One Man Show: Poetics and Presence in the Iliad and Odyssey

  Kretler, Katherine. 2020. One Man Show: Poetics and Presence in the Iliad and Odyssey. Hellenic Studies Series 78. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.


“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.

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.

* * *

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.

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

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.

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.

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:

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.

I suggest that Aristotle reinforces what he is saying by enacting it in ring composition (1448b18–49a15):

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”?

* * *

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.


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]


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.


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.

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:

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?

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

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.

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.”

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

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. [

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 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. [

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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?


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.

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.

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.

* * *

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.