Friday, March 25, 2016

Richard Jenkyns

Richard Jenkyns's latest book is Classical Literature: An Epic Journey from Homer to Virgil and Beyond. From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You begin your book with Homer and The Iliad and The Odyssey, and you write, “The majority view today is that there were two poets, but the issue cannot be conclusively determined.” Why do most scholars think there were two poets involved?

A: Some people think that the differences between the two poems, in (for example) attitudes to the gods and their moral function, to the possibility of the afterlife, etc., are too great for them to be by the same author.

There are other more technical arguments: that sometimes the author of the Odyssey seems to be imitating the Iliad in ways which suggest that he didn't fully appreciate what the earlier author was trying to do, some difference of language, etc. All these arguments are contested, however. My own position is agnostic.

An older argument (about both Iliad and Odyssey) is whether the poem is the work of one author or many. Here I have a firm view: that each is essentially the work of a single author, but using traditional material.

Q: You write that “it seems always to have been agreed that by far the best tragedy came out of Athens and within a period of less than a century.” What about that particular time period lent itself to this cultural feat?

A: A Roman writing in the 20s AD asked the question: why is it that the best periods for any genre of literature are short? Tragedy was one of his examples.

His answer was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue