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Reading Homer in the 21st Century Author(s): Pura Nieto Hernández Source: College Literature, Vol. 34,

Reading Homer in the 21st Century Author(s): Pura Nieto Hernández Source: College Literature, Vol. 34, No. 2, Reading Homer in the 21st Century (Spring, 2007), pp. 29-54

Published by: College Literature

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Reading Homerinthe21st Century.

Pura Nieto

Hern?ndez

Unlike

the

original

oral

audiences

culture

the

the

of

that partic

the Greeks,

ipated

in our

in the

day we

access

two Greek

to us under

epic

the

reading,

in

poems

or

poems

name

that have

of Homer1

in

come

down

through

original

The

act

language

of

whether

modern

their

translations.

Homeric

have

their

ten

been

canonical

transmitted

but

status

we

result

have

of

in

in oral

to

our

us

and

culture

to

achieved

as writ

that

texts,2

reason

a long

assume

are the

ry, developed

they

tradition

of poet

and

only

performance,

secondarily

is

satisfaction

impossible

put

to

that

into writing.

demonstrate

the

Iliad

Even

to

though

everyone's

and

the

Odyssey

it

were

without

their

composed

writing,

and

there

are

initially

transmitted

are

characteristics

in

best

understood

and

started

as oral

compo

just

used,

"oral"

as

and

"reception

in per

to

all, "oral"

"reading,"

has

for

need

dif

very

It can,

exam

style

which

if these

explained

sitions.3

opposed

formance"

qualification.

ferent

texts

terms

The

to "written,"

as

opposed

First

of

meanings

in English.

Pura Nieto Hern?ndez

her Ph.D.

in Classics

obtained

at

the

University

of Salamanca

(Spain). She

is currently a

Lecturer

in Classics

at Brown

University

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30 College Literature34.2 [Spring2007]

pie, when

applied

to

language,

simply mean

"spoken."

Now,

mon

awareness

that, when

we

speak,

use

language

in

a way

that

is clearly

write.

In this

sense,

then,

asmeans

of

even

in

the most

formal

different

from

the way

communication,

"oral"

there

is

a

com

situations, we

in which

we

can be

taken

as

the

even

its own mentality." In this regard, we could understand "oral" as the concep

tion that underlies

oppose

opposite

.

of

speech

"written."

But

in our

comes

culture,

with

as E.

its own

J. Bakker

set of

puts

it "either

medium

or writing,

a discourse,

associations,

but

and

it not

to written

to "literate"

(2005,39).

today,

some

point

or

by

"oral"

as

to

"oral"

are oral

Even

in our

other

heavily

the

"literate."

"literate"

continuum

culture, most

between

the

value

as Bakker

"and we

or

primitive

linguistic

two

notes,

tend

situations

endow

lie

at

sented

terms

that

on

extremes

we

repre

the

texts

and

and "literate"

In addition,

cultural

with

to consider

or,

their

conception

as crude

in another

context,

as

'archaic'

simply

because

we

use

our

own

sense

and

conception

of

writing

as a norm"

with

poetry,

(2005,

and

42). All

this

becomes

which

else,

particularly

poetry,

read

relevant

are

when

evaluat

dealing

ing

speech from the perspective

sum, we

al norm,

particularly

never

of

poetry

meant

our

Homeric

to

be

norm,

since we

a discourse

speak

that

poets

poets,

that was

of

"oral"

is, "literate"

might

in the

same

but was

produced

not

from

any use

simply

our

they

could

"oral

be

only

"oral."

as

In

is "literate,"

different

without

be

to whom

or

as something

cultur

not

con

poetry.

compose

of

But

poetry,

"literate"

said of

"oral

in a society

of writing

poets,

in which

"oral"

trasted. The

existence

they would

poets

composition,"

absence

could

sense

be

only

style," whose

makes

in contraposition

to a "literate"

style.

Concerning

(who

the

Homer,

exclude

for years

a battle

been

of writing

the

has

of

going at any moment

poems)

with

and

the help

oral

the

poetry

concepts

flexible,

open

from

on

between

hard

of

the

who

"oralists"

composition,

defend

But

numerous

ordinary

"written"

Greek

the

intervention

or

poems

the workings

have

helped

exclusive,

must

of

performance

idea

that

studies

these

on

language

transmission

were

those

of writing.

composed

traditional

aswell

way.

our

as of

"oral" and

In the

con

own

spoken

us understand

but

have

in amore

been

not

archaic

as mutually

period

writing

so different

ception

breaks

writing,

of writing

down

that

the dichotomy

2005,45).

between

"orality" and "literacy" again

into

(Bakker

Although

to us

the Homeric

in that form

when

we

read

language.5 We

conceptions

conception

of

of

poems

(that

them,

were

put

have

and have

we

been

revealing

transmitted

bear

origin

discourse

a quite

is, they

that

been

"textualized"),4

many

traits

onto

should

their

of

in mind,

as spoken

our

different

they

not

retain

simply

of

or

"style"

language,

should

"poetry"

the use

transfer

that has developed

this kind

within

that

is,

a "literate"

one.

