Orality and early Greek epic: Jonathan Ready
Prof. Jonathan Ready (Michigan), ‘How I Think We Should Think about Orality and the Homeric Epics’
'One can approach the issue of orality and Homeric epic by studying everyday language production (see the work of Egbert Bakker, Elizabeth Minchin, or Raymond Person). One can also approach the issue of orality and Homeric epic by studying modern oral performance. My scholarship does the latter as it tries to illuminate the Homeric poems from comparative and interdisciplinary perspectives. My presentation for the series reflects on this previous work and suggests new directions for research. I first return to my 2018 book, The Homeric Simile in Comparative Perspectives: Oral Traditions from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia (Oxford), and review the different ways Homerists have implemented comparative approaches. I focus especially on scholarship that attempts to reconstruct what happened in the Homeric case given what happens in the case of modern oral traditions. This review leads me to consider Gísli Sigurđsson’s declaration, “It is impermissible to postulate something for oral art forms of former ages for which we do not possess living examples in the present” (“Orality Harnessed: How to Read Written Sagas from an Oral Culture,” in E. Mundal and J. Wellendorf (eds.), Oral Art Forms and Their Passage into Writing, Copenhagen, 2008, pp. 19–28 at 26–7). Exploration of oral performance also requires exploration of how orality and textuality interact. The second thing I do in my presentation is discuss the scribes who produced the Hellenistic-era wild papyri of the Homeric epics. Building on scholarship on oral performance, I have argued that these scribes perform in the act of copying their exemplar (Orality, Textuality, and the Homeric Epics: An Interdisciplinary Study of Oral Texts, Dictated Texts, and Wild Texts, Oxford, 2019). I aim to clarify components of my model by juxtaposing it with two other 2019 publications: Casey Dué’s Achilles Unbound: Multiformity and Tradition in the Homeric Epics (Washington DC, 2019) and William Tooman’s “Authenticating Oral and Memory Variants in Ancient Hebrew Literature” (Journal of Semitic Studies (2019) 64: 91–114). I end by pointing to the need for Homerists to attend to scholarship from outside classical studies on the figure of the writing oral poet. Of the three models of the textualization of Homeric epic—Albert Lord’s dictation model, Gregory Nagy’s evolutionary model, and Martin West’s writing oral poet model—the last one remains undertheorized.'
This event is part of a series of free, online seminars on the topic of orality and early Greek epic, hosted by Frances Pickworth and Pantelis Michelakis at the University of Bristol. To find out more about the series, including other speakers, please visit the seminar homepage.
To attend this event or other seminars in the series, please register via Zoom. Registration is free. If you have any questions about the series or problems signing up, please email Frances Pickworth at email@example.com.