The Center for Hellenic Studies

G-R-E-G-0-R-Y N-A-G-Y

Maureen N. McLane
I first encountered “Gregory Nagy” as an orally-transmitted and recomposed meme, circulating widely at Harvard and beyond. As an undergraduate in the late 1980s, I would hear of this remarkable professor and his famous Core Course, “The Concept of the Hero in Greek Civilization”—also known, fondly and incorrectly, as “Heroes for Zeros.” I never took Greg’s course, but I entered Currier House at Harvard just as he and Holly Davidson became Co-Masters of that House, and thus began a long friendship marked by Greg’s extraordinary intellectual and personal generosity. His conversation and his articles and books, as I read them in coming years, transformed my thinking about poetry and poetics—in areas seemingly far from archaic Greece or classical antiquity. But there is nothing Greg’s thinking does not touch: over the years I have found his work cited in musicological articles, ballad scholarship, historical anthropology, and books on contemporary poetry and the performed word (see Charles Bernstein’s Close Listening, 1998). Greg is the maven of meter, the raja of rhythm, the master of the marked and unmarked, the singer of the synchronic, the doyen of the diachronic, the king of kleos; he is also an excellent a capella singer and a badass at aerobics, as anyone who lived at Currier House can attest. He, with Holly, made Currier the “great good place” Harvard wishes to be; at the Society of Fellows at Harvard, and at The Center for Hellenic Studies, he has transformed communities through his vision, energy, and generosity. Though he is obviously incomparable, he consorts with us lesser mortals as if he were one of us. For me, as for so many others, he has made the journey of and in thought so much more companionable and so much more brilliantly lit. He has both (re)made and moved the song, and will continue to.

MESOSTICS in honor of Gregory Nagy

(after John Cage’s Mesostics for Merce)
        Go

hexameteR

 rhapsodE

        Go


     Greg’s

pindaR’s

  homEr

     Generative

 muthOs

  eveR

  varYing


 aGon

 oRal

poEtics

fiGht


  linGuistics

compaRative,

indo-European

     Generator


   epiGram:

  to gReg

all klEos

 unforGetting


unfailinG

      stReam

    perpEtual

        Greatness


nightinGale—

  ringeR of

  changEs

    sinGs


          Get lost

    anti-oRalists:

    the poEt’s

recomposinG!


     kNow

    diAchronic

skewinG:

      Yes!


harmoNia

     Aeolian

 phryGian

    lYdian


   Genre—

 lyRic

   Epic

traGic


interrogatinG

        homeRic

     responsEs—

         eleGant


      Goatsong

     tRagedy

   comEdy

cowsonG


sonG

  pRecedes

 poEtry,

   Guys


 metriciaNs,

rhythmiciAns

     wranGle:

    theorY


  atheNian

    stAte

    paGeant

tragedY


   paNhellenic

    gAmes

     Go

poetrY go!


       Greetings

trobadoR

mouvancE

   brinGer


       joGlar

        tRobador

 recomposE

performinG


anthropoloGy

         pRague-school linguistics

        poEtics

   philoloGy


    Go

homeR

   hEsiod

theoGnis!


 exeGete

theoRist

   gEnius:

  naGy


      Great

currieR

  mastEr:

   greG


     Generous

senioR

    fEllow:

  greG


   saGe

mentoR

  friEnd

     Giant


   Great-

heaRted

  hEro:

   Greg

WRITING THROUGH THE BEST OF THE ACHAEANS

(after John Cage’s Writing Through the Cantos)
for Gregory Nagy, a provisional tyranny of the letter
Foreword
The 1999 second edition
§1. GREek poetry. More Generally, Non-ClAssicists as well as Classicists (that is, those who study Greek and Roman antiquitY).
§2. GREek poetry in the archaic period, most notably the Hesiodic Theo G ony
§2. aNd Works A nd Days and the Homeric Hymns, especially the Apollo, the Demeter, and the Aphrodite. Other related poetic forms include the praise poetry of Pindar and the blame poetry of Archilochus. The readinGs are infused with references to non-canonical traditions as well, especiallY
§3. readiNgs is to understAnd simultaneously the form as well as the content of a wide variety of traditional media conveying various basic concepts of the ancient Greek hero. The most basic of all these concepts is a single all-pervasive historical fact of the archaic period and beYond:
§3. sonG, poetRy, and prose with the ancEstral practices of a wide variety of hero-cults (Introduction§16–19). More Generally,
§3. geNerAlly, it explores the heroic tradition within the cultural context of Panhellenism, to be defined as an early form of Hellenism that eventually became the nucleus of Classicism (Introduction§13–15).
§4. The Best of the Achaeans wIntroduction§16–19as completed in 1978 and first published in 1979. Now, twenty years later, I have a chance to revisit. The present foreword highlights the specifics of what has chanGed and what remains stable.
§5. I start with the main points of consistencY.
§5. "archaeoloGical," adding to the geneRal argumEntation only the essentials for supplementinG
§5. kNew twenty years AGo. I have preserved the original text and page-numbering of the 1979 edition for the introduction and for all the chapters as well as the appendix. The BibliographY
§5. "archaeoloGical" stance, concentRating on rEsearch that directly follows up on the arGuments
Introduction
A Word on Assumptions, Methods, Results
§1. GREek poetry is based on two major workinG
§1. assumptioNs. One, the mechAnics and artistry of a Given poem are traditional not onlY
§2. understandinG of GREek poetic diction is the work of Milman Parry on Homeric phraseoloGy,
§2. caN be summed up in his concise definition of the formulA: "a Group of words which is regularlY
§2. Given essential idea."[1] The mechanical natuRe of the formula is rEflected by what Parry called the principle of economy. [2] Denys PaGe
Chapter 1
The First Song of Demodokos
§1. Not only to define the hero but to Articulate this very power. In my search for evidence in support of such a claim--and this search will extend throuGhout mY
§1. preseNtation—I will of course hAve to struGgle with the overwhelming dimensions of the Iliad and the Od Y ssey
§1. aN Appropriate place to beGin. How to approach two such monumental compositions, representing as theY
§1. vantaGe point from which we aRe allowEd an instant Glimpse
§2. dialoGue oR dialoguE-within-dialoGue
§2. seeminGly neveR-EndinG
§2. GREek epic delivers the narrative directly in the persona of the poet. The invokinG of the Muses at the start of a Greek epic is the tag of the poet's owN performAnce. The immediacy of performance, however, is counterbalanced by an attitude of remoteness from composition. The performer feels himself distant enough to intimate that the message of his composition comes not from him but from tradition. As the poet tells the Muses before he launches into the Catalo G ue of Ships:
humeis gar theai este, pareste te, iste te panta,
hêmeis de kleos oion akouomen oude ti idmen
You

WRITING THROUGH PINDAR’S HOMER, Table of Contents

(after John Cage’s Writing Through the Cantos)
for Gregory Nagy, more tyranny
1. GREek Poetry: BroadeninG
1. aNd NArrowinG the Terms
2. The Poetics of Panhellenism and the Enigma of Authorship in Early Greece
3. The Panhellenization of Song
4. Pindar's OlYmpian
4. AetioloGy of the Olympic Games
5. The ORdEal of the Athlete and the Burden of the Poet
6. Epic, Praise, and the Possession of Poetry
7. Pindar and Homer, Athlete and Hero
8. The Authoritative Speech of Prose, Poetry, and Song: Pindar and Herodotus I
9. The Authority of Historiâ and the SiGn
10. TyraNny: PindAr and Herodotus II
11. The Ainos as SonG or Speech: Pindar and Herodotus III
12. AuthoritY