The Death of Thersites and the Sympotic Performance of Iambic Mockery
One of the greatest frustrations confronting the student of archaic Greek poetry is the relative paucity of evidence about performance context. It is often lamented that if we only knew more about the conditions under which a work was performed, we would be in a much better position to understand its poetics - not only its meaning and function for a putatively "original" audience, but also the vicissitudes of its afterlife. Our frustrations in this regard are particularly acute in the archaic iambus - that infamous genre of satire and personal mockery - particularly because of its many transgressive conceits (e.g., aischrologia, abusive mockery, unelevated subject matter, etc.) have always made it difficult for critics to imagine why a poet would be moved to compose this sort of poetry in the first place, and who would want to hear it. If we knew a little more than we do about the circumstances in which iambographers composed and performed, and the particular relationships they expected to develop with an audience, we would presumably be in a much better position to assess cultural attitudes toward poetic satire and mockery, as well as the general dynamics that informed the composition of such poetry.