Ancient Myths in the Making of Culture

by Małgorzata Budzowska (Author) Jadwiga Czerwińska (Author)
©2015 Edited Collection 361 Pages


The reception of Mediterranean Antiquity heritage is one of the dominant research areas in contemporary classical studies. This issue has constituted the scope of the conference Reception of Ancient Myths in Ancient, Modern and Postmodern Culture, which took place at the University of Łódź (Poland) in November 2013. The volume consists of the selected articles based on the conference papers. They are divided into the main chapters: Literature, Visual and Performing Arts and Philosophy as well as Anthropology. The authors consider different methods of reception of ancient myths focusing on various cultural phenomena: literature, fine arts, theatre, cinema and pop culture.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Some Aspects of the Homerkritik in Ancient Literary Tradition
  • References
  • Hercules at the Crossroads: Sources, Models, and Variations
  • References
  • The Myth of Helen of Troy and Its Transformations in the Dramas by Euripides
  • Constant presence of the Myth of Helen in Greek Tradition and its Causes
  • The variantivity of mythological stores
  • The Myth of Helen of Troy
  • Homer’s Picture of Helen
  • Lyric Poetry
  • Sappho
  • Alcaeus
  • Helen and her Myth in the works of Euripides
  • A negative picture of Helen
  • The picture of herself in Helen by Euripides
  • References
  • A Reading of Greek Myth in Cicero’s Speeches. The Case of Medea
  • References
  • The Use of Myths in Humanisitc Satire. The Example of Antonio Vinciguerra
  • Introduction
  • The satire. Antonio Vinciguerra’s works
  • The author
  • The Genre
  • Antonio Vinciguerra’s satires
  • The classical models
  • Mythological References
  • Invocations
  • Ornamental element
  • Exemplifying references
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Telemach(us) – Telmah – Hamlet. The Myth of Telemachy in the Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • References
  • Orpheus’ Myth in Vico
  • References
  • The Time and Space of Antiquity in The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  • References
  • Gabriele D’Annunzio and Apollo
  • References
  • Cain, or the Secularization of Myth
  • References
  • Juan Antonio Castro Tauromachy. Between the Myth and the Art of Corrida
  • References
  • ‘Exiled Arcadians’ – Presence of Myth in the Poetry of Antonio Colinas and Zbigniew Herbert
  • References
  • The Myth of Atreides in Letter to Orestes and Supper by Iakovos Kambanellis
  • References
  • Mythical and Sartrian Influences in Yannis Ritsos’ The Fourth Dimension
  • The Fourth Dimension
  • Ritsos’ Agamemnon
  • Ritsos, Aeschylus, and Existentialism
  • The Other’s Look - Bad Faith
  • Alienation – Transcendence
  • Anguish
  • Nothingness – Death
  • Nausea
  • Death as a conscious choice
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • About the Politicization of the Antigone Myth by Rolf Hochhuth
  • References
  • The Myth of the Minotaur in Postmodern Narrative Space
  • References
  • Mythical Transformations. (A)Pollonia, directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski towards Ancient Tradition
  • References
  • Ancient Myth in Postmodern Theatre
  • Introduction
  • Ancient myth and postmodernism
  • Staging the classics
  • Oresteia by Maja Kleczewska
  • Oresteia by Michał Zadara
  • Oresteia by Jan Klata
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Odyssey Europe. Contemporary German Theatre and the Problem of Immigration
  • References
  • The Story of Orestes as a Reflection of the Transformations of Modern Society in Pylades by Pier Paolo Pasolini
  • References
  • The Night of the Shooting Stars – in the Circle of Myths and Fairy Tales
  • From a child’s perspective – in the world of fables
  • The Faces of the Enemy
  • The Parable
  • References
  • Narcissus – from Myth to Treatise. André Gide’s Theory of Symbol
  • Symbolism and modes of (self-)expression
  • Narcissus – metamorphoses of senses
  • References
  • The Transmission of the Zodiac Signs from the Eastern to the Western World: the Case of the Wall-Paintings in Tavant, France
  • Wall-paintings in the Tavant crypt
  • References
  • An Empty Myth – the Aesthetic Reception of Antiquity in Contemporary Art
  • References
  • Polish Reception of the Myth of Artemis and Acteon based on Selected Examples
  • Artemision
  • Between the poetics and rhetoric of metamorphosis and the experience of metanoia
  • ‘Hunting down a spirit’. Bolesław Leśmian’s Akteon
  • ‘A must-see’. Antoni Lange’s Akteon
  • ‘ Artemis, tell us where you are’ Lech Brywczyński’s Artemida na łowach. Dramat w jednym akcie [Artemis Hunting. A Drama in One Act]
  • Conclusions The principle of transitivity in the Artemision in the context of presented analysis
  • References
  • The “Myth-ing” Link: The Postmodern Community and Classical Myth in John Barth’s Menelaiad
  • References
  • Grimly Reaping: Melancholy and the Creative Harvest
  • References
  • The Nine Muses and Their Modern Existence
  • References
  • Mythonyms as the Key to Mythological Phraseology: An Interlinguistic Approach
  • References
  • The Dark Phoenix: Rewriting An Ancient Myth in Today’s Popular Culture
  • The ancient myth and its negative potentialities
  • Dark Phoenixes
  • List of the Dark Phoenix Books for the 21st c.
  • References
  • Authors

