Ancient authors learned to compose largely through imitation of venerated models. No narratives enjoyed greater pride of place as sources of mimesis than the Iliad and the Odyssey, even for prose. Often such imitations were disguised, enhancing the appearance of originality, but sometimes imitations flagged their dependence on their models to parody, burlesque, or improve them. Greeks called such improvement zelos; Romans called it aemulatio, but the purpose was the same–to demonstrate the superiority of the imitation.
Scholars long have recognized the dependence of some Jewish and Christian narratives on the Hebrew Bible or Septuagint, but not until recently have they noticed mimesis and zelos of classical Greek narratives, especially, those attributed to Homer and Euripides. This research project explores the mechanics and poetics of ancient literary imitation and their relevance for understanding religious narratives from antiquity.
Dennis R. MacDonald is Professor of Religion (New Testament), Claremont School of Theology, and Director of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity