Mind-based Research Meets the Homeric Epics: Looking again at Communicative Strategies in the Homeric Epics

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The publication of Milman Parry’s and, later, Albert Lord’s important work gave rise in the latter years of the 20th century to a number of questions about oral poetic composition: first, how did an oral poet prepare himself for composition in performance? second, what understanding did he, as a professional storyteller, have of memory and its functions? and, third, how did the poet exploit those functions of memory to assist him as he sang? These questions were at the time considered to be ‘askable’, because of a revived research interest in cognition, in how the mind stores information and how it retrieves it. Research into cognition in its many aspects has been a valuable resource for Homerists, not only for the insights it has provided into the processes of oral traditional composition. It has allowed us insight, too, into the poet’s own understanding of the operations of memory and into the way he has built that understanding into his communication of both the motivations and the responses of his characters: the very impulses and reactions, that is, that drive the action of the poems. In this paper I offer an overview of how mind-based studies, when applied to the Homeric epics, can serve as tools for understanding. The two case studies that I include will illuminate, from different perspectives, the poet’s compositional methods and communicative strategies, revealing something of the essential economy that underpins oral storytelling.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRethinking Orality II
Subtitle of host publicationThe Mechanisms of the Oral Communication System in the Case of Archaic Epos
EditorsLaura Lulli, Andrea Ercolani
Place of PublicationBerlin/Boston
PublisherDe Gruyter
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9783110751963, 9783110752052
ISBN (Print)978-3-11-075074-4
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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