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Early Greek Indexicality: Markers of Allusion in Archaic Greek Poetry

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Nelson, Thomas James  ORCID logo


This thesis is concerned with early Greek literary history and the nature of archaic Greek allusion. It examines how our earliest Greek poets self-consciously marked and signalled their interactions with other texts and traditions, often in a deeply antagonistic fashion.

In recent years, scholars have explored how Roman poets signposted references to their predecessors through a range of relational metaphors, representing their allusions as acts of recollection, echo and theft. Yet although these readings have proved a popular and rewarding interpretative approach, such allusive phenomena are often assumed to be the preserve of the scholarly, literate and bookish climates of the Hellenistic and Roman worlds.

In this study, by contrast, I highlight how these very same devices can already be detected in Archaic Greek Poetry, from Homer to Pindar, challenging any simple dichotomy between the orality of Archaic Greece and the literacy of Hellenistic Rome. After an introduction in which I lay out the objectives of my study and address the methodological difficulties of discussing allusion and intertextuality in early Greek poetry, the majority of the thesis is divided into three main sections, each of which addresses a different ‘index’ (marker/pointer) of allusion in archaic Greek epic and lyric. The first addresses what Latinists call the ‘Alexandrian footnote’: vague references to hearsay and anonymous tradition which frequently conceal specific nods to precise literary predecessors. The second focuses on poetic memory, exploring how characters’ reminiscences of events from their fictional pasts coincide with recollections of earlier literary texts and traditions. The final chapter turns to time and temporality, to explore how Greek poets both evoke and pointedly replay episodes of the literary past or future beyond their immediate narrative. Together, these three case studies demonstrate that the indexing and signposting of allusions was nothing new by the time of the Hellenistic age. What are sometimes considered distinctively learned flourishes of self-consciousness were in fact, I contend, an integral part of the literary tradition from the very start, a key feature of the grammar of allusion with which ancient audiences were already intuitively familiar.





Hunter, Richard
Whitmarsh, Tim


Classics, Intertextuality, Allusion, Indexicality, Markers of Allusion, Alexandrian footnote, Poetic Memory, Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, Sappho, Greek Epic, Greek Lyric, Archilochus, Bacchylides, Mimnermus, Homeric Hymns, Epic Cycle, Neoanalysis, Stesichorus, Iambus, Elegy, Tyrtaeus, Archaic Greek Poetry, Alcaeus, Theognis, Iliad, Odyssey, Xenophanes, Anacreon, Skolia, Ibycus, Catalogue of Women, Gilgamesh, Near Eastern Epic, Literary History, Mythological Intertextuality, Hellenistic Poetry, Roman poetry, Metapoetry, Metapoetics, Literary Self-reflexivity


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
AHRC PhD Funding 2014-17