Telling presences: narrating divine epiphany in Homer and beyond.
Stevens, Alexander David.
University of Cambridge
Faculty of Classics
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Stevens, A. D. (2003). Telling presences: narrating divine epiphany in Homer and beyond. (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.16548
This thesis argues that ancient Greek narratives of encounter between gods and mortals cannot be understood simply in terms of constellations of recurrent descriptive features or in terms of the iterability of type-scene or ritual. Divine epiphanies are moments of disruption or antistructure which provoke strategic, structuring responses, not least in narrative and ritual. But these responses do not subsume the potential that remains at the intersection between gods and mortals. Contestation over power, authority and legitimacy is constitutive of epiphany. In the first section I examine problems caused by scholarly concern for 'authentic experience' in treating epiphany-accounts in general and Homeric epic in particular. I propose an alternative focus on how sense, both as perception and as significance, is actively produced in such contexts: narrativisation and ritualisation offer experiences-in-themselves in which people participate to make sense and significance in the world. The cultural currency of such narratives depends not on their relation to religious experiences or religious belief as such, but on the ways that such narratives engage their audiences in exploring the difference of gods from mortals and the ramifications of this difference for human existence in the world. In the second section I consider a succession of moments in the Iliad and the Odyssey, first to destabilise the notion of divine epiphany as a self-evident category or paradigm, second to explore the vital importance of three questions: what constitutes divine presence and absence, how they are manifested, and how they might or might not be recognised. The expression of divine presence in figurative terms in Homer does not reflect a metaphorisation of divine power, but is constitutive of the problematic play of divine presence and mortal recognition. The consequences of recognising or failing to recognise this play of presence and absence can be profound. Even when contemplating the 'body' of the gods, problems of perception and point-of-view are operative. Viewing divine epiphany as an interplay of presence and perception points to the importance of the specific constituting frames of presence and absence. Contestation and realisation of authority and legitimacy are crucial concomitants. I explore the ends of the Odyssey and Iliad in terms of the authority of gods to end our narratives and the potential for mortals to generate specifically human meanings in and around these ends. In my conclusion I look beyond Homer briefly to consider the ongoing place of narratives of divine epiphany in Greek cultural contexts. How significance is generated in relation to the presence and absence of the gods remains a central question, and the disruptive tropes of epiphany play a crucial role.
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.16548