Individual vs. Collective Expressions of Grief in the Homeric Poems


  • Jesús Carruesco Institut Català d'Arqueologia Clàssica - ICAC



In the Homeric poems, expressions of grief and mourning abound. This is a key theme in the Iliad, and the poem culminates with the big funeral scenes of the last three books. Homeric poetry has long been linked to the emergence of the Greek polis, and it offers us an insight into accepted patterns of displaying grief and mourning practices in the public sphere. The funeral games and the different forms that these choral laments adopt, particularly the thrênos, are collective expressions of ritualised mourning that acquire a paradigmatic role comparable to that they enjoy in the iconographic record (e.g. on Geometric pottery). In contrast, some individual responses to grief in the poems are presented as anomalous, for example, Achilles’ which is explained in terms of his heroic temper and Penelope’s because of her uncertainty over Odysseus’ fate. These examples allow the poet to portray extreme personal responses to grief, made manifest in severe physical symptoms. Their individual specificity functions as a foil to the paradigmatic representation of the collective management of grief through ritualised competition and communal choral practices.