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Reception of Mediterranean Antiquity heritage is one of the dominant research areas in contemporary classical studies. This issue has constituted the scope of the conference Reception of Ancient Myths in Ancient, Modern and Postmodern Culture, which took place at University of Lodz in November 2013. The conference was attended by 48 scholars from all around the world, who have presented the papers during the 18 panels. Questions of literary studies, philosophy, linguistics, culture studies, art history, theatre, and cinema were considered and discussed.

This volume consists of the selected articles based on the conference papers, which are divided into the three main chapters: Literature, Visual and Performing Arts and Philosophy and Anthropology. The first chapter is dedicated to the literature which was, and still is, the field of art mainly involved in the “work of myth”. This situation can be obviously explained by the phenomenon of the ancient Greek literature, especially Greek tragedy, which was the first artistic medium for ancient myths and which determined some canonical versions of myths. “The work of myths” regarded as the basic structures of the creative imagination of the Mediterranean culture lays down their vital continuum in all epochs of development of culture until the present day. One may note phenomena of mythical signatures’ transfer in space and time of ancient, modern and postmodern culture. The mythical signatures referring to the mythical figures of heroes and heroines make a group of symbols and signs existing in the collective imaginary and adapting by the local and national culture in the unique way. This chapter presents the adaptations of ancient myths in the literature of different times, from Antiquity to Postmodernism, and spaces of Greece, Italy, Spain, England, France, Germany and Poland.

The second chapter concerns the revision of ancient myths by visual and performing arts as the fine arts, theatre and cinema. Reception of myths through the images and sounds extends the field of perception and thus expands the semantic range of myths. This chapter provides some examples from fine arts, film and theatre to explore the aesthetic and ideological use of myths by an artistic creativity.

The third chapter focuses on philosophical and anthropological approach to myths. Articles represent interpretations of different cultural and societal ← 9 | 10 → phenomena with particular emphasis on the contemporary culture. This kind of survey concentrated on the human collective actions which are linked with ancient myths offer reflections about collective imagination rooted in ancient culture.

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Antoni Bobrowski

Some Aspects of the Homerkritik in Ancient Literary Tradition

The origins of the ancient Homeric criticism are found in the era of the flourishing of archaic Greek lyric. The archaic poets perceived mythological tradition through the prism of the works of Homer and the authors of the Epic Cycle; while expressing admiration of the art of epic poetry, they also formulated two objections. They questioned the ethics of the portrayal of the Homeric gods as burdened by many moral flaws (Xenophanes), and voiced early doubts about the trustworthiness of the poetic message (Solon, Pindar). The beginnings of historiography brought the development of the Homeric criticism which concentrated on factual content. As historians rationally evaluating the reliability of their sources, Herodotus and Thucydides expressed doubts about the accuracy of the Homeric narrative. Around the middle of the third century B.C., works started to appear that ‘corrected’ Homer. While varied in form and content, such works all belong in the rather substantial category of ancient Schwindelliteratur. A specific tradition of Homer-correction on the subject of the Trojan war grew out of the early ‘Trojan monographs’ by Hellanicus of Lesbos and others, and evolved into entirely pseudepigraphic renditions; the first one was Troika, authored by Hegesianax of Alexandria under the name of Kephalon of Gergis. The Second Sophistic writers broadened ]Homeric criticism by introducing elements of parody, rhetorical flourish, and intellectual games, seen in such works as Trojan Oration (Or. XI) by Dio Chrysostom, the dialog Oneiros ē alektryōn by Lucian of Samosata, and Herōikós by Philostratus. A particular place in the literary forgery tradition belongs to two texts that survive in the Latin language and purport to be historiographical documents. They are Ephemeris belli Troiani by Dictys of Crete and De excidio Troiae historia by Dares the Phrygian. Those two modest-sized works tell what they claim is the ‘true history’ of the Trojan War; unlike the classic epic versions, they are rational and devoid of poetic embellishments.

