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Western University
Classical Studies
Classical Studies 1000

Lecture 8, Monday September 26/2011 Continuation of Homer Possible Implications of Oral Theory - No single poet is fully responsible for the composition of the Homeric poems - and so no 'Homer' in the usual sense of an author - why the poem shows such geographical range - picked up stuff as it moved around the world - Language and content shaped over time - generations of singers, elaborating on and developing the story over time - No single authoritative version - extemporization was important in the tradition - every time a poet performed the poem it would be different because of improvisation, use of different formulae, lengthening or shortening of stories based on audience reaction etc - The Homeric poems had collective importance - "A tribal encyclopedia" (Havelock)? - has a depth and resonance that no single author could achieve Limitations of Oral Theory - May overrate the strength of the tradition, and underrate the contributions of individual singers - some believe the figure of the author is an element of the tradition - Said that the Iliad would take roughly 24 hours to recite - some believe that it would be separated into a three-day performance because of the poem's structure - Fails to explain the emergence of a fixed text - talk of a 'monumental composer' who took all of the stories and organized them into a logical and complex poem - Fails to explain convincingly the transition from oral poem to written text - the idea of producing a written text is a big step - what happened? what was it written on? - maybe written on skins - but we're dealing with a very significant amount of writing material - the idea that oral singers could not write - so we need some other mechanism to write these down - someone wrote it down while someone performed - oral dictator theory - not impossible - BUT - alphabet is new…all of a sudden we have shorthand? could someone really have copied it down as fast as someone performed it? - maybe it was a 'special' performance, one that was very slow - but still doesn't answer the question WHY did they want to copy it down? - another problem is that even if it were a 'special' performance, how do we know the singer didn't change his mind of certain aspects of the story while he was reciting? Is our current text really the 'fixed' one? - some believe that literacy and orality are not compatible - Parry recorded a singer at one time (when he could not read and write) and then again at a later time (in the interim the singer had learned to read and write) --> the singer's oral poetry declined; his oral poetry sounded more like a formal business letter - the difference in the 7th century is that the ancient students learned basically only how to represent sounds as symbols - they did not focus on grammar - so literacy may not have had the same effect on orality - in 776BC, we find the earliest Greek writing after the Mycenaean period - it was a recording of the winners of the Olympic Games - someone realized that writing things down preserves information that may not be remembered through orality - someone saw an opportunity in writing - it is not difficult to believe in a hybrid of these ideas: Parry was essentially right in the idea that there was a specific language used for oral performance, but also a stretch to believe that at some point there was a monumental composer (who may or may not have been named Homer) who collected these together into one text - Has not formulated a strategy for 'reading' these texts Homer's Iliad - Salient characteristics: narrative, speeches, similes, divine 'machinery', etc - Basic divisions (24 'books') - one book for each of the letters of the Greek alphabet - not original - divisions were likely made by the scholars at Alexandria - the poem seems to be broken into 3 major parts - the Greeks liked the number 3 - Expansive narrative combined with remarkable compression - The poem treats only 14 days in a war that lasted 10 years - use of flashbacks, anticipation - General structure and themes - First word of the Iliad is 'wrath' - the wrath of the hero Achilles, which is the central issue that binds the whole story together - Was insulted by Agamemnon - Agamemnon took a captured women who belonged to Achilles - The Greeks would attack surrounding towns in order to get food and supplies - and they would take the women as slaves - One priest comes to ransom back his daughter whom Agamemnon had taken as a spear prize - Agamemnon refuses - Priest prays to Apollo - Apollo punishes the Greeks with the arrows of plague - Greeks decide that Agamemnon must give back his prize - So Agamemnon decides to take Achilles' spear prize - if he can't have one, neither can Achilles - But Achilles was rather fond of his prize, so he's angry and is about to kill Agamemnon - but then Athena appears to him, and instead he withdraws from the war - The modern reader has difficulty understanding Achilles' actions in the poem - he comes off as a sulking whiner - but, in Greek society, it was very important to be recognized publicly - the better man got the better prizes - Achilles removed from war but allows his friend Patroklos to fight in his place - Patroklos killed by Trojan hero Hektor - Achilles has armour made, and returns to war - is a great force - Achilles kills Hektor - As we read the poem, we have a hard time liking Achilles but it is very easy to like Hektor - Iliad really interested in exploring human conflict - At his last moment, Hektor turns and runs - was initially going to stand his ground, but then sees Achilles and loses it - Achilles' anger so great that even after he kills him he 'keeps on killing him' - mutilates the body and then, before the eyes of Priam, he drags the body around the walls of Troy - The Greeks were very concerned with the treatment of the dead - This action was quite uncivilized, and the gods are displeased - Priam guided by the gods to Greek camp and is able to get back the body of Hektor and can give him a proper burial Lecture 9, Wednesday September 28th/2011 Homer's Iliad Cont'd - Influence - Extends through Greek and Latin literature right through to modern times - The Iliad wrestles with what defines us as human beings - Mortality plays a large role in the poem - contrasted by the immortal gods - We make our lives meaningful by achieving glory - one is remembered, and thus one's actions preserves one's name - a way of achieving immortality Homer's Odyssey - If there was a monumental composer of th
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