The Tragic Fate of the Epic Helmsman
Number of pages
SourceActa Classica, 63, (2020), pp. 162-185
Article / Letter to editor
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Griekse Taal- en Letterkunde
SubjectEurope in a Changing World; The Ancient World
In various Greek and Latin epic poems examples can be found of one character in particular who meets his end remarkably often: the helmsman. This article shows that the ‘death of the helmsman’ can be considered an epic motif from Homer on (where quite a few instances can be found), with imitations by Apollonius Rhodius and subsequently by the Roman epic poets (Vergil, Lucan, Silius Italicus). A parody from Greek prose by Lucian corroborates this notion. Although some of the early instances seem to have cultic origins, and can be explained through aetiology, Homer’s imitators appear to have used the motif knowingly, and to have played with it. Based on the accumulation of examples, and the nature of imitation within the epic genre, it can be argued that, to many epic poets, the death of the pilot was considered a narrative topos.
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