The Beginning of the Iliad: The ‘Contradictions’ of the Proem and the Burial of Hektor

in Mnemosyne
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Abstract

“The Beginning and End of the Iliad: The ‘Contradictions’ of the Proem and the Burial of Hektor” treats three ‘discrepancies’ between the story apparently promised in the proem of the Iliad and the story that the poem goes on to tell. Discussed extensively by the Analysts of the past century, these discrepancies were construed as evidence of the Iliad’s origins in multiple sources. More recently, oral theorists have seen them as signs of a singer composing rapidly and relatively unreflectively in performance, indifferent to self-contradiction. The present article argues instead that we can approach the proem as a prayer, addressed by Homer to the Muse—and the main story of the poem as her answer. On such a reading, we can construe the contradictions as evidence for the view that while Homer has asked for one story, the Muse has given him another slightly different story. While this suggestion has had advocates in the literature, none has attempted to work it out with reference to the discrepancies between the Iliad’s proem and main story. The article argues that once we examine the discrepancies, we find that they point us toward a new interpretation of the significance of Hektor’s burial.

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