The Iliad's economy of pain

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This paper analyzes the Iliad's representation of odunai, pains usually caused by weapons, within the context of the complex relationship between violence, payment, and timê in the poem. Absent from scenes of death, odunai appear, Robin Mitchell-Boyask rather, in descriptions of wounding, where they have been interpreted as offering the wounded warrior an opportunity to display aretê. I demonstrate that wounds also help to represent the circulation of suffering (algea) that constitutes the epic plot; a critical component of this representation is blood. The latter part of the paper examines the wound of Agamemnon in Book 11, which challenges conventional representations of odunai and blood, not least of all by calling up the image of a woman in labor - the only time a simile is used to capture odunai. I argue that the simile implicitly challenges an economy in which timê is traded in blood and pains, a challenge echoed more darkly by Hecuba in Book 24. The epic's use of mothers to represent fierce and irreducible pain anticipates tragic appropriations of the feminine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-84
Number of pages40
JournalTransactions of the American Philological Association
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Classics
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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