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This chapter reverses the usual direction of travel in this question, and examines Genesis 6:1–4, a difficult passage in which divine beings are said to have taken mortal wives, who bore them offspring described as ‘the heroes of old, the men with a name’. The author supports the view that this reflects Greek influence on the Old Testament, and offers thoughts on the ways in which the Greek material was transmitted, and how the comparison can enhance our understanding of both the Greek and the Biblical narratives.
Sappho’s deployment of mythical material allows us to compare her with other early poets and poetic traditions. Chapter 14 of The Cambridge Companion to Sappho shows how, as one of the earliest preserved lyric voices, Sappho sets a benchmark for the rest of Greek – and ancient – literary history in her application of distant stories to the here and now.
Defining “literature” or “literary authorship” in the context of ancient Greece is not simple. Classical Greek has no equivalent word. Mousikë, the field of the Muses’ activity, includes music and dance, and may exclude texts that Greeks treated in ways that moderns would consider literary. The closest is probably paideia, “education” or “culture,” although it is broader than our “literature.” Greeks themselves did not agree about boundaries. Aristotle’s Poetics excludes philosophy composed in verse from poetry,1 but if we think of literature as texts or performances that seek to provide aesthetic pleasure and are evaluated for verbal artistry, the range of Greek literature was very wide. In general, Greeks would have regarded as open to aesthetic judgment any text that was not purely technical.
The 'Classic' narratology that has been widely applied to classical texts is aimed at a universal taxonomy for describing narratives. More recently, 'new narratologies' have begun linking the formal characteristics of narrative to their historical and ideological contexts. This volume seeks such a rethinking for Greek literature. It has two closely related objectives: to define what is characteristically Greek in Greek narratives of different periods and genres, and to see how narrative techniques and concerns develop over time. The 15 distinguished contributors explore questions such as: How is Homeric epic like and unlike Gilgamesh and the Hebrew Bible? What do Greek historians consistently fail to tell us, having learned from the tradition what to ignore? How does lyric modify narrative techniques from other genres?
Behind this volume lies the hope that we will someday achieve a general view of the history of ancient Greek narrative (henceforth, for simplicity, often ‘Greek narrative’) – that is, that we will be able to present a meaningful narrative about how the practices of telling stories developed within Greek literature, and that this history will contribute to the understanding of both Greek literature and narrative generally. Before anyone can write a history, however, the historian needs to be certain that the field has been meaningfully defined, both temporally and spatially. A narrative requires a beginning and an end, and a historical narrative also requires a decision about what the subject is. These decisions will determine much of the history itself, and the choice of boundaries is difficult and ideologically weighted.
While the ideological implications of literary history are sometimes less obvious than those of the histories of nations, they are very real, and the boundary difficulties present themselves immediately. Originality conveys literary value, and literary value can be important for a nation's symbolic capital: this volume began as a conference in Edinburgh, with its monuments to Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott nearby. There can be few cities where the significance of the cultural and literary inheritance, and its interactions with power and national identity, are so manifest.
This chapter will consider three aspects of Homeric narrative whose interaction produces characteristic and influential effects. The first, and most famous, is reliance on direct speech. Homer accomplishes his characterisations largely through speeches (including speeches in which characters attribute motives or traits to each other). By itself, Homer's reliance on direct speech does not mark a uniquely Greek narrative tradition, since Sanskrit epic, for example, also presents many speeches. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that in this respect the Homeric epics were outliers in early Greek epic tradition (Aristotle, Poetics 1460a5–11), and Apollonius uses direct speech far less than the Homeric epics do.
Reliance on character-speech is one typical quality of Homeric narrative. Others are not quite as familiar. First, ‘interest-focus’ – where the audience directs its attention – changes frequently. ‘Interestfocus’ is Chatman's term; structuralist narratology has not given careful attention to interest-focus, perhaps because it is so closely connected to characterisation, which classic narratology neglected. Also, structuralist narratologists were preoccupied with precision about the nature of focalisation in the strict sense, and with critiques of the concept. Shifts of interest-focus do not present such difficult theoretical problems, even though they are inherently harder to define with precision.
The present volume is the seventh in a series deriving from the biennial Edinburgh Leventis Conference in Greek. The conference and the visiting research professorship with which it is associated are generously funded by a grant from the A. G. Leventis Foundation. Since 1999 this grant has given the Edinburgh Classics department the enviable luxury of being able to invite, every two years, one of the world's leading Hellenists to spend a semester in Edinburgh. The main event and principal public face of the Leventis Professor's tenure is of course the conference, devised and organised by the Professor on a theme of his or her choice, but each Professor has also made a very substantial contribution to the intellectual life of the department, especially through public lectures and seminars for students and colleagues. The seventh A. G. Leventis Professor in Greek, Ruth Scodel (D. R. Shackleton Bailey Collegiate Professor of Greek and Latin, University of Michigan), was no exception: throughout her stay Ruth played a full part in the department's academic and social activities. For her part, she is honoured to have served as the Leventis Professor, and was impressed by the engagement of her students and endlessly charmed by the city of Edinburgh.