Homeric Epic

Submitting Institution

University of Durham

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

Durham University research on Homeric epic has had four main forms of impact:

A. Broader and better informed public appreciation of Homeric poetry, established through collaborations with publishers, museums, and the media.

B. Enhanced learning and teaching of Homeric epic in secondary and tertiary education. This has been achieved through publications and collaborations with schools, teacher associations, private education and teacher-training providers.

C. Homer in the local community: in collaboration with community arts companies, and not-for-profit associations for cultural regeneration, Homeric research has reached new audiences.

D. Improved understanding, treatment and prevention of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, through a close collaboration with a clinical psychiatrist and leading international authority on the condition.

Underpinning research

Barbara Graziosi and Johannes Haubold have collaborated in research on Homeric epic since joining the Department of Classics and Ancient History in 2001. Their key research insights are:

  1. Homeric authorship. The `Homeric question' has stimulated classical research and the popular imagination for several centuries. Graziosi adds a new dimension by asking not who composed the Iliad and the Odyssey, but how the Greeks imagined Homer. She therefore considers Homeric authorship a matter of reception rather than composition, arguing that the imagined author is where the reader makes personal contact with the text. This insight affects how Homer is presented to general readers, and taught in schools.
  2. Homeric and Near-Eastern epic. Similarities between ancient Greek and Near-Eastern epic were identified as soon as cuneiform texts were deciphered. Early scholarship focused on collecting `parallels' between these two traditions, and postulating models of transmission and influence. Haubold, by contrast, asks how knowledge of Near-Eastern poetry enhances a literary appreciation of Homer and vice versa, arguing that both early Greek and near Eastern epic are fundamentally concerned with mortality, and the place of human beings in a broadly shared conception of the history of the cosmos. This insight presents classics as a means of appreciating contact across cultures, rather than as defining one culture (e.g. European or Western) against others (see also REF3a, section b.9 for a feature article on this research in The Guardian).
  3. Homeric society. Graziosi and Haubold combine their approaches in order to offer a new interpretation of Homeric society. They start from early definitions of the Homeric oeuvre (Graziosi) and from an implied social history shared across that broad oeuvre (cf. Near-Eastern epic, Haubold), and argue that the two Homeric poems imply a history of personal weakening and institutional progress. Homeric leaders generally fail their people, and often display `excessive manliness': their failings can only be remedied through greater social cohesion. This insight influences how military leadership and its failures are approached today, particularly in relation to the prevention of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  4. Oral-traditional poetry. Homeric epic stems from a tradition of oral composition in performance: the oral origins of the poems are often regarded as a limitation to their literary expressiveness. Graziosi and Haubold argue, in detail, that traditional techniques of oral composition are harnessed to specific and expressive effects. Their research enriches the interpretation of specific passages not just for specialists, but also for students and general readers.
  5. Reception. Graziosi and Haubold argue that reception of an earlier tradition starts within the poems themselves, where obscure terms are often glossed; and that the history of reception is activated in each new reading of the Homeric poems. For this reason, they embed the study of reception in their commentary work, and see the impact of their research as itself part of an open and continuing dialogue that spans from antiquity to the present.

References to the research

1. Graziosi, Inventing Homer: The Early Reception of Epic, Cambridge: CUP, 2002.


2. Graziosi and Haubold, `Homeric masculinity: ēnoreē and agēnoriē', JHS 123, 2003, 60-76.


3. Graziosi and Haubold, Homer: The Resonance of Epic, London: Duckworth, 2005.


4. Graziosi and Haubold, Iliad 6: A Commentary, Cambridge: CUP, 2010.

5. Haubold, Greece and Mesopotamia: Dialogues in Literature, Cambridge: CUP, 2013.


6. Graziosi, The Gods of Olympus: A History, Profile Books (UK), 2013.

Markers or quality: research funding (AHRC; British Academy; Leverhulme Trust; European Research Council; Loeb Classical Library Foundation; Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard; Spinoza Fellowship, Leiden; Institute of Advanced Study Fellowship, Durham); peer-review by academic presses; positive reviews in leading journals in the field.

