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Chapitre d'ouvrage

War as a spectacle in the Iliad

Abstract : « Gaze, vision and visuality » : the object of the Freiburg conference indicates a major interest in visual perception in Greek literature. As none of these terms corresponds to a Greek proper word, at least in the archaic period I am concerned with, it seems difficult to deal with this very large perspective. For a general overview I will therefore use the notions developed by Alex Purves in his recent book, Space and Time in Greek Literature, and in the introduction by Michael Squire to the recent volume, Sight and the Ancient Senses. Since I felt some astonishment that none of these books deals with Greek language concerning sight, I'll try to lean on some lexical remarks, starting with the lexical entries regarding Homer's attempt to understand what « to see » means for the Archaic period. 2 I will thereafter follow the gazes of the characters and the narrator in the Iliad, intending to show how the dramatic tension increases through the development of the plot until the meeting between Priam and Achilles in book 24, where I analyze the reciprocity of the gaze through the ambiguity of a famous simile. The dramatic tension of the passage owes much to this mirror effect, 3 and shows that Homeric language on gaze does not reflect a merely physical process, but may also induce a high level of emotions. The importance and central role of sight in Homer is well proven by the number of links between seing and living: as several Homeric formulas indicate, to see means to live, and conversely to lose sight means to die. 4 As shown by Purves, taking Aristotelian terminology as his point of departure (2010, 1-64), Homer, considered a "perfect surveyor", 5 aims for an "Eusynoptic Iliad". In our own course through the Iliad from Achilles' anger to Hector's lusis, we will try to adopt a « bird's-eye view », borrowing the expression from de Jong and Nünlist 2004b, which means we choose some episodes and fly over the rest. 6 We share Purves' nuanced position: «Throughout the Iliad, human vision is complicated by the fantasy of what or how these immortals see. There is a tendency […] for the audience of the poem to take their own visual cues from these divine superwitnesses. Homeric scholarship has also emphasized, however, that the Iliad is difficult to visualize as a single, coherent entity. Not only do we run into problems connected with sequence and simultaneity when attempting to "see" the plot as if it were a picture, but we are also given very few examples of clear-sighted human vision within the poem. Despite scholars' observations about the occasional panoramic standpoint of the Homeric narrator, we are rarely afforded a sustained bird's-eye view. […]  It is a pleasant duty to thank the organizers and participants of the Freiburg Gaze Conference for all their remarks, and particularly Deborah Steiner for her help in the discussion. I am also deeply grateful to Stephen Rojcewicz for more than simply correcting my English, and to the anonymous reviewers whose remarks were very useful for revising and enhancing my text. 2 I am ashamed that I had forgotten that Snell's Entdeckung des Geistes, read long ago, entails a study of the words for 'see' in its first chapter, see below. 3 See in Squire's introduction the insistence on both the reciprocity of the gaze and the mirror effect, with the splendid epigram he quotes as an epigraph, where the mirror is speaking in the first person. 4 Létoublon 2010, Michel in this volume. See for instance Il. 5.10 οὐδέ μέ ϕησι / δηρὸν ἔτ' ὄψεσθαι λαμπρὸν ϕάος ἠελίοιο. 18.61 = 442 ὄϕρα δέ μοι ζώει καὶ ὁρᾷ ϕάος ἠελίοιο 24.558 αὐτόν τε ζώειν καὶ ὁρᾶν ϕάος ἠελίοιο. See also the formulas with δερκ-below n.17. 5 The expression comes from George Puttenham's The Arte of English Poesie, quoted as an epigraph (Purves 2010, 1). 6 For instance, though knowing its importance in the question of text and image, we deliberately leave aside the famous description of Achilles' shield in book 18: to our appreciation this description occurs in an intense dramatic context (Létoublon 1999), but is not part of our vision of "war as a spectacle".
Keywords : war, Iliad
Type de document :
Chapitre d'ouvrage
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Contributeur : Françoise Letoublon <>
Soumis le : lundi 12 novembre 2018 - 17:50:48
Dernière modification le : vendredi 31 juillet 2020 - 03:46:26
Archivage à long terme le : : mercredi 13 février 2019 - 16:39:42


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  • HAL Id : hal-01919895, version 1




Françoise Letoublon. War as a spectacle in the Iliad. Gaze, Vision and Visuality in ancient Greek Literature: Concepts, Contexts and Receptioneds Alexandros Kampakoglou and Anna Novokhatko, Berlin/Boston, De Gruyter, Trends in Classics Suppl. 54, 2018, p. 3-32., 54, De Gruyter, 2018. ⟨hal-01919895⟩



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