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PuraNietoHern?ndez 31

Since

terms

such

repetition

as "formula,"

of

at some

staccato

"oral"

these

style

on

"ringcomposition,"

level),6

at the

"typical

scenes"

(all of

syntax"

used

here

Parry

which

(which

his

involve

suggest

disciple

or "parataxis"

syntactical

level),

it

is not

and "additive

otiose

work

field

High

a kind

the

on

Albert

are commonly

to

include

of Milman

of

formulaic

"oral

it "oral"

to

some

and

concentrated

ty

is true

characterize

thoughts

of Homer,

of

criterion

formulae

the

notions.The

Lord,

the

which

study

of

groundbreaking

inaugurated

the

the "formula."7

for

considering

in a way

concept

poetry,"

densi

or not.8

It

initially in a text became

that oral

but

from

the decisive

use

texts make

the

time

according

of basic

fall

that "literate"

has

been

trends

language

and models

have

The

they

texts

expanded

do

and

in

the

and

we

than

is

not,

often

field of linguistics.9 Linguists

defined

find

units

of Parry's work

to

different

in

such

their

re-defined,

evolving

analysis

of

found

a series

as "word"

between

or "sentence."

these

discourse

than

units:

in any

either

"intonation

to

formulae

are more

It

in "oral" poetry

but

unit

it

less

than

that

somewhere

a word

another

tence:

Chafe's

a sentence.

In spoken

relevant

group"

due

Chafe's

language

or

there

the

sen

isWallace

units"

poetry.10

a

syn

constitute

sense

seems

to be more

"tone

four

or need

language

the word

unit."

is variously

achievement

Bakker's

units

called

to have

to have

or

attention

paid

applied

to

these

"intonation

and Egbert

Intonation

complete

tactically,

and,

ordinary

research

long,

to Homeric

they

can

to make

intonation

are usually

unit

seven words

syntactical

and

some

they

complementation

are marked

units

by

in spoken

pauses.

they

boundaries

properties

in special,

poet

of

often,

by

speech,

Although

can be

intonation

are universal

properties

stylized

into metrical

ical

the

speech.

"intonation

In other

units"

feature

same

words,

of

of

can

or

the

formulae

language.

style"

concerning

style

is better

of poetical

They

language

then,

coincide

not

so

much

with

a

in

spoken

an "oral

said

are,

characteristic

general.

as a property Homeric

understood

of

spoken

language

famous

it

to

The

be

additive

syntax.

ifwe

The

compare

Homeric

parataxis

the way

such

our

own

boy, who

syntax

"I

seems

is produced

be

letter

to

operate

of written

passage

syntax

in

in

this morning,

speech.

For

him

who

example,

the

when

an

expression

is very

fre

Instead

as "that

came

I gave

unacceptable

boy

the

letter"

quent

we

Homeric

in spoken

would

by

of

write

syntax

than

comparing

language,

gave

but would

the

to

written.

came

can

the

ascertain

translation

preserved

this morning."

parameters

of

this prop

the

as

also

with

language. We in a conventional

in

accord

speech more

erty

effect

the norms

a Homeric

of

the

to

as much

the movement

the

original,

possible

in, for

example,

Bakker's

rendering

of

Iliad XXIV.

391-93:

him

in

the

battle

that

with

my

eyes

I have

gives

seen

men

him,

kudos,

also

when

very

often

drawing

close

to

the

ships

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32 College Literature34.2 [Spring2007]

Here

And

he would

31)

kill

is Lattimore's

the Argives,

rather

lacerating

them with

literal

version:

sharp bronze.

(Bakker 2005,

whom

many

a

time

my

eyes

have

seen

in

the

fighting

where

men

win

glory,

on

as also on

that time when

their ships and kept killing

he drove back

the Argives

them

on

the stroke of

the sharp bronze.

here

an

even

freer

and more

"literate"

rendering

Never

surmise

by

Fitzgerald:

I have

not

and often,

seen

on

him

with

the field.

my

very

I saw him

eyes,

chase

Argives

with

carnage

to

their

own

shipways

.

We

can

appreciate

we

that

the flow

than

of

to the perfectly

language

in the original

sentences

the way

in writing.

all speak

balanced

ismuch

we

closer

to

tend

to use

Thus

far

I have

attempted

is like

intense

to convey

and how

the

what

Homer

Homer's

language

is an

in Greek

one:

of words

its directness,

the precision

and

to a Greekless

itworks.

richness

The

of

the

constructions,

mulae

and formulaic

elements

or

even

of whole

verses,

reader

experience

some

sense

of

of

of r e a d i n g

reading

at all

levels,

of

for

all

language

the

itsmetrical

repetition

nature,

these

idiosyncratic,

course,

elements

get

even

and

for

contribute

form

to

rendering

fundamental

cultural

a

Homeric

language

of Homeric

a very

peculiar,

of

available.

other

are

the

the

of Greek.

part

these

to other

attractive.

