Dr. Ivan Matijašić (Newcastle University) reports on a recent workshop held in Newcastle and supported by an ICS conference grant.
The workshop Homer and Herodotus: A Reappraisal was held at Newcastle University, 4-5 March 2019. Participants and attendees alike discussed the intertextual relationship between Homer and Herodotus, the various common themes that emerge from their works, and their later combined reception in antiquity.
Both authors are well known even outside the narrow circles of professional classicists. Homer, or rather the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, is undoubtedly the father of Greek epic poetry. Herodotus was, according to a famous Ciceronian claim, the father of history, whose work contained nonetheless many fabulae (‘myths’, ‘stories’). Their significance for ancient Greek literature, history, archaeology and historiography cannot be overestimated. The ever-growing amount of publications on both Homer and Herodotus, including several ‘Companions’, is impressive and sometimes daunting.
At the end of 2017 I accepted an invitation to participate to a postgraduate seminar in Venice. The organisers, Ettore Cingano and Stefania De Vido, gave me free rein on the topic. I decided to focus on a disputed passage in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistai which refers to dramatic performances of the works of Homer and Herodotus in a theatre in Hellenistic Alexandria. However, the name of Herodotus has been effaced from the most important editions and translations of Athenaeus since the nineteenth century, when Friedrich Meineke, a great classical scholar, questioned the correctness of the passage and replaced Herodotus’ name with Hesiod’s.
My stance was that the text of Athenaeus’ should not be corrected for a number of sensible reasons. Among these reasons I also included the – sometimes overlooked – fact that in ancient thought Homer and Herodotus were regarded as two complementary authors: the themes they treated, their language and their style were often considered related. (My article on this Athenaeus passage is going to appear in the next issue of the Journal of Hellenic Studies.) When I started looking for a comprehensive study on the relationship between Homer and Herodotus in antiquity, I found out that, apart from a few articles by John Marincola and Christopher Pelling, there was nothing I could rely on for my argument. To express myself more clearly: there is no book-length study that focuses on both authors.
Hence, I decided that the time was ripe to organise a conference on this topic and started to put together a list of possible participants. Scholars of different ages and backgrounds were involved in this conference, from early career researchers to emeritus professors. Their range of intellectual traditions allowed for the combination of different perspectives in a very constructive way. The final list of speakers included: Christopher Pelling (Oxford), Maria Fragoulaki (Cardiff), Pietro Vannicelli (Sapienza, Rome), Giulia Donelli (Bristol), Massimo Giuseppetti (Roma Tre), Thomas Harrison (St Andrews), Joseph Skinner (Newcastle), Olga Tribulato (Venice), and me.
Chris Pelling, in his fascinating keynote lecture ‘Homeric and Herodotean intertextuality: what’s the point?’, opened up various possible lines of enquiry when dealing with authors from the archaic and classical ages. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were surely familiar poems in the fifth century BC. References and allusions to the Homeric poems in Herodotus’ Histories highlight the different ways in which an audience might react to certain stories and narrative patterns. Chris’ paper raised many questions, and tried to provide a few answers, on reader-response and intertextuality.
The various speakers tried to assess, from different perspectives, how much can be plausibly pinned down as actually intertextual between Homer and Herodotus and how much should refer to a general mythical matrix. Many different and engaging themes were tackled during the two-day workshop: from representations of the human body in war-related contexts (Fragoulaki) to Xerxes’ expedition against Greece (Vannicelli), from Herodotus’ reception of poetic frames of truth and fiction in Book 8 (Donelli) to appropriation and deconstruction of Homeric epics in Herodotus’ Book 2 (Giuseppetti), from the nature of gods in Greece and Egypt (Harrison) to issues of Greek identity (Skinner), from the linguistic analysis of Herodotus’ language (Tribulato) to the combined reception of Homer and Herodotus in ancient culture (Matijašić).
The workshop allowed for the discussion of a number of general issues, for example: the ‘Homeric world’ through the lens of Herodotus’ Histories; the nature of the language of both authors and how it was perceived in antiquity; the reception of the Homeric epics, and of poetry in general, in Herodotus; the different ways in which later audiences responded to their intertextual relationship. The workshop was attended by more than thirty people, including colleagues, graduate students and undergraduates. Christopher Tuplin very kindly accepted my invitation to give the concluding remarks and offered many exciting perspectives.
My aim is now to collect the various contributions and publish a volume that will hopefully represent a reference work: it will certainly fill a gap in the current scholarship on Homer and Herodotus. From a wider perspective, the output of the workshop will contribute to the advancement of our knowledge in the field of Greek historiography, epic poetry, fifth-century-BC literacy and intertextuality in Greek literature.
by Ivan Matijašić
(Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)