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Homer > The technology of writing in Homeric epic

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message 1: by Lia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia | 522 comments Mod
This seems wrong:

• the technology of writing must have featured more prominently in the age when the poems were composed than in the age they were meant to describe. There is only one reference to writing, or something close to it, in Homeric epic. The Iliad tells the story of the handsome Bellerophontes ...

• Bellerophontes managed to avoid being killed in Lycia, but his attempted murder by writing did not represent proper heroic behaviour. In the Iliad, writing is presented as a devious trick, (p.39)


What about Penelope in The Odyssey? The suitors and Athena accused Penelope of sending notes to encourage each of the suitors. I've been marvelling at the idea that women back then were literate and were able to "text message" their lovers (?)


message 2: by Ian (last edited Apr 30, 2018 05:19PM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "The suitors and Athena accused Penelope of sending notes to encourage each of the suitors. ..."

You may be dealing with an overly explicit, or casual, translation. Richmond Lattimore, at Book 2, lines 91-92, gives us (from the suitors):

For she holds out hope to all, and makes promises to each man,
sending us messages, but her mind has other intentions.

The old Murray translation (originally Loeb Classical Library) likewise has:

To all she offers hopes, and has promises for each man,
sending them messages, but her mind is set on other things.

Scholarly tradition, at least, seems to consider these to be oral communications, with no implication of the written word (hence the reference to the single use of writing, in The Iliad).

I've always taken these messages as efforts to set the suitors against each other, but that may be an over-interpretation on my part.


message 3: by Lia (last edited Apr 30, 2018 09:54AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Ah that would make sense. Even when Lattimore and Murray call them "messages," my 21st century mind still struggles to think of it as oral and not written text.

I really want to believe Penelope is manipulating the suitors and "trapping" them into some kind of impasse, as the ghost of one of the suitors seems to imply in the last chapter. But that particular ghost also exaggerated a few things and seems unreliable. I'm keeping my mind open and trying to entertain different possibilities (including indecision on Penelope's part, making a move by day; regretting and undoing by night, rinse repeat.)


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