Nagy, Gregory. Homeric Questions

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Chapter 2. An Evolutionary Model for the Making of Homeric Poetry

The massive accumulation of new or newly-appreciated comparative evidence about the nature of epic in oral poetry demands application to the ongoing study of individual epic traditions. I propose here to apply some of this evidence, as collected over recent years by a broad variety of experts investigating a wide variety of societies in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and Africa, to the study of Homer in general and the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey in particular. From the start, I stress the importance of the comparative evidence of the South Slavic tradition of epic in Eastern Europe: while it is different in many ways from what we see in the Homeric poems, this tradition, as Richard P. Martin argues, “still has a claim to being one of the best comparanda.” [1]

My original reasons for concentrating on the role of diffusion-in-performance in the development of Homeric poetry had to do with the need to reconcile the comparative insight of Parry and Lord about composition-in-performance with the historical reality of an integral and unified Homeric text inherited from the ancient world. How the concept of diffusion helps to account for Homeric textuality is a question that will be taken up presently. But first, let us consider the implications of the historical “given,” the survival of the Homeric text.

Lord’s original theory of Homeric dictation does not leave room for the use of the dictated text as a mnemonic device for future performances by the singer who dictated it. Lord himself puts it this way: “Someone may suggest that it [= writing] would be a mnemonic device, but this too is unrealistic. The singer has no need of a mnemonic device in a manner of singing that was designed to fill his needs without such written aids.” [15] Following Lord’s reasoning, Raphael Sealey argues that “the singers would hardly feel the slightest obligation to keep to the written text.” [16] Sealey goes on to reject the notion of such a written text, to which he refers as a hypothetical “bardic text”: he argues that, if a composition like the Iliad had been preserved by way of “bardic texts” in the eighth century, then it would have been preserved “by inferior poets.” [17] “But audiences would surely prefer better poets,” he concludes, “and a poem preserved primarily in ‘bardic texts’ would be likely to perish for want of popularity.” [18] Reflecting on the observations made by Albert Lord about actual dictations taken in fieldwork from the South Slavic oral epic traditions, [19] Minna Skafte Jensen argues along similar lines:

I agree with this line of reasoning, at least as far as it applies to the eighth century, the period of Homeric dictation according to the dictation theory as we have seen it formulated so far. As we will find, however, attitudes towards the technology of writing in later periods may well have changed, so that a written version, though not necessarily a dictated version, may indeed in the course of time come to be perceived as “as specially important thing.”

It is in this light that I offered, in my earlier work, a different solution to the historical problem of the Homeric text. My solution combined the comparative evidence about composition and performance in attested living oral poetic traditions with the internal evidence of ancient Greek testimony about the diffusion of Homeric poetry in the archaic period of Greece. The comparative evidence from living oral epic traditions, as we are about to see, helps corroborate the internal evidence about the ancient Greek circumstances of diffusion.

The progressive restriction of what exactly in Greek epic is to be attributed to Homer can be connected with the historical process that I have just highlighted, to wit, the relatively early diffusion of the {38|39} Iliad and Odyssey throughout the Greek-speaking world. In my earlier work, I adduced archaeological evidence, as assembled by Anthony Snodgrass, pointing towards a trend of pan-Hellenism that becomes especially pronounced in archaic Greece in the eighth century before our era and thereafter. [38] The epic tradition of Homer, as Snodgrass inferred from the early proliferation of the Iliad and Odyssey, was a reflex of this trend of pan-Hellenism. [39] I extended Snodgrass’s concept of pan-Hellenism, setting it up “as a hermeneutic model to help explain the nature of Homeric poetry, in that one can envisage as aspects of a single process the ongoing recomposition and diffusion of the Iliad and Odyssey.” [40] I had called this model for the text-fixation of Homeric tradition “evolutionary,” without intending any Darwinian implications about progressive superiority. [41] According to this evolutionary model, as I have formulated it in my earlier work, the process of composition-in-performance, which is a matter of recomposition in each performance, can be expected to be directly affected by the degree of diffusion, that is, the extent to which a given tradition of composition has a chance to be performed in a varying spectrum of narrower or broader social frameworks. [42] The wider the diffusion, I argued, the fewer opportunities for recomposition, so that the widest possible reception entails, {39|40} teleologically, the strictest possible degree of adherence to a normative and unified version. [43]

In arguing for the notion of a single pan-Hellenic tradition of epic — let us call it Homer — as opposed to a plethora of local traditions, I stressed the relativity of the term pan-Hellenic from an empirical point of view:

In other words, I am arguing that the concept of pan-Hellenism is not at all incompatible with the factor of change. I therefore disagree with the implications of the following assessment:

To repeat, the model of pan-Hellenism is by definition not rigid, not even for Homer.

I hope to show from the comparative evidence of various oral epic traditions that there is more than one way to visualize the actual process of diffusion. Besides the pattern of an ever-widening radius of proliferation, with no clearly defined center of diffusion, there is also a more specialized pattern that can be predicated on a functional center point, a centralized context for both the coming together of diverse audiences and the spreading outward of more unified traditions. In other words, a fixed center of diffusion can bring into play both centripetal and centrifugal forces. Such a center point, as we will see, is the seasonally recurring festival of the Panathenaia at Athens.

For the first specific example of the sort of empirical evidence that has been collected by contemporary researchers concerning the role of cult in the living traditions of epic in India, let us consider the wording of a scholar specializing in Rajasthani epic, who offers the following formulation for the role of epic in the Rajasthani cultural ethos: “concern for propitiating the powerful spirits of those who died untimely deaths continually feeds the epic traditions of the area.” [78] In quoting this description of heroes in the Rajasthani epic traditions, I highlight the word untimely because of its relevance for comparison with the concept of the hero in ancient Greek epic traditions. In the case of the Herakles myth, as adduced by Greek epic itself in the retelling of Iliad XIX 95–133, the theme of Herakles’ unseemliness goes to the very core of the hero’s essence and extends to {47|48} the essential unseemliness of the main hero of the Iliad, Achilles, who in the end describes himself as the ‘unlikeliest of them all’, pan-a-ṓrios (XXIV 540). [79] This theme of untimeliness in ancient Greek traditions is not restricted to epic: it extends to the concept of heroes in the specific context of their being worshiped in cult, as I have argued extensively elsewhere. [80] As I have also argued, the cult of heroes is a subtext, as it were, for the development of epic traditions about heroes in ancient Greece. [81] Moreover, the relationship between the cult of heroes on a local level and the epic of heroes on a pan-Hellenic level is crucial for coming to terms with the factor of diffusion in the Homeric tradition. [82] As we will see, there are striking analogies in the living traditions of India.

