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date: 25 June 2022



  • Christos Tsagalis


Neoanalysis is a method of interpreting Homeric poetry that aims to discover the sources of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Like the 19th-century analysts, neoanalysts study the genetic aspect of the Homeric poems, but instead of trying to distinguish different layers or versions (Schichtenanalyse), they seek to identify source material from other poems that preceded the received Homeric epics.


  • Greek Literature

The term “neoanalysis,” coined by Kakridis,1 was invented to describe a method of interpreting Homeric epic that responds to the analytical school which dissected the Iliad and Odyssey into smaller epics in order to arrive at the “proto-Iliad” (Urilias) and “proto-Odyssey” (Urodyssee) as the genuine works of Homer. Like the analytical school, neoanalysis locates poetic inconcinnities, gaps, and narrative fissures in the text, but unlike the analytical school it does not explain them as resulting from the work of different poets who added, omitted, and changed entire scenes and episodes. Instead, neoanalysis argues that these supposed problems can be explained by the transfer of motifs (and, to a lesser extent, of phraseology) from pre-Homeric poetry. Whereas, for the analytical school, poetic quality stems solely from Homeric ingenuity, for neoanalysis it results from the highly creative interaction of Homer with earlier epic poetry.

Quellenforschung lies at the heart of the neoanalytical method. Thus, neoanalysis requires a fair amount of reconstruction of the earlier epic poems which are the sources of Homeric poetry. To this end, neoanalysis employs various tools and texts: (a) the Iliad itself, with (i) its thick network of forward and backward references to events that fall outside the timeframe of the epic, and (ii) its deployment of numerous derivative motifs; (b) the Odyssey, with its copious references to events pertaining to the Trojan War saga; (c) the versions of epic material found in Stesichorus, Pindar, Bacchylides, and other poets; (d) vase representations; and (e) Proclus’s summary of the Epic Cycle and Apollodorus’s Epitome.

Neoanalysis applies “positive” and “negative” criteria to detect allusion between different poems. Positive criteria include: (a) markedness, which pertains to allusion between passages that share either non-typical features or typical features used in a distinctive manner; and (b) meaningfulness, when allusion adds interpretive value to a passage or improves our understanding of it within a wider framework. Negative criteria include: (a) narrative inconsistency, when an interpretive gap in the target-text is detected (due to imperfect narrative logic or weak character motivation); and (b) plot inconsequentiality, when an action is incongruous within its context or uncharacteristic of its agent.

On this basis, neoanalysis uses various forms of allusion between different epics to uncover intertextual relations: (a) direct quotation of the source (e.g., Od. 12.70: *Argonautica > Odyssey); (b) inversion of the source (e.g., the Achaean wall and the Teichomachia in Il. 12: *Thebais > Iliad); (c) parody of the source (e.g., Il. 12.299–306 vs. Od. 6.130–136: Iliad > Odyssey); (d) bifurcation of the source (e.g., Gilgamesh SBV VI > Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 202–240 and Il. 14.315–327); (e) explicit or implicit references orienting the audience towards recognizable epic traditions (e.g., Il. 5.115–120: *Thebais > Iliad); (f) epic self-reflexive tendencies, that is, meta-epic intertextuality (e.g., Il. 6.357–358: Helen weaving the Trojan War; Od. 24.197–198: Agamemnon’s soul designating the Odyssey as a “pleasant song”); and (g) verbatim quotation (e.g., Il. 1.245 vs. Od. 2.80: Iliad > Odyssey).2

Neoanalyst claims for the transfer of episodes and scenes from earlier epic to Homeric epic rest on either (a) source-texts reconstructed by means of epitomized post-Homeric target-texts which are their direct descendants (e.g., *Memnonis > Iliad by means of *Memnonis > Aethiopis), or (b) entirely unattested source-texts retrievable only through target-texts which they have influenced (e.g., alternative versions of Odysseus’s return > Odyssey). For example: (a) the brief description of Achilles’ funeral in Odyssey 24 is held to reflect a pre-Homeric poem on Memnon (the *Memnonis), on which is also based the other attested version of this episode in the post-Homeric epic Aethiopis by Arctinus of Miletus; and (b) the false tales in the Odyssey reflect earlier epic versions of Odysseus’s return that the Odyssey has put into the mouth of the disguised Odysseus in the second part of the poem.

