My research focuses on the relationship between the Homeric Epithet and epic time, and the kinds of temporal modalities embedded within an epithet. Time is of basic importance to Homeric poetry; the essential function of epic song is to transcend time: it offers – through commemoration in hexameter – the opportunity for mortal man to attain immortality. As fundamental components of Homeric poetic diction epithets play a vital role in this process. The key contention of my research is that an epithet can contain several distinct types of latent, temporal ‘narratives’ or temporally significant situations. This is to say that entire narratives – or narrative traditions – can be encapsulated within a single epithet, where that epithet contains a variety of intra- and extra-textual referents that allow a (re)construction of that internal narrative.
I intend to consider the epithet as a phenomenon by applying a variety of approaches, including philological and linguistic, literary critical, historical, quantitative, narratological, and hermeneutic. The significance of the research is twofold: firstly it bears directly on our understanding of the epithet itself, its poetic function and importance in Homeric diction. Secondly, it has implications for our conception of the organisation and drive of the Homeric narrative, and for our understanding of how a tightly focused text is able to refer to a wider narrative tradition outside of the narrative frame. Ultimately this may have relevance for the (oft-noted) ‘unsuitability’ of the Homeric epithet in certain contexts: if every epithet contains a temporal narrative sequence then the audience can step into that one-word story at a moment which suits the position of the main narrative, accounting for the recurring beauty and relevance of a (seemingly) formulaic occurrence.