Chapter 2. An Evolutionary Model for the Making of Homeric Poetry

The massive accumulation of new or newly-appreciated comparative evidence about the nature of epic in oral poetry demands application to the ongoing study of individual epic traditions. I propose here to apply some of this evidence, as collected over recent years by a broad variety of experts investigating a wide variety of societies in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and Africa, to the study of Homer in general and the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey in particular. From the start, I stress the importance of the comparative evidence of the South Slavic tradition of epic in Eastern Europe: while it is different in many ways from what we see in the Homeric poems, this tradition, as Richard P. Martin argues, “still has a claim to being one of the best comparanda.” [1]
In earlier work, my starting point has been the central comparative insight of Milman Parry and Albert Lord, gleaned from their fieldwork in South Slavic oral epic traditions, that composition and performance are aspects of the same process in the making of Homeric poetry. [2] Let us continue to call this process composition-in-performance. Starting with the comparative evidence about composition-in-performance, I added the internal Greek evidence about the early diffusion of the Iliad and Odyssey in the archaic period of Greece, positing {29|30} a model for the development of Homeric poetry that requires not two but three interacting aspects of production: composition, performance, and diffusion. [3] Here I move on to apply comparative evidence for the interaction of composition, performance, and diffusion in attested living oral epic traditions.
My original reasons for concentrating on the role of diffusion-in-performance in the development of Homeric poetry had to do with the need to reconcile the comparative insight of Parry and Lord about composition-in-performance with the historical reality of an integral and unified Homeric text inherited from the ancient world. How the concept of diffusion helps to account for Homeric textuality is a question that will be taken up presently. But first, let us consider the implications of the historical “given,” the survival of the Homeric text.
For some Classicists, the very nature of this written text has been a source of extreme skepticism concerning the validity of applying comparative insights about oral poetics. It is the opinion of not a few of these skeptics that the artistry, cohesiveness, and sheer monumentality of the Iliad and Odyssey rule out the role of oral poetics — and supposedly prove that such marvels of artistic achievement must have required the technology of writing. [4] There are others who even go so far as to argue that Greek alphabetical writing was devised primarily for the purpose of writing down Homeric poetry. [5] Such attitudes toward Homeric poetry tend to be associated with a more general view, shared by some anthropologists, that writing is the basic prerequisite for a major breakthrough in human cognitive capacity, providing the key impetus toward creative thinking and critical judgment. [6] {30|31} For such skeptics, then, oral poetry and literacy are clearly incompatible with each other.
For other skeptics, oral poetry may not after all be incompatible with literacy, provided we may assume that the art of oral poetry became appropriated altogether by the art of written poetry: this way, we may allow for an oral heritage in the Homeric tradition, but whatever we admire as high art in this tradition must still be attributed to literate authorship. [7]
Either way, whether or not oral poetry is supposed to be compatible with literacy, both these lines of skeptical thinking avoid the comparative insight of Parry and Lord about composition-in-performance, and they assume either explicitly or implicitly that the technology of writing was key to the composition of the actual Homeric text. My own position is that there is no proof that the technology of alphabetic writing was needed for either the composition or the performance of the Homeric poems. [8]
Given that the poetry of the Iliad and Odyssey has indeed survived as a written text, Albert Lord offered a solution for retaining the model of composition-in-performance by postulating that these poems had been dictated. [9] There have been recent attempts to extend this dictation theory, [10] but they run into problems when it {31|32} comes to explaining the early diffusion of what we now describe as the Iliad and Odyssey in archaic Greece on both sides of the Aegean — a process that some claim was already under way as early as the fourth quarter of the seventh century before our era. [11] Any pattern of diffusion, if indeed it is to be put at so early a date, can hardly be ascribed to a hypothetical proliferation of a plethora of manuscripts, in view of the existing physical limitations on materials available for writing down, let alone circulating, compositions of such monumental size as the Iliad or Odyssey. [12] We must also reckon with the rudimentary status of writing as a technology in that period of Greek history. [13]
One solution is to imagine a situation where a single hypothetical dictated text becomes the prized possession of a special group of performers. [14] Although this modified dictation theory offers some advantages in retaining the factor of performance, there are major problems with it. For one thing, it leaves unexplained a basic question: how exactly was such a dictated text supposed to be used for the process of performance? How could a dictated text automatically become a script, a prompt, for the performer who dictated it, let alone for any other performer? In fact, such a solution does not even mesh with Albert Lord’s actual experience with the phenomenon of dictation {32|33} in the context of genuine living oral traditions, where the writing down of any given composition-in-performance in effect eliminates the performability of that particular composition. In terms of such a modified dictation theory, moreover, the technology of writing has to be invoked not only for the performance of the Iliad and Odyssey but even for the ultimate composition of these poems, to the extent that the text is imagined to achieve its status as text at the very moment that dictation transforms a composition-in-performance into a script, as it were.
Lord’s original theory of Homeric dictation does not leave room for the use of the dictated text as a mnemonic device for future performances by the singer who dictated it. Lord himself puts it this way: “Someone may suggest that it [= writing] would be a mnemonic device, but this too is unrealistic. The singer has no need of a mnemonic device in a manner of singing that was designed to fill his needs without such written aids.” [15] Following Lord’s reasoning, Raphael Sealey argues that “the singers would hardly feel the slightest obligation to keep to the written text.” [16] Sealey goes on to reject the notion of such a written text, to which he refers as a hypothetical “bardic text”: he argues that, if a composition like the Iliad had been preserved by way of “bardic texts” in the eighth century, then it would have been preserved “by inferior poets.” [17] “But audiences would surely prefer better poets,” he concludes, “and a poem preserved primarily in ‘bardic texts’ would be likely to perish for want of popularity.” [18] Reflecting on the observations made by Albert Lord about actual dictations taken in fieldwork from the South Slavic oral epic traditions, [19] Minna Skafte Jensen argues along similar lines:
...there is no reason to think that later performances of the “same” songs [underwent an influence from] the dictation in any way differing from the influence exerted by other, previous performances {33|34} of the poems. The idea that the ancient oral poet felt the written version to be a specially important thing, to be kept afterwards, seems to me to be culturally anachronistic, expressive of the literate person’s overestimation of the importance of writing. [20]
I agree with this line of reasoning, at least as far as it applies to the eighth century, the period of Homeric dictation according to the dictation theory as we have seen it formulated so far. As we will find, however, attitudes towards the technology of writing in later periods may well have changed, so that a written version, though not necessarily a dictated version, may indeed in the course of time come to be perceived as “as specially important thing.”
It is not so much that the use of a text as a prompt for performance is unimaginable, once such a text exists. [21] But an even more basic question is, how would such a hypothetical text be conceived in eighth-century Greece, that is, at the earliest stages in the history of this new technology of alphabetic writing? Also, how would we imagine that such a text ever achieved its status as text, starting from the very moment that dictation supposedly transformed a composition-in-performance into a transcript, as it were? I ask these questions because, in terms of some current formulations of a dictation theory, the technology of alphabetic writing has to be invoked not only for the performance of the Iliad and Odyssey but even for the ultimate composition of these poems, to the extent that dictation supposedly creates a basic text. [22]
There are also problems with the very concept of a transcript, a script, or a prompt, supposedly coming into being in the eighth century BCE. Let us consider the earliest attested uses of alphabetic writing in Greece during the first millennium, BCE: starting with the eighth century, we see brief poetic utterances being {34|35} inscribed in stone. On the basis of these early poetic inscriptions, it can be argued that writing was used not for the actual composition of the utterances being inscribed: “it appears that the built-in mechanics of composition, which can be ascertained from the diction of the various attested epigrams, do not necessarily correspond to the various local patterns of spelling reflected by these epigrams.” [23] In other words, it can be argued that writing was needed for the recording but not for the actual composition of early poetic inscriptions.
We may ask again: was writing needed for the performance of poetry? As I will now argue, the language of the earliest inscribed utterances makes it clear that writing was being used as an equivalent to performance, not as a means for performance. It is evident from the language of the earliest inscriptions from the eighth century and thereafter, and the pattern holds all the way till 550 BCE or so, that the speech-act of performance was thought to be inherent in the given inscription itself, which normally communicates in the first person, as if it were a talking object. [24] In this earliest attested phase of alphabetic writing, the inscription is not a transcript but a figurative performance, a speech-act that delivers its own message in the first person. [25] It is only after 550 BCE or so that the language of the inscriptions begins to reveal lapses into a mode of talking that is not strictly inherent in the object inscribed, so that the generic inscription now verges on becoming a transcript of an utterance, poetic or {35|36} otherwise, instead of being the equivalent of the utterance itself. [26] By transcript I mean the writing down of a composition-in-performance not as a performance per se but as a potential aid to performance. And it is only in this later period, after 550 BCE or so, that we begin to see examples of the use of writing for purposes of transcribing any given composition and controlling the circumstances of any given performance. [27]
Let us return to the subject of the earliest phases of Greek poetic inscriptions, starting with the eighth century BCE. For an ancient reader to read such inscriptions out loud is to participate passively in this fait accompli, in that the reader’s voice is being lent to the speech-act which is in this case the very act of writing down the poetic utterance. [28] To repeat, the Greek poetic inscription in the earliest period, before 550 BCE, is not conceived as a transcript of performance, of a short poem: it is rather conceived as a poem, because it is written down, and because this writing down is conceived as an authoritative equivalent to performance. [29] To read the inscription out loud is to become part of the performance that is the writing down: it is to hear the writing itself, not any live performance. The words of written inscriptions can therefore even be quoted in real live performance, as seems to be the case in the passage from the Iliad where Hector is described as imagining the words that implicitly call out from what sounds like an imaginary epigram (Iliad VII 89–90). [30]
If indeed alphabetic writing was perceived as an equivalent to live performance already in the earliest stages of this technology in ancient Greece, and if indeed it continued to be so perceived down to {36|37} 550 BCE or so, then it is justifiable to doubt the hypothesis that writing had been used, in its earliest phases, as a medium for recording live performance. I would therefore wish to modify slightly the wording of the suggestion that “the alphabet developed specifically or largely in order to record hexameter poetry.” [31] To record epigraphical poetry: yes, maybe, but not necessarily to record epic poetry. Looking at the period before 550 BCE, we may well ask: why would live epic poetry have to be recorded in the first place? The fact that Homeric poetry was meant to be performed live, and that it continued to be performed live through the Classical period and beyond, remains the primary historical given. [32] So we are still left, I maintain, without any internal Greek evidence to prove that the technology of alphabetic writing, as it existed during its earliest phases in the Greek archaic period, was necessary for the performance of the Homeric poems any more than it was necessary for their composition. [33]
It is in this light that I offered, in my earlier work, a different solution to the historical problem of the Homeric text. My solution combined the comparative evidence about composition and performance in attested living oral poetic traditions with the internal evidence of ancient Greek testimony about the diffusion of Homeric poetry in the archaic period of Greece. The comparative evidence from living oral epic traditions, as we are about to see, helps corroborate the internal evidence about the ancient Greek circumstances of diffusion.
