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Alternative title:

The Iliad and Its Epic Tradition. On the Greek Oral Tradition

Subject and Keywords:

Homer   oral tradition   epic poetry


The aim of the book is to reconstruct the nature of the Greek oral epic tradition, from which came the Iliad. The task requires a comprehensive approach, which is why the author discusses several issues. Since the Iliad is part of the Trojan Cycle, the basic issue is to defi ne what this cycle in fact was and how it came into being. It turns out that the epic cycle is not an exclusively Greek phenomenon and that we can present an evolutionary model of its emergence. However, not in all cultures was its form so developed. An important role in the evolution of the cycle is played by the generation of various accomplishments of its protagonists, oft en multiplied in their form; emergence of specific roles of specifi c protagonists; as well as a specifi c way of presenting a song during a singer’s performance, reaching to the beginning and end of a given story.In every oral culture a song presents only an episode from the entire known epic tradition, the threads of which are oft en tangled and irregularly interwoen. Our expectations with regard to a consistently built plot in this multi-version and ephemeral matter are groundlessly anachronistic. A typical example of a developed cycle seems to be Mahabharata, which presents an entire heroic war in all its aspects, oft en presenting diff erent versions of events. Perhaps if it had not been for the unique emergence of the Iliad, or a group of well-developed epic works in Greece, we would be dealing with a similar approach to the cycle as a unifi ed form. Yet the Iliad, like the other works of the cycle, presents an episode against the background of the story of the entire Trojan War. Th is may have been a trend in epic poem performance in that period, very unlikely connected with its preservation in any written form. Th e result was that the plot of a single episode, like the one described in the Iliad, became independent. Th is emancipation of the song plot is, however, a secondary result of the functioning of the song in the 7th and 6th centuries BC, perhaps associatd with a change in the formula of presenting songs in a broader public space, e.g. during agons held to coincide with religious celebrations.

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