The earliest literary rendition of the mythical stories of the Trojan War had become established so firmly in the Greco-Roman cultural tradition that the narrative, as conveyed in the epic poetry of Homer and augmented by the authors of the Epic Cycle, achieved the permanent status of the ‘canonical’ version. The Homeric and Cyclic tradition had become the standard for the narrative content of Trojan stories held from the antiquity onward, a constant in the European cultural identity, and a benchmark for the many modifications. For all the appreciation of the unquestioned artistic achievements of the oldest heroic epic poems, the poets of the next epoch, when Greek lyric poetry ← 13 | 14 → flourished, started to voice criticism and objections. As far as can be established based on the very incomplete preserved fragments, the archaic authors had two fundamental issues.

The first issue was ethical; as put by Xenophanes (6th c. B.C.), the epic poets arbitrarily depicted gods as morally flawed, susceptible to cheating, treachery, and adultery. Such objections, voiced here by a non-epic poet, grew out of the contemporary philosophy, critical of the myths1. To some extent, this criticism continued outside of poetry, carried on by Plato (Rep. 2.19–21) and others2, towards the rationalization supplied by Euphemerus (4/5 c. B.C.) in his Hierá anagraphé, where he pointed out that gods had once been mortal human beings who, having lived especially worthy and noble lives, posthumously became objects of a divine cult.

The second issue was not directly concerned with moral or ethical judgment; rather, it was a rational inquiry that introduced, in an embryonic form, the problem of the trustworthiness of the poetic narrative. Hesiod (Theog. 27–28) had already observed that the Muses, who inspire poets, can tell the truth as well as lies disguised as truth. The poet on whom the Muses have bestowed their gifts has the ability to enhance the reality he describes, and, to reach his artistic goal, he often crosses the border between truth and fantasy. The admiration for the artistic achievements of Homer and the epic poets was from then on accompanied by the realization that often a poet’s vision should be approached with some skepticism; at the very least, it should be remembered that poets ‘invent a lot’. Remarks in this vein can be found in the writings of Solon 6 c. B.C.) and Pindar (6/5 c. B.C.; Nem. 2, 20 ff.; Ol. 1, 28 ff., Isthm. 4). Such remarks, directed by poets towards other poets, were given the shape of a formal theory by Aristotle in the 4th century B.C. (Poet. 1460a)3. Aristotle concludes that literary fiction is entirely legitimate; he does not attempt to find literal truth in a literary text. Aristotle thus wraps up the issue challenging the critics of the archaic lyric, and, de facto, preempts any further questions about the trustworthiness of the epic narrative, which he perceives as governed by its own rules and goals, and entirely separate from a historical account.

The beginnings of historiography marked also the beginnings of Homeric criticism aimed at the factual content. This type of criticism emphasized the issue of the credibility and accuracy of the epic narrative treated as a historical source; the ← 14 | 15 → fantasy and the techniques of poetry were perceived as obstructing proper evaluation of the described facts. Those early tentative examples of historical writing, such as the 5th century B.C. Genealogiai by Hecataeus of Miletus4, showed a strong tendency towards a rational approach to the mythical tales, combined with an attempt at organizing in a coherent system various and often contradictory traditional narratives of the mythical past. Following Hecataeus’s example, Hellanicus of Lesbos (5th c. B.C.; FGrH 4) shows a similar inclination to rationalize but also to remain skeptical about the credibility of poetry as a historical source. In his Troiká, Hellanicus gathered mythical genealogies in a novel monographic format, concentrating on the myths of the Trojan War and containing lengthy narrative parts written in the manner of a historical account. Thus, Hellanicus can be regarded as the creator of the ‘mythological monograph’, the purpose of which is to arrive at the truth about the Trojan War, and to convey that truth to the reader. His use of prose to describe the events and of a systematic monographic format mark the beginning of a trend in Homeric criticism, which in the following centuries produced a number of works by Hellenistic writers who took a scholarly approach to the myths of the Trojan War, and proposed ‘factual’ versions, intentionally devoid of poetic fantasy and embellishments5.

