The Homeric defense of poetry : on the music of the Iliad and the judgment of Achilles.


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This dissertation is an attempt to answer the question of how the poet Homer understood his poetic activity and how, in particular, he understood the task, which he was later said to have accomplished, of educating the Hellenes. The dissertation has six chapters. Chapter One introduces the reader to the problem that modern philosophy hoped to dispose of by means of socio-political reforms and that Homer sought to address with his poetry. Chapter Two prepares the way for our discussion of Homer’s poetic activity by bringing out what is at stake in the Trojan War, both for the poem’s heroes and for the gods they invoke for support. Chapter Three argues that for Agamemnon, the Achaean commander-in-chief, the war is to establish that pious deference to the gods is not a necessary or essential part of communal life and that even the general run of men can come to abandon hope in the divine and to embrace the perishability of all things. Chapter Four brings out the unwisdom of the Agamemnonian endeavor by means of a close reading of the supplication scene of Book IX, the scene in which Achilles levels his critique against the heroic life. Chapter Five examines the figure of Nestor, the most 2 “poetic” of the Achaeans, and attempts to unfold the justification of Homer’s poetic activity that is implied by his critique of social progress. Chapter Six concludes the dissertation with a few brief remarks on the state of contemporary Homeric scholarship.