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EASTERN LITERACY, GREEK


ALPHABET, AND HOMER



SVEN-TAGE TEODORSSON

A
The still ongoing discussion about the question as to when the Homeric
poems were recorded in writing is paradoxical, considering that Milman
Parry did not present a clear idea of this issue, while Albert Lord declared
his unequivocal opinion that Homer himself dictated them. The notion of
a long period of oral transmission until they were finally recorded in the
Pisistratean recension can be seen as a continuation of the old ‘analyst’
theory. It is now time to abandon this theory, seeing that the evidence in
favour of recording in the eighth century has become increasingly stronger
in recent decades. Three contemporary factors in that century together
form decisive evidence indicating that the recording happened at that time,
(1) the intense influence of Eastern culture, not least the influence of lit-
eracy, (2) the newly invented Greek alphabet, and (3) the appearance of
the genius of Homer.

1. The Homeric Question Reshaped


The Homeric question, this matter of dispute and controversy
since 200 years, is still not settled, in spite of the fact that the con-
ditions are now changed. After the pioneer field research in Yugoslavia
in the 1930ies by Milman Parry and Albert Lord,1) who demon-
strated considerable similarities between South Slavic oral poetry
and Homer, the substance of the old discussion of ‘unitarians’ and
‘analysts’ has been replaced by a debate about the time of record-
ing in writing of the Homeric poems. However, the positions of the
old ‘schools’ are still discernable in the new situation. The modern
‘unitarians’, like the old ‘classical’ ones before Parry, emphasize the
unity of composition of the poems and maintain that they are (each)

1) M. Parry 1971; Lord 1953; 1960; 1991.

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162 SVEN-TAGE TEODORSSON

the work of one author and must have been recorded in writing in
his time, while on the other side there are the modernized follow-
ers of Robert Wood (1717-1771), who argued that Homer could
not have been a literate poet, and Friedrich August Wolf (1759-
1824), who, presupposing that the alphabet was not yet in use,
argued that Homer could not have composed poems of the length
of the Iliad and the Odyssey; instead these poems were gradually built
up and expanded, layer by layer, during a period of oral transmission
until they were recorded in writing in the Pisistratean recension.
The discoveries of Parry and Lord have changed the basis for
both sides as to how to explain the genesis of the Homeric poems.
The new understanding of the nature of oral poetry which these
pioneers provided made the old positions untenable, to unitarians
as well as to analysts. Parry’s discovery of the strict technique of
making verse by means of formulaic phrases and noun-epithet for-
mulae made it possible to understand how an oral tradition can be
relatively stable and unchanging over long periods of time.
As a consequence, unitarians could no more regard Homer as a
literate poet like Vergil or Dante sitting at ease, pen in hand, com-
posing his hexameters. The basic material of the poems had obvi-
ously been transmitted orally over a period of time of undefined
length and had not been produced by the author himself at the
moment of composition. The formulaic verse structure clearly showed
that the author of the Homeric poems was primarily an oral poet.
Also the analyst position appeared as no longer tenable. The idea
of distinct layers of composition or different versions of various date
and provenience was not compatible with the picture of an oral
tradition of fluid poetry existing in improvised performances. However,
it now seemed no less reasonable to assume a long period of oral
transmission without great damage to the composition of the author.
Parry himself never expressed any positive opinion about the rela-
tion of Homer’s lifetime to the final shape of the poems. The open
question has nevertheless been commonly answered by the follow-
ers and admirers of Parry in the traditional analyst way, i.e. they
have maintained, and still do, that the poems were not recorded
in writing until the Pisistratean recension.
Milman Parry made two great achievements during his short life:
(1) In his very first scientific production (published only in 1971),
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EASTERN LITERACY, GREEK ALPHABET, AND HOMER 163

