The Iliad and Heike Monogatari and the Historical Ramifications of Comparison

Creer, Tyler, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Lendon, Jon, AS-History, University of Virginia

The Iliad and Heike monogatari, a 14th-century CE Japanese war tale, were both first composed and transmitted in an oral tradition by blind itinerant singers, and both came to exert a profound influence on premodern Greek and Japanese culture respectively. But the Heike describes a period for which we have much more historical context than we do for that of the Iliad. As such, we can compare the Heike (and its rich context) to the Iliad and suggest what in the Iliad is historical and what is not. This dissertation thus argues, first, that the text of the Iliad developed over several centuries through contemporaneous oral and written strands, as the Heike did, and that this mixed parentage is responsible for many of the anachronisms and other interpretive difficulties that bedevil the poem. The comparison also casts light on other historical questions, such as how the Greek habit of taking suits of armor as battlefield trophies might have related to the evolution of the hoplite phalanx, much as the Japanese custom of collecting the heads of those they killed in battle did Japanese combat; how conflict between rulers and lower-level aristocrats correlated with an increase in regionalization and the eventual downfall of Mycenaean society in Greece as it did imperial government in medieval Japan; and how the religious associations of these Greek and Japanese tales influenced the elite of their respective societies and might have been used to claim popular support and lend legitimacy to new political regimes.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Iliad, Heike monogatari, Oral tradition, Competition, Bronze Age Collapse
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