Entering the Agon: Dissent and Authority in Homer, Historiography and Tragedy


Abstract


Elton Barker defines the agon as 'the scene of debate in which, with varying degrees of formalization, characters confront each other with opposing views' (p. 3; cf. p. 366), and discusses it in epic (Homer's Iliad and Odyssey), historiography (Herodotus and Thucydides), and tragedy (Sophocles' Ajax and Euripides' Hecuba). He believes that earlier work on debate in Greek literature has been limited by a focus on individual genres or authors, and has therefore 'failed to grasp both the range of forms of debate and how it functions differently in varying cultural contexts or even within a particular genre' (p. 6). The book's subtitle signals a further, and (B. hopes) related theme, that of institutional dissent, 'by virtue of which authority is challenged and alternative views are not only tolerated, but also somehow incorporated, managed and utilized' (p. 5). Thirdly, he is interested in 'the creative tension between the narrative frame and the alien voices incorporated within it' (p. 20). The representation of debate introduces opinions other than those of the author, and transfers the burden of assessing them onto the reader. These are three very different subjects, and B. has difficulty both in keeping them individually in focus and in relating them coherently to each other.

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