Exemplarity and narrative in the Greek tradition

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Abstract / Description of output

This discussion starts from the encounter between Achilles and Priam in Iliad 24, and especially Achilles' remarks on the jars of Zeus (525-35), the seminal expression of a characteristic Greek attitude towards the mutability of fortune and the instability of happiness. Such ideas can be readily paralleled in other cultures, literatures and narrative forms, both ancient and more recent, Greek and non-Greek. Their expression in language, symbol, and art (both verbal and visual) illustrates the way that the condensation of such complexes of thought and feeling in typical and traditional forms makes a particular ethical or emotional perspective tangible, tractable and transferable. These recurrent forms capture important aspects of a culture's emotional and normative repertoire in a way that allows them to be reconstituted and applied in the mind of each recipient or audience member. The paper considers some of the implications of this in the Greek narrative tradition, from Homer, through archaic poetry, tragedy and Aristotle's theory of tragedy to a detailed examination of the persistence of the phenomenon and its extensive influence on narrative shape in Plutarch's Life of Aemilius Paullus, a splendid example of how later Greek narratives return explicitly to the most authoritative of all Greek narrative sources as a way of locating themselves in what their authors clearly regard as a distinctive Greek tradition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-67
JournalHumanities: Christianity and Culture
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


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