Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond

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Introduction: A Brief Survey of Concepts and Aims

The two central concepts of this book can be summed up in the words performance and composition, which are to be taken as two different aspects of one process in oral poetics. The emphasis here is on performance, as the title of the book indicates.

The ultimate aim, then, is to show that both epic and lyric in ancient Greece were fundamentally a medium of mimesis, which we can understand only if we keep asking how, when, where, and why these two kinds of verbal art were performed. {4|}


[ back ] 1. Lord 1960.

[ back ] 2. Cf. HQ 16-17.

[ back ] 3. Saussure 1916. A critical summary in Ducrot and Todorov 1979:118-120.

[ back ] 4. See for example the implications of parole in my preface (pp. ix-xi) to the inaugural volume of the “Myth and Poetics” series, Martin 1989, The Language of Heroes. See also Dronke 1968:13-31, the Introduction, which is entitled “Performers and Performance.” Eric Havelock remarks in The Muse Learns to Write (1986:93) that “surviving orality also explains why Greek literature to Euripides is composed as a performance, and in the language of performance.” The term orality, however, can lead to many misunderstandings, some of which I survey in HQ 19-27.

[ back ] 5. Lord 1960.

[ back ] 6. N 1990a. Hereafter abbreviated as PH.

[ back ] 7. N 1989. One additional set of terms introduced in the present work involves the distinction that needs to be made, in analyzing oral poetics, between a syntagmatic or “horizontal” axis of combination and a paradigmatic or “vertical” axis of selection. Cf. Ducrot and Todorov 1979:111: “Thus the meaning of a word is determined both by the influence of those that surround it in discourse and by the memory of those that could have taken its place.”

[ back ] 8. HQ 8. The essay “Homeric Questions” (N 1992a) was incorporated into the book Homeric Questions (N 1996b).

[ back ] 9. Meillet 1925.

[ back ] 10. A classic example is the study of Benveniste 1946 on the function of the third person in the verb-systems of a wide variety of unrelated languages.

[ back ] 11. Such a comparison is the main topic of N 1974 ch. 4.

[ back ] 12. See ch. 4 in this book.

[ back ] 13. Cf. PH ch. 12.

[ back ] 14. N 1974, PH 439-464.

[ back ] 15. Halliwell 1986:128.

[ back ] 16. There is a key formulation in Martin 1989:87-88.