Details of the impact

A. Broader and better informed public appreciation of Homeric poetry
Durham research on Homer informed the intellectual itinerary of a major touring exhibition entitled Homer: Der Mythos von Troia in Dichtung und Kunst (Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig, from 16 March to 17 August 2008, and Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Mannheim, from 13 September 2008 to 18 January 2009). The exhibition treated the ancient portraits of Homer as an aspect of the reception of epic, placing them after artefacts illustrating the contents of the Iliad and the Odyssey. The exhibition catalogue, pp. 20-34, acknowledged the work of Graziosi and Haubold as informing the thematic focus of the exhibition. About 110,000 visitors in Mannheim and 41,000 in Basel were presented with portraits of Homer, after artefacts illustrating the content of the poems, and were thus invited to view them as early responses to epic poetry (underpinning research: 2.1 above).

Mainstream publishers consider Durham research on Homer relevant to general readers, and capable of enriching their understanding. Graziosi set out Durham research on Homeric authorship, Near-Eastern and Greek oral epic traditions, Homeric society, traditional epic language, and reception history (2.1-5 above) in her Introduction and Notes for a new translation of the Iliad by Tony Verity for Oxford World Classics (OWC 2011). Durham research also `lies behind most pages' of the translation (Verity, p. xxix), which has now sold over 6,000 copies. Strong media endorsements include BBC Radio 3 Night Waves on 5 October 2011 (initial audience ca. 150,000, also available through the BBC website and YouTube) and The Economist 15 October 2011 (circulation ca. 1.5 million). A guide to the translation for Podularity: Authors and Books in a Pod, also available on Vimeo, offers free access to several strands of Durham research on Homer and its effect on Verity's translation. Open Letters Monthly (17 November 2011) states of the Introduction: `These pages... are the finest thing about Homer yet written in the 21st century for a popular audience.' The success of the OWC Iliad has led to a contract for a companion Odyssey; and for Homer: A Very Short Introduction (OUP). Durham research on Homer reaches an even broader audience with The Gods of Olympus: A History (Profile Books, UK; Metropolitan/Holt, USA; AmbosAnthos, the Netherlands; Patmos Verlag, Germany; De Agostini, Italy; and Pensamento, Brazil), with projected total sales of ca. 40,000.

B. Enhanced learning and teaching of Homeric epic in secondary and tertiary education
Publications 1-4 listed in section 3 above regularly feature on undergraduate and MA reading lists nationally and internationally, and have led to changes of syllabus and curriculum developments. Iliad 6 has been adopted as a new set text in several institutions, nationally and internationally (e.g. USA, Germany, Italy, Russia, Brazil, Australia, China), as a result of Graziosi's and Haubold's commentary (published in the influential `Green and Yellow' series); all reviews to date emphasise its usefulness in the classroom. Publications 3 and 4 are also regularly used in secondary education, and 3 is recommended by the Association for Latin Teaching on its blog.

School teachers and pupils benefit from Durham research on Homer not only through the publications mentioned above, but also through talks and teaching materials. Every year since 2003 Graziosi has been using her Homeric research when lecturing for Sovereign Education, reaching a yearly average of 300/400 secondary school students. In 2010, she delivered an address to the annual meeting of the Joint Association of Classical Teachers, and in 2012 she lectured and produced a 12-page booklet of teaching materials for Keynote Educational. Sovereign Education commented in an unsolicited e-mail on 2 April 2009 that Graziosi's lecture was `perfectly pitched, inspirational and exactly what they needed'. Keynote Educational reported on teachers' feedback which described her guidance on teaching Homer as `outstanding' (unsolicited e-mail on 20 July 2012). Continuing demand for school talks, teaching materials, and articles for Omnibus confirm that Durham research helps students to learn — and teachers to enhance their interest and understanding.

