Barker, Elton T. E., and Joel P. Christensen. 2019. Homer's Thebes: Epic Rivalries and the Appropriation of Mythical Pasts. Hellenic Studies Series 84. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BarkerE_ChristensenJ.Homers_Thebes.2019.
Introduction. Why Thebes?
he tells of the Phrygians’ battle-shouts;
but I tell of my conquests.
No horse has destroyed me,
nor foot soldier, nor ships,
but another new army
strikes me from its eyes.
When we first started working on this book, just over a decade ago, very little had been written on the topic of Theban epic and even less on Theban myth in Homer. Since then, however, in addition to our articles of 2008, 2011 and 2014, there has been a spate of publications on non-Homeric archaic Greek hexameter epic, encompassing both the other Trojan War poems (the so-called “epic cycle”: West 2013; Fantuzzi and Tsagalis 2014; Davies 2016; cf. Burgess 2001) and the poems related to Thebes and Theban myth (Davies 2014; cf. Tsagalis 2008). As part of this burgeoning interest in Homer’s epic rivals, the mythical archaeology of Thebes has come under particular scrutiny (e.g. Berman 2013; 2015), as well as the use of Theban myth in Homer (e.g. Tsagalis 2014), which is the central concern of this book. Given this proliferating bibliography, it is fair to ask: why Thebes, why now?
αὖτις ἔτ’ ἄλλο τέταρτον ἐπὶ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ
Ζεὺς Κρονίδης ποίησε, δικαιότερον καὶ ἄρειον,
ἀνδρῶν ἡρώων θεῖον γένος, οἳ καλέονται
ἡμίθεοι, προτέρη γενεὴ κατ’ ἀπείρονα γαῖαν.
καὶ τοὺς μὲν πόλεμός τε κακὸς καὶ φύλοπις αἰνὴ
τοὺς μὲν ὑφ’ ἑπταπύλῳ Θήβῃ, Καδμηίδι γαίῃ,
ὤλεσε μαρναμένους μήλων ἕνεκ’Οἰδιπόδαο,
τοὺς δὲ καὶ ἐν νήεσσιν ὑπὲρ μέγα λαῖτμα θαλάσσης
ἐς Τροίην ἀγαγὼν ῾Ελένης ἕνεκ’ ἠυκόμοιο.
But when also this race he had hidden beneath the earth,
again still another, the fourth on the fruitful earth
Zeus the son of Cronos made, more just and brave,
a divine race of hero-men, who are called
semi-divine, the race prior to ours, throughout the boundless earth.
Evil war and dread battle destroyed them,
some at seven-gated Thebes in the land of Cadmus,
when they fought for the flocks of Oedipus,
others when it had led them in their ships over the great deep sea
to Troy for lovely-haired Helen.
This passage has long been recognized as disrupting Hesiod’s depiction of a cosmic fall from grace, which charts a serial decline from a golden age society of easy living and righteous behavior to the present day world of his audience, an “iron age” characterized by hard graft and corruption. Prior to his description of that world, Hesiod inserts “a divine race of hero-men, who are called semi-divine” (ἀνδρῶν ἡρώων θεῖον γένος, οἳ καλέονται / ἡμίθεοι). Here, Thebes and Troy are paired as a way of denoting this heroic age, as the sites where major conflicts took place. These conflicts, while bearing witness to the characteristic feature of this age—men who were “more just and brave”—also have the instrumental effect of wiping out the race of heroes, which leaves the world populated by mere mortal men. This grim existence of having to scrape out a living is the scenario envisaged and explored in the Works and Days. Hesiod’s poem, then, provides a cosmological frame for thinking about the “generation of hero men” and their relation to the world of the present, where there are no more heroes anymore.
Oral-Poetic Frames: Traditional Referentiality
Foley proposes that meaning in an oral tradition is essentially metonymic—that through synecdoche the relationship between the particular instance and traditional convention produces meaning that is “inherent.”  While some of the language deployed in this definition is rather too fuzzy for our liking, we endorse the emphasis placed on the audience’s role in producing meaning. According to Foley, the audience uses “extratextual” knowledge to interpret the performance of oral poetry in much the same way that many modern critics allow a literate reader to draw on prior and external knowledge in reading a text. Accordingly, Foley presents reader response approaches, or Receptionalism, as a model to be compared with his theory of traditional referentiality.  The perspective of receptionalism is invaluable for any genre that has its origins in performance.
Rivalry and Panhellenism
that it is the only place where mortal women give birth to gods?
Swift-Footed Achilles, Again
διογενὴς Πηλῆος υἱὸς πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς·
οὔτέ ποτ’ εἰς ἀγορὴν πωλέσκετο κυδιάνειραν
οὔτέ ποτ’ ἐς πόλεμον, ἀλλὰ φθινύθεσκε φίλον κῆρ
αὖθι μένων, ποθέεσκε δ’ ἀϋτήν τε πτόλεμόν τε.
But he raged, sitting there among the swift-wayed ships,
The divine-born son of Peleus, swift-footed Achilles.
