The Songs of Homer

The Songs of Homer

The Songs of Homer

The Songs of Homer

Excerpt

The Songs of Homer are the Iliad and Odyssey. I have tried to develop a comprehensive and unified view of their nature, of their relation to the oral heroic poetry of the Dark Age and beyond, and of their creation as monumental poems by two great singers in the eighth century B.C. No one who writes on Homer can either expect or deserve common assent; yet at certain points I may hope at least to have clarified the issues, at others to have introduced a kind of salutary agnosticism. The book is intended to interest not only classical scholars and students, but also amateurs of literature and oral poetry who may know no Greek. These will find four or five patches of linguistic discussion which they will simply have to skip; otherwise all Greek passages are translated. It is not only for their sake that notes and references outside the main text have been kept as few as possible. Indeed at the present stage of Homeric studies, when the systematization of archaeology and the profounder understanding of oral song have transformed the appearance of many long-established problems, much of the work of the past, valuable though it has often been, need not always be specifically mentioned.

I make no apology for the space devoted to the historical and poetical background of the poems. The Homeric poetry is the culmination of a long tradition, and without knowing as much as possible about that tradition one can hardly begin to understand (though one might still enjoy) the poetry itself. Yet old attitudes die hard; and there are many scholars who pay lipservice to the study of oral poetry, but still think that they can carve up the whole of the poems among specific contributors. Even so, not all of the old Analytical attitudes and techniques are utterly obsolete, nor all of the Unitarian. Reinterpreted, they may have their value. In part IV, for instance, I have deliberately concentrated on the internal qualities, in terms of coherence and incoherence, of the Iliad and Odyssey themselves . . .

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