Homer in Albania: Oral Epic and the
Geography of Literature
The place of Homer in the literary and cultural landscape of the twentieth century has been deeply contested. There is little agreement today as to where the Homeric poems belong and what kind of relationship they have with other epics and works of literature. Different models have been put forward—and these reflect contrasting views about the nature of epic and the geography of literature. In a recent article, Andrew Ford outlines two apparently distinct approaches to Homer and describes some of their literary and geographical implications:
To call the Iliad and the Odyssey 'epics' today can evoke two quite different sets of comparable works. The first grouping would put Homer at the head of a Western tradition of literary epic that runs from Apollonius of Rhodes through Virgil, on to the Renaissance and beyond. The second, with equal justice, would view Homeric poetry as one instance of a type of traditional oral narrative to be found the world over [emphasis my own].1
I profited greatly from Ivana Petrović's knowledge of ancient and modern epic and
wish to thank her for her detailed comments on this chapter. I am also grateful to
David Bellos, Ingo Gildenhard, Emily Greenwood, Johannes Haubold, and Vlatka
Nercessian for their comments and suggestions. The participants in the Durham
conference, and the anonymous reader for OUP offered helpful suggestions on earlier
versions of this chapter.
1 Ford 1997: 396 quoted on p. 4, n. 12 above. For the history of Western epic, see
Hainsworth 1991; for epic traditions in the contemporary world, see Beissinger,
Tylus, and Woford 1999.