Before we proceed with comparing other epic traditions with those of ancient Greece, however, a few words of background are in order about the internal Greek evidence itself. I offer here a minimalist formulation of two basic concepts, “epic” and “Homer.” For Classicists, the idea of “epic” is clear in its application, if not in its definition. Following the usage of authorities like Aristotle, Hellenists can easily distinguish the poetic art-form of epopoiía ‘making of epic’ (as at the {37|38} beginning of Aristotle, Poetics, 1447a13) from such other poetic art-forms as tragōidías poíēsis ‘making of tragedy’ (ibid.). The application of Homer’s name to the authorship of the Iliad and Odyssey, the prime examples of Greek epic, is also clear. True, the earliest attested references to Hómēros attribute to him not only the Iliad and Odyssey but also the epics of the so-called Cycle, such as the Cypria and the Little Iliad. [34] In fact, the very concept of kúklos, usually translated as ‘circle’ or ‘Cycle’, stems from the ancient pre-Aristotelian tradition of applying the metaphor of cycle to the sum total of epic poetry, as if all of it were composed by Homer. [35] By the time of Aristotle, however, the epics of the Cycle are conventionally assigned to distinct authors (Poetics 23.1459b1–7). [36] Such eventual disruption in the semantics of the very concept of Cycle is not a matter of common knowledge among contemporary experts in Homer.
What made decisive the differentiating of the Iliad and Odyssey from all other epic poems was the influence exerted by the scholars at the Library of Alexandria, particularly by Zenodotus of Ephesus: “it was of the utmost importance for the whole future that [Zenodotus] ... accepted the differentiation between these two poems as Homeric and the rest of epic narrative poetry as non-Homeric.” [37] Though there were attempts to narrow down the Homeric corpus even further, as when scholars known as the “separators” or khōrízontes tried to separate the authorship of the Odyssey from that of the Iliad (Proclus p. 102.2–3 Allen), the Alexandrian verdict on Homer as the author of the Iliad and Odyssey held firm in the ancient world. The “Homeric Question,” as reformulated in the Renaissance and thereafter, must be viewed against this background; so also the comparative insights pioneered by Parry and Lord.
The progressive restriction of what exactly in Greek epic is to be attributed to Homer can be connected with the historical process that I have just highlighted, to wit, the relatively early diffusion of the {38|39} Iliad and Odyssey throughout the Greek-speaking world. In my earlier work, I adduced archaeological evidence, as assembled by Anthony Snodgrass, pointing towards a trend of pan-Hellenism that becomes especially pronounced in archaic Greece in the eighth century before our era and thereafter. [38] The epic tradition of Homer, as Snodgrass inferred from the early proliferation of the Iliad and Odyssey, was a reflex of this trend of pan-Hellenism. [39] I extended Snodgrass’s concept of pan-Hellenism, setting it up “as a hermeneutic model to help explain the nature of Homeric poetry, in that one can envisage as aspects of a single process the ongoing recomposition and diffusion of the Iliad and Odyssey.” [40] I had called this model for the text-fixation of Homeric tradition “evolutionary,” without intending any Darwinian implications about progressive superiority. [41] According to this evolutionary model, as I have formulated it in my earlier work, the process of composition-in-performance, which is a matter of recomposition in each performance, can be expected to be directly affected by the degree of diffusion, that is, the extent to which a given tradition of composition has a chance to be performed in a varying spectrum of narrower or broader social frameworks. [42] The wider the diffusion, I argued, the fewer opportunities for recomposition, so that the widest possible reception entails, {39|40} teleologically, the strictest possible degree of adherence to a normative and unified version. [43]
I continue to describe as text-fixation or textualization the process whereby each composition-in-performance becomes progressively less changeable in the course of diffusion — with the proviso that we understand text here in a metaphorical sense. [44] The fixity of such a “text,” of course, does not necessarily mean that the process of composition-in-performance — let us continue to call it recomposition — has been stopped altogether. So long as the oral tradition is alive, some degree of ongoing recomposition is still possible in each performance, even if the tradition itself proclaims its own absolute fixity. A case in point is the so-called “Invocation of the Bagre,” a “hymn” sung among the LoDagaa of Northern Ghana. [45] It is clear that the expectation of both the audience and the reciters of the Bagre is that each performance be exactly like every other performance, but empirical observation shows that it is not. Reaching a size of up to 12,000 lines, the Bagre in fact exists in a variety of versions, and the differences among the versions can be considerable. [46] In sum, the rate of retardation or acceleration of change in the process of composition-in-performance depends on the stage of evolution in which we happen to find any given living oral tradition. [47]
In arguing for the notion of a single pan-Hellenic tradition of epic — let us call it Homer — as opposed to a plethora of local traditions, I stressed the relativity of the term pan-Hellenic from an empirical point of view:
It should be clear that this notion of pan-Hellenic is absolute only from the standpoint of insiders to the tradition at a given time and place, and that it is relative from the standpoint of outsiders, such as ourselves, who are merely looking in on the tradition. Each new {40|41} performance can claim to be the definitive pan-Hellenic tradition. Moreover, the degree of pan-Hellenic synthesis in the content of a composition corresponds to the degree of diffusion in the performance of this composition. Because we are dealing with a relative concept, we may speak of the poetry of the Iliad and Odyssey, for example, as more pan-Hellenic than the poetry of the Epic Cycle. [48]
In other words, I am arguing that the concept of pan-Hellenism is not at all incompatible with the factor of change. I therefore disagree with the implications of the following assessment:
...although a few poems may be designed to be infinitely repeatable and as non-local and non-occasional as possible (pan[-]Hellenic, even literary?) — i.e. they may aspire to say the “last word” on their subject, and to render all previous and future attempts futile [49] — , the more usual impulse is to leave loopholes for possible exceptions, pegs on which to hang possible additions, open ends to accommodate codas or modifications desired by particular audiences in the light of other existing songs or cult traditions. [50]
To repeat, the model of pan-Hellenism is by definition not rigid, not even for Homer.
In terms of such a model, which we may continue to describe as evolutionary, I posit at least five distinct consecutive periods of Homeric transmission, “Five Ages of Homer,” as it were, with each period showing progressively less fluidity and more rigidity: [51] {41|42}
  1. (1) a relatively most fluid period, with no written texts, extending from the early second millennium into the middle of the eighth century in the first millennium. [52]
  2. (2) a more formative or “pan-Hellenic” period, still with no written texts, from the middle of the eighth century to the middle of the sixth. [53]
  3. (3) a definitive period, centralized in Athens, with potential texts in the sense of transcripts, at any or several points from the middle of the sixth century to the later part of the fourth. [54]
  4. (4) a standardizing period, from the later part of the fourth century to the middle of the second; this period starts with the reform of Homeric performance traditions in Athens during the régime of Demetrius of Phaleron, which lasted from 317 to 307 BCE. [55]
  5. (5) a relatively most rigid period, from the middle of the second century onward; this period starts with the completion of Aristarchus’ editorial work on the Homeric texts, not long after 150 BCE or so. [56]
A context for the definitive period in my evolutionary model is a pan-Hellenic festival like the Panathenaia at Athens, which served as the formal setting, established by law, of seasonally recurring performances of the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey (cf. Lycurgus Against Leokrates 102). [57] In the next chapter, we will consider in more detail {42|43} the question of identifying who should be given credit for shaping or, better, reshaping not only this institution of the Panathenaia but also, in particular, the institution of Homeric performances that became a featured event of this festival. At this point it is enough to highlight the involvement of the Peisistratidai — that is, of Peisistratos and his sons — who traced themselves back to the heroic-age Peisistratos, son of Nestor (as portrayed in Odyssey iii) and who ruled Athens as tyrants during the second half of the sixth century BCE. [58] More important for now, I argue in what follows that the Feast of the Panathenaia is a salient example of a distinct pattern of diffusion in oral traditions.
