Self-reflection overview

This list is by no means pretending to be complete; some items are quite tentative.


Never forget that these are not books, they are songs and they escaped the fence of the composer's teeth while he lived. While singing a direct speech by one of his characters, he virtually becomes that character. Homer shows himself very aware of this curious position.
The poetic centre of self-reflection is the lyre-playing god of prophecy, healing and poetry Apollo : 'the Destroyer', 'Silverbow', 'Far-shooter'. If the Iliad is a tour-de-force of poetry then, in some sense, the god of poetry must be acting through it. And it is a healing poem: it aims to heal not only 'Achilles' but Ionian society in general which must have been under pressure in Homer's day. Also it is a prophecy in a political and ethical sense of the word.

In these pages I am mainly concerned with pointing out some of the myriad examples so the reader can learn to recognize them where they occur. An example of almost-open self reference would be 'Phoenix': I believe that the person Phoenix as occurring in Il 9 the Embassy to Achilles, is a late addition to the Iliad (from the time it was written down), representing the poet as an old man. His tale is strongly suggestive of autobiographical references, especially because of the 'exile' aspect. Also the phrase 'φοίνικος νέον ἔρνος' (a young shoot of the 'phoenix' or date-palm, Od 6.163) is one of the things which make me believe that the tradition that Homer had a daughter (ref. women) is based on something. If indeed the poet was concerned with writing and/or dictating the poems, it seems well possible that a nickname for him was Phoenix (letters were called Phoenician).

Examples of reference to the poem itself are abundant from the first moment. The meal (dais) is a keyword, being a metaphor for life in general but also the setting for performances of the poem(2). In this light, the Iliad begins with a rather shocking reference to it being a 'feast for the dogs and birds' (Il 1.4-5)(3). This is how Homer sees it, I think. The poem is the 'wrath of Achilles' and also the wrath of Apollo. Scores of people die in it and the listeners enjoy all this while listening to a bard at a public feast. And because it is about them, you could say they are 'killed by Apollo' and his arrows. In the Odyssey's climactic and ironic slaughter, the poet does it all over again: he slaughters everyone at a feast.

The poet rules the events in the poem just like Zeus rules the world. While he is performing it, he turns into all the heroes (even in direct speech), and e.g. lions, and forces of nature one by one just like Proteus (Od 4.384-).