The relation of the local epic to the community is all-important in the Indian traditions: “oral epics in India have that special ability to tell a community’s own story and thus help to create and maintain that community’s self-identity.” [98] Once the local story extends beyond the community, however, there is change in content as well as form. Let us consider the following description of what happens to the theme of the death and deification of local heroes in the context of diffusion: [99]

For the third time now, we note the use of the word pan-Indian in describing the ultimate stages of epic diffusion in India. We may note as well that the application of this term is reserved for the regional level of diffusion and beyond. The categories of regional and subregional are part of an overall taxonomy developed by Stuart Blackburn for {51|52} the purpose of classifying the relative ranges of diffusion for fifteen samples of living epic traditions in India. The ranges of diffusion for these fifteen selected epic traditions, preceded by categories of description for these ranges, are as follows:

  1. 1) local = 10-100 mile range
  2. 2) subregional = 100-200 mile range
  3. 3) regional = 200-300 mile range
  4. 4) supraregional = 400+ mile range. [101]

An ancient Greek analogy that immediately comes to mind is a pan-Hellenic festival like the Panathenaia at Athens, which, as we have already noted, served as the formal setting, established by law, of seasonally recurring performances of the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey (Lycurgus Against Leokrates 102). As the comparative evidence of oral epic traditions in contemporary India shows, the institution of Homeric performances at the Panathenaia can be visualized as a process of diffusion. In other words, diffusion is not restricted to the pattern of an ever-widening radius of proliferation, with no clearly defined center of diffusion. As the Indic comparative evidence shows, there is also a more specialized pattern that can be predicated on a functional center point, bringing into play both centripetal and centrifugal forces. Such a center point, to repeat, can take the form of a centralized context for both the coming together of diverse audiences and the spreading outward of more unified traditions.

Either way, whatever the direction of shifts in emphasis may be, both the Greek and the Indian traditions seem to become progressively less occasional or ad hoc in the process of diffusion. To discover the occasional or ad hoc applications of ancient Greek epic, of course, is largely a matter of reconstruction or at least of inference from the surviving texts. In the case of Indian epic, on the other hand, there is a great deal of direct evidence about occasionality in the living traditions, and such testimony as we will see affords valuable comparative insights that help better understand the available testimony of the Greek traditions.

In the course of this brief survey of occasionality in the living epic traditions of India, we may note in passing that epic, as a form of public activity, is performed almost exclusively by male singers. [125] The rarely found exceptions, however, are particularly revealing. For background to the case about to be cited, we may note that the Ahir caste of Uttar Pradesh appropriates an epic known as the Lorik-Candā; [126] this epic “helps to maintain the Ahirs’ image of themselves as a warrior caste.” [127] “It is primarily Ahirs who sponsor performances at occasions such as weddings and the birth of a child. The Lorik-Candā epic is also sung at various festivals, during the harvest season, and at village or town fairs.” [128] In Chhattisgarh, the corresponding epic is called Candainī, and it is with the background of reference to this tradition that we turn to an exceptional case of performance by women. The researcher reports as follows: “One night as I was recording an elderly Gond (tribal) woman singing a variety of narrative songs, she began singing about the wedding of the epic heroine and her first husband. But the woman did not consider this to be Candainī singing.” [129] The narrative content in fact corresponds to {56|57} Candainī, but the form is different: a distinct rāg ‘tune’ and style. [130] In this case, we find a striking ancient Greek parallel in Sappho fragment 44, the so-called “Wedding of Hector and Andromache”: this song, composed in a meter that is cognate with but distinct from the epic dactylic hexameter, deals in a non-epic manner with themes that are otherwise characteristic of epic. [131] We have here a particularly striking example of the effects of a given occasion on the very nature of epic composition. Just as the song of Sappho about the Wedding of Hector and Andromache is exceptional in the history of Greek literature, so also the song of the elderly Gond woman proved to be exceptional in one particular researcher’s survey of living Indian oral epic traditions. It may well be worth asking whether this discovery about women’s traditions in India would have been possible if the researcher in this case, Joyce Flueckiger, did not happen to be a woman. The question is whether a woman researcher would be deemed by her women informants to be more suitable for the reception of distinctly women’s traditions. [132]

In the many epic traditions of India, there are striking examples of selectivity in choosing not only which topics to highlight or shade over in a given sequence but also which variant of a given topic to use within that sequence. Such choices are tuned to the narrowness or breadth of audience reception. Let us consider two situations, one where the local aspects of an epic tradition have to be highlighted and another where the same aspects are shaded over. We begin with the Kordabbu epic tradition of the Tulu-speaking area of Karnataka, a tradition where parts of the narrative are recited by the possessed priest “in a voice characteristic of the spirits”; this stretch of narrative is marked by a switch from the third to the first person, and is known as the Words of the Hero. [133] “In his performance the possessed priest must not only recite Kordabbu’s story, but also assume his character {57|58} and dramatically portray his exploits for several hours on end.” [134] This description applies to the Mundala caste. But there is also another performance tradition, called the kōla, maintained by the Nalke caste, which is “a professional bardic caste.” [135] It has been reported about these performers:

I save the most important detail for last: the Nalke “are not likely to elaborate specific details that might offend the sensibilities of a particular group in a village and give rise to a dispute. The Nalke leave the details of the hero’s life and his relationship to other castes to the villagers concerned.” [
137] An analogy that immediately comes to mind is the screening out of local traditions from the repertoire of aoidoí ‘singers’ as itinerant artisans in archaic Greece, with the result that the subject matter controlled by such performers becomes a sort of least common denominator appropriate to the most generalized kinds of audience. [138]

In contrast to the distinct non-occasionality of attested ancient Greek epic, we have by now seen a great deal of comparative evidence for occasionality on the level of local performance in the living oral epic traditions of India. There is ample evidence also from the epic traditions of Central Asia. [139] It will suffice here to quote a particularly revealing description of occasionality in Kirghiz epic traditions {58|59} from a report published in 1885 by a pioneer in the study of oral epic traditions, Wilhelm Radloff:

The singer’s competence [innere Disposition] depends on the number of themes [Bildteile] he knows, but this alone is insufficient for singing, as I said before; encouragement from the outside is necessary. Such encouragement comes naturally from the crowd of listeners surrounding the singer. Since the singer wishes to earn the crowd’s applause, and since he is not concerned only about fame but also about material benefits, he always attempts to adjust his song to the audience around him. If he is not directly called upon to sing a specific episode, he begins his song with a prelude which is supposed to introduce the audience to the ideas of his song. By linking the verses in a most artful way, and by making allusions to the most prestigious persons present, he knows how to entertain his audience before he goes on to the actual song. When he can tell from the audience’s vocal approbation that he has gained their full attention, he either goes on to the plot directly or gives a brief sketch of specific events that preceded the episode he is about to sing, and then he begins with the plot. [140] The song does not proceed at an even pace. The excited applause of the audience continually spurs the singer on to new efforts, and he knows how to adjust his song to audience circumstances. If wealthy and noble Kirghiz are present, he knows how to skillfully weave in praises of their dynasties, and he sings about those episodes which he expects will stir the nobility’s applause in particular. [141]

Such testimony is pertinent to the comparative information about the living oral epic traditions in Africa, where we see a similar correlation of occasionality with local contexts. Let us consider the epic traditions of Manding society, marked by “both a vigorous pan-cultural tradition and a constant pull toward diversity,” crossing as it does several linguistic and modern political boundaries. [
142] “The {59|60} Manding peoples believe that their oral stories retell the experiences of their common past, yet the diversity of their multiforms shows the ability of these stories to adapt to changes of time and locality.” [143] The centerpiece of Manding oral poetry is an epic tradition about a historical figure called Sunjata, a powerful chieftain whose lifetime is historically dated to the thirteenth century CE and who is recognized as the founder of the Manding empire. [144] Recorded versions of the Sunjata narrative range in length from a single evening’s performance to a thirty-hour stretch. [145] In some of these recorded versions, we can find explicit documentation of the singer’s selective use of available narrative versions that tie in directly with such details as the genealogies of members of his audience. [146] The degree of occasionality in the performance of Sunjata epic traditions justifies a formulation such as this one: “The epic is more than the tale of its characters; it is at the same time about its audience.” [147]

To the existing comparative information about epic in Africa we may add still further information, from the realm of praise poetry. When we take an overall look at the evidence collected in Africa, it appears that praise poetry, in the process of diffusion from local towards more regional contexts of performance, progressively takes on the characteristics of what we might otherwise call epic. This trend is markedly noticeable, for example, in the traditions of praise poetry in Xhosa society. [148] Here we may adduce the internal evidence of Greek civilization concerning the relationship of epic with praise {60|61} poetry. Following the formulation of Aristotle’s Poetics (1448b27, 32–34), who derives epic from praise poetry, I have argued elsewhere that the form and content of a Greek poetic tradition that calls itself aînos or ‘praise’, as represented by the victory odes of Pindar, can be reconstructed as a basis for the development of what we know as epic. [149] In line with my intent to avoid monogenetic theories for the origins of Greek epic, [150] it is important to stress that praise poetry can be reconstructed as a basis, not the basis, for the development of epic. [151] Still, the internal testimony of ancient Greek epic itself implies the outright derivation of epic from praise. We may note references made by Greek epic to primal scenes of praise and blame poetry, as we see in the brief retelling of the Judgment of Paris scene in Iliad XXIV 29–30, where the Homeric tradition itself represents the genesis of epic in terms of a primal opposition of praise poetry to blame poetry. [152]

As we look more closely at the comparative evidence concerning the relationship of praise poetry and epic, we can find further justification for deriving Greek epic, at least in part, from praise poetry. {61|62} In my earlier work, I studied in great detail the occasional nature of the ancient Greek praise-poem or aînos. [153] Here I simply compare this feature of occasionality in ancient Greek praise-poetry with the occasionality of epic in the oral traditions of India, especially on the more local levels. In India, we find clear instances where plot variation is radically conditioned by the nature of the audience. [154] Such conditioning reveals the dependence of the performers on their audiences. Let us take as an example of such performers the Nayaks, a caste of hereditary singers of the Pābūjī epic tradition found primarily in central and south Rajasthan, who “circulate from village to village on a yearly beat seeking patrons.” [155] The musical instruments of the professional performers tend to be chordophonic, requiring rigorous training. [156] In the commissioning of a Nayak performance of the Pābūjī epic, “the patron’s devotion is the most important measure of the performance.” [157] The patronage can occur on the level of festivals, but most often on the level of the village; “patrons may sponsor a performance for one night or a series of nights.” [158] One motivation for a sponsor’s undertaking of a sponsorship is to fulfill a vow. [159] Such a relationship between patron and poet offers a wide spectrum of comparative insights into the sociology, as it were, of praise poetry in ancient Greece.

