Telling space: Topography, time, and narrative from Homer to Xenophon

Alex Claire Purves, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation examines the underlying tension in Greek literature between an all-encompassing, synoptic vision of the world and the human attempt to replicate that vision in language. It traces the evolution of this vision through a history of genres, from epic (where the synoptic range is imagined as the divine property of the Muses) to prose (where human perception is foregrounded, and where the god-like perspective is re-enacted through the attempt to measure, control, and map the space of the earth). It analyzes how the Muses' encyclopedic viewpoint, because it encompasses all aspects of time and memory, emerges as a model for story-telling which is reformulated by the prose authors in their attempts to create new technologies and structures through which past and future time might be scaled down into a single whole. The dissertation is divided into three sections, each comprised of two chapters. The first section analyses how, in the transition from Hesiodic epic to Herodotean geography, the vast narrative space of both earth and cosmos is transferred from the supernatural eye of the Muse to the scientific eye of the cartographer. The second section reads the story of being lost in space as a comment upon the larger problem of attempting to map, or represent, the world in language. It reveals how, in Homer's Odyssey and Xenophon's Anabasis, the borders of both earth and narrative disappear from view as their protagonists increasingly lose all sense of proportion and scale. The third section investigates a new set of topographies that emerge with the invention of the Socratic dialogue, showing how—in Plato's Timaeus/Critias and Xenophon's Oeconomicus —the topographies of city and home are alternately ‘writ large’ and ‘writ small’ onto the fantastic models of Atlantis (Plato) and Ischomachus' encyclopedic system of cataloguing the space of the oikos (Xenophon). Here, I conclude by considering how memory, which in epic was presented as a form of divine inspiration, is scaled down to human proportions in the form of images or architectural structures that are visualized in the mind.

Subject Area

Classical studies

Recommended Citation

Purves, Alex Claire, "Telling space: Topography, time, and narrative from Homer to Xenophon" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3043943.