Neither was he ever going to the assembly where men win glory,
Nor ever into war; instead he was eating up his dear heart
Waiting there, though he was full of desire for the battle-cry and war.
Here, the man of action and speed is marked out for everything he is not doing: neither was he going to the assembly, nor was he going into battle. The duration of this inaction is doubly marked too: the poem uses the imperfect iterative twice to develop the tension between his sustained avoidance of frequenting the assembly and his lingering desire to do so (πωλέσκετο… ποθέεσκε); it also repeats the indefinite temporal particle ποτε (“ever”), even though in reality only a short period of time can have passed since he has withdrawn to his ships. In effect, “swift-footed Achilles” is as stilled as the “swift-wayed ships” (νηυσὶ ὠκυπόροισι) among which he sits, ships that haven’t moved for nigh on ten years. So striking is this passage that ancient scholars appear to have found it perplexing enough either to offer the explanation that “a hero is opposed to inaction” or to want to do away with it altogether. 
ῥώμης ὅσσ’ ἀνδρῶν ἔργ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι πέλει,
τούνεκεν ἂν δὴ μᾶλλον ἐν εὐνομίηι πόλις εἴη·
Swiftness of feet—the thing honored most
in all of man’s acts of strength in the contest
—could never make a city governed well.
While the form ταχυτὴς ποδῶν does not occur in early Greek hexameter epic, the near-equivalent form ταχὺς ποδῶν does. Mostly it occurs in the Iliad’s scenes of battle, as if denoting that being swift of feet would (or should) normally describe an action in battle.  Without considering the broader referentiality of πόδας ὠκύς, nevertheless, the last instances of ταχὺς ποδῶν all relate to Achilles, suggesting again the association of swift feet with this specific hero.  In rejecting swiftness of foot as a sufficient value for governing a city, Xenophanes could be alluding to the conflict set up at the beginning of the Iliad, where the swift-footed hero contests the king’s authority and precipitates a political crisis in the Achaean camp.  Or one might think too of the Phaiakian youths in the Odyssey, whose swift-footed ability in the games Odysseus questions as a signifier of heroic stature. Earlier in the poem Xenophanes asserts first that “our wisdom is better than the strength of men and horses” (οὐκ ἐὼν ἄξιος ὥσπερ ἐγώ. ῥώμης γὰρ ἀμείνων / ἀνδρῶν ἠδ’ ἵππων ἡμετέρη σοφίη, fr. 2 14–15), and again that “it is not just to prefer strength to good wisdom” (ἀλλ’ εἰκῇ μάλα τοῦτο νομίζεται, οὐδὲ δίκαιον / προκρίνειν ῥώμην τῆς ἀγαθῆς σοφίης, fr. 2 15–16). Here, then, Xenophanes frames his comments about the swift-footed hero within culturally-charged language about the importance of sympotic wisdom and intelligence over physical strength.  Indeed, the sympotic context for Xenophanes’ poetry would both complement and replace the quasi-sympotic banqueting of the Phaiakians.
νήσοις δ’ ἐν μακάρων σέ φασιν εἶναι,
ἵνα περ ποδώκης Ἀχιλεὺς
Τυδεΐδην τέ †φασι τὸν ἐσθλὸν† Διομήδεα.
Dearest Harmodius, you have never died,
But they say you live in the isles of the blest
Where swift-footed Achilles
And Tydeus’ fine son, Diomedes, are.
In this celebratory song the tyrant-killer is said to have joined “swift-footed” Achilles and Tydeus’ son Diomedes in the Isles of the Blest.  The overlap of these two figures is interesting (for more on which see Chapter 3), but of immediate concern to us is the selection of the two heroes in the first place: why are they singled out, and not other heroes from myth? The answer lies, we suggest, in their role as heroes who are recognized for standing up to authority. In one way this would seem to be a pointed throwback, or allusion, to their role in the Iliad, where Achilles contests the authority of Agamemnon, and Diomedes equally pointedly recalls Achilles’ challenge as a precedent for his own verbal sparring with the king—both acts which, importantly, are figured as laying down a new political framework for dealing with crises in the Achaean camp.  These later “popular” verses—lines from a drinking song—praise and elevate a figure from the more immediate past, the tyrant-slayer Harmodius, to the level of a culture hero of all time on par with an Achilles or Diomedes from the Iliad. In this move, the epic heroes themselves are transformed, from figures who stood up to authority to those who successfully slayed the king—as if Harmodius had made good on Achilles’ initial impulse to strike down Agamemnon in Iliad Book 1. 
Homer’s Thebes: Overview
ὃ δ’ αὖ Φρυγῶν ἀυτάς,
ἐγὼ δ’ ἐμὰς ἁλώσεις.
οὐχ ἵππος ὤλεσέν με,
οὐ πεζός, οὐχὶ νῆες,
στρατὸς δὲ καινὸς ἄλλος
ἀπ’ ὀμμάτων με βάλλων.
All translations are our own.