I hope to show from the comparative evidence of various oral epic traditions that there is more than one way to visualize the actual process of diffusion. Besides the pattern of an ever-widening radius of proliferation, with no clearly defined center of diffusion, there is also a more specialized pattern that can be predicated on a functional center point, a centralized context for both the coming together of diverse audiences and the spreading outward of more unified traditions. In other words, a fixed center of diffusion can bring into play both centripetal and centrifugal forces. Such a center point, as we will see, is the seasonally recurring festival of the Panathenaia at Athens.
In general as also in details, an evolutionary model for the text-fixation or textualization of the Homeric tradition is corroborated by the comparative evidence of living oral epic traditions. We may note in particular the results of recent fieldwork in the oral epic traditions {43|44} of the Indian subcontinent. [59] In what follows, I quote extensively from descriptions of the Indian evidence that were formulated by observers who were not at all concerned with the ancient Greek evidence to which I am now applying them. [60] The degrees of similarity between the empirical observations of the Indian evidence, as I cite them verbatim, and some of my constructs derived from the Greek evidence are to my mind so striking that a casual reading could leave the mistaken impression that the wording of the Indologists was influenced by these constructs.
For example, researchers like Stuart Blackburn who specialize in the oral folk epic traditions of latter-day India have developed, independently of their counterparts who specialize in ancient Greece, the descriptive term pan-Indian, which they correlate with observable patterns of what they call geographical diffusion in epic traditions. [61] Matching the Greek model, the descriptive term “pan-” is used in a relative sense, as we can see from the following explicit restatement of Blackburn’s position in the introduction to the book that he co-edited: “Tracing a narrative pattern that moves from a local hero toward a wider, more pan-Indian identity for the hero/god, [Blackburn] concludes that this change is a response to the differing social groups and contexts encountered as an epic spreads geographically.” [62] In effect, then, Blackburn is positing an ongoing process of {44|45} recomposition in the making of Indian epic that is analogous to an evolutionary model for the making of ancient Greek epic.
An evolutionary model is applicable also to the two great canonical Sanskrit epics of the Indian subcontinent. [63] These are the Mahābhārata, an epic of truly monumental dimensions which, in its ultimate form, is roughly eight times the size of the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey combined, and the relatively smaller Rāmāyaṇa. The performance traditions that culminated in these two Sanskrit “primary epics” extended well into the second half of the first millennium of our era. [64] It took “several centuries” for both “to reach their final forms,” [65] with the “formative period” of the Mahābhārata estimated at around 400 BCE to 400 CE and of the Rāmāyaṇa, at around 200 BCE to 200 CE. [66]
The relative lateness of text-fixation in the case of these two canonical Sanskrit epics is illustrated by the fact that even the earlier of the two, the Mahābhārata, “began to take shape” at a time when the Vedas, the “priestly literature” of the Brahmin caste which had already formalized the technology of writing, had reached an advanced stage of development. [67] “Viewed against this background the Mahābhārata represents, as it were, a return to the beginning. It was an oral composition; it was purely heroic in character; and it dealt with people and events of which the earlier [Brahmin] literature had taken practically no notice.” [68]
This dichotomy between Vedic and epic can be explained to some degree in terms of caste distinctions: “as the Vedas and their supporting {45|46} literature were the ‘property’ of the Brahmins, so the epic was the ‘property’ of the Kṣatriya-s, the caste of warriors and princes.” [69] Although the Kṣatriya-s “owned” the epic, it was not composed/performed by them but by a specialized caste called the Sūta-s, performing to the accompaniment of an early form of a string instrument known as the vīṇā. [70] The relationship of these Sūta-s and the Kṣatriya-s is analogous to that of the medieval Cāraṇ court poets and their Rājpūt patrons. [71]
The Kṣatriya background of the Sanskrit epic tradition becomes accretively displaced and covered over, in the course of time, by a Brahmin superstructure, and the very process of this displacement can be interpreted as a sign of fluidity in an oral epic tradition. The pattern of displacement is so pervasive that the very authorship of the Mahābhārata is traditionally attributed to one Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana, a Brahmin seer who is also a major character in the plot of the Mahābhārata. [72] Similarly with the Rāmāyaṇa, where the Kṣatriya hero Rāma becomes accretively identified with the Brahmin god Viṣṇu.
Granted, experts have not yet determined to what extent such accretive patterns of displacement took place on the level of oral transmission in the two primary Sanskrit epics. [73] But, more importantly, the fact is that the living oral epic traditions in India today, affording as they do a wealth of evidence for various patterns of diffusion, provide {46|47} comparative evidence for an evolutionary model that helps explain the actual process of accretion. [74]
As we proceed to consider in some detail the evidence of living oral epic traditions in contemporary India, it is important to stress the explicit role of religion in the very function of epic. For purposes of this presentation, a minimalist working definition of religion will suffice: let us consider it for the moment as simply the interaction of myth and ritual. [75] I propose further to specify “religion” in terms of cult, which I define for the moment as a set of practices combining elements of ritual as well as myth. [76] As one of the most powerful illustrations of the role of religion in the performance of Indian epic, I point to those situations where the performer presupposes the presence of an audience of gods, “watching out for errors in performance.” [77]
For the first specific example of the sort of empirical evidence that has been collected by contemporary researchers concerning the role of cult in the living traditions of epic in India, let us consider the wording of a scholar specializing in Rajasthani epic, who offers the following formulation for the role of epic in the Rajasthani cultural ethos: “concern for propitiating the powerful spirits of those who died untimely deaths continually feeds the epic traditions of the area.” [78] In quoting this description of heroes in the Rajasthani epic traditions, I highlight the word untimely because of its relevance for comparison with the concept of the hero in ancient Greek epic traditions. In the case of the Herakles myth, as adduced by Greek epic itself in the retelling of Iliad XIX 95–133, the theme of Herakles’ unseemliness goes to the very core of the hero’s essence and extends to {47|48} the essential unseemliness of the main hero of the Iliad, Achilles, who in the end describes himself as the ‘unlikeliest of them all’, pan-a-ṓrios (XXIV 540). [79] This theme of untimeliness in ancient Greek traditions is not restricted to epic: it extends to the concept of heroes in the specific context of their being worshiped in cult, as I have argued extensively elsewhere. [80] As I have also argued, the cult of heroes is a subtext, as it were, for the development of epic traditions about heroes in ancient Greece. [81] Moreover, the relationship between the cult of heroes on a local level and the epic of heroes on a pan-Hellenic level is crucial for coming to terms with the factor of diffusion in the Homeric tradition. [82] As we will see, there are striking analogies in the living traditions of India.
The ancient Greek hero’s untimeliness in myth is to be contrasted with his/her timeliness in ritual, in that the cult of heroes is predicated on the central fact of seasonal recurrence, controlled by the goddess of timeliness herself, Hera. [83] The cults of heroes/ancestors in India too seem to operate on a cyclical principle. Although “the yearly cycle of folk epic performances has yet to be conclusively outlined for different regions and different groups within these regions,” [84] there are isolated cases where we do have specific {48|49} information: a notable example is the festival of Caitrī, where the performances of epic seem to be connected with the remembrance of ancestors. [85]
Pursuing the question of the relationship between epic traditions and the cult of ancestors or heroes, let us consider in some detail the evidence from Rajasthan, starting with the following summary: “The two major Rajasthani historical epics, Pābūjī and Devnārāyaṇ, appear to have developed out of a tradition of honoring powerful spirits of the dead. A continuing concern about powerful spirits provides the framework in which these epics retain their meaning and vitality.” [86] In the case of the Pābūjī regional epic tradition, it has been argued that it developed out of a local bhomiyā cult. [87] The bhomiyā have been described as “local heroes who died while defending against cattle raids, were commemorated with a carved pillar (showing a rider on a horse), and eventually became gods at the center of a cult.” [88] Pābūjī himself is generally worshiped as a god. [89]
As we will see, the semantic shift from hero to god is a peculiarly Indian phenomenon, characteristic of those stages of epic tradition that have undergone the broadest patterns of diffusion and have thus attained the most normative possible levels of the “Hindu” world view. For purposes of comparison with the ancient Greek evidence, where the distinction between hero and god is for the most part clearly maintained, it is preferable to start with Indian patterns of cult on the most local levels, where we find the most straightforward evidence for the cult of heroes as distinct from gods. Before we begin, however, it is important to note that the ancient Greek distinction between ancestor and hero, unlike the distinction between hero and god, becomes increasingly blurred as we move further and further back in time. [90] {49|50}
With this caution in place, let us consider further the folk culture of Rajasthan, which has been singled out for its striking differences from the upper-caste Hindu “norm.” [91] I propose to pursue our consideration of the Rajasthani bhomiyā, who are literally the spirits of dead warriors. [92] At the shrine of the bhomiyā,
the spirit manifests himself through a medium, usually a bhopā. The shrine [marking where the bhomiyā had died] becomes active through this medium and the spirit begins to solve problems of the local people. Effective and truthful disposition by the possessed medium of the bhomiyā will draw people from a large area and the shrine may become an important ritual site where the hero’s story is sung. [93]
As for the actual performance of the epic, “the central belief is that singing the hero’s story summons him as a god, whose power is then present to protect the community.” [94] What gives the hero his ultimate power is the actual fact of his death: “the death event operates as the ‘generative point’ for stories in local traditions. It leads to deification, to worship, to a cult, and eventually to a narrative which is ritually performed to invoke the spirits of the dead.” [95]
