Convention Versus Realism in the Homeric Epics

in Mnemosyne
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Abstract

The Homeric epics are generally called realistic. The first part of this paper investigates what is meant by this label. It appears that there are in fact several forms of realism: historical, ontological, daily-life, and descriptive realism. In the second part it is shown that underneath this realistic surface many conventions lie hidden: highly stylized type-scenes form the basis of daily-life realism; the many speeches for which Homer is famous are possible because all the characters speak Greek and all the warriors on the Iliadic battle field know each other's name; the innumerable single fights of the Iliad are not the result of a special fighting method, but of the narrative convention of selective focus.

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