Panel 4.2: Ancient Greek Metaphors

This panel was chaired by Helen Falkner and included papers from Vladimir Zuckerman, Jakub Filonik, Thomas Sims, and Annie Zourgou, the abstracts, powerpoints, handouts, and audio for which are shown below.

Vladimir Zuckerman, The University of Copenhagen

Title: ‘Inscribing it on the Remembering Tablets of your phrenes’: Metaphors of Memory in the 5th Century.

This paper examines the metaphor of the wax writing tablet in the 5th century BCE. Most famously articulated in Plato’s Theaetetus, the wax tablet is often evoked in ancient philosophical accounts of internal memory, as it provides a model for explaining how memories are stored and accessed. Yet even before Plato this way of thinking about memory is present in a variety of non-specialist texts. Aeschylus, Pindar, Sophocles, and other 5th century writers resort to writing on wax tablets whenever they speak of memory metaphorically. Other writers speak of visions and words that remain in the soul in the form of imprints (τύποι), implying the stamping of a wax-like material.

Following the cognitive-linguistic approach to metaphor, I suggest that the various metaphors which are found across authors in the 5th century can be analysed in terms of a shared association between remembering and writing/imprinting onto a wax tablet. This association allows for a network of connections between the subject and the metaphoric vehicle. The poets describe remembering, accessing memories, forgetting, and the quality of one’s internal memory through the attributes of the writing tablets, making use of the tablets’ applications and material qualities. This cross-domain mapping, I argue, shows the structuring aspect of the metaphor. Memory which is modelled onto writing tablets takes a particular form and includes a set of presumptions about its working, which reappear later in the detailed theoretical accounts of memory in the philosophical tradition.


Audio –

Jakub Filonik, The University of Warsaw

Title: Winning Court Battles with Words: Metaphorical Appeals to Civic Ethos in Athenian Forensic Oratory.

Citizenship was arguably the pinnacle of socio-political identity in classical Athens, a culture in which rhetoric was the bedrock of daily political dealings of the citizens. In oratory, citizenship is referred to not only as a legal status, but also a set of normative rules of conduct presented before civic audiences in Athenian political institutions. This paper argues that metaphorical appeals to this identity could prove to be a rhetorical skeleton key, potentially employed whenever speakers were striving for favourable audience reactions. Not least due to unique speaker–audience dynamics, oratory remains a particularly fruitful source in studying the rhetorical use of metaphorical concepts in Greek political discourse.

Metaphor will not be studied here in terms of the Aristotelian figure of speech (‘A is B’), but as a conceptual identification of notions, as it is understood today in cognitive linguistics (e.g., by Lakoff or Kövecses). As argued in recent decades, conceptual metaphor is a reflection of patterns around which human thought and action are organised, and can be expressed in many indirect ways, often remaining in the background in the casual use of words. Since it refers to a deep level of the cognitive image of the world and echoes ‘frames’ that constitute the person’s basic sense of identity, it can be exploited through the appeals to identity that make use of existing conceptual framework. This analysis will focus on selected late fourth-century forensic speeches as both most representative and richest in the use of such conceptual metaphors within Athenian civic discourse, and will attempt to identify some prevalent patterns that may reveal their place in political rhetoric of classical Athens.


Audio –

Thomas Sims, The University of Nottingham

Title: Just Like Homer: Exploring Sappho’s Use of the Epic Simile.

From articles by Arnold Gomme to Leah Rissman’s monograph and finally to recent and insightful contributions by Jack Winkler and Ruby Blondell, the intertextual relationship between the Homeric and Sapphic corpora has long been a fixture of scholarship on Sappho’s fragments. Much of this research, however, focuses on investigating the similarities in content rather than considering the structural resemblances in the works of both poets. One area in which this style of analysis has previously been prevalent is that of Sappho’s similes, but recent pieces by scholars such as Page duBois have sought to redress this balance by examining the deeper structural resonances between the similes of both poets. This paper will continue to encourage this trend in scholarship, exploring not only similarities in the content of epic and Sapphic similes, but also similarities in their structure. It will examine the use of similes within Homeric epic, observing patterns both in their arrangement to create an overall model for their structure and in their content to discern common themes. This paper will then apply these conclusions to detailed analysis of Sapphic similes and highlight the similarities in Homer’s and Sappho’s use of this topos to demonstrate that Sappho engaged with Homeric epic not only superficially via similarities in content, but also on a deeper structural level. It will then conclude by exploring how Sappho’s multi-layered use of epic similes can shape understanding of the nature of her work and of the early reception of the Homeric corpus. As scholarship continues to explore structural similarities between Sappho’s and Homer’s poetry in addition to those based on content, this paper will demonstrate that former mode of comparison is a vital tool for future debates about the Sapphic corpus.


Sadly, due to technical difficulties, the audio for Thomas’ paper was lost.

Annie Zourgou, The University of Nottingham

Title: The Judgement of Paris in Homer and Sophocles: The Place or Bad Decisions and their Symbols.

Greek mythology is bearer of a vast variety of symbols and metaphors.  Its use and interpretation in different literary genres can reveal a lot of information on the deeper meaning and implications of different myths, but also on the characteristics of each individual genre.

In this paper the case study will be the Judgement of Paris. Starting off with the role of the myth in Homer’s Iliad, it will be argued that the very essence of the story and the moral symbolisms that it bears make it inappropriate for high literature. The very short allusion to the judgement in book 24 of the Iliad (25-30), if genuine and not an interpolation, shows that, although the Judgement is considered a given in the Iliadic narrative, Homer did not give a full account of it as it was not appropriate for a heroic epic.

Under this scope, it will also be argued that Sophocles chose to represent this myth in a satyr play, Krisis, rather than in a tragedy because he shared Homer’s attitude towards the myth. In fact, much unlike Euripides, he does not even allude or refer to the Judgement in any of his surviving Trojan tragedies. It appears, however, that a satyr play created the ideal literary circumstances for the representation of the story of a man, who chooses μαχλοσύνη, as Homer calls it, before invincibility in war or kingship over Greece and Asia.  The symbolisms that  the satyrs bear (lust, uncontrollable sexual desire, tendency to exageration) offer the possibility to not only represent a full account of the myth, but also to mock and point its dishonorable aspects. This realisation can lead to new conclusions regarding satyr play and its themes and open up new paths in understanding the genre’s nature and symbolisms.


Audio –


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