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404Philosophy and Literature iniscent of die interlocutor's laughter at die end of TL· Fall. Thus Sprintzen has die last word, accusing Camus ofan inabUity to estabUsh a creative cultural and political praxis. This accusation, however, rings rather hoUow today as the trade unionism of "Solidarity" triumphs in Poland, the slave stands to face die master from Germany to Romania, man refuses once again die denigration of his own and his world's nature to die status of materialistic and historical products, and Camus's words resound throughout Europe. Whitman CollegeDale Cosper TL· Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to tL· Present, by Eric A. Havelock; ix & 144 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986, $16.00. The Greek Muse, the daughter of memory, meets us first in poetry. Only later and graduaUy does prose become her principal medium. Havelock traces this fundamental revolution in human history; die alphabet altered thought. Havelock has written much on the nature and impact of alphabetic literacy. TL· Muse Learns to Write, which summarizes his life's work in its first chapter, is his apologia. Havelock sets his work within major developments in the history of human thought, and castigates unreceptive classical scholars. The argument runs dius: Greek society before 700 bc was totaUy oral. An oral society transmits its values and customs in memorable form, particularly in rhythmic speech, poetry. The Homeric poems are "an 'encyclopaedia' of social habit and custom-law and convention which constituted the Greek cultural tradition of die time when the poems were composed" (p. 58). The Greeks rightly called Homer an educator. The Greek alphabet differed in kind from any preceding script, because it analyzed utterance into basic elements, giving each a sign; it could represent sounds widi minimal ambiguity, but was simple enough for widespread use. The alphabet enabled utterance to be preserved, revisited, and reconsidered. It caused a transition from oral, narrative, and personifying expression to written propositional language. Phüosophy depends on alphabetic writing. The Greek "literate revolution" was gradual. Greek "literature" from Homer to Euripides was essentiaUy oral. When writing became the norm, so did prose. The importance of these contentions is undeniable. Reviews405 Havelock argues diat Greek literature of the first three centuries of literacy (7th-5th) was still oral, designed for die hearer (pp. 87-90). The tension between die oral and the written creates the quality of "high" Greek literature. The resUience of the oral is similarly exemplified in cultures such as diose of Polynesia , nonliterate until relatively recent European contact. These are not exacdy paraUel with Greece (Havelock, pp. 86-87), because Greek literacy was developed by Greeks diemselves, not by dominant foreigners. Yet Maori society in New Zealand, after over 150 years of literate European culture, has retained much oral thought and expression. Deeper comparison with Greek orality would be exciting. Havelock's argument that Homer's poems are an encydopaedic compendium of behavior accords widi Plato and otiiers, but doesn't fit Homer. For wealth of information Homer is incomparable; as an encyclopaedia he is unusable. Consider religion: should one build temples to the gods? Chryses has roofed shrines to Apollo (Iliad 1.39); Adiene has a temple in Troy (Iliad 6.297-98); but in general the gods do widiout. How is a society to learn the right diing from Homer? The Homeric poems describe a partial world; agriculture is only slighdy mentioned. More seriously, Havelock ignores the long evolution of the Homeric poems, which incorporate many stages of society. In warfare, they include chariots but not chariot tactics, have nodiing to say on the use ofcavalry, and little on heavy infantry; for which Greek armies are they useful? Emphasizing the unique efficiency and simplicity of the Greek script, Havelock is perhaps unfair to the Semitic scripts. They are more ambiguous, and suitable only for reasonably predictable material (pp. 91-92). Is every Israeli newspaper that stereotyped? The Old Testament shows "a steady tendency to economize and simplify both thought and action" (p. 91); Havelock compares the creation account in Genesis 1 with the "cosmic geography" of Homer and Hesiod. But a far more lush Hebrew cosmic geography emerges from the Psalms and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 404-405
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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