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The Contest of Homer and Hesiod and the ambitions of Hadrian

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 November 2010

James Uden
Columbia University


This article examines the compilation known as the Contest of Homer and Hesiod. More usually mined for the material it preserves from the sophist Alcidamas, here I advance a reading that seeks to make sense of the compilation as a whole and situates the work ideologically in its Imperial context. An anecdote early in the compilation depicts the emperor Hadrian enquiring about Homer's birthplace and parents from the Delphic Oracle; he is told that Telemachus was Homer's father and Ithaca his homeland. When the text says that we must believe this self-evidently absurd response on account of the status of the emperor, its author is satirizing Hadrian's ambitions to participate in the Greek intellectual world and the pressures on scholars to accept Hadrian's authority in their field. Moreover, the compiler has linked this anecdote to the long account of the poetic contest between Homer and Hesiod in order to draw an unflattering parallel between Hadrian and King Panedes, who, as writers such as Lucian and Dio Chrysostom suggested, exposed his ineptitude in choosing Hesiod over Homer as the victor of the contest.

Research Article
Copyright © The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies 2010

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