The ad hoc orientation of the ancient Greek praise-poem or aînos, with its persistent internal references to the occasion of its performance and to the expectations of its audience, stands in marked contrast to the stance taken in the Homeric tradition of epic, which programmatically shades over any reference to any specific occasion of performance and thus implies that it is worthy of universal {62|63} acceptance, that is, of unconditional reception. [160] It is as if the epic of Homer had outgrown the need for occasionality of performance. Similarly in the praise poetry of the Xhosa, the phenomenon of diffusion entails the widening of perspective in the content of praise:

The wording here, with emphasis on text as a metaphor for composition in oral poetics, is apt, in the sense that the authoritativeness of such a composition is made analogous to the potential authoritativeness of a written text. And so we come back full circle to our point of departure, which is the historical reality of the Homeric text. We have yet to consider the text as text, but by now we can see, at least in its broad outlines, the process of evolution that led to this reality.{63|64}


[ back ] 1. Martin 1989:150. Cf. also Miller 1982b:26: “To avoid further absurd comparisons [criticized in Miller’s previous paragraph; even more vigorous criticism at p. 97 in his book], Homer must be compared with epic poems from typologically and culturally similar epic traditions that share the characteristics of the Homeric texts, and all of Homer’s improvised oral characteristics must be considered together simultaneously.” See also Miller pp. 98–99. On Miller’s use of the term improvise, see Ch.1 n56 above.

[ back ] 2. See in general Lord, The Singer of Tales (1960), whose formulations represent the legacy of his own fieldwork and the earlier work of Parry (collected papers, published 1971).

[ back ] 3. N 1981 (“An Evolutionary Model for the Text Fixation of Homeric Epos,” published in the Festschrift for Albert Lord). Further argumentation in N 1979:5–9 and N 1990a:53–55, 79–80.

[ back ] 4. A notable example is the son of Milman Parry: Adam Parry, “Have we Homer’s Iliad?” (1966); for a critique, see Jensen 1980:90–92. For further criticism of such views, cf. Taplin 1992:36. As my discussion proceeds, it will become clear that I agree with the reasoning of Miller 1982a:8, who concludes: “the distant symmetry (including intricate verbal parallelisms), frequently adduced as evidence for a written composition (e.g. Kiparsky 1976:103f; Goold 1977:32f), is irrelevant.” See also Miller 1982b:100. Finally, I disagree with Lloyd-Jones 1992, especially pp. 56–57, whose arguments do not reckon with such counter-arguments as found in N 1990a:1, with bibliography.

[ back ] 5. Wade-Gery 1952:13–14. Cf. Robb 1978. For a critique of such arguments, see Harris 1989:45n3, who also warns in particular against the “fallacy” of assuming “that early texts were not utilitarian because the earliest surviving texts are not.” For an ambitious new attempt to connect Homer and the alphabet, see Powell 1991.

[ back ] 6. For an explicit formulation of this view by an anthropologist, see Goody 1977:37 (also Goody and Watt 1968). For a critique of Goody’s formulation, see Harris 1989:40–42, who distances himself from “woolly and grandiose” conceptualizations of writing as the key to human rationality (p. 41). For a further critique, see Thomas 1989:25.

[ back ] 7. See for example Griffin 1980:xii–xiv. A variation on this kind of outlook is the notion of a mode of composition that is transitional between oral and literate. For bibliography on this notion of a transitional text, with counterarguments, see Jensen 1980:89–92, expanding on the arguments of Lord 1960:129, 135–138, 154–156.

[ back ] 8. N 1990a:18; also pp. 8–9, 53–55, 79–80. Cf. Janko 1982:188: “If we accept, as I believe we should, that writing played no part in the composition (as opposed to the recording) of the Homeric and Hesiodic poems…”; he leaves room, however, for the possibility that writing was used for performance (for example, p. 276n1).

[ back ] 9. The premier formulation of the “dictation theory”: Lord 1953. Rewritten, with minimal changes, in Lord 1991:38–48 (with an “Addendum 1990” at pp. 47–48). The significance of this work was recognized by Sealey 1957:328–329.

[ back ] 10. See especially West 1990. Cf. also Janko 1982:191: “it is difficult to refuse the conclusion that the texts [= the Homeric epics] were fixed at the time when each was composed, whether by rote memorisation or by oral dictated texts.” Earlier applications include Jensen 1980:92. For a critical reassessment of dictation-theories as they are applied to Near Eastern texts, see Hillers and McCall 1976.

[ back ] 11. For a formulation of such an extent of diffusion, see West 1990:33. West 1988:152 sets the terminus post quem at about 630, apparently following the lead of Friis Johansen 1967, who applies the testimony of archaic Greek art concerning narrative traditions that are comparable to what we find in the Homeric Iliad. At p. 84, Friis Johansen concludes that “Corinthian and Argive artists were well versed in the Iliad at least from around 625, not merely in selected sections, but in the entire poem.” In the discussion that follows, I will argue that the iconographic evidence from the archaic period refers to epic traditions, including Iliadic and Odyssean traditions, but not to written texts.

[ back ] 12. For a realistic assessment of the available historical facts concerning the first 250-odd years of attested alphabetic literacy in archaic Greece, see Harris 1989:46–47, especially p. 46: “for many generations, written texts were employed for a very limited range of purposes and by a very limited number of people.” Cf. also Jensen 1980:94. Pioneering work in the study of ancient Greek literacy: Havelock 1963, 1982.

[ back ] 13. Again, Harris p. 46.

[ back ] 14. So West 1990:34.

[ back ] 15. Lord 1991 [1953]:44.

[ back ] 16. Sealey 1957:329. Sealey at p. 328n59 actually cites Lord’s 1953 article proposing the “dictation theory.”

[ back ] 17. Sealey p. 330.

[ back ] 18. Ibid.

[ back ] 19. Lord in introduction to Parry, Lord, and Bynum 1974:8–9.

[ back ] 20. Jensen 1980:87.

[ back ] 21. On the use of written texts as mnemonic aids in some of the living oral traditions of modern India, see the observations of Blackburn 1988:23–26, 28–29, 93–94 on contemporary Tamil evidence. In some cultures, however, it is clear that written texts are functionally not so much scripts for performance as they are models for recomposition-in-performance. Cf. Davidson 1994:19–72 on medieval Persian poetic traditions.

