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By Richard Rutherford

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By Richard Rutherford

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It is not literally true that Homer and Hesiod invented the whole elaborate pantheon of Olympus, but it is likely that they both made a substantial contribution. Homer anthropomorphizes the gods and presents them in action; Hesiod makes sense of their relationships, setting out for instance the succession myth by which the kingship of heaven passes from Uranus to Cronos to Zeus. The 1,000 lines of the Theogony include hundreds of names (50 daughters of the sea-god Nereus), many of which were doubtless Hesiod’s invention.

The focus on a central plot and a few key personalities calls for intensity of emotion, whereas the sheer length of most epics encourages diversity and variety. There is a constant fluctuation between linear development of the main plot and a more episodic structure. While in general there is a firm control over the epic’s coherence and development, inset stories and subordinate episodes are sometimes loosely connected with the whole. ) The same technique is used in the Odyssey. The action of the Iliad is overseen by the Olympian gods, as vividly characterized as the human principals.

The Odyssey is the prime model, and above all the books describing Odysseus’ travels and the supernatural adventures. Apollonius sets none of the poem in Greece: throughout, his heroes are involved with the exotic and the unknown. The Argonauts encounter many new dangers (such as the Harpies, who do not figure in Homer), but also find themselves facing Odyssean characters: Circe, the Sirens, the king and queen of Phaeacia. In all these cases, however, Apollonius changes mood and alters characterization or relationships.

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