his Master of Arts thesis of 1923,2) he presented his discovery of


the systematized formulaic phrasing of traditional oral poetry as dis-
played in the Homeric poems; and (2) in his field work in Yugoslavia
in the middle of the 1930ies he demonstrated the existence of a
similar formulaic verse structure in that heroic epic at that time,
and recorded a large corpus phonographically or by writing.
The two discoveries preserve an everlasting value and have assigned
to Milman Parry a well-merited renown for outstanding research in
the history of the Greek language. It appears as striking that his
work did not solve the old controversy, but only changed its nature
and gave rise to a renewed rather animated debate on the ‘Homeric
question’.
It seems that this was the result of a certain bias towards the lin-
guistic aspect in Parry’s treatment of the Homeric poems. His fresh
appreciation of their formulaic style blocked up his eye for the truly
poetic qualities of the poems. In his enthusiastic view they appeared
through and through as a battery of formulae and fixed epithets.
Having perused the poems and collected long lists of different kinds
of formulae he arrived at the extreme conclusion that Homer was
entirely dependent on the tradition and added but little of his own
to it. He expressed his conviction in the categorical statement that
“at no time is he [Homer] seeking words for an idea which has
never before found expression, so that the question of originality in
style means nothing to him”.3) Lord (1953, 126) commented: “What
he [Parry] says in essence is, that the question of originality of style
means nothing to the oral poet.”
Statements like these were apt to cause negative reactions and
incite opposition and dissociation. Homeric scholars felt that Parry
depreciated Homer as a creative genius. However, Lord (1953, 126-
8) clarified and modified Parry’s rather peremptory assertions and
stated that, for the tradition to come into being and for the cor-
pus of formulae to increase, the singers must be supposed to use
the creativity they happened to have. The singer has the freedom
to create new phrases, though his creative powers always operate
on the formula level, according to Lord.

2) M. Parry 1971, 421-36.


3) M. Parry 1930, 146 f.; 1971, 324.
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164 SVEN-TAGE TEODORSSON

Thus, even if the situation for creative singers was not so bad as
described by Parry, several scholars could not reconcile themselves
to the image of Homer as a singer prevented by the rigorous pat-
tern of formulae and themes from making full use of his creative
genius. Wade-Gery (1952, 38 f.) expressed the feelings of disap-
pointment of many classicists with a crushing simile: “As Darwin
seemed to many to have removed the finger of God from the cre-
ation of the world and of man, so Milman Parry has seemed to
some to remove the creative poet from the Iliad and Odyssey.” Bowra,
who possessed a broad and sound knowledge of oral poetry, espe-
cially Russian songs, expressed a balanced judgement when he
observed: “Behind him [Homer] lie centuries of oral performance,
largely improvised, with all its wealth of formulae adapted to an
exacting metre; these he knows and uses fully. But if he also knows
writing and is able to commit his poems to it, he is enabled to give
a far greater precision and care to what he says than any impro-
vising poet ever can. Since it is almost impossible to believe that
the Iliad and Odyssey were ever improvised, and the richness of their
poetry suggests some reliance on writing, we may see in them exam-
ples of what happens when writing comes to help the oral bard.
He continues to compose in the same manner as before, but with
far greater care and effectiveness.”4)
This criticism could not, of course, be neglected or explained
away. It made Parry’s followers, with Lord in the lead, focus their
studies on the crucial period of transmission from oral to written
technique. This had never been done by Parry, who was entirely
concerned with the tradition and the conservative function of the
formulaic style, and less interested in the process of transmitting
oral poetry into written texts. He criticized those scholars who, in
studying and comparing ancient poetry, Greek, Saxon, Welsh, Irish,
Norse, and German, regard them primarily as literary works. He
regretted that they did not realize that these poems differed from
later literature not so much because they are products of an older
kind of culture, “but because they are two kinds of form: the one part

4) Bowra 1952, 240.