in

their

As

Greek

on

Greekless

students who

These

lost

even

read

the joy

of Homer

in

classical

these poems

have

particularities

in

the

language,

into

the most

of

excellent

Iliad

translations

time

wondered

every

How

But

words

still

Homeric

power

diverse

to

deprived

adapted

features,

has

the

transformed

and

contexts,

the Odyssey

with

about

immensely

texts

they

groups

exert

of

fully

reader who

original,

readers, which

spent much

often

I have

I experience

in English.

year with

is it possible do

people

the poems

capture

when

read

in

culture

or

languages

that make

them

translation? Why

enjoy

and

without

works? What

a background

do

reading

these

so universal,

so appeal

ing

can

When

even when

be transmitted and which

The Iliad and

rendered

in another

language? What

readers

are quite

face

do

the

demanding

their

stories

language

for

have

that

touches

as texts

poems

we

beyond

of

itself?

public.

divine

the

they

the Odyssey

both

their

both

we

start reading

about whom

introduction

from

and

other

also

from

a series

characters,

formal

information

and human,

no

true

characters

are placed,

practically

the

epithets

nothing

can

is said: no

the

presentation,

about

in which

is given. We in the

speakers

some

from

and patronymics

extract

text,

situations

that often

accompany

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PuraNietoHern?ndez 33

their

names.

of

we

Peleus.

for

Thus,

are

the first

for

example,

his wrath

the first

is the

few

name

with

only

verse

of

of

the

Iliad mentions

and

Achilles,

is the

of whom

son

tioned

lord

character, Apollo.

assumes

told

Nothing

subject

lines

is not

the

as the

this poetry

shared

culture

basic,

be

the poem

given:

that he

else. A

(1.7), his

happens

later, when

even

Agamemnon

"the

of

and Zeus.

and

ismen

time

same

or

context

son of Atreus,

the

first

divine

The

text

of men."

in the

The

He

reader

that must

introduction

son of Leto

by

the

poet

knowledge

line

of

is presented

listener

of

a lot of previous

the

ancestry

knowledge,

his

public.11

was

well

it

is

a knowledge

Obviously,

known.

perfectly

Even

too much

storylines.

the background

divine

of

contents,

all that

that

ondary

tures

acters with

ed

the

necessarily

of Greek

a very

in the

of Apollo

today, with

limited,

of mythology

possible

trouble.

to follow

But

The

main

of

actions

a much

characters

that figure

this poetry

for

the

is going

fact

is either

plots

by

the main

narrative

poems

Iliad

of

by

both

more

are,

of

poems

than

without

w i t h o u t

their

basic

in fact,

the

the

and

texts

set

human

surprising

against

and

fea

of

its

density

to

appreciate

all

the

information

present

many

of minor

sec

char

are clearly

expound

we

obscure

could

call

allusions,

the full

"para

scat

story

that

the

so

that no

the Homeric

of

are much

and Odyssey

the

larger mass

stories

In fact,

involving

one

in the poems.

a first-time

needs

their

to

lines

reader

is the

richness

read

and

re-read

the

and

to

reconstruct

alluded

to. Both

characters

and

poems

hundreds

Some

and

of

these

constitute

stories

what

there

are only

difficult

cases

that one

on within

or

assumed

that

their

characters

at other

involve

lives

and

indirectly

the main

stories.

or

the

poet,

times,

the

of Homer

text,

and

of

is needed.

narratives";12

tered

though,

throughout

the

assume

text

a

explanation

lot

it is very

alone.

to reconstruct

it is quite the

just from

poems

further

In these

as well-known

obvious

public,

information

Ifwe

following

still possible

even without

els at which

limit

ourselves

to

favored

reading

by

and

"explaining

works

Homer

from

Homer,"

it

is

satisfying

lev

in

them

in

the

all

to

the principle

to enjoy

the

the

the Hellenistic

scholar Aristarchus,13

of

art, fully

The

many

the poems

a

of

develop

fundamental

as self-standing

lot

of

their

external

narrative

goals:

support

poems

two

information.14

plots

are

sufficient

a basic

selves

the

a sufficient

interest

to achieve

1) to produce

sense,"

coherence

tale: the narrative,

richness

of

all

and

the

attention

as fully

of

in all, "makes

elements,

of

the

levels,

readers

in

presented

the

in

secondary

is a "whole."

parallels,

2)

etc.,

yet,

that

gain

to accumulate

to keep a reader who

lies behind

contrasts,

or

cultural

the

poems

stories

(2000,1).

listeners. And

ambience

of

will

participates

the

appreciation

in

that of

some

as possible

secondary

way

the main

narratives

them. These

the

either

to

narrative,

a much

puts

relevance

deeper

it "relevant

are, as Alden

their

immediate

Often

the

interpretation

or

to both"

context

of

or

these

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34 College Literature34.2 [Spring2007]

stories

is ambiguous,

since

the narrator

presents

them

as simply

the point

of

view

of

the

character

who

tells

the

unfortunate

return

home

is told

in

about

tant

which

Odysseus's

behavior

to bear

in mind

how

and

the

circumstances

(as Olson