It can be said in general about the epic traditions of India that their function is a matter of explicit ritual as well as myth: “epic performances ritually protect and cure, while epic narratives express local ideologies and form pathways between regional and pan-Indian mythologies.” [96] For the moment I simply note, for the second time now, the use of the term pan-Indian in this description — a subject to which we will return presently. I also note a point that may not be obvious to those unfamiliar with the perspectives of social anthropology, which is that the element of ritual in such descriptions should {50|51} not be understood so narrowly as to exclude what we may ordinarily think of as entertainment: “Indian oral epics tend to have performance contexts that are either ritualistic or entertainment-oriented. These two performance contexts exist on a continuum because ritual and entertainment are not mutually exclusive.” [97]
The relation of the local epic to the community is all-important in the Indian traditions: “oral epics in India have that special ability to tell a community’s own story and thus help to create and maintain that community’s self-identity.” [98] Once the local story extends beyond the community, however, there is change in content as well as form. Let us consider the following description of what happens to the theme of the death and deification of local heroes in the context of diffusion: [99]
...when a story spreads beyond its local base by attracting new patronage outside the small group that originally worshiped the dead hero, the predominance of the death motif (but not deification) weakens. In its place, new elements are added at each of the next two successively larger geographical ranges: a supernatural birth at the sub-regional level and an identification with a pan-Indian figure at the regional level. The overall effect of this development is to obscure the human origins of the hero/god with a prior divine existence, a process that is complete when the hero/god is identified with a pan-Indian figure. [100]
For the third time now, we note the use of the word pan-Indian in describing the ultimate stages of epic diffusion in India. We may note as well that the application of this term is reserved for the regional level of diffusion and beyond. The categories of regional and subregional are part of an overall taxonomy developed by Stuart Blackburn for {51|52} the purpose of classifying the relative ranges of diffusion for fifteen samples of living epic traditions in India. The ranges of diffusion for these fifteen selected epic traditions, preceded by categories of description for these ranges, are as follows:
  1. 1) local = 10-100 mile range
  2. 2) subregional = 100-200 mile range
  3. 3) regional = 200-300 mile range
  4. 4) supraregional = 400+ mile range. [101]
We may note in particular the observation that the breakthrough of an epic from local to subregional status is promoted by a cult where a large festival is held annually at a single temple. [102]
An ancient Greek analogy that immediately comes to mind is a pan-Hellenic festival like the Panathenaia at Athens, which, as we have already noted, served as the formal setting, established by law, of seasonally recurring performances of the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey (Lycurgus Against Leokrates 102). As the comparative evidence of oral epic traditions in contemporary India shows, the institution of Homeric performances at the Panathenaia can be visualized as a process of diffusion. In other words, diffusion is not restricted to the pattern of an ever-widening radius of proliferation, with no clearly defined center of diffusion. As the Indic comparative evidence shows, there is also a more specialized pattern that can be predicated on a functional center point, bringing into play both centripetal and centrifugal forces. Such a center point, to repeat, can take the form of a centralized context for both the coming together of diverse audiences and the spreading outward of more unified traditions.
For purposes of further comparison, we may observe that the more pan-Indian the epic, the more divergent it seems from the ancient {52|53} Greek evidence. The actual phenomena of pan-Indianism and pan-Hellenism are comparable, but not so much the results of the respective phenomena of synthesis and diffusion. The most divergent point of comparison is the tendency of the hero’s being elevated to the status of divinity in pan-Indian traditions. I have in mind such phenomena in the Indian evidence as the appropriation of epics having a ritual context by such pan-Indian trends as Vaiṣṇava veneration. [103] True, even where the hero is divinized, there can survive traces of hero-god distinctions: in the Tulu traditions, for example, there is a distinction made between the bhūta or deified dead and the dēvarụ, that is, deities of divine origins. [104] Clearly, the deified dead represent the new and augmented phase of the hero, just one step removed from the status of deities proper. Just as clearly, there are attestations of the next logical step: “new social groups accept the hero as a god and not simply as the deified dead because they have no close link to him by blood or locale.” [105]
All this is not to say that the hero’s elevation to the status of divinity cannot happen on the most local level. [106] Conversely, in the case of the Lorik-Candā epic, which fits Blackburn’s category of “supraregional” epic, [107] its hero and heroine, Lorik and Candā, “are not deified and thus [this epic’s] spread is not associated with that of a religious cult.” [108] There are even more important exceptions: “the Mahābhārata heroes, like the heroes of the Ālhā, do not die in battle, are not deified, and are not widely worshiped. They, too, lack both the conditions and the need for deification.” [109] Still, the general trend of pan-Indian oral epic traditions is the highlighting of the {53|54} hero’s immortalization and the shading over of his mortality: “as these stories diffuse (even to a limited extent within the local range), they change [highlighting mine]. The hero’s death remains the central narrative event, evoking emotional responses in listeners and explaining the hero’s new status as a god, but it becomes less local history and more narrative convention.” [110] There is even a tendency in Indian traditions to avoid describing the actual death of the hero. [111] In the pan-Hellenic traditions of the Iliad and Odyssey, conversely, the topic of a hero’s immortalization tends to be shaded over, while his mortality and the circumstances of his death are highlighted as the centerpiece of Homeric humanism. [112]
Either way, whatever the direction of shifts in emphasis may be, both the Greek and the Indian traditions seem to become progressively less occasional or ad hoc in the process of diffusion. To discover the occasional or ad hoc applications of ancient Greek epic, of course, is largely a matter of reconstruction or at least of inference from the surviving texts. In the case of Indian epic, on the other hand, there is a great deal of direct evidence about occasionality in the living traditions, and such testimony as we will see affords valuable comparative insights that help better understand the available testimony of the Greek traditions.
Let us begin with Indian evidence about the circumstances of performance and of performer-audience interaction. There are two basic performance-types: song-recitation and dance-drama; [113] dance-drama has been described as “a secondary form in that it only exists where song-recitation also exists.” [114] Performers of epic — singers, musical accompanists, dancers, and ritual specialists — are predominantly from the middle- and low-level castes; by contrast, Classical performance traditions of the Sanskrit epics were “controlled by high-level {54|55} castes, often Brahmins.” [115] The possibility of a performer’s traveling through different districts seems to be linked with the degree of his professionalism. [116] This phenomenon of professionalization, which seems to be a key to the factor of diffusion, is analogous to the status of the ancient Greek aoidós ‘singer’ as a dēmiourgós, that is, an itinerant artisan (Odyssey xvii 381–385). [117]
In the Indian traditions, the notion of audience is actually more appropriate in the case of professional singers’ performances, whereas some more neutral term like group suits the sort of situation where “non-professional general caste groups sing for the group itself.” [118] For purposes of comparison, the ongoing distinction between audience and group in these descriptions of Indian traditions is pertinent to the scenes of person-to-person or person-to-group interaction in Homeric narrative that seem to mirror the conventions of performer-audience interaction in the “real world” that frames the performance of the narrative. [119] It is also pertinent to the issues raised by Wolfgang Rösler’s Dichter und Gruppe, a work that investigates the reception of archaic Greek lyric in the specific social context of archaic Lesbos. [120] We may ask, for example, on the basis of the comparative evidence, whether the interaction of Alcaeus with his group on one level simply mirrors the performance of the Alcaeus-persona to the audience on another level. [121]
In the case of the general caste group’s “non-professional” performing of epic in the Indian traditions, even this broad category for the aspect of performers has its own structure. There has to be a leader, {55|56} who generally has had more background in performance than the others, including the mastery of a musical instrument. [122] Potential leaders, who are specialists in a sense, have to compete with one another, and I infer that increasing specialization in the performance of epic is a functional correlate of increasing formalized competition among performers. [123] A comparable correlation of professionalization and competition is discernible in archaic Greek songmaking traditions. [124]
In the course of this brief survey of occasionality in the living epic traditions of India, we may note in passing that epic, as a form of public activity, is performed almost exclusively by male singers. [125] The rarely found exceptions, however, are particularly revealing. For background to the case about to be cited, we may note that the Ahir caste of Uttar Pradesh appropriates an epic known as the Lorik-Candā; [126] this epic “helps to maintain the Ahirs’ image of themselves as a warrior caste.” [127] “It is primarily Ahirs who sponsor performances at occasions such as weddings and the birth of a child. The Lorik-Candā epic is also sung at various festivals, during the harvest season, and at village or town fairs.” [128] In Chhattisgarh, the corresponding epic is called Candainī, and it is with the background of reference to this tradition that we turn to an exceptional case of performance by women. The researcher reports as follows: “One night as I was recording an elderly Gond (tribal) woman singing a variety of narrative songs, she began singing about the wedding of the epic heroine and her first husband. But the woman did not consider this to be Candainī singing.” [129] The narrative content in fact corresponds to {56|57} Candainī, but the form is different: a distinct rāg ‘tune’ and style. [130] In this case, we find a striking ancient Greek parallel in Sappho fragment 44, the so-called “Wedding of Hector and Andromache”: this song, composed in a meter that is cognate with but distinct from the epic dactylic hexameter, deals in a non-epic manner with themes that are otherwise characteristic of epic. [131] We have here a particularly striking example of the effects of a given occasion on the very nature of epic composition. Just as the song of Sappho about the Wedding of Hector and Andromache is exceptional in the history of Greek literature, so also the song of the elderly Gond woman proved to be exceptional in one particular researcher’s survey of living Indian oral epic traditions. It may well be worth asking whether this discovery about women’s traditions in India would have been possible if the researcher in this case, Joyce Flueckiger, did not happen to be a woman. The question is whether a woman researcher would be deemed by her women informants to be more suitable for the reception of distinctly women’s traditions. [132]