The criticism of Homer based on the method of historical inquiry had its origin in the works of Herodotus (2.113–120) and Thucydides (1.9–11)6. Both authors emphasized their distrust regarding the credibility of the Homeric narrative, a result of the application of the historian’s method of rational evaluation of available sources. Homer could not be considered a trustworthy source by Herodotus and Thucydides for two reasons. First, he lived many years after the events of the Trojan War, and therefore could not have been an eyewitness to what he described (Herod. 2.53; Thuc. 1.3). Second, as a poet, Homer was not obliged to recount facts faithfully, but rather was allowed to apply poetic license, to use imagination and fantasy, and to shape the narrative according ← 15 | 16 → to his artistic vision. Herodotus and Thucydides do not intend to question the historical reality of a military conflict at Troy, but they question the specifics as they are presented in the epic poems. Thucydides takes a rational, pragmatic approach, and argues that the Trojan War might have been the largest military conflict of the past, but not on the scale Homer describes, the logistics of which would have required the resources of men and materiel not available at the time7. In turn, Herodotus concentrates on a particular detail, and insists that the Homeric story of Helen having been carried off to Troy could not be true. Helen must have remained with Proteus in Egypt and spent the war years there; if she had arrived at Troy with Paris, the Trojans would surely have returned her to the Greeks to avoid the danger of a conflict with a powerful enemy. Herodotus employs a particularly interesting method here to make the logic of his interpretation more convincing. He comes up with a rather unscientific idea of supporting his argument with the authority of an ‘eyewitness’. Herodotus claims to have personally learned the real (and rejected by Homer) version of the Trojan history from Egyptian priests, who in turn had heard it earlier from Menelaus himself when he had called at Egypt on his way home after the war. The device that Herodotus uses to prove the trustworthiness of a version of events alternative to Homer’s operates in a specific way. The Homeric version is corrected through the testimony of an ‘eyewitness’, in this case Menelaus, whose stay in Egypt is confirmed by Homer (Od. 4.81–91 and 4.351–586). Consequently, the poet, who is criticized by Herodotus for having altered historical facts, in turn acts as a guarantor of the accuracy of the version presented by the critic. Similar methods were used from then on by other critics, who continued to accuse Homer of altering the historical truth while searching for ways to convince their audiences of the credibility of their own versions.

Starting around the middle of the 3rd century B.C., the trend to ‘correct’ Homer produced works that, based on the goals and strategies of their authors, belong in the rather substantial and varied in form and content category of ancient literary forgery8. A specific variation of Trojan-themed Schwindelliteratur grew on the formal foundation of the works of Hellanicus and other early authors of ‘Trojan monographs’. However, while Hellenistic mythography attempted a scientific, reasoned approach to its subject, this variation deliberately employed a concept ← 16 | 17 → far removed from the method of scientific inquiry: a particular version of events is presented as true because it came from a supposedly trustworthy source. That source, a de facto fictitious character, should be associated in the audience’s mind with the characters in Homer’s epic, or even be perceived as an eyewitness of the events described by Homer9. The first evidence of this literary device appears around the middle of the 3rd century B.C. in the writings of Dionysius Scytobrachion, which include pieces on ‘Libyan histories’ and the Argonauts, as well as Troiká, a three-volume work on Trojan stories. Very little is known about Dionysius’s writings, but enough to establish that while talking about ‘Libyan histories’, he mentions one Thymoites10. Supposedly, Thymoites once wrote about ‘Phrygian histories’, which might suggest that the content of that work was the source of information for Dionysius’s own Troiká. Clearly Scytobrachion’s invention, the person of Thymoites, would therefore serve a purpose similar to that of Menelaus in Herodotus, a ‘trustworthy witness’ from the distant past, whose knowledge comes from having personally been at Troy during the war, or perhaps from his father, mentioned by Homer himself.

