Although military concepts in Homeric poetry have been studied since Alexandrian times, there has not been until now an extended study of the concept of alke, 'defensive strength,' as it unfolds intertextually within the Iliad and the Odyssey and archaic Greek poetry generally. Derek Collins uses evidence from Homeric poetry to reveal that alke, unlike other concepts of strength in archaic Greek, plays a central role in defining a warrior at the peak of his prowess, which can be related in turn to its application to kings and to its use by Zeus and Athena as divine emblems of warfare. Just as importantly, Collins shows how alke functions poetically as a plot device for the Odyssey as the poem retrospectively views the Iliad. Finally, by integrating evidence from linguistics, anthropology, and comparative literature, Collins argues that the meaning of alke cannot be divorced from the oral-traditional media from which it emerges, and that its conceptual structure depends as much on archaic Greek as it does on the poetic demands of the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Derek Collins is Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the co-translator, with Janice Orion, of Claude Calame's The Choruses of Young Women in Ancient Greece (Rowman & Littlefield, 1997).