In the many epic traditions of India, there are striking examples of selectivity in choosing not only which topics to highlight or shade over in a given sequence but also which variant of a given topic to use within that sequence. Such choices are tuned to the narrowness or breadth of audience reception. Let us consider two situations, one where the local aspects of an epic tradition have to be highlighted and another where the same aspects are shaded over. We begin with the Kordabbu epic tradition of the Tulu-speaking area of Karnataka, a tradition where parts of the narrative are recited by the possessed priest “in a voice characteristic of the spirits”; this stretch of narrative is marked by a switch from the third to the first person, and is known as the Words of the Hero. [133] “In his performance the possessed priest must not only recite Kordabbu’s story, but also assume his character {57|58} and dramatically portray his exploits for several hours on end.” [134] This description applies to the Mundala caste. But there is also another performance tradition, called the kōla, maintained by the Nalke caste, which is “a professional bardic caste.” [135] It has been reported about these performers:
Together with their recitation, they perform a costumed dance-drama, acting out the major incidents of the spirit’s life while in a state of possession. Nalkes perform kōlas for many other deities besides Kordabbu and thus know a sizable repertoire of different pāḍḍanas [a generic term for multi-story tradition]. The Nalke have no greater ties to the Mundala or Kordabbu than they do to any other caste or any other caste’s heroes. [136]
I save the most important detail for last: the Nalke “are not likely to elaborate specific details that might offend the sensibilities of a particular group in a village and give rise to a dispute. The Nalke leave the details of the hero’s life and his relationship to other castes to the villagers concerned.” [137] An analogy that immediately comes to mind is the screening out of local traditions from the repertoire of aoidoí ‘singers’ as itinerant artisans in archaic Greece, with the result that the subject matter controlled by such performers becomes a sort of least common denominator appropriate to the most generalized kinds of audience. [138]
In contrast to the distinct non-occasionality of attested ancient Greek epic, we have by now seen a great deal of comparative evidence for occasionality on the level of local performance in the living oral epic traditions of India. There is ample evidence also from the epic traditions of Central Asia. [139] It will suffice here to quote a particularly revealing description of occasionality in Kirghiz epic traditions {58|59} from a report published in 1885 by a pioneer in the study of oral epic traditions, Wilhelm Radloff:
The singer’s competence [innere Disposition] depends on the number of themes [Bildteile] he knows, but this alone is insufficient for singing, as I said before; encouragement from the outside is necessary. Such encouragement comes naturally from the crowd of listeners surrounding the singer. Since the singer wishes to earn the crowd’s applause, and since he is not concerned only about fame but also about material benefits, he always attempts to adjust his song to the audience around him. If he is not directly called upon to sing a specific episode, he begins his song with a prelude which is supposed to introduce the audience to the ideas of his song. By linking the verses in a most artful way, and by making allusions to the most prestigious persons present, he knows how to entertain his audience before he goes on to the actual song. When he can tell from the audience’s vocal approbation that he has gained their full attention, he either goes on to the plot directly or gives a brief sketch of specific events that preceded the episode he is about to sing, and then he begins with the plot. [140] The song does not proceed at an even pace. The excited applause of the audience continually spurs the singer on to new efforts, and he knows how to adjust his song to audience circumstances. If wealthy and noble Kirghiz are present, he knows how to skillfully weave in praises of their dynasties, and he sings about those episodes which he expects will stir the nobility’s applause in particular. [141]
Such testimony is pertinent to the comparative information about the living oral epic traditions in Africa, where we see a similar correlation of occasionality with local contexts. Let us consider the epic traditions of Manding society, marked by “both a vigorous pan-cultural tradition and a constant pull toward diversity,” crossing as it does several linguistic and modern political boundaries. [142] “The {59|60} Manding peoples believe that their oral stories retell the experiences of their common past, yet the diversity of their multiforms shows the ability of these stories to adapt to changes of time and locality.” [143] The centerpiece of Manding oral poetry is an epic tradition about a historical figure called Sunjata, a powerful chieftain whose lifetime is historically dated to the thirteenth century CE and who is recognized as the founder of the Manding empire. [144] Recorded versions of the Sunjata narrative range in length from a single evening’s performance to a thirty-hour stretch. [145] In some of these recorded versions, we can find explicit documentation of the singer’s selective use of available narrative versions that tie in directly with such details as the genealogies of members of his audience. [146] The degree of occasionality in the performance of Sunjata epic traditions justifies a formulation such as this one: “The epic is more than the tale of its characters; it is at the same time about its audience.” [147]
To the existing comparative information about epic in Africa we may add still further information, from the realm of praise poetry. When we take an overall look at the evidence collected in Africa, it appears that praise poetry, in the process of diffusion from local towards more regional contexts of performance, progressively takes on the characteristics of what we might otherwise call epic. This trend is markedly noticeable, for example, in the traditions of praise poetry in Xhosa society. [148] Here we may adduce the internal evidence of Greek civilization concerning the relationship of epic with praise {60|61} poetry. Following the formulation of Aristotle’s Poetics (1448b27, 32–34), who derives epic from praise poetry, I have argued elsewhere that the form and content of a Greek poetic tradition that calls itself aînos or ‘praise’, as represented by the victory odes of Pindar, can be reconstructed as a basis for the development of what we know as epic. [149] In line with my intent to avoid monogenetic theories for the origins of Greek epic, [150] it is important to stress that praise poetry can be reconstructed as a basis, not the basis, for the development of epic. [151] Still, the internal testimony of ancient Greek epic itself implies the outright derivation of epic from praise. We may note references made by Greek epic to primal scenes of praise and blame poetry, as we see in the brief retelling of the Judgment of Paris scene in Iliad XXIV 29–30, where the Homeric tradition itself represents the genesis of epic in terms of a primal opposition of praise poetry to blame poetry. [152]
As we look more closely at the comparative evidence concerning the relationship of praise poetry and epic, we can find further justification for deriving Greek epic, at least in part, from praise poetry. {61|62} In my earlier work, I studied in great detail the occasional nature of the ancient Greek praise-poem or aînos. [153] Here I simply compare this feature of occasionality in ancient Greek praise-poetry with the occasionality of epic in the oral traditions of India, especially on the more local levels. In India, we find clear instances where plot variation is radically conditioned by the nature of the audience. [154] Such conditioning reveals the dependence of the performers on their audiences. Let us take as an example of such performers the Nayaks, a caste of hereditary singers of the Pābūjī epic tradition found primarily in central and south Rajasthan, who “circulate from village to village on a yearly beat seeking patrons.” [155] The musical instruments of the professional performers tend to be chordophonic, requiring rigorous training. [156] In the commissioning of a Nayak performance of the Pābūjī epic, “the patron’s devotion is the most important measure of the performance.” [157] The patronage can occur on the level of festivals, but most often on the level of the village; “patrons may sponsor a performance for one night or a series of nights.” [158] One motivation for a sponsor’s undertaking of a sponsorship is to fulfill a vow. [159] Such a relationship between patron and poet offers a wide spectrum of comparative insights into the sociology, as it were, of praise poetry in ancient Greece.
The ad hoc orientation of the ancient Greek praise-poem or aînos, with its persistent internal references to the occasion of its performance and to the expectations of its audience, stands in marked contrast to the stance taken in the Homeric tradition of epic, which programmatically shades over any reference to any specific occasion of performance and thus implies that it is worthy of universal {62|63} acceptance, that is, of unconditional reception. [160] It is as if the epic of Homer had outgrown the need for occasionality of performance. Similarly in the praise poetry of the Xhosa, the phenomenon of diffusion entails the widening of perspective in the content of praise:
The elliptical Xhosa isibongo [praise-songs] consist of short-hand allusions that are normally understood by the poet’s local audience, familiar as they are with the subjects of the poetry and the context of historical narrative and anecdote current in the community. But if the poet is conscious that his audience is suddenly wider, expanded beyond the local limits of his usual performances, then he might wish to gloss the potentially puzzling allusions, to incorporate the footnotes into his text, as it were. [161]
The wording here, with emphasis on text as a metaphor for composition in oral poetics, is apt, in the sense that the authoritativeness of such a composition is made analogous to the potential authoritativeness of a written text. And so we come back full circle to our point of departure, which is the historical reality of the Homeric text. We have yet to consider the text as text, but by now we can see, at least in its broad outlines, the process of evolution that led to this reality.{63|64}


[ back ] 1. Martin 1989:150. Cf. also Miller 1982b:26: “To avoid further absurd comparisons [criticized in Miller’s previous paragraph; even more vigorous criticism at p. 97 in his book], Homer must be compared with epic poems from typologically and culturally similar epic traditions that share the characteristics of the Homeric texts, and all of Homer’s improvised oral characteristics must be considered together simultaneously.” See also Miller pp. 98–99. On Miller’s use of the term improvise, see Ch.1 n56 above.
[ back ] 2. See in general Lord, The Singer of Tales (1960), whose formulations represent the legacy of his own fieldwork and the earlier work of Parry (collected papers, published 1971).
[ back ] 3. N 1981 (“An Evolutionary Model for the Text Fixation of Homeric Epos,” published in the Festschrift for Albert Lord). Further argumentation in N 1979:5–9 and N 1990a:53–55, 79–80.