As the next stage in the creation of invented ‘Trojan tales’11, full-blown pseudepigrapha appeared, such as Troiká by Hegesianax12 of Alexandria in Troad (3/2 c. B.C.), written under the name of Kephalon of Gergis. On the basis of preserved fragments and second-hand accounts, it appears that this work covered events leading to the Trojan War, the course of the war itself and related episodes, and also the story of the Greeks’ return from Troy. The premise of the account was that it had been based on a ‘trustworthy source’. This time it was not an eyewitness, but rather a kind of ‘local expert’, supposedly coming from Gergis in Asia Minor, where the descendants of the ancient Trojans had settled, and therefore well versed in the local oral tradition recounting the true knowledge of the events at Troy. Hegesianax thus did not stop at just identifying a purported source of his information; he produced a full literary forgery, where he published his own work under the name of the person he himself had invented and presented as coming from Troad, so it would convince the reader of the trustworthiness of ← 17 | 18 → the account13. Hegesianax does not openly criticize Homer14. He applies an intermediate method of not accusing the poet of lying, but rather undermining his credibility by inventing somebody whose account would appear more reliable.

This strategy of making the fictitious believable is next seen in two Early Empire texts of pseudegraphic character, Ephemeris belli Troiani by Dictys Cretensis, and De excidio Troiae historia by Dares the Frygian15. Both texts have been preserved in the Latin translation dating to antiquity.

Dictys’s Ephemeris16 consists of six books, I–V corresponding to the Greek original, the last being a summary of several more books of the original version. It is accompanied by The Dedication Letter (Epistula), which identifies one Lucius Septimius as the Roman author of the translation, and The Prologue (Prologus), which serves as a form of ‘editor’s note’ and introduces the presumed author17. The ‘note’ contains the following information: Dictys came from Cnossus on Crete; lived in the times of the Atridae, that is, of the Trojan War; accompanied the leaders Idomeneus and Meriones to Troy, and at their behest wrote down the chronicle of the war. All the information in the Prologue fits together neatly and logically; as the reader starts the first book, he should believe he will be perusing an authentic ancient document of the past. Of course, both the person of Dictys and the story of the manuscript purportedly found in an old sepulcher are fiction, hiding the real, unknown to us, author; the composition of the original Greek text can be only approximately dated to about the 2nd century A.D.18 The purpose of the fiction was to give credibility to the whole concept, so Ephemeris could compete in the readers’ perception with the traditional, widely available epic versions of the Trojan tales. Written in concise, unembellished prose, and ← 18 | 19 → claiming to be ‘the relation of an eyewitness’, the text was presented as the ‘real’ history (Troiani belli verior textus), in contrast to the poetic fantasies of Homer and the authors of the Epic Cycle.

Dares’s De excidio Troiae historia is a considerably shorter text, consisting of 44 chapters, without a division into books. When referring to the stories of the Trojan War alternative to Homer’s, Dares’s name first appears in Kainé historía by Ptolemaeus Chennos19, dated 1st/2nd century A.D., which supplemented and corrected various mythological motifs and episodes of the established tradition. A summary of this work, preserved in Photius’s Bibliotheca in the part devoted to the Trojan matter, mentions, among others, a piece by Antipater of Acanthus, whose original source had supposedly been another Iliad, written earlier than Homer’s by Dares, an advisor to Hector at Troy20. The technique Chennos employs to establish his credibility is very complex. Two names are given, of which the first belongs to an otherwise entirely unknown historian; since Ptolemaeus often refers to made-up sources21, there is no reason to consider Antipater as anything more than fiction. The appearance of the name of Dares, who allegedly had been Antipater’s original source, brings up the possibility of a connection between the Dares referred to in Kainé historía, the suggested author of the pre-Homeric Iliad (the Phrygian Iliad, mentioned also by Aelian, 2nd/3rd century A.D.22), and Dares the author of the extant in Latin De excidio Troiae historia. There is no doubt that in both cases the person is fictitious, and the name is used to lend credibility to the non-Homeric version of the Trojan War specifically because Homer’s Iliad includes the name Dares; he is mentioned twice (5.9; 5.27) as the Trojan priest of Hephaestus.

The suggestion that the existing Latin text of Dares’s De excidio Troiae historia could be a prose rendition of Dares’s Iliad mentioned by Ptolemaeus Chennos ← 19 | 20 → would be a very tempting one had it not been firmly negated by the fundamental differences between the contents of the ‘Latin Dares’ and the purported pre-Homeric poem as described by Chennos23. Conceivably, some rumor about a report, even in the form of a poem, by Dares, an ‘eyewitness’ to the events at Troy, was common enough in the first centuries A.D. that some unknown to us Greek author chose to use the name to vouch for the trustworthiness of his own prose account, of which the Latin version survives today24. While the Latin version of De excidio Troiae historia is commonly dated to the 5th century A.D., with the second half being more likely25, the Greek original is even harder to date than Dictys’s Ephemeris. Considering that the purported author of De excidio Troiae historia was thought to have been Trojan himself and writing from the ‘pro-Trojan’ point of view, it is generally accepted that Dares’s Historia was created as a counterproposal, or a response, to Dictys’s ‘pro-Greek’ work, and must have been written later (though possibly not much) than the original Greek version of Ephemeris, most likely in the second half of the 2nd century A.D. or the beginning of the 3rd century26.

