Development of the Epyillion Genre Through the Hellenistic and Roman Periods

Author: Merriam, Carol
The epyllion as a genre was developed in the Hellenistic period (and continued into Roman times) in order to show what else was happening while traditional heroic stories were happening, as if the authors of epyllia were committed to giving their readers a glimpses through the back doors of the palaces in which traditional characters lived and enjoyed their adventures. Traditional heroic stories were always narrated in epics with particular conventions. The epyllion challenges these conventions in ways which make it a genre in its own right. The existence of the epyllion in antiquity is not universally acknowledged by literary scholars, and there have been few published works studying the genre as such. The present study examines its development through the Hellenistic and Roman periods, focusing on the use of unheroic and female characters.


". . . not only provides a thorough discussion of the genre, but also focuses on the starring role the epyllion gives to female characters. . . . What is most new and exciting about this book is her recognition that the stylistic and thematic developments in the genre from Hellenistic to Roman times is paralleled by a change in its treatment of women. Merriam’s ability to cross the boundaries between Greek and Latin literature which the epyllion necessitates - allows the study to move from Theocritus’ Alcmena to the Scylla of the Ciris in a coherent and edifying way. . . . Merriam has marshaled the necessary bibliography and performed admirable close readings of the texts in questions (including fragmentary texts, concerning which she is judicious in her estimation of their probably contexts.) . . . . It is exciting to see familiar passages from the better-known classical writers placed into the new framework of this book. Merriam touches upon topics that range from Homeric epic conventions to Hellenistic writers’ mythological handbooks, and she handles each topic fairly in turn, applying her erudition with a light hand so that her reader stays with her main argument. Whether the women in her texts are contented domestic heroines or erotically maddened villainesses, Merriam argues that these women are, in the epyllion more than in any other genre, the poet’s main concern. It is a thoroughly convincing argument." Dianna R. Kardulias

Table of Contents

Table of contents:
Preface; Introduction
1. Alcmena’s Story (Theocritus, Idyll 24)
2. Europa’s Adventure (Moscha’s Europa)
3. Culmination of the Form (Catullus 64)
4. The Final Stages (The Latin Epyllion)
Conclusion; Bibliography; Indexes