[ back ] 4. A notable example is the son of Milman Parry: Adam Parry, “Have we Homer’s Iliad?” (1966); for a critique, see Jensen 1980:90–92. For further criticism of such views, cf. Taplin 1992:36. As my discussion proceeds, it will become clear that I agree with the reasoning of Miller 1982a:8, who concludes: “the distant symmetry (including intricate verbal parallelisms), frequently adduced as evidence for a written composition (e.g. Kiparsky 1976:103f; Goold 1977:32f), is irrelevant.” See also Miller 1982b:100. Finally, I disagree with Lloyd-Jones 1992, especially pp. 56–57, whose arguments do not reckon with such counter-arguments as found in N 1990a:1, with bibliography.
[ back ] 5. Wade-Gery 1952:13–14. Cf. Robb 1978. For a critique of such arguments, see Harris 1989:45n3, who also warns in particular against the “fallacy” of assuming “that early texts were not utilitarian because the earliest surviving texts are not.” For an ambitious new attempt to connect Homer and the alphabet, see Powell 1991.
[ back ] 6. For an explicit formulation of this view by an anthropologist, see Goody 1977:37 (also Goody and Watt 1968). For a critique of Goody’s formulation, see Harris 1989:40–42, who distances himself from “woolly and grandiose” conceptualizations of writing as the key to human rationality (p. 41). For a further critique, see Thomas 1989:25.
[ back ] 7. See for example Griffin 1980:xii–xiv. A variation on this kind of outlook is the notion of a mode of composition that is transitional between oral and literate. For bibliography on this notion of a transitional text, with counterarguments, see Jensen 1980:89–92, expanding on the arguments of Lord 1960:129, 135–138, 154–156.
[ back ] 8. N 1990a:18; also pp. 8–9, 53–55, 79–80. Cf. Janko 1982:188: “If we accept, as I believe we should, that writing played no part in the composition (as opposed to the recording) of the Homeric and Hesiodic poems...”; he leaves room, however, for the possibility that writing was used for performance (for example, p. 276n1).
[ back ] 9. The premier formulation of the “dictation theory”: Lord 1953. Rewritten, with minimal changes, in Lord 1991:38–48 (with an “Addendum 1990” at pp. 47–48). The significance of this work was recognized by Sealey 1957:328–329.
[ back ] 10. See especially West 1990. Cf. also Janko 1982:191: “it is difficult to refuse the conclusion that the texts [= the Homeric epics] were fixed at the time when each was composed, whether by rote memorisation or by oral dictated texts.” Earlier applications include Jensen 1980:92. For a critical reassessment of dictation-theories as they are applied to Near Eastern texts, see Hillers and McCall 1976.
[ back ] 11. For a formulation of such an extent of diffusion, see West 1990:33. West 1988:152 sets the terminus post quem at about 630, apparently following the lead of Friis Johansen 1967, who applies the testimony of archaic Greek art concerning narrative traditions that are comparable to what we find in the Homeric Iliad. At p. 84, Friis Johansen concludes that “Corinthian and Argive artists were well versed in the Iliad at least from around 625, not merely in selected sections, but in the entire poem.” In the discussion that follows, I will argue that the iconographic evidence from the archaic period refers to epic traditions, including Iliadic and Odyssean traditions, but not to written texts.
[ back ] 12. For a realistic assessment of the available historical facts concerning the first 250-odd years of attested alphabetic literacy in archaic Greece, see Harris 1989:46–47, especially p. 46: “for many generations, written texts were employed for a very limited range of purposes and by a very limited number of people.” Cf. also Jensen 1980:94. Pioneering work in the study of ancient Greek literacy: Havelock 1963, 1982.
[ back ] 13. Again, Harris p. 46.
[ back ] 14. So West 1990:34.
[ back ] 15. Lord 1991 [1953]:44.
[ back ] 16. Sealey 1957:329. Sealey at p. 328n59 actually cites Lord’s 1953 article proposing the “dictation theory.”
[ back ] 17. Sealey p. 330.
[ back ] 18. Ibid.
[ back ] 19. Lord in introduction to Parry, Lord, and Bynum 1974:8–9.
[ back ] 20. Jensen 1980:87.
[ back ] 21. On the use of written texts as mnemonic aids in some of the living oral traditions of modern India, see the observations of Blackburn 1988:23–26, 28–29, 93–94 on contemporary Tamil evidence. In some cultures, however, it is clear that written texts are functionally not so much scripts for performance as they are models for recomposition-in-performance. Cf. Davidson 1994:19–72 on medieval Persian poetic traditions.
[ back ] 22. West 1990:49–50. I note in passing the feelings of frustration recorded by Radloff 1990 [1885]:86 over what he felt were relatively inferior compositions when he had the Kirghiz singers perform for dictation.
[ back ] 23. N 1990a:19n7, with examples. I see no evidence to support the notion that there was extensive writing in books as early as the eighth century BCE, and that what we see in the early poetic inscriptions is but the tip of an iceberg. Centuries later, we can still see examples in vase-paintings of anachronistic representations that show a style of lettering in books, that is, papyrus-rolls, that does not match the real style of lettering in real books but is actually more appropriate to the style of lettering found in inscriptions: see Thomas 1989:31n55.
[ back ] 24. Svenbro 1988:33–52 (= 1993:26–43), especially pp. 36–38 (= 29–31); cf. also Day 1989. The texts studied by Svenbro fall into two main categories: 1) inscriptions on funerary markers, including seventeen dated before 600 BCE (p. 38), and 2) inscriptions on votive objects, about a thousand of them, ranging in date from the eighth century all the way to the end of the fifth (p. 46).
[ back ] 25. In one such inscription, CEG 286, the figurative voice of the inscribed letters promises that it “answers” the same thing to all men who ask their questions: the key word is hupokrínomai ‘I answer’ πᾶσιν ἴσ᾿ ἀνθρόποι|ς ὑποκρίνομαι ὅστις ἐ[ρ|ο]τᾶι : ὅς μ᾿ ἀνέθεκ᾿ ἀνδ|ρῶν· Ἀντι|φάνες δεκάτεν ‘I answer like things to all humans, whoever asks: the one, among men, who set me up, as a tithe: Antiphanes’. See N 1990a:168n95.
[ back ] 26. Svenbro 1988, especially p. 48 (= 1993:40).
[ back ] 27. More on this topic below.
[ back ] 28. Svenbro 1988:53 (= 1993:44).
[ back ] 29. Svenbro 1988:33–52 (= 1993:26–43); cf. also Day 1989.
[ back ] 30. See N 1990a:18–19n7, with further bibliography (especially Gentili and Giannini 1977:22–25): when Hector is imagining that someone will say the words that he proceeds to quote, these words follow formal conventions that can be verified on the basis of genuinely attested early poetic inscriptions. Martin 1989:136 stresses “a remarkable trait” of Hector’s represented style of speaking: the use of direct quotation ... to dramatize for his audience what he imagines will happen.” Martin continues (ibid.): “Hector displaces memory onto an anonymous voice that speaks the language of praise or blame. ... [H]is rhetoric is ... constrained by the imagined speech-acts of others.”
[ back ] 31. This suggestion is recorded in passing by Janko 1982:277n3, along with bibliography.
[ back ] 32. For a brief review of the arguments, see N 1990a:21–24, 28–29.
[ back ] 33. See again N p. 18; also pp. 8–9, 53–55, 79–80. I therefore agree with the formulation of Sealey 1957:330: “Those who hold the theory of ‘oral dictated texts’ suppose that, about 700 [BCE], some Greeks recognized the special merit of the Iliad; yet, as far as can be discovered, those Greeks had learnt to recognize merit, not in songs, but in singers.”
[ back ] 34. References and further discussion in N 1990a:78; cf. in general pp. 72–79 (following p. 19n10).
[ back ] 35. For a survey, see Pfeiffer 1968:73.
[ back ] 36. Pfeiffer pp. 73–74, who remarks about Aristotle that “his differentiation between Homer, the poet of the Iliad and Odyssey, and the rest of the early epic poets, of whom he displays intimate knowledge in chapter 23 of the Poetics, seems to have been final.”
[ back ] 37. Pfeiffer p. 117. I omit Pfeiffer’s phrasing “...followed the lead of Aristotle and... .”
[ back ] 38. N 1979, following Snodgrass 1971:421, 435; also pp. 352, 376, 416–417, 421, 431.
[ back ] 39. Updated formulation in Snodgrass 1987:160, 165; also Morris 1986:123.
[ back ] 40. N 1990a:53. The recessive accent of Ἕλληνες ‘Hellenes’, an innovation that evidently superseded the expected *Ἑλλῆνες, indicates that the simplex form Ἕλληνες is predicated on the compound form Πανέλληνες ‘pan-Hellenes’ as attested in Iliad II 530 and Hesiod Works and Days 528: see Chantraine DELG 341. Thus the accentual history of the word for ‘Hellene’ shows that the very concept of ‘Hellene’ is predicated on the concept of ‘pan-Hellene’.
[ back ] 41. N 1981. This model is an alternative to the “dictation theory,” cited above at cross-ref. Preeminent among earlier attempts to develop an evolutionary model is Gilbert Murray’s The Rise of Greek Epic (1934; first published in 1907). According to Murray’s model, as Davison 1963:253–254 points out, the Iliad and Odyssey “had not taken their final form until the second century B.C.” Davison p. 254 continues: “There is no room in this argument for any individual Homer; and, except for Murray’s high opinion of the poetic quality of the existing Iliad and Odyssey (which he shares with Wolf, Grote and his followers, and Robert), his basic theory is as nihilistic as d’Aubignac’s or Lachmann’s.”