[ back ] 22. West 1990:49–50. I note in passing the feelings of frustration recorded by Radloff 1990 [1885]:86 over what he felt were relatively inferior compositions when he had the Kirghiz singers perform for dictation.

[ back ] 23. N 1990a:19n7, with examples. I see no evidence to support the notion that there was extensive writing in books as early as the eighth century BCE, and that what we see in the early poetic inscriptions is but the tip of an iceberg. Centuries later, we can still see examples in vase-paintings of anachronistic representations that show a style of lettering in books, that is, papyrus-rolls, that does not match the real style of lettering in real books but is actually more appropriate to the style of lettering found in inscriptions: see Thomas 1989:31n55.

[ back ] 24. Svenbro 1988:33–52 (= 1993:26–43), especially pp. 36–38 (= 29–31); cf. also Day 1989. The texts studied by Svenbro fall into two main categories: 1) inscriptions on funerary markers, including seventeen dated before 600 BCE (p. 38), and 2) inscriptions on votive objects, about a thousand of them, ranging in date from the eighth century all the way to the end of the fifth (p. 46).

[ back ] 25. In one such inscription, CEG 286, the figurative voice of the inscribed letters promises that it “answers” the same thing to all men who ask their questions: the key word is hupokrínomai ‘I answer’ πᾶσιν ἴσ᾿ ἀνθρόποι|ς ὑποκρίνομαι ὅστις ἐ[ρ|ο]τᾶι : ὅς μ᾿ ἀνέθεκ᾿ ἀνδ|ρῶν· Ἀντι|φάνες δεκάτεν ‘I answer like things to all humans, whoever asks: the one, among men, who set me up, as a tithe: Antiphanes’. See N 1990a:168n95.

[ back ] 26. Svenbro 1988, especially p. 48 (= 1993:40).

[ back ] 27. More on this topic below.

[ back ] 28. Svenbro 1988:53 (= 1993:44).

[ back ] 29. Svenbro 1988:33–52 (= 1993:26–43); cf. also Day 1989.

[ back ] 30. See N 1990a:18–19n7, with further bibliography (especially Gentili and Giannini 1977:22–25): when Hector is imagining that someone will say the words that he proceeds to quote, these words follow formal conventions that can be verified on the basis of genuinely attested early poetic inscriptions. Martin 1989:136 stresses “a remarkable trait” of Hector’s represented style of speaking: the use of direct quotation … to dramatize for his audience what he imagines will happen.” Martin continues (ibid.): “Hector displaces memory onto an anonymous voice that speaks the language of praise or blame. … [H]is rhetoric is … constrained by the imagined speech-acts of others.”

[ back ] 31. This suggestion is recorded in passing by Janko 1982:277n3, along with bibliography.

[ back ] 32. For a brief review of the arguments, see N 1990a:21–24, 28–29.

[ back ] 33. See again N p. 18; also pp. 8–9, 53–55, 79–80. I therefore agree with the formulation of Sealey 1957:330: “Those who hold the theory of ‘oral dictated texts’ suppose that, about 700 [BCE], some Greeks recognized the special merit of the Iliad; yet, as far as can be discovered, those Greeks had learnt to recognize merit, not in songs, but in singers.”

[ back ] 34. References and further discussion in N 1990a:78; cf. in general pp. 72–79 (following p. 19n10).

[ back ] 35. For a survey, see Pfeiffer 1968:73.

[ back ] 36. Pfeiffer pp. 73–74, who remarks about Aristotle that “his differentiation between Homer, the poet of the Iliad and Odyssey, and the rest of the early epic poets, of whom he displays intimate knowledge in chapter 23 of the Poetics, seems to have been final.”

[ back ] 37. Pfeiffer p. 117. I omit Pfeiffer’s phrasing “…followed the lead of Aristotle and… .”

[ back ] 38. N 1979, following Snodgrass 1971:421, 435; also pp. 352, 376, 416–417, 421, 431.

[ back ] 39. Updated formulation in Snodgrass 1987:160, 165; also Morris 1986:123.

[ back ] 40. N 1990a:53. The recessive accent of Ἕλληνες ‘Hellenes’, an innovation that evidently superseded the expected *Ἑλλῆνες, indicates that the simplex form Ἕλληνες is predicated on the compound form Πανέλληνες ‘pan-Hellenes’ as attested in Iliad II 530 and Hesiod Works and Days 528: see Chantraine DELG 341. Thus the accentual history of the word for ‘Hellene’ shows that the very concept of ‘Hellene’ is predicated on the concept of ‘pan-Hellene’.

[ back ] 41. N 1981. This model is an alternative to the “dictation theory,” cited above at cross-ref. Preeminent among earlier attempts to develop an evolutionary model is Gilbert Murray’s The Rise of Greek Epic (1934; first published in 1907). According to Murray’s model, as Davison 1963:253–254 points out, the Iliad and Odyssey “had not taken their final form until the second century B.C.” Davison p. 254 continues: “There is no room in this argument for any individual Homer; and, except for Murray’s high opinion of the poetic quality of the existing Iliad and Odyssey (which he shares with Wolf, Grote and his followers, and Robert), his basic theory is as nihilistic as d’Aubignac’s or Lachmann’s.”

[ back ] 42. Cf. N 1979:7–9; cf. also N 1990a:53–58. For a favorable assessment of this hermeneutic construct, see Snodgrass 1987:160, 165.

[ back ] 43. N 1990a:53–58 (especially p. 56 with reference to Bausinger 1980:52; also p. 57 with reference to Zwettler 1978:221).

[ back ] 44. N 1990a:53. Cf. also Pucci 1987:29n30.

[ back ] 45. Goody 1972.

[ back ] 46. See also Goody 1977:119. This comparative evidence is applied to the question of Homeric poetry in Morris 1986:84–85; see also p. 87 concerning the application of comparative evidence from the traditions of the Tiv in Nigeria.

[ back ] 47. Further discussion in N 1990a:53, 55, 60, 72, 73, 171.