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EASTERN LITERACY, GREEK ALPHABET, AND HOMER 165

of literature is oral, the other written. [italics original] . . . we could [not]


use Beowulf, for example, for the better understanding of the Iliad.”5)
Having become fully alive to these facts Parry decided to turn
to field work in order to found his judgement on Homer upon con-
temporary reality. Thanks to the new technique of sound record-
ing he could compare records of live song with songs collected from
dictation. His conclusion was that the Iliad and Odyssey were orally
composed and not composed in writing.
So far so good, but Parry left to posterity the question of how
these poems were transmitted to writing. An understanding of this
process would allow us to arrive at an appreciation of why the
Homeric poems appear as superior to all other epics, in Greek and
other languages.
Founding his analysis on his field experiences in Yugoslavia, Lord6)
elucidated the conditions and circumstances prevailing in the period
of transition in which Homer lived. Having observed that singers
who had learned to write produce worse poems than oral poets,
Lord convincingly argued that Homer cannot have been a semi-lit-
erate, formerly oral singer who had newly learned to write, because
his poems are too good. “The poems of a semi-literate oral poet
are awkward in construction because they mix two techniques, one
of which has not yet had time to develop, and the other of which
the poet already disdains.”7) Lord unhesitatingly draws the follow-
ing conclusion: “In my own mind there remains no doubt that
Homer dictated the Iliad to someone else who wrote down, because
the Homeric poems have all the earmarks of dictated texts of oral
epic songs. They are not the improvised texts of normal oral per-
formance; without recording apparatus it is impossible to obtain
such texts.”8)
There is no doubt in my mind that this is a correct apprecia-
tion of how the Homeric poems were composed and recorded. As
to the date of this event, a crucial question is how it is related to
the time when the Greek alphabet was shaped.9) Lord (1953, 130)

5) Parry 1933, 180 f.


6) Lord 1953, 129-34.
7) Lord 1953, 129 f.
8) Lord 1953, 131.
9) Conspicuously different positions have been taken by Powell (1991, 219 f.),
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166 SVEN-TAGE TEODORSSON

points out that “we know from other traditions that when writing
has arrived at the moment when it is used for artistic purposes, the
first things written are the songs of the peoples”. Even if this state-
ment may not hold true for all traditions, it is certainly generally
correct.10) We will return to this issue further on.

2. Influences of Eastern Literacy on Greek Culture: the Birth of Greek Epics


We are now in a much better position than a few decades ago
to estimate the effects of the contacts between the Greeks and the
Near Eastern peoples during the period after the end of the
Mycenaean Age. It was the period of the Phoenician expansion
throughout the Mediterranean and generally of the westward move-
ment of the Eastern peoples, and ultimately of the Assyrians who
conquered Syria and Phoenicia in the ninth century. Phoenicians
settled early in Cyprus and Crete (c. 900) and on numerous places
all around the Mediterranean. Greeks settled at Al Mina on the
Orontes in northern Syria in the ninth century. They came from
Euboea, Naxos, Samos. Lots of objects from the East have been
found in the West: in Greece (Euboea, Samos, Delos, Rhodos), in
Italy (Sicilia, Pithekoussai (Ischia), Sardinia, Etruria), North Africa,
Spain. The evidence shows that the connections between Greece
and the Levant began quite early in the so-called ‘Dark Age’,
increased gradually and became overwhelming in the ninth and
eighth centuries. All the time the Greeks were the recipients.11)
Although the Eastern dominance was important and decisive for
the development of all sectors of the Greek society, one factor of
civilization was no doubt the most momentous for Greek culture:
the contact with the writing systems and the literature of the Eastern
peoples.
However, it was already in the second half of the second mil-
lennium that the Greeks first came into contact with the Eastern

who assumed the half-century 800-750, or more precisely 800-775 BC, for both
events, and Ruijgh (1997, 535 f.), who places the creation of the alphabet c. 1000,
and Homer in the second half of the ninth century.
10) For example, the Norse tradition probably began to be recorded in the lat-
ter part of the twelfth century, after writing in the vernacular had begun by 1100 AD,
see Tolley 2002, 129.
11) See Heubeck 1979, 80-7; Burkert 1992.
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EASTERN LITERACY, GREEK ALPHABET, AND HOMER 167