Similarly, neoanalyst claims of motif-transfer rest on either (a) putative source-texts and target-texts preserved in either complete or almost complete form (e.g., Iliad > Odyssey) or (b) source-texts reconstructed by means of epitomized post-Homeric target-texts which are their direct descendants (as in the case of episodes and scenes). For example: (a) the narrative sequence in Od. 6.255–7.154 shares such an extended set of similarities and analogies with Il. 24.281–508 that it may be based on it; and (b) Achilles’ killing of Hector to avenge the killing of Patroclus in the Iliad has been modelled on Achilles’ killing of Memnon to avenge Memnon’s killing of Antilochus in the pre-Homeric *Memnonis (reconstructed on the basis of the Memnon story in the post-Homeric Aethiopis as epitomized by Proclus and presented in various vase representations, Pindar, and Apollodorus). Neoanalysis maintains that motifs are not symptomatic/coincidental, which would mean that when found in different texts they do not pertain to epic typology at large, but indicate deliberate allusion. On the contrary, they are derivative. Being anchored to specific characters and a given mythical context marked by a stable narrative skeleton (Faktenkanon) that have been fixed with respect to the mythical tradition of the Trojan War, motifs are considered to be primary in the source-text (which they perfectly fit) and secondary in the target-text (where they leave traces of their transfer to a new poetic environment).

There is a variety of epic traditions with which neoanalysis engages as sources of Homeric epic. These include: (a) the entire Epic Cycle, comprising a theogonic section (Titanomachy), a Theban section (Oedipodea, Thebaid, Epigonois, Alcmeonis), and a Trojan section (Cypria, Aethiopis, Ilias parva, Iliou persis, Nostoi, Telegony); (b) the story of Meleager (as presented in a reconstructed epic, the *Meleagris); (c) pre-Homeric poetry about Heracles; (d) an epic poem or poems on the wars of the Pylians; (e) pre-Homeric hymnic poetry on Aphrodite; (f) alternative versions of Odysseus’ return; (g) a pre-Homeric *Argonautica; and (h) Near Eastern poetry (the Dumuzi-Inanna Sumerian songs, the royal hymns of the Sumerians, the epic of Gilgamesh in its standard Babylonian version).

Neoanalysis has benefited from interaction with oral theory with respect to the thorny issue of text-fixity (i.e., whether writing is an absolute prerequisite for the creation of a text or not), the troubling question of symptomatic versus intentional phraseological repetition, and the issue of the distinctive identity of Homeric epic. As far as text-fixity is concerned, neoanalysis has benefitted crucially from that branch of oral theory for which intertextual references between oral epic traditions are possible, since a level of fixity can be achieved by means other than writing (such means include a stable pool and established order of events, a consistent anchoring of characters to specific episodes, and the success and subsequent wide diffusion of an authoritative version). With respect to deliberate dictional repetition between epics that goes beyond typical verbal reiteration, a more nuanced version of oral theory has enriched the initially rather restricted scope of neoanalytical research (which focused solely on motif-transference) by showing that phraseological transference is also possible, provided either that the range of the repetition is extremely limited or that repetition is employed in a highly distinctive way—i.e., in a manner that marks the target-text as exceptional. With regard to the distinctive identity of the Iliad and the Odyssey, some oralists have argued that Homeric poetry is pervasively metapoetic, since it is marked by a tendency to assert its self-consciousness by differentiating itself from other traditions (e.g., at Od. 24.197–201 the Odyssey defines itself as a “pleasant song” in contrast to the “hateful song” of the epic tradition of the Nostoi). Homeric self-reflexivity is a dynamic process, which is achieved by means of interaction with earlier epic traditions. In this light, allusion amounts to the very means of acknowledgment of and differentiation from earlier epic, a distinctive technique and trademark of the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Neoanalysis has been developed and shaped as an interpretive theory by a number of groundbreaking studies. Through a detailed examination of the variants of the myth of Meleager, Kakridis argued that the poet of the Iliad has used the core of a lost epic, the Meleagris, for his version of the Meleager story in book 9, and that the scenes with the Nereids and the Winds in books 18 and 23 respectively have been adapted from earlier epic poetry featuring the death of Achilles.3 Schadewaldt undertook a reconstruction of the plot of the Memnonis, which he treated as the immediate forerunner of the Aethiopis by Arctinus of Miletus, detected a series of key themes shared by the *Memnonis and the Iliad, and claimed that Achilles’ killing of Hector in revenge for the death of Patroclus has been modelled on Achilles’ killing of Memnon in revenge for the death of Antilochus.4 Kullmann argued that the Iliad offers a highly synthetic view of the entire Trojan War tradition by means of creative reuse and transference of primary motifs stemming from a Präilias, a written epic comprising the entire Trojan War saga and corresponding to the material found in the post-Homeric Cypria, Aethiopis, and Iliou persis.5 Danek explored how the Odyssey “cites” its sources through an entire system of references to other song-traditions. Of special merit is Danek’s discussion of alternative versions of Odysseus’s return that our Odyssey has used and altered in the process of its own shaping.6 Currie extended the scope of neoanalytical research by applying its methodology to earlier hymnic poetry and Near-Eastern poetry, as well as by offering an in-depth consideration of the methodological caveats with respect to the thorny issue of derivative versus symptomatic repetition.7