[ back ] 48. N 1990a:70–71.

[ back ] 49. The quoted passage at this point introduces a footnote, the contents of which I criticize in my n50, immediately below.

[ back ] 50. Griffith 1990:194–195. At a point that I mark with n49 in the quoted text, Griffith (p. 205n40) adds the following observation: “This is argued, e.g., by G. Nagy (forthcoming), with reference to C. Lévi-Strauss, The Way of the Masks (tr. S. Modelski, Seattle 1982); but it will be clear from what follows that I think few poems apart from the Iliad and Odyssey laid much claim to pan[-]Hellenic status at the time of their composition.” Here he cross-refers to his p. 204n34, where in turn he refers to his article, Griffith 1983, especially his remarks there at pp. 46–47. For a response to those remarks, see my book Pindar’s Homer (N 1990a), p. 79. The forthcoming work to which Griffith referred can now be cited as pp. 57–65 in the same book, Pindar’s Homer (N 1990a), with special reference to the Works and Days of Hesiod.

[ back ] 51. Cf. N 1995a:ch.5 and ch.6; also N 1995b.

[ back ] 52. N 1990b:ch.1, especially pp. 9–10. Cf. Sherratt 1990:817–821, who maps out roughly the same time-frame, with further subdivisions.

[ back ] 53. N 1990a:21–25, 52–81.

[ back ] 54. Ibid. Cf. N 1995:ch.5.

[ back ] 55. N 1995:ch. 6 and ch.7.

[ back ] 56. Ibid.

[ back ] 57. N 1990a:21–25. For an inventory of primary sources, besides Lycurgus Against Leokrates 102, see Davison 1955:7. See also Seaford 1994, especially p. 73, where the “narrative development” of the Iliadic ending is correlated with “the historical development of the polis.” For another view on pan-Hellenic festivals as a context for the performance of epic, cf. Taplin 1992:39. For bibliography on earlier views on the possible role of festivals as a context for Homeric performance, see Thalmann 1984:119 plus 222n19. For a discussion of the evidence of vase paintings as a criterion for determining the fixation of Homeric traditions, especially in Athens, see Lowenstam 1993a, especially p. 216.

[ back ] 58. N 1990a:52–81. See also Shapiro 1983, 1990, 1992, 1993. On the claim of the Peisistratidai to be descended from the Homeric Peisistratos, son of Nestor, see N p. 155, citing Shapiro 1983, especially p. 89. On the effects of the régime of the Peisistratidai on the contents of Homeric poetry, especially the Odyssey, see Catenacci 1993 (at pp. 7–8n2, he offers a useful summary of Aloni 1984 and 1986). Cf. Cook 1995. All this is not to deny that there may well have been earlier associations of Nestor and his lineage with the lineages of other historical dynasties, such as those at Colophon and Miletus (cf. Janko 1992:134 for bibliography). See also the remarks on the Panathenaia in N 1990a.21–23, 28, 54, 73, 75, 160, 174, 192. I agree with Shapiro 1992:73 that the Panathenaia, as reorganized by the Peisistratidai of Athens, played a major role in the privileging of the Iliad and Odyssey as the definitive poems of Homer.

[ back ] 59. For justification of the term oral, with specific reference to the Rajasthani epic traditions, see especially Smith 1990, who considers in detail the absence of a role to be played by the existing technology of writing in the composition and performance of epic.

[ back ] 60. A key work: Oral Epics in India (ed. Blackburn, Claus, Flueckiger, and Wadley, 1989), hereafter abbreviated as OEI. Crucial articles in the volume: S. H. Blackburn and J. B. Flueckiger, “Introduction,” pp. 1–11; S. H. Blackburn, “Patterns of Development for Indian Oral Epics,” pp. 15–32; J. B. Flueckiger, “Caste and Regional Variants in an Oral Epic Tradition,” pp. 33–54; P. J. Claus, “Behind the Text: Performance and Ideology in a Tulu Oral Tradition,” pp. 55–74; S. S. Wadley, “Choosing a Path: Performance Strategies in a North Indian Epic,” pp. 75–101; K. Kothari, “Performers, Gods, and Heroes in the Oral Epics of Rajasthan,” pp. 102–117; K. Schomer, “Paradigms for the Kali Yuga: The Heroes of the Ālhā Epic and their Fate,” pp. 140–154; J. D. Smith, “Scapegoats of the Gods: The Ideology of the Indian Epics,” pp. 176–194.

[ back ] 61. I draw attention to the specific use of the terms “pan-Indian” and “geographical diffusion” by Blackburn 1989:27.

[ back ] 62. Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989:6.

[ back ] 63. In what follows, I rely especially on the work of Smith 1980.

[ back ] 64. Smith p. 48. I may add that the variations attested in the textual tradition of these two monumental epics can be cited as indirect evidence for the relative lateness of text-fixation.

[ back ] 65. Smith p. 49.

[ back ] 66. Smith p. 73 notes that “the Rāmāyaṇa had been composed in the manner of an epic, rather than having evolved as an epic”; I suggest that a similar argument could be developed about the Homeric Odyssey, as opposed to the Iliad.

[ back ] 67. Smith p. 49.

[ back ] 68. Smith p. 49.

[ back ] 69. Smith p. 49. On analogies to the Brahmin/Kṣatriya distinction in the context of the emerging Greek city-state, see N 1990b:276–293.

[ back ] 70. The essence of the Sūta class is traditionally formulated in terms of genealogy: viewed as sons of a union between a female of the Brahmin class and a male of the Kṣatriya class, they are assigned the social roles of tending horses, driving chariots, and serving as court poets (cf. N 1990b:291–292n82).

[ back ] 71. Smith p. 50.

[ back ] 72. Smith p. 75n4. It is fair to say that Kṛṣṇa becomes the god of the Mahābhārata, to the degree that “the epic is his theophany” (Smith p. 72).

