On Homer and the epic hypertext

From Pietro Pucci’s The Iliad: The Poem of Zeus (pg 182) – in his discussion of the scene where Hera seduces Zeus to distract his attention from the battlefield and her plan to help the Achaeans.  This seemed the most soberly presented summary I’ve found of his approach to the epics generally – stretching back to his earlier Song of the Sirens and Odysseus Polytropos where he, by virtue of reading the Iliad and Odyssey against each other, feels himself on firmer ground for making what sometimes end up – for me – too strong assertions of linkage, reference, reworking, and subversion.  Here, forced to a conceptual rather than specific justification, his practice appears less extreme.

The Iliadic text recalls for its contemporary audience a traditional episode from the Heracles saga: they may know and recall it, or find it new, in the wake of analogous stories in the large mythical-epic panorama which they control.  The text gave the Narratees the privilege of measuring the differences in narrative details and tone between the passage and the Iliadic exploitation of it.  For instance, in Hypnos’ version of Hera’s first request, it is not indicated whether she made love with Zeus before Hypnos’ intervention.  A textual game was proposed to the Narratees, in which they enjoyed the emotional repetition of the scenes and savored the critical use that the Iliad made of its borrowings.  If they found the episode new, they enjoyed the invention of the story that enriched their mythical-epic panorama.  We have lost the ability to confirm this possibility and cannot be sure whether our perception that the text re-channels a story from another epic poem is certain, and, if it is true, how that story is elaborated by our text.

It remains appealing to question what the critical purpose or effect is that the text aims at by re-channelling certain old stories about Zeus, some of them being unedifying, even if entertaining.

The best option seems to me that the narrative quotes, integrates, or simply echoes traditional stories with the intent of granting them new edifying perspectives or of making fun of the traditional versions.

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