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Homeric Responses

By Gregory Nagy

Publication Year: 2003

The Homeric Iliad and Odyssey are among the world’s foremost epics. Yet, millennia after their composition, basic questions remain about them. Who was Homer—a real or an ideal poet? When were the poems composed—at a single point in time, or over centuries of composition and performance? And how were the poems committed to writing? These uncertainties have been known as The Homeric Question, and many scholars, including Gregory Nagy, have sought to solve it. In Homeric Responses, Nagy presents a series of essays that further elaborate his theories regarding the oral composition and evolution of the Homeric epics. Building on his previous work in Homeric Questions and Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond and responding to some of his critics, he examines such issues as the importance of performance and the interaction between audience and poet in shaping the poetry; the role of the rhapsode (the performer of the poems) in the composition and transmission of the poetry; the “irreversible mistakes” and cross-references in the Iliad and Odyssey as evidences of artistic creativity; and the Iliadic description of the shield of Achilles as a pointer to the world outside the poem, the polis of the audience.

Published by: University of Texas Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. v


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p. vii

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p. viii

I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all who have given me advice about various parts of this book, especially to Egbert Bakker, Graeme Bird, Timothy Boyd, Jonathan Burgess, Miriam Carlisle, Erwin Cook, Olga Davidson, Stamatia Dova, Casey Du

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pp. ix-xii

Homeric Responses builds on two earlier books, Homeric Questions (1996) and Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond (1996), which dealt with respectively earlier and later phases in the evolution of Homeric poetry. By Homeric poetry I mean the poetic system underlying the poetic texts that we know as the Iliad and the Odyssey. “Homer” is used throughout this book as a cover term...

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Introduction: Four Questions

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pp. 1-19

The terms “synchronic” and “diachronic” stem from a distinction established by a pioneer in the field of linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure.1 For Saussure, synchrony and diachrony designate respectively a current state of a language and a phase in its evolution.2 I draw attention to Saussure’s linking of “diachrony” and “evolution,” a link that proves to be crucial for understanding...

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Chapter 1: Homeric Responses

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pp. 21-38

In Odyssey 8.72– 83, the first song of Demodokos, we see a link between the oracular clairvoyance of Apollo and the poetic composition of Homer. Such a link, where the god’s prophecy is equated with the plot of the poet’s narrative, is relevant to the word “responses” in my title, which is meant to capture the meaning of the ancient Greek word...

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Chapter 2: Homeric Rhapsodes and the Concept of Diachronic Skewing

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pp. 39-48

Throughout this book, I maintain that the traditions of rhapsodic performance are essential for understanding the evolution of Homeric composition. Such an understanding, however, is impeded by various assumptions about rhapsodes as performers of Homer. Here I challenge some of those assumptions by reexamining the very concept of the...

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Chapter 3: Irreversible Mistakes and Homeric Clairvoyance

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pp. 49-71

In “oral poetry,” mistakes can and do happen in the process of composition-in- performance. Such mistakes, including major mistakes in narration, are documented in the fieldwork of Milman Parry and Albert Lord on South Slavic oral poetic traditions.1 For a striking example, we may turn to Lord’s account, in The Singer of Tales, of a singer who made the same mistake in plot...

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Chapter 4: The Shield of Achilles: Ends of the Iliad and Beginnings of the Polis

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pp. 72-87

Homer critics have begun to interpret the resolution of the Iliad in Book 24, at the end of the epic, as a reflection of a new spirit that emerges from the heroic tradition and culminates in the ethos of the city-state or polis.1 A sign of this ethos is the moment when Achilles, following his mother’s instructions to accept compensation in the form of apoina ‘ransom’ offered by Priam...


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pp. 89-96


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pp. 97-100

E-ISBN-13: 9780292796362
E-ISBN-10: 0292796366
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292705531
Print-ISBN-10: 0292705530

Page Count: 112
Publication Year: 2003

OCLC Number: 614535026
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Homeric Responses

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Homer -- Technique.
  • Epic poetry, Greek -- History and criticism -- Theory, etc.
  • Oral-formulaic analysis.
  • Oral tradition -- Greece.
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