[ back ] 73. J. D. Smith’s overview of accretive patterns in Sanskrit epic is not explicit in this regard. The work of another expert, M. C. Smith 1992, is pertinent to the question of accretion in the process of oral tradition, though I do not necessarily agree with her ultimate formulation. She posits a “nucleus” of 3,000 verses (distinguished by the epic “irregular” triṣṭubh meter) as opposed to the 75,000 verses in the Poona critical edition of the Mahābhārata.

[ back ] 74. I should stress that, besides whatever similarities we may observe between the living oral traditions of contemporary India on the one hand and the two classical Sanskrit epics on the other, we should also expect a host of differences. One particular point of interest is the special role played by the Brahmin class in the perpetuation of the Sanskrit epics. There is also a related question: to what degree was the technology of writing an actual factor in the mnemonic traditions associated with the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa?

[ back ] 75. Further below, I offer minimalist working definitions of “myth” and “ritual”; cf. also N 1990b:8–10, summarizing the formulations of Burkert 1979b and 1985:8.

[ back ] 76. So N 1990b:10.

[ back ] 77. Wadley 1989:79.

[ back ] 78. Kothari 1989:102.

[ back ] 79. Pötscher 1961; further discussion in Householder and Nagy 1972b:50–52, especially on the relationship of the forms Hḗrā ‘Hera’, Hērakléēs ‘Herakles’, and hḗrōs ‘hero’. These works have not been taken into account by Adams 1987. See also Davidson 1980, especially pp. 199–200; also Sinos 1980:14, and Slatkin 1986. Further comments on the thematic connections between the heroes Herakles and Achilles in Martin 1989:228–230 and N 1990b:12–15. On Achilles as pan-a-ṓrios ‘the untimeliest of them all’ see N 1985.62. More on Hḗrā , Hērakléēs, and hḗrōs in O’Brien 1993:115–119, especially p. 116n9; see also Kazansky 1989.

[ back ] 80. N 1979:182–184 (with reference to Iliad XVIII 54–60, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, and Adonis-rituals); cf. also 114–121, 152–153, 174, 190–193.

[ back ] 81. N 1979, especially p. 9. For a brief overview, with further bibliography, see N 1990b:10–13.

[ back ] 82. N 1979:7–10.

[ back ] 83. Cf. N 1990a:400, 136–142; also 245n129 (on Herodotus 1.31.5: the goddess Hera presides over the télos ‘fulfilment’ of Kleobis and Biton, two young athletes who are “on time” to take up the task of drawing the oxcart of the priestess of Hera when the sacrificial oxen designated to draw it fail to be “on time”).

[ back ] 84. Kothari 1989:105.

[ back ] 85. Kothari 1989:105–106.

[ back ] 86. Kothari 1989:102.

[ back ] 87. Blackburn 1989:25; cf. also Kothari 1989:110.

[ back ] 88. Blackburn 1989:25.

[ back ] 89. Blackburn 1989:26. “Indologists have often speculated that the cults of Rāma and Kṛṣṇa underwent a similar process of development” (ibid.).

[ back ] 90. See N 1990b:11; cf. Morris 1986:129. See also Morris 1988.

[ back ] 91. See the overview, written collaboratively, in OEI 240–241.

[ back ] 92. Kothari 1989:110.

[ back ] 93. Kothari 1989:110.

[ back ] 94. Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989:10.

[ back ] 95. Blackburn 1989:22.

[ back ] 96. Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989:11.

[ back ] 97. Blackburn 1989:20. For a perspective that stresses the aspect of entertainment at the expense of other aspects in ancient Greek poetics, see Heath 1990.

[ back ] 98. Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989:11.

[ back ] 99. Blackburn 1989:21–22. The last point is illustrated by Blackburn pp. 24–25 with two examples. In the Pābūjī narrative, which counts as a regional epic in his taxonomy, the Pābūjī figure turns out to be a reincarnation of the pan-Indian figure Lakṣmaṇa, the younger brother of Rāma. In the Devnārāyaṇ narrative, another regional epic, the hero Devnārāyaṇ turns out to be none other than the god Viṣṇu himself.

[ back ] 100. Highlighting mine.

[ back ] 101. Blackburn 1989:17–18. We may note the gap between the maximum assigned to the regional category, 300 miles, and the minimum assigned to the supraregional, 400. This gap reflects the fact that the data-gathering is still at an early stage. The map that reflects the evidence available so far, as presented by Blackburn on p. 19, “is intended to present only the approximate spread of the traditions” (p. 17). Moreover, this map represents only the positive evidence of attestations, and the negative evidence indicating where certain epic traditions are not being performed is so far limited to the local and subregional traditions (p. 17). Thus the accuracy of the mapping “decreases as geographical spread increases” (ibid.).

[ back ] 102. Smith 1989:178.

[ back ] 103. On which see Blackburn 1989:27.

[ back ] 104. Blackburn 1989:23.

[ back ] 105. Blackburn p. 23.

[ back ] 106. As in the bow song tradition of the Tampimār, on which see Blackburn 1989.22.

[ back ] 107. Blackburn 1989:18.

[ back ] 108. Flueckiger 1989:33.

[ back ] 109. Blackburn 1989:30. Cf. Schomer 1989:142–143. In general, the Ālhā epic defies the typologies established by Blackburn 1989, as he concedes at p. 29. As for Blackburn’s concession about the heroes of the Mahābhārata, there are exceptions to the exception: folk traditions can deify heroes of Sanskrit epic, as in the case of the Draupadī cults of central Tamil Nadu, on which see Blackburn p. 30n23.

[ back ] 110. Blackburn 1989:23.

[ back ] 111. Smith 1989:185.

[ back ] 112. See e.g. N 1990b:122–142. For more on the conventional universalization of mortality and death in Homeric poetry, see N 1990a:143n40.

[ back ] 113. Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989:9.

[ back ] 114. Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989:9. In this context, we may note the following important observation: “each north Indian folk song genre usually has a distinctive textural and melodic pattern and many genres are melody-specific” (Wadley 1989:93).

[ back ] 115. Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989:9.

[ back ] 116. Wadley 1989:80.

