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.
between history and fiction historical evidence of the Trojan War, they cannot avoid assigning objectives to Homer (hinting at the truth, signaling to the reader) that collide with the poetic aims (epic appropriateness, exaggeration) that they had attributed to him earlier. Herodotus and Thucydides can maintain their equivocal stance toward Homer only because they choose not to fill out the portrait in detail, leaving their readers with a somewhat mysterious vision of the poet. In the end,
and more truthful (meinon kaª lhqsteron). Both the better and worse arguments support the view that Homer knew Iberia; but the fact that Strabo considers one “better” than the other allows us to isolate the aspects of Homer’s knowledge that Strabo particularly values. The ‘worse’ argument (3.2.12) hinges on the similarity in name between Homer’s Tartarus and the Iberian city of Tartessus. The reasoning is as follows: Tartessus was the westernmost settlement known in Homer’s day. The west, as
attribute” (tr»pon tin sumju ) of certain places, one that bestows upon them “a certain distinction and fame” (pijneian . . . tin kaª d»xan: 2.5.17). Heroic legends, Strabo insists at 1.2.14, are not “the inventions (plsmata) of poets or historians but traces (cnh) of events that have happened and people who have existed” (gegenhmnwn . . . kaª prosÛpwn kaª prxewn: 1.2.14).93 Strabo’s veneration of the world of the distant Greek past goes hand in hand with his devotion to Homer; for
antiquity believed that the battle of Plataea took place before the battle of Salamis, and even if this was a position held by some deluded minority, it is surely a strange example to head a list of ‘common’ historical misperceptions. More seriously, Dio’s reference to Thucydides illustrates that he is a victim of the very “lack of accurate knowledge” that he so vigorously decries – in 1.20.3 Thucydides denies the existence of the Pitanate band, not the Scirite, which is a legitimate Spartan band
existence, regardless of whether or not they are historically ‘true.’ 50 51 52 Bouquiaux-Simon (1968), 44–5, 51. It may be significant that Lucian’s other use of the phrase “the Odysseus of Homer” in On Mourning (Luct. 5) is also in reference to the narrative situation of the Phaeacian tales: the fact that Odysseus was able to tell of his trip to the Underworld proves that he did not drink from Lethe, the river of forgetfulness. E.g., Camerotto (1998), 175, on Homer as the target of VH 1.3.