Ancient Epic Poetry: Homer, Apollonius, Virgil: With a Chapter on the Gilgamesh Poems

By Charles Rowan Beye | Go to book overview

Further Reading Revisited

One might liken present-day Homeric scholarship to the contemporary arguments in the United States over evolution and intelligent design: recent work shows a continued reaction to what was perceived as an excessive insistence on an impersonal, mechanical creation of narrative dictated by the Parry-Lord theory of oral composition. The emphasis now is more on a poet who is in control of the narrative. The noun-epithet combination, a cornerstone of oral theory, has been given greater scrutiny, inspired by two scholars mentioned in the previous bibliographical chapter. Norman Austin's revelation in Archery at the Dark of the Moon that the Odyssey poet affixed the epithet pepnumenos ("clever") to the name Telemachus whenever the young man had something smart to say demonstrated that a poet, the poet, whoever or however one wishes to posit the creator, had meant something with each word, that the epithet was not simply a metrical necessity. David Shive in Naming Achilles wrote a tellingly negative assessment of Parry's use of statistics, always the Achilles' heel for classicists who have little or no training in the methodology of statistics. Turning to the language itself, he showed that when addressing Achilles, the Trojans call him by his patronymic Peleide, his comrades use his name, Achileu, and only his mother ever addresses him as "my child" (teknon emon). All three forms being metrical equivalents should be interchangeable, but as context demonstrates each has a different nuance in the mind of the narrator.

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