Extra stuff for the very inquisitive

1. The Layout of A Catalogue of Shapes

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Schematic Depiction of A Catalogue of Shapes

Designed to function as a coherent unit, the twelve sculptures that make up A Catalogue of Shapes are arranged into two main categories (characters from the Odyssey and from the Iliad) and four sub-categories: The Warriors; The Wives; The Deities; andThe Kings. This structure is acknowledged in the spatial presentation of the collection (with paired sets located either alongside or opposite each other) and by means of iconographic correlation and visual cross-referencing. The selection of the dramatic ‘personae’ referred to in the artworks comprising A Catalogue of Shapes was thematically determined. The Iliad and the Odyssey constitute two distinct types of epic: The Iliad, with Achilles as its main hero, is defined as a kleos epic in which the dramatic theme is established by the poetic immortalization of the hero by death in battle. The Odyssey, which recounts the adventures of Odysseus following the Trojan War, is a nostos epic, in which the hero’s poetic immortalization is achieved by a successful homecoming.

Odysseus and Achilles therefore form the twin nuclei of the series. The twelve sculptures that make up A Catalogue of Shapes are intended to provide a catalogic translation, or glossary, of the characters whose attributes and functions in the plot represent Homer’s principal heroes and their epics. The Homeric catalogue format served as an important model as it is characterized by structural parallels, and subsets within larger sequences. Thematic relationships between categories of sculptures in the series are signaled by formal means, using symmetrical geometry in the physical layout of the group.

The plinths supporting the twelve sculptures are identical in colour and design, excepting the small plaques inscribed with the name of the appropriate Homeric character, and an epithet on each plinth. The plinths are arranged about a central square in a grid-like format in accordance with a series of overlapping linear, rectangular, triangular and hexagonal patterns. Each pattern denotes a specific set of thematic relationships: the masculine characters (Menelaus, Odysseus, Achilles, Telemachus, Hector and Nestor) provide the North–South axis, the feminine (Calypso, Circe, Penelope, Helen, Eris and Ate) the East–West, and are symmetrical inversions of one another. Axial, rectangular and linear arrangements are gender-specific, while triangular and hexagonal patterns are not.

The structure does not describe the catalogue as a purely sequential listing of information, but as the manifestation of various patterns and relationships within a collection of autonomous elements. In this sense, a catalogue such as the Catalogue of Ships in the Iliad is not simply a repository of names, origins and troop numbers, but a considered arrangement of sets of allusions, events and characters, that compose a predominantly spatial and visual context within which epic narrative occurs.

2. The Layout of Powell’s Patterns 2, 11, 20, 25

Powell’s Patterns 2, 11, 20, 25 derives from an intersection of the ideas of three Homeric scholars: Barry Powell, Benjamin Sammons and Douglas Frame. In a 1978 article on the organization of the Iliad’s Catalogue of Ships Barry Powell identified three basic patterns to which all its entries (except for the Athenian entry) conforms (See Powell, B. Word Patterns in the Catalogue of Ships (B 494-709): A Structural Analysis of Homeric Language. Hermes, Vol. 106, No. 2 (1978), pp. 255-264). Powell ascribed the catalogue’s “unusually firm structural substratum” to the functional requirement of organizing “highly heterogenous material without the support of plot or action” (1978, 255). In this reading, differences between the catalogue and narrative formats need not prove that the catalogue is an archaic remnant or a later insertion, but instead reflects the challenge of retaining and transmitting large volumes of static ‘frozen’ information within an evolving narrative.

In The Art and Rhetoric of the Homeric Catalogue (Oxford University Press, 2010) Benjamin Sammons proposes a more complex function for the Homeric catalogue format than the listing of objects, names and places. In Sammons’ analysis the catalogue assumes a distinctly rhetorical function – as a type of internal critique – in relation to narrative. He also argues that this aspect of the catalogue allows either real or invented allusions to external epic traditions against which the poet may “define the excellence of his own work relative to other competing epics” (2010, 209). In this reading, the formal attributes of the catalogue format (such as its paratactic syntax) represent an intentional differentiation between plot and commentary (that is often reflexive).

While Powell interpreted the patterns he identified in purely structural terms, Sammons’ approach to understanding the Homeric catalogue raises the possibility that these similarities could also serve a rhetorical function. An analysis of four specific entries (2, 11, 20 and 25) in the Catalogue of Ships suggests that this may indeed be the case. Particularly when viewed in the context of Douglas Frame’s Hippota Nestor (Center for Hellenic Studies, 2009). Frame argues that the figure of Nestor – and specifically the stories Nestor tells about the past and his own youth – serves as a type of commentary on the events in the poem’s present. Frame does not draw any connection between his reading of Nestor and the Catalogue of Ships, concluding that “the catalogue operates outside Nestor’s old traditions and has its own agenda and resources” (2009, 132 n.27). However, the catalogue’s description of the contingent that came from Nestor’s kingdom of Pylos forms part of a set of only four entries to conform to a sub-pattern designated in Powell’s scheme as IIA IIB(1) IIC(2).

A core part of Frame’s thesis rests on the idea that the figure of Nestor retains and alludes to attributes associated with figures such as the Dioscuri and the twin gods of the Rig-Veda. Three of the four entries that conform to the structural pattern IIA IIB (1) IIC(2) feature sets of brothers: the sons of Ares in entry 2; the grandsons of Herakles in entry 20; and the sons of Asclepius in entry 25. The only exception being Nestor’s own entry (11) which instead features two victims of the gods – the singer Thamyris who is maimed by the Muses and the Oichalian king Eurytos, who in the Odyssey was killed by Apollo.

In this sculptural series the interactions and cross-references between these seemingly unrelated figures are explored by means of sculptural assemblage. The combination and juxtaposition of previously unrelated elements in a sculptural assemblage in many respects echoes the paratactic syntax of the Homeric catalogue. In addition, the intentional ambiguity and reflexivity common to this art-form recalls Sammons’ characterization of the Homeric catalogue as a form of internal critique and artistic self-definition.

The nine sculptures comprising the series are derived from each entry as follows:

Entry 2 (Il. 2.511-516) ARES


Entry 20 (Il. 2.676-680) HERAKLES

Entry 25 (Il. 2.729-733) ASKLEPIOS and APOLLO (again)