Homer between History and Fiction in Imperial Greek Literature (Greek Culture in the Roman World)
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Did Homer tell the 'truth' about the Trojan War? If so, how much, and if not, why not? The issue was hardly academic to the Greeks living under the Roman Empire, given the centrality of both Homer, the father of Greek culture, and the Trojan War, the event that inaugurated Greek history, to conceptions of Imperial Hellenism. This book examines four Greek texts of the Imperial period that address the topic - Strabo's Geography, Dio of Prusa's Trojan Oration, Lucian's novella True Stories, and Philostratus' fictional dialogue Heroicus - and shows how their imaginative explorations of Homer and his relationship to history raise important questions about the nature of poetry and fiction, the identity and intentions of Homer himself, and the significance of the heroic past and Homeric authority in Imperial Greek culture.
assume his historical reliability at all. In addition, one might ask, even if Homer had known the truth, why would he, as a poet, have desired historical accuracy? It is perhaps telling that, while Herodotus and Thucydides both date Homer long after the Trojan War elsewhere in their work (400 years later in Herodotus’ case, “much later” in Thucydides’), neither brings up that fact in their discussions of his poetry and its truth content. That might have raised questions concerning Homer’s access
of a gradual evolutionary process; he had stated earlier in 1.2.6 that the first historians – Cadmus, Pherecydes, Hecataeus and their followers – still wrote prose in a poetic manner (“imitating” it [mimoÅmenoi]), but that with each successive stage, the poetic aspects of prose dropped out until it reached its present state.51 Since prose did not yet exist in Homer’s day, historical or philosophical writing could only be composed in poetic form, employing myths to ensure that the information,
Valgimigli (1912), 33–7. Kindstrand (1973), 158. On Plutarch’s text, see Br´echet (1999) and Konstan (2004). Kindstrand (1973), 157–9, and Fornaro (2002). Homer the liar 97 show that Homer is a bad historian, but also constructing an image of Homer as an improvising lying witness. The untrustworthy witness It is hard to imagine a description of Homer that contrasts more with Strabo’s vision of the truth-loving ideal geographer encountered in the last chapter than that offered by Dio. Like
above, Homer’s version is ridiculed for its multiple improbabilities, but as in Nessus, a single alteration brilliantly and economically explains away the difficulties. Dio’s assertion that Paris married Helen rather than kidnapping her casts the whole story in a new light, making sense of what had seemed unlikely. To observe this process in more detail, let us look at one well-documented example of such a transformation. One of Dio’s arguments runs: “how likely (e«k»v) was it . . . that Aethra,
(against this view, see M¨ollendorff (2000), 31 n. 3). Ctesias and Iambulus’ works, however, are parodied in the True Stories, and it is probably best to assume that they are grouped among Lucian’s satirical targets yet singled out also as models and inspiration for the work as a whole. Ctesias’ Indica is summarized by Photius (Bibl. 72, 49b39–50a4); fragments in FGrH 688. Iambulus’ work is only known from Diod. Sic. 2.55–61. Bompaire (1958), 659 n. 2; Mal-Maeder (1992); Camerotto (1998); Zeitlin