Victim of the Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior and Hero in Greco-Roman and Indo-European Myth and History

  Compton, Todd M. 2006. Victim of the Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior and Hero in Greco-Roman and Indo-European Myth and History. Hellenic Studies Series 11. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.


The process leading from “myth” to “history”—though such terms cannot be strictly distinguished at all times, as history can function on a sacral level, and myth is always perceived by believers as history—can be seen as a process of secularization. The poet is an omniscient god; then a superhuman hero tied closely, in both a positive and negative way, to the same god; [1] then the prophet-poet consecrated by god in revelation and sacrificed to him; then a man vaguely inspired, vaguely mad; then a man who uses the convention of divine inspiration in his poetry (as does the irreverent Ovid). The sacred has weakened into a poetic convention; one prays for inspiration at the beginning of an epic poem, even if one is, like Lucretius, an Epicurean, whose belief in literal gods is nonexistent.


[ back ] 1. On the process of epicization of mythology, see Puhvel 1987:39.

[ back ] 2. Eliade 1963a:162–195.

[ back ] 3. Cf. Burnett for a defence of the possibility of literal contemporary poetic inspiration (1987:156). For poetry and the sacred, see van der Leeuw 1963 ch. 3.

[ back ] 4. See Rading 1984:180.

[ back ] 5. Ariel Dorfman, “Pinochet Meets the Press,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 12, 1987, Pt. II, p. 7.

[ back ] 6. Timerman 1981.

[ back ] 7. The very poet cited by Burnett as a modern poet receiving inspiration from outside himself, see above, this chapter. André Chenier under Robespierre also comes to mind in this connection. See generally Rubenstein 1980.

[ back ] 8. Rubenstein 1980:271.

[ back ] 9. Rubenstein 1980:11–12.

[ back ] 10. Plutarch On Exile 16 (606B), trans. De Lacy, “οὕτως ἐγὼ διατίθημι τοὺς κακῶς με ποιοῦντας.” Theodorus is unimpressed: “Who cares if I rot above or below ground?” he replies (“τί δὲ Θεοδώρῳ μέλει,” ἔφη, “πότερον ὑπὲρ γῆς ἢ ὑπὸ γῆς σήπεται;”). Theodorus is himself an exiled philosopher (ibid.).

[ back ] 11. Seneca On Anger 3.17: . . . factusque poena sua monstrum misericordiam quoque amiserat. Tamen, cum dissimillimus esset homini qui illa patiebatur, dissimilior erat qui faciebat. See also Athenaeus 14.616c.