Departmental Papers (Classical Studies)

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Book Chapter

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Epic Traditions in the Contemporary World: The Poetics of Community

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Study of lament has begun to be a major part of the feminist reinterpretation of epic, including both textual study and anthropological accounts of female lament in modern Greece. Sheila Murnaghan draws on this scholarship to trace a continuum from male lament, which turns the speaker back toward an affirmation of kleos and epic purposes, to female lament, which ignores the death-defying fame that epic provides as compensation for heroic loss. Mur­naghan's essay makes an important contribution to debates about just how sub­versive lament can be in epic. In spite of the ways that female lament can seem to disrupt or challenge the heroic code, Murnaghan argues that epic cannot do without lament, since lament not only begins the process of generating praise from grief but also presents the body of the enslaved and mournful widow as inspiration for the creation of the husband's unending fame. Murnaghan's interpretation leads us to form a more polyvocal and performative-and less monumental-theory of epic than more traditional readings would, one in which the poem's celebration of martial and heroic values coexists with the challenges to those values raised by lament.

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Date Posted: 09 January 2017