cultures and made their first acquaintance with the literacy that had
existed in those countries since more than thousand years. We may
safely assume that they listened to recitations of the epics of those
peoples or heard the stories narrated at occasional meetings. They
observed, presumably with curiosity and astonishment, that the
Eastern peoples preserved their poetry as written texts, while they
themselves transmitted their poems orally. It may be that the
Mycenaean Greeks got the dactylic hexameter from the Minoans
in Crete.12) They were exposed to an extensive and profound influence
and appropriated Eastern elements of mythology and religion as
well as of heroic and cosmogonic myth and reshaped the material
according to the forms of their own culture. Evidence of that is to
be found in Homer and Hesiod and generally in Greek religion
and myth.
This kind of evidence is supported by archaeological material.13)
As new archaeological finds have steadily enlarged our knowledge,
we have gradually arrived at a more precise appreciation of the
connections between the Aegean region and the Eastern countries
both during the Bronze Age and the early Iron Age. This mater-
ial, and especially the increased number of written documents in
cuneiform and the more exact interpretation of them, are of invalu-
able importance to our judgement of the nature of the Eastern
influence on Greek epics.14)
The Trojan war inspired the Mycenaean poets to an intensified
creativity. The narrative of this heroic enterprise was developed,
reproduced and transmitted in oral song during the centuries to

12) See Ruijgh 1995, 85-91 and 1997, 588.


13) See Stubbings 1959; Vermeule & Karagheorghis 1982; Catling 1964, esp.
38; 1975, 188-216, esp. 199-201; Åström 1973; Poursat 1977.
14) For pioneer studies on this issue see Wirth 1921; Stella 1927; 1965, 193-
223; Dornseiff 1934; and see further Bowra 1955; Dirlmeier 1955; Webster 1956;
1958, 64-90; Heubeck 1974, 167-70; Gresseth 1975; Burkert 1992; Strasburger
1998. West (1997, 276-437) lists parallels, in 169 lemmata, giving precise refer-
ences to various Eastern sources. He cites Muhly 1970, 58 and 62: “The proper
literary parallels to Homer are to be found in the oral epic literature of Celtic
Europe.” . . . “The Homeric epics themselves betray no influence from the Near
East.” West (400) comments: “Few, I imagine, will wish to uphold that opinion
today, or tomorrow, or ever again. We have seen that the Iliad, at least, is per-
vaded by themes and motifs of Near Eastern character.”
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168 SVEN-TAGE TEODORSSON

come. The memory of the Great Age was kept alive, including the
cultural elements of that period, domestic or foreign by origin.
The disastrous break that hit the Mycenaean culture at the end
of the thirteenth century did not affect the memory of the impres-
sions from the East; reminiscences of them in Homer are numer-
ous. An important consequence of Milman Parry’s exploration of
the long and stable tradition of the formulaic style was that we got
decisive evidence of the Mycenaean origin of the Greek epic, though
this had already been assumed earlier. It follows from Parry’s dis-
covery of the exceedingly slow formation of the epic language that
it must go back to a very early date.15)
A rather different position, however, is taken by Ruijgh (1997,
591 f.), who makes Homer the creator of the Ionian epic language.
He adopts (593 f.) the ancient opinion that the poet was born in
Smyrna, and on this assumption he concludes that he, living in
close contact with the Aeolian epic singers, acquired the art of epic
song from them and transposed it into his own Ionian dialect.16)
Ruijgh (1997, 597 f.) places Homer in the second half of the ninth
century (ékmÆ around 832),17) and thus deprives the Ionian epics of
an oral tradition of their own; on this theory they would be exclu-
sively Aeolian. But Ruijgh’s arguments (1997, 592) are not tenable:
the mixed use of the Aeolian particle ke(n) and the Ionian ên is not
decisive; and the near universal observance of digamma in Homer,
without this being indicated by the letter W, is reminiscent of the
older state of the East Ionian dialect and no indication of a trans-
position from Aeolic. In fact, we do not know which of these dialects
lost the digamma first. The mixed nature of the Homeric language

