REPETITIONS AND CONTRADICTIONS
EARLY epic poetry begins with improvisation, and traces of this survive long after their real uses are forgotten and the practice itself has ceased. The improvising bard has under his control certain useful artifices which help him in his work and lessen the labours of creation. In particular he has stock lines which may be repeated whenever he has to deal with speech and answer, with the return of night or day, with the approach of death or the throwing of a weapon. Such themes recur constantly in all heroic poetry, and the poet who treated of them was helped by stock lines which he learned when he learned his art. Such repeated lines exist in most early poetry. In Beowulf eight out of thirteen speeches made by the hero begin with the same words: Beowulf mapelode bearn Ecgpeowes,1 and the Song of Roland gives its scene more than once in the line: halt sunt li pui et li val tenebrus.2 These lines are not in themselves evidence for improvisation, but originally such repetitions can only have arisen from the poet's need of help if he was going to make a new song every time. Being a recognized part of poetry they survived into the age of more considered composition, and as such we find them in Homer.
In practice, however, they performed a function quite different from that for which they were originally intended, and this was based on a sound knowledge of psychology. No one can listen for long with rapt attention to any recited poem. Sooner or later the fancy will wander, and the thread of the story will be lost. Under other conditions this may not matter. Modern readers may doze over a novel, but if they want to know what they have missed they have only to turn back and see. The Homeric poet could not allow for such a solution to the difficulty, and with perfect insight into the conditions he used the expedient of repeated phrases and lines. Any reader of the Iliad notices at once the enormous number of____________________