Abstract and Keywords
Epic depictions of ‘religion’ are governed by a poetic imaginary, making literary analysis take precedence over comparisons with historical realia related to cult. Examples come from the categories of heroic libations, prayers, and poetic self-presentation. Within the first, pressures of narrative shape Nestor’s drinking of an Eleusinian-style kykeon as well as Achilles’ libation to Zeus of Dodona, underlining crises through reference to Archaic religious phenomena. Prayers and offerings are manipulated for maximum effect in making vivid a range of speakers and poetic situations. Prayer even blends into poetry when utterances feature the immediacy and detail of lyric description. Finally, the epics, framed as privileged communications with the Muses, comprise ‘ritual’ acts, both for composers and their audiences, fit for performance at cult festivals. In the terms sketched by anthropologist Clifford Geertz, epic poetry, as a powerful system of symbols promoting basic notions about existence, is itself a variety of religion.
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