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Edward Courtney and Gail Trimble

Epyllion (diminutive of epos), term applied in modern (not ancient) times to some ‘short epics’, hexameter poems of mythological narrative in not more than one book. The texts most frequently called ‘epyllion’ are Hellenistic (especially the Hecale of *Callimachus (3), certain poems of *Theocritus, and Moschus’ Europa) and Roman (the sixty-fourth poem of *Catullus (1), lost works by other *neoterics, and the *Ciris).

Characteristics often considered typical of epyllion include: unfamiliar mythical subject-matter, often erotic; a subjective, emotional style; an uneven narrative scale, with some events elaborated and others quickly passed over; the inclusion of a second theme within the main narrative by means of a speech or *ekphrasis.

However, many of these features are shared with other Hellenistic or neoteric poetry, with earlier poems in the post-Homeric epic tradition, or with shorter poetic narratives in other metres (especially lyric), while some poems usually identified as ‘epyllia’ exhibit only one or two of them. The meaningfulness of the term has therefore been questioned, although its convenience is generally agreed.


explanation, historical  

Christopher Pelling

‘Which of the gods was it that brought the two together in strife?’, asks the Iliad as it launches its narrative (1.8); early in the Odyssey*Zeus complains that mortals blame the gods when they are responsible for their own sufferings (1.32–3). Both poems however swiftly complicate any attempt to limit explanations to either the human or the divine level. Achilles and Agamemnon quarrel, Achilles kills Hector, and Odysseus gets home, largely because they are the people that they are, but gods often intervene too. The Greeks win because they are better fighters; they also win because more gods are on their side. The poems also suggest another form of explanation, not tracing events to their origins but relating them to a familiar pattern of human life. Suffering is the lot of humanity (Il. 24.525–6); outrages like those of the suitors are punished. Life is like that, and one should not be surprised.


feminism and ancient literature  

Helen Morales

Feminism does not refer to one coherent theory, doctrine, or political movement. The range of movements and ideologies that thrive under the term feminism, however, are all committed to political and social change. Feminism recognises that we live in a patriarchal world, that is to say a world in which women are, and have historically been, oppressed by and unequal to men. It opposes this, and strives to change existing power structures so that people of all genders and races have control over their own bodies, have equal opportunities and value, can participate fully in community life, and are allowed to live with dignity and freedom.

What has this to do with ancient literature? There are several significant ways in which feminism and ancient literature interact. Ancient literature, particularly ancient Greek tragedy and myth, has played a formative role in shaping feminist theory. Feminism encourages scholars to uncover and reevaluate a tradition of women’s writing. Feminism has provided the tools for us better to understand how ancient literature functioned to promote, and sometimes to challenge, the misogynist practices of ancient Greek and Roman societies. Scholars have detected feminism, or proto-feminism, in ancient writing. Queer theory and feminism join forces to mine ancient literature for alternatives to hetero, cisgender, and gender binary models of identity. Feminism has changed the field of ancient literary studies by valuing authors and genres that are sensitive to the perspectives of women of all ethnicities and statuses. Finally, ancient literature is used to serve contemporary activism: Greek and Latin texts are used by modern feminist authors who rewrite and creatively adapt ancient literature, and classicists resist the use of ancient literature to promote misogyny and white supremacy.



Gian Biagio Conte and Glenn W. Most

A grouping of texts related within the system of literature by their sharing recognizably functionalized features of form and content. Theory of genre as such is quite lacking in antiquity (its place is taken by theories of *imitatio) and ancient theoretical discussions of specific literary genres are few and for the most part unsatisfactory. They operate according to criteria which are one-sidedly formal (generally metrical), thematic (the characters' moral or social quality, the general subject-matter), or pragmatic (the situation of performance), but scarcely attempt to correlate or justify them; they are more interested in classifying existing works than in understanding the mechanisms of literary production and reception and are directed to the needs of the school and the library, not to the critic's; they bungle some genres (lyric) and ignore others (the novel). Rhetorical handbooks sometimes distinguish among oratorical genres, but the precise relation between their (often pedantic) prescriptions and the literary works remains uncertain.


narrative, narration  

Massimo Fusillo

In the last 30 years, interest in narrative has developed at an incredible pace. Two branches of this ‘narratology’ may be distinguished. The one is oriented towards the ‘story’ as signified (‘what happened’: cf. especially the work of Greimas and Bremond, looking back to Propp's famous Morphology of the Folktale); the other is oriented rather towards the narrative as signifier (‘the way it is told’: Stanzel, Genette, in the line of the Russian formalists, Henry James, and E. M. Forster). Both approaches have been widely applied in classical studies, but the first has perhaps been more successful in the anthropological study of myth (see mythology), the second in literary studies, in that it focuses on the rhetorical construction of the work rather than its underlying functional structure. The sophisticated armoury of methods that is modern narratology is one of the products of structuralism and semiotics, and like those more general movements it has in recent times been subject to qualifications and criticisms from post-structuralists and from reception theorists and students of literary pragmatics with their greater focus on the audience or readership of a work.


queer theory and ancient literature  

Sebastian Matzner

Queer theory takes its name from a derogatory term for persons considered “odd” or “abnormal”, notably those whose sexual behaviour, gender expression, or other characteristics do not conform to established social norms. It harnesses the experience and perspective of gender non-conformists and sexual deviants as a vantage point for understanding—and dismantling—the coercive workings of social structures and discursive regimes. Since queerness marks a position outside or at the margins of—and thus relative to—the social order, it necessarily takes on different forms under different normative regimes: while different kinds of queers have existed at all times and in all places, what counts as “queer” in any given time and place depends on what counts as “normal”.Ancient literature’s queerness, consequently, has two dimensions: (a) accounts—real and imagined—of sexual behaviours, erotic desires, intimate relationships, and notorious figures recognizably at odds with the sociosexual norms of Greece and Rome (“ancient queers”); and (b) accounts that, whatever their status in antiquity, appear strikingly odd in their later reception (“queer ancients”). These two dimensions can and do converge, as in the development of modern Western sexual identity categories (homosexual, bisexual, etc.), which drew heavily on ancient “case studies.”Frank about their committed stance in the present, queer readings of ancient literature interrogate interconnected formations and histories of misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, racism, and classism; ponder and celebrate pre-modern instances of resistance to sexual norms; and tap into the classical past in order to open new possibilities for erotic and social relations and subjectivities.


textual criticism  

M. D. Reeve

Textual criticism sets out to establish what a text originally said or meant to say. Anyone who checks a garbled message with the sender has given a faultless demonstration of it. Classical texts, which have mostly come down through a succession of copies, present stiffer challenges. Even some inscriptions (see epigraphy) are corrupt.Politian (Poliziano; see scholarship, classical, history of) in 1489 first refined ancient methods by showing that for historical reconstruction authorities were less to be counted than weighed and derivative ones ignored. He made such arresting discoveries as that all copies of Cicero's Ad familiares in circulation derived from one misbound ancestor. For 300 years these insights were seldom exploited even by critics good at picking out valuable witnesses, like Heinsius and Bentley; and when genealogical classification finally took hold, among editors of the Bible in the later 18th cent. and of classical texts in the 1820s, it was not until 1872 that the historical linguist Johannes Schmidt framed the cardinal principle, still often flouted, that in a family only shared innovations indicate a closer relationship.