  • Burgess, Jonathan. The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
  • Burgess, Jonathan. “Neoanalysis, Orality, and Intertextuality: An Examination of Homeric Motif Transference.” Oral Tradition 21 (2006): 148–189.
  • Currie, Bruno. “Homer and the Early Epic Tradition.” In Epic Interactions: Perspectives on Homer, Virgil, and the Epic Tradition Presented to Jasper Griffin by Former Pupils. Edited by Michael J. Clarke, Bruno Gabriel Felix Currie, and Richard Oliver Allen Marcus Lyne, 1–45. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Currie, Bruno. “The Iliad, Gilgamesh, and Neoanalysis.” In Homeric Contexts: Neoanalysis and the Interpretation of Homeric Poetry. Edited by Franco Montanari, Antonios Rengakos, and Christos Tsagalis, 543–580. Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter, 2012.
  • Davies, Malcolm. The Aethiopis: Neo-NeoAnalysis Reanalyzed. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies, 2016.
  • Kullmann, Wolfgang. “Oral Poetry Theory and Neoanalysis in Homeric Research.” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 25 (1984): 307–323.
  • Pestalozzi, Heinrich. Die Achilleis als Quelle der Ilias. Zurich, Switzerland: Eugen-Rentsch, 1945.
  • Tsagalis, Christos. The Oral Palimpsest: Exploring Intertextuality in the Homeric Epics. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies, 2008.
  • Tsagalis, Christos. “Towards an Oral, Intertextual Neoanalysis.” Trends in Classics 3 (2011): 209–244.
  • West, Martin Litchfield. “Gilgāmeš and Homer: The Missing Link?” In Wandering Myths: Transcultural Uses of Myth in the Ancient World. Edited by Lucy Gaynor Audley-Miller and Beate Dignas, 259–275. Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter, 2018.
  • Willcock, Malcolm. “Neoanalysis.” In Companion to Homer. Edited by Ian Morris and Barry Powell, 174–189. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997.


  • 1. Johannes-Theophanes Kakridis, Ὁμηρικὲς ἔρευνες‎ (Athens, Greece: Hestia, 1944), later translated as Homeric Researches (Lund, Sweden: C.W.K. Gleerup, 1949).

  • 2. Throughout this article, an asterisk indicates unattested poems. The sign > denotes influence of an earlier poem or epic tradition on a later one.

  • 3. Kakridis, Ὁμηρικὲς ἔρευνες‎.

  • 4. Wolfgang Schadewaldt, Homers Welt und Werk: Aufsätze und Auslegungen zur homerischen Frage, 4th ed. (Stuttgart, Germany: K. F. Koehler, 1965).

  • 5. Wolfgang Kullmann, Die Quellen der Ilias (Troischer Sagenkreis) (Wiesbaden, Germany: Franz Steiner, 1960).

  • 6. Georg Danek, Epos und Zitat: Studien zu den Quellen der Odyssee (Vienna, Austria: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1998).

  • 7. Bruno Currie, The Art of Allusion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).