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Oral Tradition 21.1 (2006) 148-189

Neoanalysis, Orality, and Intertextuality:
An Examination of Homeric Motif Transference
Jonathan Burgess
University of Toronto

As with other schools of thought in Homeric research, neoanalysis has experienced experimentation and change. 1 Neoanalysts have slowly become aware of points of contact between their methodology and an oralist approach, and recently some oralists have enthusiastically accepted the compatibility of the two schools of thought. Intertextual theory can also provide much insight into the phenomena uncovered by neoanalysis, particularly motif transference. A central concept in neoanalyst methodology, motif transference involves the use of non-Homeric motifs within Homeric poetry. Neoanalysts have persuasively identified examples of motif transference, but their explanation of its mechanics and significance has been lacking. An oralist perspective modifies our understanding of how motif transference is produced and received, and intertextual theory can help explain the possible significance of Homeric reflection of non-Homeric material.

Three levels of narrative are posited for this examination: A) cyclic myth, B) cyclic epic, and C) Homeric epic. Level B (cyclic epic) is an epic version of Level A (cyclic myth). 2 Level C (Homeric epic) exists as a self-conscious [End Page 148] extension of Level A (cyclic myth) and Level B (cyclic epic). Levels B/C (cyclic/Homeric epic) are both manifestations of level A (mythological traditions) that share the same form (long narrative in dactylic hexameter), but Level C (Homeric epic) is a more complex manifestation. While Level B (cyclic epic) presents the narrative in Level A (cylic myth) directly, Level C (Homeric epic) plays off "cyclic" myth and epic in an allusive manner. In the sense that Level C (Homeric epic) employs Level A (mythological traditions) and Level B (cyclic epic) in order to implement its full meaning, we might say that Homeric epic is "metacyclic." 3 Homeric poetry is commonly portrayed as an overwhelming replacement of pre-Homeric tradition, but it is instead a respectful and dependent outgrowth of earlier myth and epic. The traditions from which the Iliad and Odyssey stem are both assumed and appreciated by Homeric poetics.

Motif transference is the transposition of motifs from elsewhere into a Homeric context; the Homeric manifestation of the motif should be recognizably derivative and therefore considered secondary. In my analysis motif transference is not a passive accumulation of influences but an active narratological tool that evokes Trojan war material. Correspondence between Trojan war motifs and their secondary manifestations within the Homeric poems will therefore have implications in terms of meaning. For an audience informed about traditional Greek myth, the secondary Homeric motif will evoke the non-Homeric context, functioning as a subtle yet powerful allusive device. Motif transference so defined would appear to be a distinctive aspect of Homeric poetics. But it is not unrelated to typology and repetition in oral poetry, and it is comparable to such poetic phenomena as mythological exempla, or paradigms. Homeric motif transference is therefore an example of how Homeric technique extends oral poetics yet is not independent of it. [End Page 149]


Neoanalysis is a methodology that employs analyst technique in pursuit of a unitarian interpretation of the Iliad. It assumes the influence of pre-Homeric material on Homeric poetry and attempts to discover indications of this influence within Homeric poetry. Trojan war episodes that fall outside the narrative boundaries of the Homeric poems have usually interested neoanalysts, especially material concerning the death of Achilles. The Iliad and Odyssey directly refer to many events in course of the war, but it is the inexplicit reflection of these events that has been explored in neoanalysis.

As a source for the pre-Homeric tradition of the Trojan war, neoanalysts have primarily used the Epic Cycle. Though the poems of the Cycle are now lost, what we know of them provides important information about the tradition of the Trojan war. Reconstruction of the cyclic tradition can be difficult, and using it as an indication of the pre-Homeric tradition has been controversial. But it is revealing that early Greek artists reflected...


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