C. Homer in the local community
The Homeric research of Graziosi and Haubold has reached beyond established partnerships with schools, teacher associations, and private education, to engage new audiences in local communities in the North East of England. Graziosi secured Durham University seedcorn funding (£7,500) to support two innovative collaborations: with Changeling Productions, a community arts company working, with recognised effectiveness, in areas of social and economic deprivation; and Creative Communities, a not-for-profit association for cultural regeneration in the North East. Changeling Productions designed and delivered music and theatre workshops based on Durham research on Homer (see section 2.1 above), offering the following intellectual trajectory:

  1. participants read and discussed selections from the Odyssey;
  2. they imagined who might have composed the poem, exploring ancient and modern theories;
  3. they contributed to the creation of a local, County Durham Homer which is being used in a professional theatre production conceived for two actors: a rhapsode arriving in Durham, determined to perform Homer's Odyssey, and an interjecting member of the audience, demanding to know who this great Homer was, and offering his own (locally inflected) conjectures.

All workshops took place in March-July 2013, in or near Spennymoor — a small former industrial town in County Durham characterised by high unemployment, a large percentage of social housing, and a town centre in need substantial regeneration. Changeling Productions adopted a three-pronged approach, offering sessions not only in local schools, but also addressing members of the public through street performances, and setting up workshops in the local library and in the Spennymoor Vacant Shop, managed by Creative Communities. In this way they reached a broad demographic, often involving different members of the same families and networks, and thus creating `a Homeric vibe around town' (project report). Five schools hosted workshops: Whitworth Academy (Secondary School), The Oaks (Special Needs Secondary School), Kirk Merrington Primary School, King Street Primary School, and Ox Close Primary School. These were supported through street performances and regular Saturday sessions at the Vacant Shop, where `interest increased week-by-week' (project report).

Workshops were inspired by — and in turn demonstrated — the main tenet of Graziosi's research: that imagining the author is a means of establishing a personal relationship with the text. The project report by Changeling concludes: `When asked to describe a contemporary Homer there was a noticeable consistency, regardless of whether respondents were school children in a classroom, or senior citizens, unemployed youths or soldiers on leave walking down the street — Homer was imagined as homeless, walking about looking for inspiration, slightly scruffy, intent on telling and selling stories to make a living. Homer was never cast as alien, nor were his epics considered irrelevant to present circumstances. Indeed, one of the most surprising results of the project was the ease and wit with which participants related the Odyssey and its imagined author to local Spennymoor people and places.'

The benefits of this collaboration between Durham University, Changeling Productions, and Creative Communities are twofold. 1. Educational: participants learn about Homeric epic and how Homeric authorship is approached at Durham University. 2. Social and cultural: arts projects involving people who do not usually have occasion to meet and work together (in this case: university researchers, artists, musicians, teachers, school children, charity workers, librarians and members of the general public in Spennymoor) have demonstrable benefits in the acquisition of cultural and social capital: see Hampshire and Matthijsse (2010), quoted below in section 5C.