[ back ] 117. Details in N 1990a:56–67. Burkert 1992 organizes his chapters along the lines of categories of dēmiourgós as catalogued in Odyssey xvii 381–385. On the varying degrees of quasi-professionalism in African traditions of song, see Okpewho 1979:35–50.

[ back ] 118. Kothari 1989:103.

[ back ] 119. For a far-reaching investigation of such mirroring, see Martin 1989.

[ back ] 120. Rösler 1980.

[ back ] 121. For an illustration of the “catholic/epichoric” dichotomy in the application of non-epic compositions, see e.g. the commentary on Theognis 367–370 in N 1990a:374–375.

[ back ] 122. Kothari 1989:103.

[ back ] 123. Cf. Kothari 1989:103. For the attestation of competition events in Ḍholā epic performance in western Uttar Pradesh, see Wadley 1989:98.

[ back ] 124. N 1990a:22–24, 77, 137n7, 353–354, 386, 401–403. Cf. Martin 1989:227.

[ back ] 125. Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989:9.

[ back ] 126. Flueckiger 1989:36.

[ back ] 127. Flueckiger 1989:41.

[ back ] 128. Flueckiger 1989:37.

[ back ] 129. Flueckiger 1989:40.

[ back ] 130. Flueckiger 1989:40.

[ back ] 131. See N 1974:118–139 (“The Wedding of Hector and Andromache: Epic Contacts in Sappho 44LP”).

[ back ] 132. I asked John D. Smith, an expert in this field, for his opinion (May 11, 1993, at the University of Cambridge), and his answer was “yes.”

[ back ] 133. Claus 1989:60. For typological parallels to such a convention, where the hero communicates directly with the audience through the performer, see Martin 1989:234.

[ back ] 134. Claus 1989:60. Instances of switching from third to second to first person: Claus p. 74.

[ back ] 135. Claus 1989:72.

[ back ] 136. Claus 1989:60.

[ back ] 137. Claus 1989:72.

[ back ] 138. Extensive discussion in N 1990a:56–57

[ back ] 139. See e.g. Hatto 1980:307; cited, with further analogies, by Martin 1989:6–7. Also Reichel 1992:113–117.

[ back ] 140. My addendum: we may compare the conventions of the ancient Greek prooímion or ‘prelude’, which afford the most distinct opportunities for the performer to refer to the occasion of performance: see N 1990a:79n133, 353–360. Cf. also N 1990b:53–61.

[ back ] 141. Radloff 1990 [1885]:85.

[ back ] 142. The apt description of Sienkewicz 1991:184. For a general assessment of his work, see Tompkins 1992:157: “Sienkewicz is not simply, in the condescending manner of many classicists, dragging in Sunjata as a ‘test case’ or ‘parallel’ to the Iliad: if the Iliad had never been composed, Sienkewicz’s study of this important epic would remain substantial and meritorious. … There is a clear parallel with Wickersham’s [1991] essay, in the sense that both [essays] view epics as continuously evolving, never frozen.”

[ back ] 143. Ibid.

[ back ] 144. Sienkewicz p. 186.

[ back ] 145. References in Sienkewicz p. 187.

[ back ] 146. Sienkewicz pp. 187–188.

[ back ] 147. Sienkewicz p. 194.

[ back ] 148. A key work is Opland 1989. Cf. also Opland 1988. In Manding oral poetry, we may note that the Sunjata epic tradition features distinct characteristics of praise poetry in the context of quoting direct address, which is “sung in a style different from the narrative sections of the epic” (Sienkewicz 1991:195, following Innes 1974:17–20).

[ back ] 149. N 1990a:146–198, an expanded version of N 1986. Cf. Lord 1991:36–37.

[ back ] 150. N pp. 459–464.

[ back ] 151. Following [J. W.] Johnson 1980:321, Sienkewicz 1991:200 notes that the existing combination of the narrative with praise song in the Sunjata epic tradition demonstrates “the multigeneric nature of African epic.” Besides praise poetry, other kinds of songmaking that shape the development of epic include lament, especially women’s lament. See N 1979:94–117 on the affinities of epic with the song-traditions of lamentation; also Martin 1989:86–87, 131, 144. Moreover, as Martin shows at p. 144, “praise and lament are intertwined.” In Pindar Isthmian 8:56–60, the song of lament performed by the Muses at the funeral pyre of Achilles is represented as the germ for a song of praise glorifying the heroic deeds of Achilles; this song becomes, implicitly, the epic tradition of Achilles. See N p. 177: “Pindar’s words are … implying that the epic of Achilles amounts to an eternal outflow of the thrênos [lament] performed for Achilles by the Muses themselves.” On the idea, as expressed in Greek songmaking traditions, that the sung glories of men are ultimately controlled through the laments that their female kinsfolk will sing about them after they are dead, see Sultan 1993.

[ back ] 152. See N 1990b:16–17. Cf. Martin 1989:102–103, 108, 110 on praise-poetics embedded in Homeric narrative, especially with reference to the poetics inherent in the discourse of Nestor. Martin p. 102 remarks that “Nestor resembles the perfect praise-poet” (at p. 103 he refutes the stereotype of Nestor as “a caricature of geriatric loquacity”). For a particularly acute set of observations on the functional opposition of praise and blame, as played out in Iliad X 249–250, see Martin pp. 94–95, extending the arguments developed about the same passage in N 1979:34–35.

[ back ] 153. N 1990a:146–338.

[ back ] 154. E.g. Flueckiger 1989:50n17.

[ back ] 155. Kothari 1989:103.

[ back ] 156. Kothari 1989:103.

[ back ] 157. Kothari 1989:104.

[ back ] 158. Kothari 1989:104.

[ back ] 159. Kothari 1989:104.

[ back ] 160. Extensive discussion, with examples from both epic and praise poetry, in N 1990a:146–214. Opland 1989:139 offers an interesting application of Xhosa evidence as a parallel to my model of pan-Hellenization.

[ back ] 161. Opland p. 139.