Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond by Gregory Nagy

By Gregory Nagy

This booklet is a comparative learn of oral poetics in literate cultures, targeting the issues of textual fluidity within the transmission of Homeric poetry over part a millennium, from the Archaic during the Hellenistic sessions of historic Greece. It stresses the function of functionality and the performer within the re-creative technique of composition-in-performance. It addresses questions of authority and authorship within the making of oral poetry, and it examines the efforts of historic students to edit a definitive textual content of the "real" Homer.

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The question arises, then, whether we can find cases of a comparable degree of variation in ancient Greek - or for that matter in Latin - textual traditions. From a survey of Martin West’s handbook on textual criticism, we see from the precise wording of his descriptions that the most likely candidates are (1) Greek tragedies, “which suffered extensively from interpolations by actors (or at any rate for their use), probably more in the fourth century BCE than at any later {28|29} time,” [77] (2) the comedies of Plautus, “which may have undergone something of the sort on a smaller scale in the second century,” [78] and (3) the Homeric poems, through the “embellishment” of rhapsōidoí ‘rhapsodes’ as reflected in quotations by authors of the fourth century and in the attested papyri, especially those dated before the middle of the second century.

In version 1a of Song VI, the composition ends as just quoted. In other versions, however, the references to the destined audiences are followed by further references, resulting in a longer song. {13|14} bos es lo sos, e faran hi quas que don most chans gensara Good is the poem if I did not fail in it {alternatively: so I did not fail in it} and all there is in it goes well; and the one who will learn it from me, let him beware lest he change anything for me, [21] for thus may they hear it in Quercy, the viscount and the count in the Toulousain.

One long-range comparative inference reached in previous work extends into the present book, which is, that group dynamics in performance help explain solo dynamics more effectively than the other way around. [13] This inference leads to a new emphasis on the distinction between group and audience, which in turn leads to refinements of the Greek concept of mimesis. Ultimately, these questions converge on a more specific question, that is, the relationship of lyric and epic. Epic is more difficult to define diachronically than lyric.

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