The Tale of Meleager in the Iliad
- Volume 31, Number 1
- Jonathan Burgess
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This essay employs narratology and oral theory in a close reading of Phoenix’s tale of the Kalydonian hero, Meleager, in Book 9 of the Iliad. The author aims to clarify the function of this embedded narrative within the Homeric epic. Phoenix compares Achilles to Meleager, and the crux of the analogy—angry withdrawal from battle—has tempted some in the past to suppose that a pre-Homeric epic about an angry Meleager was the source for the Iliad’s angry Achilles. But since most ancient narratives about Meleager do not feature withdrawal from battle, Homerists today have more generally concluded that Phoenix invents Meleager’s withdrawal in order to pursue his analogy. Though Burgess essentially subscribes to this conclusion, analysis of the poetics of Phoenix’s narrative have often been misguided. This essay explores the traditionality of Phoenix’s story and its narratological construction in the Homeric epic. The main goal is to better calibrate the significance of the Iliad’s version of the story of Meleager. The issue is relevant to how the Iliad employs material from outside its boundaries, including the Epic Cycle.