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The parent-child relationship and the Homeric hero in the Iliad and Odyssey.

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This dissertation examines the depiction of the parent-child relationship in the Iliad and the Odyssey. In this examination, I focus on the representation of this phenomenon as it applies to Achilles and Hector, as the respective protagonist and antagonist of the former poem, and to Odysseus, the protagonist of the latter. The parent-child relationship has been selected as the subject of investigation on the grounds of the fundamental nature and extensive presence of this phenomenon in human life, and, consequently, in literature. The primary reason for the selection of the Iliad and the Odyssey for this study of the literary representation of this phenomenon is the status that these poems enjoy as the earliest extant works in Western literature, whose reputation and influence have endured through the centuries to modern times. The other reason is that they provide a rich source of the literary representation of the parent-child relationship. The inclusion of both Homeric poems in the investigation offers a broader spectrum of parent-child relationships and a wider range of parent-child related situations, issues, and outcomes. In each poem, the poet concentrates on the biological parent-child relationships of the heroes, although other supplementary relationships also feature. Assisted by narratological analysis, I examine the three heroes’ parent-child relationships in terms of their triadic structure of father-mother-son, and of the dyadic relationships encompassed by this triad, namely, father-son, mother-son, and father/husband-mother/wife. Each hero is depicted as both a son and a father; hence the triads to be examined are, for Achilles, the Peleus-Thetis-Achilles natal triad and the Achilles-[Deidamia]-Neoptolemus procreative triad (represented in the poem only by the father-son relationship), for Hector, the Priam-Hecuba-Hector natal triad and the Hector-Andromache-Astyanax procreative triad, and for Odysseus, the Laertes-Anticleia-Odysseus natal triad and the Odysseus-Penelope-Telemachus procreative triad. A significant feature to emerge from the examination of each of these triads and associated dyads is the poet’s use of the affective dimension of the parent-child relationship to make the epic hero more accessible, and the epic situations and events more meaningful to the audience. In addition to exploiting the universal appeal of the affective dimension, the examination of the representation of this relationship in the poems provides insights into socio-culturally determined aspects of the society depicted. On the structural thematic level the parent-child relationships of Achilles and Hector in the Iliad, and of Odysseus in the Odyssey provide a thematic thread woven into the central theme of each poem. Thus we see that these heroic epics tell stories that are not only about heroic warriors, but also about the other participants in their natal and procreative triads: their parents, wives, and sons.


Thesis (M.A.)-University of KwaZulu Natal, Durban, 2010.


Homer. Iliad., Homer. Odyssey., Homer--Characters--Heroes., Parent and child in literature., Theses--Classics.