15) Nilsson (1933, 179-83) was the first scholar of international reputation to
recognize the value of Parry’s work as evidence of the antiquity of the epic language.
16) Ruijgh 1997, 592: “Tout porte à conclure qu’Homère a appris l’art de la
versification épique en écoutant des aèdes éoliens. . . . au lieu d’adopter simple-
ment leur langage éolien épique, il l’a transposé en ionien au prix de l’introduc-
tion de beaucoup d’éléments artificiels.”
17) Ruijgh bases his dating on Hdt. 2.53.2 ÑHs¤odon går ka‹ ÜOmhron ≤lik¤hn
tetrakos¤oisi ¶tesi dok°v meu presbut°rouw gen°syai, and adds Suda s.v. ÜOmhrow,
where the poet is placed 57 years before the first Olympiad (776). The reliance
of this dating is indeed questionable.
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EASTERN LITERACY, GREEK ALPHABET, AND HOMER 169

must be seen as the outcome of a long development probably over


half a millennium, in Ionian as well as in Aeolian dialect.18)
It follows, then, that when the Greeks, by and by, re-established
their connections with the East in the post-Mycenaean centuries,
they were cherishing in their epic tradition the memory of the great
old age and the florishing cultural contacts at that time. They redis-
covered the Eastern literacy and written literature.

3. The Creation of the Greek Alphabet: Place and Time


However, the situation was now different from that of the
Mycenaean period in one important respect, the fact that the
Phoenician alphabetic writing had just come into being. The Greeks
will certainly have noticed the early forms of the Phoenician script
as well as cuneiform inscriptions on stone and clay tablets. In their
commercial contacts with the Phoenicians they had the opportunity
to see alphabetic writing in practice and appreciate it. It must have
come naturally to them that this kind of writing could possibly be
adequate for their own language, in contrast to the Babylonian
cuneiform syllabary, or the Ugaritic cuneiform alphabet, which they
may have observed already in the second millennium and now met
with again. These systems never appealed to the Greeks, probably
because they appeared awkward and impractical for the recording
of the Greek language.
The simple structure of the Phoenician alphabet will have aroused
the curiosity of the Greeks and incited them to try to learn how
to use the writing signs themselves. There will also have been bilin-
gual Greeks, whether or not they were born from intermarriage.
These individuals had perhaps learned to read and write Phoenician
and mastered writing that language without difficulty. But what
about writing Greek?
Suppose that a Greek or, more probably, a group of Greeks were
sitting together somewhere (in Cyprus, Al Mina in Syria, Crete, or

18) Ruijgh himself (1997, 588 and in numerous earlier publications) has clearly
shown his awareness of the long tradition of Greek epics as demonstrated by
Milman Parry. For a laudatory judgement of his achievements see Ruijgh’s review
of Parry 1971 in Linguistics 145 (1975), 119-28 (reprinted as Ruijgh 1991, 216-25).
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Euboea) at some point of time between 1000 and 800 BC, trying
to write their own language with the Phoenician writing system.
They had learned the phonetic values of the signs without difficulty
thanks to the simple acrophonic structure and the convenient stan-
dardized series of letters presented in alphabetic lists, about which
Phoenicians had instructed them. However, there was a difficulty
in denoting the vowels, seeing that there were no signs for these
phonemes in the Phoenician script. But it suddenly occurred to
someone in the company that a number of Phoenician signs which
denoted consonants which were unknown in Greek, could be used
for the vowels. The result of this idea was the first complete alpha-
bet in the world. In my view it is not necessary to see one single
individual, an ingenious ‘adapter’, as the originator of the Greek
alphabet.19)
It was probably for practical reasons in the first place that the
Greeks made efforts to adapt the Phoenician alphabet so as to suit
their own language. They may have realized that writing would
facilitate their commerce and administration and make it possible
to communicate by letters, in imitation of the Phoenicians and other
Eastern peoples.20) It is a highly unrealistic assumption that they
should have invented the alphabet precisely with the intention of
recording the Homeric poems.21) Homer is probably to be dated in
the first half of the eighth century, whereas the alphabet may have
been created some fifty years before.
The datings of both these events have been much discussed and
are still controversial. Extreme opinions that the alphabet was cre-