Dares’s work, like Dictys’s Ephemeris, is a fully realized case of pesudepigrapha, and the polemic attitude towards the Homeric and Cyclic version of the events at Troy appears at times more radical in Historia than in Ephemeris. This tendency is signaled early on in The Letter of Dedication, which precedes the proper text, and is a clear addition, spuriously implying a written exchange between two well-known Roman historians of the 1st century A.D. The addressee of the letter is allegedly ‘Sallustius Crispus’, to whom ‘Cornelius Nepos’ is sending ← 20 | 21 → a copy of an account written in the past by Dares the Phrygian, which he found in Athens and faithfully translated into Latin. The readers will find out what really happened and will be able to judge for themselves who is more trustworthy: Dares, who lived in the time of the Trojan War and was a participant himself; or Homer, who was born many years after the war, and in addition was tried by an Athenian court as mentally incompetent because he wrote about people fighting gods on the battlefield. This sharp and direct criticism is aimed at depriving the traditional Homeric narrative of any credibility by dismissing its value as a historical source. In contrast with Homer’s, Dares’s work fulfills the criteria for a primary source as an account written down by an eyewitness, accurately and in an unadorned style (vere et simpliciter), with no fantastic elements such as interventions of anthropomorphic gods in the affairs of men.

Among the many details by which Dares’s Historia differs from the ancient epic narrative, the following deserve special attention. Patroclus dies at the very beginning of the war, on the second day after the Greeks’ arrival at Troy (19–20), which instantly eliminates one of the major plots in Homer’s Iliad. The character of Palamedes, absent in Homer, is given prominence as an experienced strategist who competes with Agamemnon for the title of commander-in-chief (20) and gains it after Agamemnon’s dismissal (25; the title reverts to Agamemnon after Palamedes’s death, 28). The character of Briseis, so important in Homer, does not appear at all in Dares’s account. Instead, as in Dictys’s work, Achilles’s love for Polyxena becomes a decisive plot device when Achilles, frustrated in his attempts to marry Polyxena, becomes disillusioned with the war’s pointless cruelty and refuses to fight (28), eventually finding his death by treachery at the hands of Alexander in the temple of Thymbreian Apollo (34). Finally, the fall of Troy comes not as the result of the Greeks’ subterfuge, but of the efforts of Antenor, Aeneas, and some other prominent citizens. Faced with the prospect of prolonged fighting with no hope of victory, they first try to convince Priam and the Trojan council to return Helen to the Greeks to end the conflict; failing that, they deploy Antenor’s duplicitous scheme to deliver Troy to the Greek army (39–41). The polemic with the widely known traditional version of the story of ‘the Trojan Horse’ is expressed by reducing that story to a remark that the Scaean Gates, through which the Greeks entered Troy, were decorated with a sculpture of a horse’s head (40).

The device of the early removal of Patroclus from the narrative is also a good example of how the author of Historia completely eliminates the vast gallery of anthropomorphic deities, found in the epic poetry but absent from his own account, which is thus made more believable without the fantastic elements. Dares limits his account to Patroclus’s death on the battlefield and the funerary ← 21 | 22 → rites arranged by Achilles to honor him. Unlike in Homer’s telling, here Achilles does not lend his armor to Patroclus, so the armor is not lost, and there is no need to introduce the goddess Thetis, who, according to Homer, miraculously delivers to Achilles a new armor from the workshop of the divine blacksmith Hephaestus. The method Dares uses here to make his account appear rational relies not on replacing supernatural intervention with human action (Achilles’s new armor could have been made by an ordinary blacksmith), but rather on eliminating situations where such need would arise. Another method of the rationalization of the narrative is used by Dares when he presents ‘the judgment of Paris’, a story originating not with Homer but with the Epic Cycle, as the Trojan prince’s dream. Narrative solutions contradicting the epic tradition27 are given the appearance of a historical account through the introduction of a purported eyewitness to the events, and having him be the author of the account. The effect of trustworthiness is strengthened by the dry, matter-of-fact tone of the narrative shaped as a form of ‘war journal’.