[ back ] 42. Cf. N 1979:7–9; cf. also N 1990a:53–58. For a favorable assessment of this hermeneutic construct, see Snodgrass 1987:160, 165.
[ back ] 43. N 1990a:53–58 (especially p. 56 with reference to Bausinger 1980:52; also p. 57 with reference to Zwettler 1978:221).
[ back ] 44. N 1990a:53. Cf. also Pucci 1987:29n30.
[ back ] 45. Goody 1972.
[ back ] 46. See also Goody 1977:119. This comparative evidence is applied to the question of Homeric poetry in Morris 1986:84–85; see also p. 87 concerning the application of comparative evidence from the traditions of the Tiv in Nigeria.
[ back ] 47. Further discussion in N 1990a:53, 55, 60, 72, 73, 171.
[ back ] 48. N 1990a:70–71.
[ back ] 49. The quoted passage at this point introduces a footnote, the contents of which I criticize in my n50, immediately below.
[ back ] 50. Griffith 1990:194–195. At a point that I mark with n49 in the quoted text, Griffith (p. 205n40) adds the following observation: “This is argued, e.g., by G. Nagy (forthcoming), with reference to C. Lévi-Strauss, The Way of the Masks (tr. S. Modelski, Seattle 1982); but it will be clear from what follows that I think few poems apart from the Iliad and Odyssey laid much claim to pan[-]Hellenic status at the time of their composition.” Here he cross-refers to his p. 204n34, where in turn he refers to his article, Griffith 1983, especially his remarks there at pp. 46–47. For a response to those remarks, see my book Pindar’s Homer (N 1990a), p. 79. The forthcoming work to which Griffith referred can now be cited as pp. 57–65 in the same book, Pindar’s Homer (N 1990a), with special reference to the Works and Days of Hesiod.
[ back ] 51. Cf. N 1995a:ch.5 and ch.6; also N 1995b.
[ back ] 52. N 1990b:ch.1, especially pp. 9–10. Cf. Sherratt 1990:817–821, who maps out roughly the same time-frame, with further subdivisions.
[ back ] 53. N 1990a:21–25, 52–81.
[ back ] 54. Ibid. Cf. N 1995:ch.5.
[ back ] 55. N 1995:ch. 6 and ch.7.
[ back ] 56. Ibid.
[ back ] 57. N 1990a:21–25. For an inventory of primary sources, besides Lycurgus Against Leokrates 102, see Davison 1955:7. See also Seaford 1994, especially p. 73, where the “narrative development” of the Iliadic ending is correlated with “the historical development of the polis.” For another view on pan-Hellenic festivals as a context for the performance of epic, cf. Taplin 1992:39. For bibliography on earlier views on the possible role of festivals as a context for Homeric performance, see Thalmann 1984:119 plus 222n19. For a discussion of the evidence of vase paintings as a criterion for determining the fixation of Homeric traditions, especially in Athens, see Lowenstam 1993a, especially p. 216.
[ back ] 58. N 1990a:52–81. See also Shapiro 1983, 1990, 1992, 1993. On the claim of the Peisistratidai to be descended from the Homeric Peisistratos, son of Nestor, see N p. 155, citing Shapiro 1983, especially p. 89. On the effects of the régime of the Peisistratidai on the contents of Homeric poetry, especially the Odyssey, see Catenacci 1993 (at pp. 7–8n2, he offers a useful summary of Aloni 1984 and 1986). Cf. Cook 1995. All this is not to deny that there may well have been earlier associations of Nestor and his lineage with the lineages of other historical dynasties, such as those at Colophon and Miletus (cf. Janko 1992:134 for bibliography). See also the remarks on the Panathenaia in N 1990a.21–23, 28, 54, 73, 75, 160, 174, 192. I agree with Shapiro 1992:73 that the Panathenaia, as reorganized by the Peisistratidai of Athens, played a major role in the privileging of the Iliad and Odyssey as the definitive poems of Homer.
[ back ] 59. For justification of the term oral, with specific reference to the Rajasthani epic traditions, see especially Smith 1990, who considers in detail the absence of a role to be played by the existing technology of writing in the composition and performance of epic.
[ back ] 60. A key work: Oral Epics in India (ed. Blackburn, Claus, Flueckiger, and Wadley, 1989), hereafter abbreviated as OEI. Crucial articles in the volume: S. H. Blackburn and J. B. Flueckiger, “Introduction,” pp. 1–11; S. H. Blackburn, “Patterns of Development for Indian Oral Epics,” pp. 15–32; J. B. Flueckiger, “Caste and Regional Variants in an Oral Epic Tradition,” pp. 33–54; P. J. Claus, “Behind the Text: Performance and Ideology in a Tulu Oral Tradition,” pp. 55–74; S. S. Wadley, “Choosing a Path: Performance Strategies in a North Indian Epic,” pp. 75–101; K. Kothari, “Performers, Gods, and Heroes in the Oral Epics of Rajasthan,” pp. 102–117; K. Schomer, “Paradigms for the Kali Yuga: The Heroes of the Ālhā Epic and their Fate,” pp. 140–154; J. D. Smith, “Scapegoats of the Gods: The Ideology of the Indian Epics,” pp. 176–194.
[ back ] 61. I draw attention to the specific use of the terms “pan-Indian” and “geographical diffusion” by Blackburn 1989:27.
[ back ] 62. Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989:6.
[ back ] 63. In what follows, I rely especially on the work of Smith 1980.
[ back ] 64. Smith p. 48. I may add that the variations attested in the textual tradition of these two monumental epics can be cited as indirect evidence for the relative lateness of text-fixation.
[ back ] 65. Smith p. 49.
[ back ] 66. Smith p. 73 notes that “the Rāmāyaṇa had been composed in the manner of an epic, rather than having evolved as an epic”; I suggest that a similar argument could be developed about the Homeric Odyssey, as opposed to the Iliad.
[ back ] 67. Smith p. 49.
[ back ] 68. Smith p. 49.
[ back ] 69. Smith p. 49. On analogies to the Brahmin/Kṣatriya distinction in the context of the emerging Greek city-state, see N 1990b:276–293.
[ back ] 70. The essence of the Sūta class is traditionally formulated in terms of genealogy: viewed as sons of a union between a female of the Brahmin class and a male of the Kṣatriya class, they are assigned the social roles of tending horses, driving chariots, and serving as court poets (cf. N 1990b:291–292n82).
[ back ] 71. Smith p. 50.
[ back ] 72. Smith p. 75n4. It is fair to say that Kṛṣṇa becomes the god of the Mahābhārata, to the degree that “the epic is his theophany” (Smith p. 72).
[ back ] 73. J. D. Smith’s overview of accretive patterns in Sanskrit epic is not explicit in this regard. The work of another expert, M. C. Smith 1992, is pertinent to the question of accretion in the process of oral tradition, though I do not necessarily agree with her ultimate formulation. She posits a “nucleus” of 3,000 verses (distinguished by the epic “irregular” triṣṭubh meter) as opposed to the 75,000 verses in the Poona critical edition of the Mahābhārata.
[ back ] 74. I should stress that, besides whatever similarities we may observe between the living oral traditions of contemporary India on the one hand and the two classical Sanskrit epics on the other, we should also expect a host of differences. One particular point of interest is the special role played by the Brahmin class in the perpetuation of the Sanskrit epics. There is also a related question: to what degree was the technology of writing an actual factor in the mnemonic traditions associated with the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa?
[ back ] 75. Further below, I offer minimalist working definitions of “myth” and “ritual”; cf. also N 1990b:8–10, summarizing the formulations of Burkert 1979b and 1985:8.
[ back ] 76. So N 1990b:10.
[ back ] 77. Wadley 1989:79.
[ back ] 78. Kothari 1989:102.
[ back ] 79. Pötscher 1961; further discussion in Householder and Nagy 1972b:50–52, especially on the relationship of the forms Hḗrā ‘Hera’, Hērakléēs ‘Herakles’, and hḗrōs ‘hero’. These works have not been taken into account by Adams 1987. See also Davidson 1980, especially pp. 199–200; also Sinos 1980:14, and Slatkin 1986. Further comments on the thematic connections between the heroes Herakles and Achilles in Martin 1989:228–230 and N 1990b:12–15. On Achilles as pan-a-ṓrios ‘the untimeliest of them all’ see N 1985.62. More on Hḗrā , Hērakléēs, and hḗrōs in O’Brien 1993:115–119, especially p. 116n9; see also Kazansky 1989.
[ back ] 80. N 1979:182–184 (with reference to Iliad XVIII 54–60, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, and Adonis-rituals); cf. also 114–121, 152–153, 174, 190–193.
[ back ] 81. N 1979, especially p. 9. For a brief overview, with further bibliography, see N 1990b:10–13.
[ back ] 82. N 1979:7–10.
[ back ] 83. Cf. N 1990a:400, 136–142; also 245n129 (on Herodotus 1.31.5: the goddess Hera presides over the télos ‘fulfilment’ of Kleobis and Biton, two young athletes who are “on time” to take up the task of drawing the oxcart of the priestess of Hera when the sacrificial oxen designated to draw it fail to be “on time”).
