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The Poetics of Consent

, 336 pages
December 2012



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The Poetics of Consent

Collective Decision Making and the Iliad

The Poetics of Consent breaks new ground in Homeric studies by interpreting the Iliad’s depictions of political action in terms of the poetic forces that shaped the Iliad itself. Arguing that consensus is a central theme of the epic, David Elmer analyzes in detail scenes in which the poem’s three political communities—Achaeans, Trojans, and Olympian gods—engage in the process of collective decision making.

These scenes reflect an awareness of the negotiation involved in reconciling rival versions of the Iliad over centuries. They also point beyond the Iliad’s world of gods and heroes to the here-and-now of the poem’s performance and reception, in which the consensus over the shape and meaning of the Iliadic tradition is continuously evolving.

Elmer synthesizes ideas and methods from literary and political theory, classical philology, anthropology, and folklore studies to construct an alternative to conventional understandings of the Iliad’s politics. The Poetics of Consent reveals the ways in which consensus and collective decision making determined the authoritative account of the Trojan War that we know as the Iliad.

David F. Elmer is an associate professor of the classics at Harvard University.

"This fine project far exceeds the bounds of a monograph on Homeric epic, as it opens up the Iliad to a broad range of questions concerning politics and persuasion, showing with admirable precision how consensus is constructed in one of our earliest documents of western culture. Elmer achieves what is harder and harder to do—he makes totally new points about our oldest Greek compositions, as he convincingly tracks the theme of consent throughout the Iliad and demonstrates how it structures the entire poem. This is one of the most important books on Homer in decades."

"An excellent book that puts the boundaries socio-historic interpretation and textual semantics to a serious test. It is of great relevance to both historians and philologists... Overall, this is a great and thought-provoking book with a fascinating argument."

"The thesis that the Iliad's conflict-ridden communities in fact reinforce communitarian values is persuasive, the identification of those communities with the interpretive communities that propagated Homeric poetry is intriguing, and both of these ideas are sure to play a significant role in shaping the interpretative of epic poetry in the future."

"If The Poetics of Consent were to find a broad readership, it could, as I believe it should, transform the face of Homeric scholarship."

"The book is remarkably well written and engaging, always seeking clear explanations of complex concepts. The book also synthesizes and extends the current state of scholarship on the Iliad, addressing, as well as any recent book, the different (often divergent) approaches to the politics and poetics of the epic."

"The book is exemplary in approaching large poetic and cultural issues through details of language and patterns of formulaic usage."

"... The Poetics of consent is an in-depth study of one word, epainos (‘approval’), and its occurrence throughout the Iliad. But, in Elmer’s expert hands, It becomes the means like an Ariadne thread, of tracing a way through the Iliad’s bigger picture, this book will be a trustworthy companion for future generations if Homeric scholars."

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