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Week 1 - Epic Poetry

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University of Toronto St. George
Timothy Perry

 Introduction to Epic Poetry o What is Epic Poetry?  Ancient definitions emphasized form  Dactylic Hexameter: rhythm of one long syllable followed by two short syllables  All Greek poetry is based around syllable lengths (long or short)  With very few exceptions ancient epic is always written in dactylic hexameter  Meter: rhythmical form and structure of poetry  Substantial length  Ancient poetry is generally substantial in length, very long  Any poetry in the ancient world, especially in the Greek world, that is written in dactylic hexameter and that is of substantial length is considered "epic"  Content doesn't really matter to the Greeks  Sometimes include "didactic" epics such as Hesiod's Works and Days  Is wisdom poetry, meant to teach something  Hesiod is trying to teach his brother on how to be a good farmer  Term "epic" is used more broadly in the ancient world than used in modern thought  Modern definitions emphasize content  Serious treatment of gods and heroes  Aristotle noted that Homer always represented individuals who are greater than "us"  Depictions of bards performing within epic poems  The epic representing itself within its text  Klea Andrōn: famous deeds of men  Epics often represents this Always of people of importance, of gods and heroes   Dactylic hexameter is still recognized as the meter and form of epic  Length as well is still regarded as a defining feature  Formal features are ultimately what distinguishes epic from other genres which deal with similar content  Epic is not the only genre that deals with heroes and gods e.g.) Tragedy o Much less of a distinction made in antiquity between myth and history  Ancient Greeks and Romans thought of myths as early history  Continuum between myth and history o Historical Context  Composed around 700 BC  Iliad is probably the earliest and was composed sometime between 750-700 BC  Odyssey sometime later, 700-600 BC  Linguistic evidence suggests the Odyssey is the more recent of the two  Hesiod's Theogony likely written around 700 BC as well  Set in the mythical past  Difficult to gage the relationship between the mythical events and actual historical events  They do however, seem to be connected to historical events around about 400 or 500 years BEFORE their compositions (around 1200 BC)  Important periods in Greek History  Mycenaean Period  First ethnically "Greek" people are the Mycenaeans, spoke an early version of the Greek language  Enter Greece sometime early in the 2nd Millennium BC  Dominate Greece and the Aegean from the 14th Century BC onwards until the 11th Century  Civilization centred around palaces which were important administrative centres with Kings  Troy  Flourishing around the same time as the Mycenaeans  On the Eastern side of the Hellespont (modern-day Turkey)  Very complicated archaeological site (what is presumed to be the site of Troy)  Seems to have been destroyed at various points in its history  One around 1270 BC, the other around 1190 BC  These periods of destruction that are POSSIBLY linked to or form the origin of the story of the Trojan Wars  "Dark Ages" (LH III C)  Mycenaean Civilization collapses around 1200 BC (around the same time as the destruction of Troy of 1190 BC)  Major sites of destroyed and burnt at around the same time  Followed by an extended period of economic, political and cultural decline  Loss of centralized political and economic power  Reduction in the contact between close communities  Drop in population  Loss of writing (no more Linear B) Should NOT be viewed entirely negatively   Have some spectacular archaeological finds from this time  Best viewed as a period of transition and migration  New peoples moving into Greece and mingling with the post- Mycenaean populations  Have post-Mycenaeans moving out of the mainland Greece colonizing the West Coast of Modern-day Turkey (Asia Minor)  Archaic Age  Greece begins to emerge from the "Dark Ages"  When the Iliad and Odyssey and works of Hesiod are composed  Other features include…  The reemerge of large scale political organization  Development of the polis (independent city-states)  Increased contact wit
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