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What’s in a Poet? The Figure of the Poet in Archaic and Classical Greece

7th Open International Conference of the Network for the Study of Archaic and Classical Greek Song

Barcelona, July 3-5, 2023


The main interrogation at the start of this conference is: what sort of entity was an archaic and classical Greek poet? Was he/she something similar to a modern poet, an individual voice, a person who somehow, in a personal decision, chooses to compose poetry and then gets published or wins a prize and through more or less complicated ways becomes known as poet? Or was his/her gift god-given, as in several Greek stories about poetic initiations? And in this case was the poet something similar to a priest or an oracle, as in the old description as vates (or some kind of civil servant, if we prefer to secularize this image)? Should we imagine the poet as interacting in a world of more or less free competition for the public favor, or rather someone marked from the start by some sign? And was he/she an individual voice or rather the spokesperson of some group within the larger community? Or might a poet be a name embodying a specific kind of poetry, a tradition of anonymous creators/performers projecting their collective identity onto the paradigmatic figure of the poet?

Was there a shift in Greek history from one of these models to another? And if so, when and how? Is this dichotomy (archaic vs modern) false? Related to the precedent, two further, more specific questions arise that may help focusing the issue: How did one become a poet in archaic and classical Greece? And since the poetic voice had some kind of authority (maybe unstable, certainly discussed, but authority—witness, among other, their extensive use by orators or historians), who or what conferred it? Was it the tradition? No doubt, tradition is an important component of the poet’s figure, but our present notion of ‘the tradition’ makes it something unstable and shifting in itself. Tradition is not anymore a static reservoir of stories, characters, themes, subjects, motives used at convenience, as it has been long understood. It is not an inert thing, something of the past that may alternatively be conceived as a burden or as a facility, something that one may follow or not, that one may confront with or not, but something dynamic, in continuous evolution. Every new production is intentional with respect to tradition. To some extent it may be described as a reservoir, so far as it contains things, but a dynamic one that changes with every new usage. This is why the opposition “tradition vs. innovation” is not useful anymore and why a redefinition of these terms becomes necessary today. Thus, the figure of the poet needs also to be repositioned with respect to tradition.

Many approaches to all these questions are possible, and certainly the answers will vary as we shift from one period to another, perhaps from one poet to another. The poets’ voices themselves constitute an important material, of course, and have been long studied, but there are other ways: what we may know of the frames in which they grew and acted; what Greeks in later antiquity had to say about their classics; the perspective given by comparison with other societies… Regarding the latter, it might be significant that the word ‘poet’ exists in the Graeco-Roman tradition, but other words in other traditions to designate specialized uses of language may carry different connotations. All of these approaches admit variations, and there are doubtless others that may give us some insight into this complex and shifting figure of the poet in archaic and classical Greece. To start with, the modern and the ancient responses to these questions are quite different, and this conference would like to set the stage for a fruitful confrontation between them and between the various modern approaches.


A call for papers is open until the end of November 2022.

Proposals should consist of 600 words maximum abstracts describing the subject, perspective and aims of the paper. They should be sent to the selection committee by the end of November 2022: We hope to announce the program by the end of January 2023.

Language: English


The conference will take place on site, but links will be provided to watch the presentations online (registration will be required). Speakers will be offered free accommodation and meals, but no contribution can be made to travel expenses. Registration to attend the conference on site will be announced after the publication of the program.

Initially we prospect 30-40 min. presentations followed by discussion (either discussion of individual papers or general discussion at the end of the sessions). Please note that this initial prospect may change according to the kind and amount of proposals.