Homer and the Poetics of Gesture by Alex C. Purves (Professor of Classics, Professor of Classics, UCLA)
Homer and the Poetics of Gesture is the first book of its kind to consider the epic formula in terms that are gestural as well as verbal. Drawing on studies from multiple disciplines, including movement theory, dance studies, phenomenology, and early film, it suggests new approaches for interpreting the relationship between repetition and embodiment in Homer. Through a series of dynamic close readings, Purves argues that the deep-seated habits and gestures of epic bodies are instrumental to our understanding of the Iliad and Odyssey, especially insofar as they attune us to the kinetic structures and sensibilities that shape the meaning of the poems. Each of the chapters isolates a scene in which a specific action, posture, or gesture (falling, running, leaping, standing, and reaching) emerges from the background of its other iterations in order to make larger claims about its poetic significance within the epics as a whole. Beginning from the premise that gestures are shared between characters and often identically repeated within the poems' formulaic system, the book reconsiders long-standing arguments about Homeric agency and character by focusing on those moments when a gesture diverges from its expected course, redirecting the plot or drawing the poem in new and surprising directions. Homer and the Poetics of Gesture not only affords new insights into the nature of epic repetition and poetic originality but also reveals unnoticed connections between Homeric structure and technique and the embodied habits and movements of the characters within the poems.