley’s general approach are apt: “Modern television is opaque or silly to me because I am not fully aware of the conventions of the genre that the merest child internalizes early on” (Wyatt 2000). To see the bigger picture, so Foley suggests, we must seek to “read behind and between the signs,” tapping into “their idiomatic and traditional implications” (Foley 1999:7).  When heard in its entirety, Foley’s arguments are persuasive and formative. 
That Homeric epic was once such a living oral tradition implies that it was heard intently and sung by singers that could feel “tourment” and other emotions. The same intensity of performance involvement is pictured for rhapsodic competition, if Plato’s (albeit somewhat ironic) portrait of Ion is any guide. Ion describes his performance:
Not only is the rhapsode emotionally involved, but the audience is described as responding with an equal fervor (τοὺς πολλοὺς ταὐτὰ ταῦτα, 535d) when “struck” (ἐκπλήσσω, 535b) by the power of the performed epic narrative.  Every time Ion looks down upon his audience, they are constantly crying (κλάοντας) and grimacing (δεινὸν ἐμβλέποντας), wonder struck (συνθαμβοῦντας) by what they are hearing.  While a later rhapsode’s recitative performance can be contrasted in kind with the earlier aoidos’ composition-in-performance, it is clear that Ion undertook his poetic presentation as a living and emotionally charged event.
“O my child, why did I raise you, having borne you terribly?
Would that you, by the ships, without tears and without harm,
would sit, since now your allotment of life [is] short and not very long;
But now altogether swift-fated and woeful beyond all men
you have turned out to be; therefore I bore you with a bad allotment of life in my house.
But indeed, in order to speak this word to Zeus who delights in thunder,
I am going myself to snow-clad Olympos, in case he can be persuaded.
But you now, sitting by the swift-going ships,
vent your wrath on the Achaians, but stay away from the war altogether.” 
τὸν δ’ ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα Θέτις κατὰ δάκρυ χέουσα·
ὤ μοι τέκνον ἐμόν, τί νύ σ’ ἔτρεφον αἰνὰ τεκοῦσα;
αἴθ’ ὄφελες παρὰ νηυσὶν ἀδάκρυτος καὶ ἀπήμων
ἧσθαι, ἐπεί νύ τοι αἶσα μίνυνθά περ οὔ τι μάλα δήν·
νῦν δ’ ἅμα τ’ ὠκύμορος καὶ ὀϊζυρὸς περὶ πάντων
ἔπλεο· τώ σε κακῇ αἴσῃ τέκον ἐν μεγάροισι.
τοῦτο δέ τοι ἐρέουσα ἔπος Διὶ τερπικεραύνῳ
εἶμ’ αὐτὴ πρὸς Ὄλυμπον ἀγάννιφον αἴ κε πίθηται.
ἀλλὰ σὺ μὲν νῦν νηυσὶ παρήμενος ὠκυπόροισι
μήνι’ Ἀχαιοῖσιν, πολέμου δ’ ἀποπαύεο πάμπαν·
Why the tears? “Therefore I bore you with a bad allotment of life” (τώ σε κακῇ αἴσῃ τέκον)? Why is Achilles’ “allotment of life” (αἶσα) short and mal?  “Cease from the war altogether (πολέμου δ’ ἀποπαύεο πάμπαν)!” Why should he wait by the ships and keep himself completely out of the war; and what would happen were he to reenter battle? Thetis just leaves without explaining herself! What does all this portend for the traditionally informed audience member?
As subsequent research has pointed out, however, absolute metrical thrift is confined (but even here with exceptions  ) to epithet formulas. More significantly for our present study, “the idea of thrift has nothing to do with idiomatic meaning” (Foley 1999:211).  We must instead read behind the sign to what is being referred to in the tradition. Whallon had earlier shown that epithets can reveal the “essential and unchanging character” of individuals in the epic tradition (Whallon 1969:2)  ; that an epithet, especially one that is particular to a character (or even mostly particular as Di Benedetto suggests  ), instances qualities that stem not first from the immediate moment in the singer’s song. They retain their semantic force within the larger tradition.  The epithet must be heard against a broader and deeper oral history, or, in Nagy’s apposite description: “A distinctive epithet is like a small theme song that conjures up a thought-association with the traditional essence of an epic figure, thing, or concept” (Nagy 1990a:23). The epithet “swift footed” (πόδας ὠκύς) in “swift footed Achilles” (πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς) was heard as a whole “word.”  For the ancient audience, it referred to Achilles as a character “using a telltale sign,” his swiftness of foot (Foley 1999:210).  An epithet, I suggest, brings to the minds of the audience members a character’s traditional personality.
1.4 The Relation of the Iliad and Odyssey