19) The idealized genius, the eÍretÆw of the Greek alphabet, whom Powell
(1991) imagines is an improbable and unnecessary assumption. No special inge-
nuity was needed to arrive at the solution of using the superfluous Phoenician
signs for the denotation of the Greek vowels, as pointed out by Jeffery (1990,
2-5).
20) In the Bellerophon story, Il. 6.144-211, the folded tablet, the p¤naj ptuktÒw
(169), on which king Proetus had scratched baneful signs, sÆmata lugrã / grãcaw,
is an important piece of evidence. It shows that this ‘fatal letter’ was written with
alphabetic signs on a wooden writing-tablet, a d°ltow. Ruijgh (1997, 536) points
out that the Greeks got the loan-word together with the custom of writing on such
tablets. At p. 556, however, he states that what Proetus scratched on the tablet
was a drawing representing the messenger himself, who should be put to death:
“le s∞ma pourrait être le dessin d’un bonhomme transpercé”.
21) This is the view of Wade-Gery (1952, 11-4) and Powell (1991, 109 f.).
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ated at least a century before 1000, or not earlier than 700,22) can
be dismissed as improbable and need not be considered here. It
will be sufficient for our issue to discuss three recent positions,
namely those of Powell (1991) and Ruijgh (1997)23) and, specifically
as regards the date of the alphabet, Woodard (1997).
That Powell, following the lead of Wade-Gery (1952), places
Homer in the period 800-750 is of course unproblematic, but his
assumption that the alphabet was created at the same time “seems
not altogether probable”.24) Woodard and other critics forcefully
attack Powell’s idea. Ruijgh uses linguistic arguments against the
simultaneity and assumes an interval of about two hundred years
between the creation of the alphabet and Homer. Placing Homer
in the second half of the ninth century, he arrives at a date around
1000 for the origin of the alphabet. Ruijgh’s main argument is the
fact that the Greeks chose the letter ˙et, denoting a voiceless frica-
tive laryngal in Phoenician, for the Greek /h/, and not the weak
glottal fricative he,25) and he argues that they made this choice
because at that point of time they needed a clear symbol for the
Greek /h/ which was then still pronounced strongly, whereas in
Homer’s time (850-800) this sound had become very faint. This is
a weak argument. If the sound /h/ in the dialect of the creator(s)
of the alphabet was a distinctive sound, a phoneme, whether or
not pronounced strongly, it had to be denoted with the best letter
available, namely ˙et, and not the indistinctive he. The choice was
entirely natural, especially as he was needed for symbolizing /e/.
To use the two letters inversely would have been rather strange.26)
Furthermore, Ruijgh (1997, 556) argues that the creation of the
Greek alphabet was the achievement of a Euboean. This is indeed
quite probable, but then Ruijgh’s argument is invalidated anew,

22) Naveh (1973) argues that the transmission from Phoenician to Greek script
occurred c. 1100, whereas Carpenter (1933) places this event c. 700 at the earliest.
23) See above, footnote 9.
24) Woodard 1997, 253.
25) Ruijgh 1997, 535, 567; 1998, 661-3.
26) It was also a natural choice because the vowel of the letter name he was a
close /e/, unlike the vowel in the name ˙et, which was a long open /e:/, see
Ruijgh 1997, 570 f. And to use ‘ayin for /e/ instead of /o/ would have been
anomalous, seeing that this was a rounded oval sign depicting an eye, which could
naturally be associated visually-acrophonically with ˆmma, ÙfyalmÒw, see Ruijgh
1997, 43 f., 569. The choice of he for /e/ was the only natural one.
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because /h/ was still extant in Euboean in the sixth century or


later. Ruijgh’s arguments in favour of the early date c. 1000 for
the creation of the alphabet are thus not convincing.
Woodard focuses rather on Cyprus as the most probable place
for this event. Phoenicians settled there from about 900. Woodard
(1997, 219) adopts c. 850 as the probable terminus post quem for the
acquisition of the Phoenician script, according to his opinion by the
Cypriot Greeks, and rejects (233 f.) other proposed places, Al Mina,
Crete, Rhodes, rightly in my view. Cyprus was certainly the most
natural meeting-place and station for transit-trade between the
Aegean and the Levant. However, to posit a definite terminus post
quem seems unnecessary, given that contacts of commerce certainly
began already in the tenth century. Ruijgh’s assumption of the time
c. 1000 for the acquisition of the alphabet could be correct, but a
later date is more probable. The frequency of merchant shipping
on the part of the Greeks was quite limited during the first cen-
turies of the ‘Dark Age’. Archaeological evidence shows that the
Euboeans were probably the pioneers. Thus I would advance the
hypothesis that it was not Cypriot Greeks but Euboean merchants
carrying on commercial interchange with Phoenician colleagues in
Cyprus that, after a fairly long period of study of their script, decided
to use it for writing Greek. The purpose was obviously, as Ruijgh
rightly points out, solely commercial.

