Brill’s Companion to Prequels, Sequels, and Retellings of Classical Epic

Brill’s Companion to Prequels, Sequels, and Retellings of Classical Epic, Robert Simms (Editor), Hardcover, xii & 397 pages, Brill (2018), €170.00, 978-9004360921.

It is a truism to state that epic is the oldest as well as the most persistent and influential genre in Greek and Latin literature. However, it is also, in many ways, a genre with gaps, blank spaces, and fragments. This volume combines the established field of reception studies with the more recent area of adaptation studies (the latter being originally at home in film studies, but lately gaining ground also in literary criticism). It presents a total of nineteen chapters, written by a group of (senior and junior) scholars who work in the field of epic and/or reception, that all deal with prequels, sequels and renarrations of ancient epic – and beyond. I briefly pick out some chapters in order to give a general overview of the volume’s scope and content.


The first part is concerned with “Trojan and Homeric Continuations” (eleven chapters). The introductory chapter provides a look at the Odyssey as a sequel to the Iliad: Elizabeth Minchin nicely shows how the Odyssey can be viewed as “both an Einzellied and a poem of closure” (p. 27) that continues the narrative gap after the Iliad, but at the same time also brings several narrative threads from both epics to an end. An even more obvious case of an epic poem that is both a sequel (to the Iliad) and a prequel (to the Odyssey) is Quintus of Smyrna’s Posthomerica (chapter 4, Calum Maciver). The Ilias Latina is a Roman continuation of the Iliad (chapter 2, Reinhold F. Glei), whereas John Tzetzes in his Carmina Iliaca renarrates the entire Trojan War – for the first and only time – from beginning to end and at the same time pursues an educational agenda (chapter 5, Marta Cardin). Finally, Nikos Kazantzakis’ Modern Greek Odysseia is both a renarration and a continuation of Homer’s Odyssey; as Martha Kliromenos (chapter 10) nicely demonstrates, it is a philosophical epic which “resumes a tradition within Romanticism that looks upon poetry as a mode of transcendence in the symbolic realm of the aesthetic” (p. 203).


The second part of the volume goes “Beyond Troy and Homer” (eight chapters). It contains chapters on Roman epics as well as “receptions” of ancient epic in the Modern Period, such as Giovanni Battista Pio’s Argonautica Supplement (chapter 15, Emma Buckley), Thomas May’s continuations of Lucan’s Bellum Civile (chapter 16, Robert Simms), and Thomas Ross’ translation of, and sequel to, Silius Italicus’ Punica (chapter 17, Antony Augoustakis). Aside from these continuations from the Early Modern Period, the volume also looks at more recent reworkings of ancient epic, such as the novel Lavinia by the recently deceased American novelist Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (chapter 19, Nickolas A. Haydock) – a piece of reception and adaptation that is seen as ranging “among the best of recent attempts to novelize ancient epic from an uncanny perspective” (p. 375) and that features, inter alia, a “gender reversal in the relationship of Aeneas and Lavinia” (p. 390).


Each chapter comes with its own bibliography. There is a general index at the end, but no index of passages cited. The volume as a whole is of relevance not only to those who wish to know more about classical epic and its aftermath, but essentially to anyone with an interest in reception and adaptation in and beyond antiquity. It will be useful to instructors who teach in these areas, and for more specialised courses it may even be considered as a textbook and/or as complementary reading.


Silvio Bär, University of Oslo, Norway