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Homer in the Perfect Tense: The Posthomerica of Quintus Smyrnaeus and the Poetics of Impersonation



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Greensmith, Emma 


The thesis has been written as part of the AHRC collaborative research project Greek Epic of the Roman Empire: A Cultural History. This project seeks to give the first cultural-historical analysis of the large, underexploited corpus of Greek epic poetry composed in the transformative period between the 1st and the 6th centuries C.E. The thesis focuses on questions of literary identity in one of the most challenging texts from this corpus, the Posthomerica by Quintus of Smyrna (c. 3rd century C.E.). My central contention is that Quintus’ mimicry of Homer represents a radically new formative poetics, suggesting a cultural movement towards mimesis, necromancy and close encounters with the past. After a detailed study of what I term the reanimating culture of imperial Greece (chapter 1), and a comprehensive reanalysis of the compositional techniques of the text (chapter 2), I identify a number of tropes of poetic identity from different ancient literary modes: programmatic proems (chapter 3), memory (4), filiation (5) and temporality (6). I show how Quintus co-opts these themes for his new poetics, to turn the symbolic toolkit of contrast imitation into a defence of writing inter-Homeric epic. This analysis insists on rethinking the nature of the relationship between the poetry of this era and that of previous aesthetic traditions: particularly, I argue against a view of the Posthomerica as Alexandrian, and see it instead pushing back against the Callimachus school of small, new poetry. Ultimately, the thesis aims to show how the Posthomerica could be pivotal for unpinning current critical assumptions about imperial Greek poetry; revealing a palpable shift in tone in the construct of the literary self.





Whitmarsh, Tristan


Imperial Greek Epic, Quintus Smyrnaeus, Quintus of Smyrna, Greek Literature, Epic, Homer, Reception of Homer, Cultural History, Third Century C.E., Third Century A.D., Impersonation, Pseudepigrapha, Literary Annonymity, Mimesis, Second Sophistic, Temporality, Callimachus, Alexandrian, Memory, Filiation, Programmatic, Poetics, Proem, Metapoetics, Literary Identity


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
AHRC funded research project Greek Epic of the Roman Empire: A Cultural History. PI: Prof Tim Whitmarsh