[ back ] 84. Kothari 1989:105.
[ back ] 85. Kothari 1989:105–106.
[ back ] 86. Kothari 1989:102.
[ back ] 87. Blackburn 1989:25; cf. also Kothari 1989:110.
[ back ] 88. Blackburn 1989:25.
[ back ] 89. Blackburn 1989:26. “Indologists have often speculated that the cults of Rāma and Kṛṣṇa underwent a similar process of development” (ibid.).
[ back ] 90. See N 1990b:11; cf. Morris 1986:129. See also Morris 1988.
[ back ] 91. See the overview, written collaboratively, in OEI 240–241.
[ back ] 92. Kothari 1989:110.
[ back ] 93. Kothari 1989:110.
[ back ] 94. Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989:10.
[ back ] 95. Blackburn 1989:22.
[ back ] 96. Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989:11.
[ back ] 97. Blackburn 1989:20. For a perspective that stresses the aspect of entertainment at the expense of other aspects in ancient Greek poetics, see Heath 1990.
[ back ] 98. Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989:11.
[ back ] 99. Blackburn 1989:21–22. The last point is illustrated by Blackburn pp. 24–25 with two examples. In the Pābūjī narrative, which counts as a regional epic in his taxonomy, the Pābūjī figure turns out to be a reincarnation of the pan-Indian figure Lakṣmaṇa, the younger brother of Rāma. In the Devnārāyaṇ narrative, another regional epic, the hero Devnārāyaṇ turns out to be none other than the god Viṣṇu himself.
[ back ] 100. Highlighting mine.
[ back ] 101. Blackburn 1989:17–18. We may note the gap between the maximum assigned to the regional category, 300 miles, and the minimum assigned to the supraregional, 400. This gap reflects the fact that the data-gathering is still at an early stage. The map that reflects the evidence available so far, as presented by Blackburn on p. 19, “is intended to present only the approximate spread of the traditions” (p. 17). Moreover, this map represents only the positive evidence of attestations, and the negative evidence indicating where certain epic traditions are not being performed is so far limited to the local and subregional traditions (p. 17). Thus the accuracy of the mapping “decreases as geographical spread increases” (ibid.).
[ back ] 102. Smith 1989:178.
[ back ] 103. On which see Blackburn 1989:27.
[ back ] 104. Blackburn 1989:23.
[ back ] 105. Blackburn p. 23.
[ back ] 106. As in the bow song tradition of the Tampimār, on which see Blackburn 1989.22.
[ back ] 107. Blackburn 1989:18.
[ back ] 108. Flueckiger 1989:33.
[ back ] 109. Blackburn 1989:30. Cf. Schomer 1989:142–143. In general, the Ālhā epic defies the typologies established by Blackburn 1989, as he concedes at p. 29. As for Blackburn’s concession about the heroes of the Mahābhārata, there are exceptions to the exception: folk traditions can deify heroes of Sanskrit epic, as in the case of the Draupadī cults of central Tamil Nadu, on which see Blackburn p. 30n23.
[ back ] 110. Blackburn 1989:23.
[ back ] 111. Smith 1989:185.
[ back ] 112. See e.g. N 1990b:122–142. For more on the conventional universalization of mortality and death in Homeric poetry, see N 1990a:143n40.
[ back ] 113. Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989:9.
[ back ] 114. Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989:9. In this context, we may note the following important observation: “each north Indian folk song genre usually has a distinctive textural and melodic pattern and many genres are melody-specific” (Wadley 1989:93).
[ back ] 115. Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989:9.
[ back ] 116. Wadley 1989:80.
[ back ] 117. Details in N 1990a:56–67. Burkert 1992 organizes his chapters along the lines of categories of dēmiourgós as catalogued in Odyssey xvii 381–385. On the varying degrees of quasi-professionalism in African traditions of song, see Okpewho 1979:35–50.
[ back ] 118. Kothari 1989:103.
[ back ] 119. For a far-reaching investigation of such mirroring, see Martin 1989.
[ back ] 120. Rösler 1980.
[ back ] 121. For an illustration of the “catholic/epichoric” dichotomy in the application of non-epic compositions, see e.g. the commentary on Theognis 367–370 in N 1990a:374–375.
[ back ] 122. Kothari 1989:103.
[ back ] 123. Cf. Kothari 1989:103. For the attestation of competition events in Ḍholā epic performance in western Uttar Pradesh, see Wadley 1989:98.
[ back ] 124. N 1990a:22–24, 77, 137n7, 353–354, 386, 401–403. Cf. Martin 1989:227.
[ back ] 125. Blackburn and Flueckiger 1989:9.
[ back ] 126. Flueckiger 1989:36.
[ back ] 127. Flueckiger 1989:41.
[ back ] 128. Flueckiger 1989:37.
[ back ] 129. Flueckiger 1989:40.
[ back ] 130. Flueckiger 1989:40.
[ back ] 131. See N 1974:118–139 (“The Wedding of Hector and Andromache: Epic Contacts in Sappho 44LP”).
[ back ] 132. I asked John D. Smith, an expert in this field, for his opinion (May 11, 1993, at the University of Cambridge), and his answer was “yes.”
[ back ] 133. Claus 1989:60. For typological parallels to such a convention, where the hero communicates directly with the audience through the performer, see Martin 1989:234.
[ back ] 134. Claus 1989:60. Instances of switching from third to second to first person: Claus p. 74.
[ back ] 135. Claus 1989:72.
[ back ] 136. Claus 1989:60.
[ back ] 137. Claus 1989:72.
[ back ] 138. Extensive discussion in N 1990a:56–57
[ back ] 139. See e.g. Hatto 1980:307; cited, with further analogies, by Martin 1989:6–7. Also Reichel 1992:113–117.
[ back ] 140. My addendum: we may compare the conventions of the ancient Greek prooímion or ‘prelude’, which afford the most distinct opportunities for the performer to refer to the occasion of performance: see N 1990a:79n133, 353–360. Cf. also N 1990b:53–61.
[ back ] 141. Radloff 1990 [1885]:85.
[ back ] 142. The apt description of Sienkewicz 1991:184. For a general assessment of his work, see Tompkins 1992:157: “Sienkewicz is not simply, in the condescending manner of many classicists, dragging in Sunjata as a ‘test case’ or ‘parallel’ to the Iliad: if the Iliad had never been composed, Sienkewicz’s study of this important epic would remain substantial and meritorious. ... There is a clear parallel with Wickersham’s [1991] essay, in the sense that both [essays] view epics as continuously evolving, never frozen.”
[ back ] 143. Ibid.
[ back ] 144. Sienkewicz p. 186.
[ back ] 145. References in Sienkewicz p. 187.
[ back ] 146. Sienkewicz pp. 187–188.
[ back ] 147. Sienkewicz p. 194.
[ back ] 148. A key work is Opland 1989. Cf. also Opland 1988. In Manding oral poetry, we may note that the Sunjata epic tradition features distinct characteristics of praise poetry in the context of quoting direct address, which is “sung in a style different from the narrative sections of the epic” (Sienkewicz 1991:195, following Innes 1974:17–20).
[ back ] 149. N 1990a:146–198, an expanded version of N 1986. Cf. Lord 1991:36–37.
[ back ] 150. N pp. 459–464.
[ back ] 151. Following [J. W.] Johnson 1980:321, Sienkewicz 1991:200 notes that the existing combination of the narrative with praise song in the Sunjata epic tradition demonstrates “the multigeneric nature of African epic.” Besides praise poetry, other kinds of songmaking that shape the development of epic include lament, especially women’s lament. See N 1979:94–117 on the affinities of epic with the song-traditions of lamentation; also Martin 1989:86–87, 131, 144. Moreover, as Martin shows at p. 144, “praise and lament are intertwined.” In Pindar Isthmian 8:56–60, the song of lament performed by the Muses at the funeral pyre of Achilles is represented as the germ for a song of praise glorifying the heroic deeds of Achilles; this song becomes, implicitly, the epic tradition of Achilles. See N p. 177: “Pindar’s words are ... implying that the epic of Achilles amounts to an eternal outflow of the thrênos [lament] performed for Achilles by the Muses themselves.” On the idea, as expressed in Greek songmaking traditions, that the sung glories of men are ultimately controlled through the laments that their female kinsfolk will sing about them after they are dead, see Sultan 1993.
[ back ] 152. See N 1990b:16–17. Cf. Martin 1989:102–103, 108, 110 on praise-poetics embedded in Homeric narrative, especially with reference to the poetics inherent in the discourse of Nestor. Martin p. 102 remarks that “Nestor resembles the perfect praise-poet” (at p. 103 he refutes the stereotype of Nestor as “a caricature of geriatric loquacity”). For a particularly acute set of observations on the functional opposition of praise and blame, as played out in Iliad X 249–250, see Martin pp. 94–95, extending the arguments developed about the same passage in N 1979:34–35.
[ back ] 153. N 1990a:146–338.
[ back ] 154. E.g. Flueckiger 1989:50n17.
[ back ] 155. Kothari 1989:103.
[ back ] 156. Kothari 1989:103.
[ back ] 157. Kothari 1989:104.
[ back ] 158. Kothari 1989:104.
[ back ] 159. Kothari 1989:104.
[ back ] 160. Extensive discussion, with examples from both epic and praise poetry, in N 1990a:146–214. Opland 1989:139 offers an interesting application of Xhosa evidence as a parallel to my model of pan-Hellenization.
[ back ] 161. Opland p. 139.