Emblematic Eating: Reading the Feasts of the Iliad as Models for Social Order

Citation data:

Page: 1-63

Publication Year:
2018
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Downloads 24
Abstract Views 12
Repository URL:
https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/senior_theses/238
Author(s):
Welty, Erin
Tags:
Food studies; Eating; Homer; Epic poetry; Meals; Economic anthropology; Classical Literature and Philology; Classics
thesis / dissertation description
This paper analyzes the Iliad’s feast scenes as sites that amplify the sociopolitical and economic tensions that permeate the wider plot of the epic. Through a literary analysis of the major feasting scenes of the Iliad, I show how the epic’s presentation of the dais collectively displays particular emblematic values of social equity and fair distribution of resources that manifests in the formulaic language that repeats in each feast scene and produces a sense of stable social organization. At the same time, however, I display how the narrative contexts of the feasts and the narrative presentation internal to the scenes problematize these values, namely their implication in stabilizing the contested hierarchical dominance of a monarch. Using Walter Donlan’s reading of the competing economic models of chiefly redistribution versus the sharing economy in Homeric epic, I connect the political implications of the feast scenes with the competing economic structures that drive the rhetoric of rivalry between Achilles and Agamemnon. Through these methods, I arrive at the conclusion that the feast scenes of the Iliad are narrative moments of deep thematic significance in which the most basic thematic problems in the epic are interrogated in the guise of formulaic repetition. I extend this reading to the relationship between the epic and its early audience in archaic Greece to surmise that the tension displayed in the epic feasts would have been mirrored and recognized in the changing sociopolitical climate that encompassed the festival feasts at which the epic was likely performed.