Academic journal article Antichthon

Homeric Recitation, with Input from Phonology and Philology*

Academic journal article Antichthon

Homeric Recitation, with Input from Phonology and Philology*

Article excerpt

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It is widely assumed that the aoidoi, the original performers of Homeric poetry or its antecedents, sang a chant restricted to three or four notes, to the accompaniment of a 4-stringed instrument (Danek and Hagel 1995, Marshall 2002). The prestigious later performers from classical times, the rhapsodes, did not have the instrument, and the vocal characteristics of their performances are quite uncertain. In this paper I will discuss various aspects of a conjectured rhapsodic style, based on the reconstruction of the Ancient Greek pitch accent by Devine and Stephens (1994), together with some consideration of issues concerning the hexameter rhythm. For some initial orientation, it might be useful to listen to the short sample on the CD accompanying this issue; various features of the style will be discussed with reference to that. The main proposals of the paper are first, that the melodic contours of the line were more complex than is consistent with a restricted chant, and second, that there was line-internal 'extra time' (mostly at the traditional caesuras), and even actual pauses within the line.

That the aoidoi performed to a chant with relatively few notes, most likely three or four, is indicated by the facts that a) there are four strings on the lyre, b) cognate performances such as the Vedas are performed to a restricted chant, and c) homologous performances such as those of the South Slavic guslars and many others around the world are also performed to a restricted chant. Rhapsodic performances on the other hand were clearly quite dynamic (big-time entertainment in a Mediterranean country), and were capable of getting crowds worked up in a way that it is not easy to imagine being achieved by a Vedic or guslar-style restricted chant, as indicated by this quotation from Plato's Ion:

For I tell will you without reserve: when I relate a tale of woe, my eyes fill with tears; and when it is of fear or awe, my hair stands on end with terror, and my heart leaps . . .

For I have to pay the closest attention to them [the audience]; since, if I set them crying, I shall laugh myself because of the money I take, but if they laugh, I myself shall cry because of the money I lose.

(Plato Ion 535C, E)

I suggest that the rhapsodes discovered that they could produce a more dynamic and exciting performance by discarding the instrument and abandoning the restricted chant for a freer format, an artistic enhancement of the melodic patterns of ordinary speech.

This idea would not be very useful if we could not get any information about what the intonation patterns of Greek speech were, but, fortunately, this is not the case: linguistic theory can suggest some hypotheses, which philological work (primarily the investigation of the relationship between the texts and the tunes of the Delphic Hymns) can corroborate. This certainly does not answer every question that one might have, but it does provide a reasonable basis for a hypothetical performance.

The rhythm is perhaps surprisingly more problematic: good arguments have been made by Daitz (1991), Danek and Hagel (1995) and others that there were pauses between lines, even in cases of enjambment, but the issue of line-internal pauses is more difficult. Traditionally, many people have assumed that there were mid-line pauses, especially at important syntactic boundaries, such as between clauses (Hardie 1920), but arguments against this have also been made: for example, recently by both Daitz and Danek and Hagel in the works cited just above. On the other hand there is also a perception that mid-line pauses are needed to provide sufficient expressiveness in the rhythm (Wyatt 1992, Kahane 1994). A complicating factor is that the subjective effect of a pause can be produced by prolongation of a syllable prior to the perceived pause-location (Selkirk 1984), so that there are really two questions to consider: a) were the dactylic ictuses equally spaced, or was there a certain amount of extra time allocated within the line, and b) in the latter case, could this extra time be occupied by silence (a true pause)? …

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