An important literary and intellectual context is provided for Dictys’s Ephemeris and Dares’s Historia by several, chronologically close, writings by authors connected with the Second Sophistic movement. The Trojan Discourse (Or. 11) by Dio Chrysostom, The Dream or The Cock (Oneiros ē alektruōn) by Lucian of Samosata, and On Heroes (Herōikós) by Philostratus introduce new elements to the ‘correcting of Homer’. Dio’s discourse is a brilliant rhetorical tour de force, which poses and argues the startling thesis that the majority of Homer’s narrative consists of lies and inventions, since in reality the Greeks never conquered Troy. In writing his tale, Homer was guided by artistic as well as patriotic considerations, but that does not change the fact that he let his fantasy run free, ignored the rules of probability, and purposefully tangled the story to make his alterations undetectable (cf. Or. 11, 24). The categorical tone of the accusations and the detailed analysis identifying and correcting Homer’s ‘lies’ and ‘errors’ display the characteristics of epideictic speech28, though there may be a deeper intention to challenge the pedestrian interpretations of epic poetry taught in schools of rhetoric. For our purposes, what deserves special attention is the way in which Dio establishes the credibility of his information where it contradicts Homer’s version. He refers to the knowledge gained from an Egyptian priest, for which the original source was supposed to be Menelaus ← 22 | 23 → during his stay in Egypt (Or. 11, 37 ff.). This procedure is strikingly similar to Herodotus’s approach, when he invokes the authority of Egyptian priests and Menelaus to support his story of Helen spending the years of the Trojan War in Egypt29. Invoking a trustworthy source is one of the arguments Dio uses to justify the necessity of corrections, together with frequent evaluation of specific elements of Homer’s narrative from the point of view of logic and probability. Dio also emphasizes that the poet did not care at all whether his account contained the historical truth, because he did not take into consideration any critical analysis by his audience (cf. Or. 11, 92).

In turn, Lucian’s dialogue is dominated entirely by the conventions of parody. Here the ‘eyewitness’ to the Trojan War is Panthoos, son of Euphorbus, well known from Homer’s narrative (Il. 16.808 ff.), but appearing as a cockerel in Lucian’s work. His current avian shape as well as the earlier one of Euphorbus are links in a chain of consecutive Pythagorean reincarnations of the soul; in one of his previous lives the cockerel used to be Pythagoras himself (Luc. Gal. 17). In a nocturnal conversation with his owner, the cockerel includes several details concerning Troy that do not entirely agree with the Homeric version. He stresses that he knows of them first-hand, unlike Homer, who could not possibly have seen Troy with his own eyes, as at the time of the Trojan War he was living in Bactria as a camel. The cockerel points out that he himself only knows what was known to the Trojan Euphorbus, and therefore has little to say about the Greeks. The care taken to establish the credibility of an ‘eyewitness’ as unusual as a cockerel is accompanied by a clear, if also unusual, attempt to discredit the value of Homer’s tale, and the intention for the witness to appear precise and specific. This leads to some meticulous calculations concerning Helen’s age, which must have been rather advanced by the time of the Trojan War, and her beauty, which might have not been so remarkable. As a result, the reader should ask whether it is possible to reconcile the image of Helen as aging and average-looking with the established traditional depiction of the most beautiful woman in the world, who was the cause of a conflict between two powerful nations. The approach proposed by Lucian leads to absurd conclusions, and the criticism of Homer practiced here shows typical of the Second Sophistic fondness for jest, parody, and intellectual games with the reader30.

