Introduction [chapter]

1974 Spontaneity and Tradition  
Every work of scholarship, indeed, every intellectual endeavor is limited by its prior assumptions. That limitation cannot be quite overcome, but it can be kept to a minimum when one's prior assumptions and prejudices are confronted as honestly as possible. The present study, too, has been conditioned by the position taken as its point of departure, which is as follows: Today's texts of both the Iliad and the Odyssey entered the stream of written transmission as two great oral dictated
more » ... tions originally taken down at two special performances given (perhaps for that purpose) by Homer, a traditional oral poet of the Ionian Greek territories, very likely the best of his time. Further, the remainder of the "Homeric" corpus and that of Hesiod are from the same singing tradition, albeit with certain differences of region, time, and especially of genre; they may well not be oral dictated texts, which would partially account for their inferiority of length and artistic quality relative to the great epics-the main difference, of course, being that they were not composed by Homer-but I believe they were also orally composed and then reduced to writing in some other way. Albert Lord's thesis that Homer was an oral poet who had dictated the Iliad and Odyssey directly to a scribe under conditions resembling but not identical to a normal composition-in-performance originally met with offhand disregard in the higher circles of Homeric criticism but is now gaining in popularity. 1 It seems to me to be the simplest explanation for the capturing of great oral epics in writing on the basis of the evidence available today, including that to be presented in the present volume. The 1 Cf. Lord, "Homer's Originality: Oral Dictated Texts," TAP A 84 (1953) 124-134; and now Gunn, Narrative Inconsistency, Tatiana Fotitch, "The Chanson de Geste in the Light of Recent Investigations of Balkan Epic Poetry," in Linguistic and Literary Studies in Honor of Helmut A. Hatzfeld (Washington, D.C. 1964) 150-155, 159. For my purposes, it actually matters little whether Homer dictated the two performances to be written down, or otherwise taught them to be preserved verbatim in oral tradition (as G. L. Huxley suggests in Greek Epic Poetry [London 1969] 194f); in either case one has an unusual but not a premeditated mode of composition. It does matter whether he had had any practice at such long compositions, which I consider very likely on internal and external grounds, respectively, the tight structure of both poems (within the style of oral tectonics), and the available setting of the Pan-Ionian festival. xvii xviii
doi:10.1525/9780520320758-003 fatcat:npi7nfdfwjfrdlpj5gzbolxxda