D. Improved understanding, treatment and prevention of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Dr Jonathan Shay, a clinical psychiatrist for the US Department of Veteran Affairs for over twenty years, is an international authority on the treatment of PTSD. In his clinical work he has successfully treated some 200 US veterans, the majority of whom were identified in previous diagnoses as non-responsive to treatment. As a result of his clinical experience he has also increasingly worked for the prevention of PTSD, opening a policy debate about career progression in the US army, in his capacity as Chair of Ethics, Leadership, and Personnel Policy in the Office of the U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. His chief contribution to the understanding, treatment and prevention of PTSD is the identification of `moral injury' as a key factor inhibiting the acquisition of successful treatment. Moral injury, in Dr Shay's definition, occurs when somebody in a position of authority violates what is right (as defined within a particular cultural and social setting) in a high-stakes situation. His understanding of moral injury derives from his clinical work in combination with a thorough investigation of Homeric epic which he has — in the last ten years — developed in dialogue with Haubold. This dialogue was accompanied by a broadening of focus and a shift of emphasis, on the part of Shay, from treatment of individual patients to general issues of leadership and institutional hierarchies. He first acknowledged the impact of Haubold's research on his own work in Amphora 2.2, 2003, p. 8: `I attribute a fiduciary duty to ... military leaders. Haubold meticulously documents textual evidence that the moral world of the Homeric poems held leaders to obligations of a fiduciary nature.' Since that initial point of contact, Shay and Haubold have exchanged publications, met (at the invitation of Dr Shay) in Washington DC in 2011, and met again in Durham in 2013, to disseminate Shay's approach to the treatment of PTSD to an audience of about 80 NHS health professionals and classicists, through a public lecture promoted by the Durham Centre for the Medical Humanities and the Institute of Advanced Study.

Over the last ten years, Shay has regularly used Durham research on Homeric society and language in order to substantiate his emphasis on `moral injury': in his own acknowledgement, Haubold is the Homeric scholar he quotes `most often' both in his clinical and policy work. Failures of leadership, as articulated in the Homeric texts and analysed in the underpinning research 2.3 and 2.4 above, are useful to Shay's approach, both therapeutically, as patients compare themselves, cross-culturally, to the Homeric heroes, and at the level of policy, where Shay argues that promotion to leadership positions in the US army should include assessment by peers and those of inferior rank in a 360° approach, rather than depend exclusively on the assessment of one's own superiors, as it currently is. That Shay's claims about Homeric failures of leadership are grounded in rigorous and up-to-date research is important, since trust is a key aspect of his approach to the treatment and prevention of PTSD: fiduciary care, in his view, must include taking care that statements about Homeric epic are correct, and not just expedient. This shows that Durham research on Homer is not used here simply because it can have impact on the treatment and prevention of PTSD, but because it is considered to be of high quality by its own academic standards.

Sources to corroborate the impact

A. For the influence of Durham research on the exhibitions in Mannheim and Basel, see J. Latacz et al. (eds.), Homer: Der Mythos von Troia in Dichtung und Kunst, Munich 2008, pp. 20-34. Attendance figures are published by the museums. Sales figures for Homer, The Iliad (Oxford World Classics, 2011) and contracts for Homer, The Odyssey, and Homer: A Very Short Introduction are confirmed by OUP. Details of contracts and sales figures are provided by the Felicity Bryan Literary Agency. For the BBC Radio 3 programme Nightwaves, discussing the OWC Iliad: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0159wbb. The Podularity audio guide is available here: http://podularity.com/oxford-worlds-classics-audio-guides/homer-the-iliad-an-audio-guide/.

B. The recommendations of the Association for Latin Teaching are posted here: https://arltblog.wordpress.com/2006/08/02/barbara-graziosi/. Attendance figures, teaching materials and student feedback on sessions for sixth-form students and teachers are provided by Sovereign Education and KeyNote Educational.

C. Further information on projects and aims of Changeling Productions and Creative Communities can be found at http://www.changelingproductions.org.uk/ and http://www.creativecommunities-ne.co.uk/">. Transcripts of workshops and a final project report can be obtained from the HEI. On the effectiveness of the work carried out by Changeling Productions in terms of social and cultural capital, see K. M. Hampshire and M. Matthijsse, `Can arts projects improve young people's wellbeing? A social capital approach', Social Sciences and Medicine 71.4, 2010.

D. The influence of Dr Shay's work on the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is confirmed by sources in the public domain, including http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Shay, the award of a MacArthur Fellowship, a Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice (2010), and from endorsement of his approach by the US Ministry of Defense. A podcast of Dr Shay's lecture in Durham is available here: www.dur.ac.uk/ias/recordings.