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The Poetics of exôleia in Homer

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image of Mnemosyne

The notion of delayed generational punishment, or ancestral fault, has a long history in Greek literature. The identification of its earliest attestations in the Archaic period is contested, especially its presence in Homeric poetry. This paper aims to show that delayed generational punishment does indeed appear in Homer, where it is, however, confined to one context: the great oath of exôleia of Iliad 3.298-301 and 4.155-65. The institutional and ritual context of the generational oath is essential to understanding this earliest Greek attestation of ancestral fault, and making sense of the idea’s larger significance for narrative perspective, divine justice, and temporal order in the Homeric epic.

Affiliations: 1: University of Cambridge, Faculty of Classics Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge CB3 9DA UK, Email:


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