A somewhat different contribution to the undertaking of ‘correcting Homer’ is Herōikós by Philostratus. It has a form of a dialogue taking place in the ← 23 | 24 → Thracian Chersonese at the time of writing. A Phoenician sailor is talking to the owner of a local vineyard, who brings up the close relationship he had with Protesilaus, a Greek hero of the Trojan War. That is how he obtained a lot of information about the real course of the war, which he is now willing to share with the interested visitor. Protesilaus, with whom the vineyard owner maintains a special mystical connection, is known from Homer (Il. 2. 695 ff.) as the first Greek warrior killed in the war. The mystical aura surrounding Protesilaus – he possesses full knowledge of events that happened after his death – should not be a reason to doubt his credibility. Protesilaus points out that Homer lived about a century and a half after the Trojan War and wrote his narrative with the help of divine inspiration and talent, but his poetry contains facts that have been altered to serve his artistic vision. Sometimes he had other reasons as well; for example, the absence of Palamedes from Homer’s work is the result of some agreement the poet made with the ghost of Odysseus (43). In this relation, Protesilaus corrects Homer’s ambiguities and alterations, and fills in his omissions. He devotes a lot of attention to Palamedes (21 and 30); contradicting Homer, he presents Odysseus as a cowardly, lying wretch (34); and speaks at length about Achilles, identifying what was true and what was not in Homer’s tale about the son of Peleus (45–57). Philostratus’s text is dated at the beginning of the 3rd century, likely the year 21731. The critical approach that places Herōikós among the ‘corrections of Homer’ is not sharply corrective, as demonstrated by Andreas Beschorner’s comparative analysis of the content of Herōikós and of Homer’s epic poems, as well as his discussion of Philostratus’s literary and polemic intentions. It is thus reasonable to agree with the German scholar’s opinion that Philostratus did not aim to be a ‘truer Homer’, and should rather be seen as a ‘Homerergänzer’. He fills in Homer’s omissions with detailed supplementary information, but only mentions and occasionally corrects what Homer’s narrative has already covered at length32.

The above examples illustrate the complexity and variety of the ancient literary criticism of Homer. It concentrates on correcting the errors, fabrications, and imprecisions of which the traditional epic narratives of the Trojan War were thought guilty. The texts represent a wide spectrum of form, tone, and engagement. The approach ranges from rational scientific analysis as demonstrated first by the logographers, and soon after and more strongly by Herodotus and Thucydides, to the rhetorical flourishes, parody, and intellectual games of the authors ← 24 | 25 → of the Second Sophistic. A significant proportion of the texts belongs in the category of literary forgery, written in the manner of fact-based historiography, and presenting accounts of the Trojan War styled as ‘true history’. This approach first appears in Hegesianax’s pseudepigraphon, and is continued by the authors of Ephemeris belli Troiani and De excidio Troiae historia. During the Byzantine period and in medieval Europe, those two modest-sized works had achieved the status of unquestioned historical authority, and overshadowed the ancient poetic narratives until the Renaissance brought attention back to the original Homeric tradition.


Albrecht M. von, 1997, A History of Roman Literature. From Livius Andronicus to Boethius, Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Beschorner A., 1992, Untersuchungen zu Dares Phrygius, Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag.

– 1999, Helden und Heroen, Homer und Caracalla. Übersetzung, Kommentar und Interpretarionen zum Heroikos des Flavios Philostratos, Bari: Levante.

Bobrowski A., 2009, Dziennik wojny trojańskiej Diktysa z Krety. Studium historycznoliterackie, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego.

Bornmann F., 1987, Note su Darete Frigio, in: Filologia e forme letterarie. Studi offerti a Francesco della Corte, Vol. 1: 391–395, Urbino: Università degli Studi di Urbino.

Bowersock G.W., 1994, Fiction as History: Nero to Julian, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bradley D.R., 1991, ‘Troy Revisited’, Hermes 109: 232–246.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (January)
Schöne Künste Popkultur Postmoderne Theater Rezeption
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 361 pp., 14 b/w fig.

Biographical notes

Małgorzata Budzowska (Author) Jadwiga Czerwińska (Author)

Małgorzata Budzowska is an Assistant Professor at the Chair of Classical Philology of the University of Łódź (Poland). She holds a PhD in Classical Philology and a MA in Theatre Studies. Her main research interests include the reception of ancient tragedies in contemporary theatre, modern and postmodern adaptation of ancient dramas as well as the theory of emotions. She is the author of the monograph Phaedra. Ethics of Emotions in the Tragedies of Euripides, Seneca and Racine. Jadwiga Czerwińska is an Associate Professor at the University of Łódź (Poland) and Head of the Chair of Ancient Drama and Theatre at the Catholic University of Lublin (Poland). Besides she is Head of the Laboratory of Reception of Ancient Literature. Her main research interests lie in the tragedies of Euripides and in Greek philosophy. Currently, she is involved in the research project Ancient Drama and Theatre in the Works of Scholiasts.


Title: Ancient Myths in the Making of Culture
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364 pages