Iambic elements in archaic Greek epic



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Archaic Greek poetry evinces an inherited Indo-European opposition between praise and blame. Praise has traditionally been seen as the domain of epic and epinician poetry, while blame was putatively confined to the iambic genre. I contend that the defining characteristics of iambic poetry—invective, sex, deception, misogyny, and scatological humor—are vital elements of archaic Greek epic. In epic, just as in iambic, poetry, these characteristics are important determiners of status for individual characters and means by which bonds are formed and maintained among members of social groups. Both individuals and groups use “iambic” tactics in order to assert and enact their own social superiority and simultaneously to marginalize their opponents, who are often women or men equated with women. With these things in mind, I examine in-group invective, battlefield flyting, and the Dios Apate in the Iliad and the Tale of Ares and Aphrodite, psogos gunaikon in Agamemnon’s speeches to Odysseus and the newly-slain suitors in the underworld, and Odysseus’ Cretan Tales in the Odyssey.