4. Employing the Alphabet for Literature: Place and Time


The initial use of the alphabet for commercial purposes does not
mean, however, that the idea of taking down poetry by means of
the newly invented alphabet could not have occurred to the Greeks
quite early. On the first renewed contacts with the Eastern litera-
ture in the early times of the ‘Dark Age’ they may have been deeply
impressed when they—once more after the Mycenaean age—heard
the old Eastern epics recited, or perhaps even read them themselves
in cuneiform, which is not inconceivable, at least somewhat later
in this period.27) Presumably, the acquaintance with the written lit-

27) Lord (1960, 156) rightly intimates that this might have been possible. He
describes the exciting literary culture of the East: “In the eighth century Sargon
II (722-705) established the library at Nineveh and under him the Assyrian Empire
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EASTERN LITERACY, GREEK ALPHABET, AND HOMER 173

erature of the Eastern peoples caused admiration and perhaps envy.


The Greeks may have regarded it as a model they would readily
imitate when the opportunity would be at hand.
After the invention of the complete Greek alphabet we may safely
presume that its users were highly enthusiastic, considering its obvi-
ous convenience for the recording of the Greek language. Its opti-
mal adequateness for precise recording of the spoken language must
immediately have dawned upon the Greeks like a revelation. It is
a priori highly probable that it came into broad use very soon.
Powell28) has collected all extant documents down to c. 650 BC.
One observes that all of them are of a private nature, and that
they are geographically diverse. Some are hexametric. It is notice-
able that public and economic documents are lacking, certainly
because only perishable material was used for these purposes. Powell
(181 f.) observes that, unlike in the Mycenaean age, writing spread
outside the upper classes. The abecedarian lists that are extant, and
the rather entertaining contents of many writings indicate that peo-
ple were eager to learn to write and that they highly enjoyed writ-
ing down their spoken words. Unlike other contemporary scripts
the alphabet was accessible to anybody.29) Its phonetic regularity
made it easy to learn and use. A stable orthography developed spon-
taneously and was established.
The popular and private character of the extant writings of the
earliest period documented, i.e. the period c. 750-650, indicate an
astonishingly broad and rapid propagation among the population.
We must keep in mind that nearly all writings of that period, and
of the preceding century or earlier, are lost, having been written
on perishable material. The scarce epigraphic extant documents do

was at its greatest extent. His library contained tablets inscribed with epic, mythic,
magic, and historical material in several languages, including Sumerian, dating
from as early as 2000 BC. Here were to be found the Epic of Creation and the
Epic of Gilgamesh, among other texts. Two bodies of recorded lore, one already
ancient in ancient times, the other new and exciting in its serious intensity, were
thus available to any Greeks who might turn in their direction.” Presumably this
literature was available to foreigners even before the establishment of Sargon’s
library.
28) Powell 1991, 123-86.
29) Whitman (1958, 79) notices that the alphabet was no hieratic secret guarded
by priests, or confined to archival accounts, records, or business operations. It was
a fairly public accomplishment by the late eighth century.
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174 SVEN-TAGE TEODORSSON

not allow us to get a correct picture of the frequency and distrib-


ution of the use of writing during the early period.
We have no documentation of administrative uses from that
period. However, some evidence is provided by later sources, which
suggest a prompt use of writing early for various purposes, e.g. the
recording of the Olympic winners from 776 onwards, and the record-
ing of the laws of various city states.30) A tentative sporadic use for
literary purposes on a small scale even before Homer cannot be
excluded. There is no reason to doubt that Lilian Jeffery is right
in firmly rejecting the notion of a ‘long development’ of literacy
among the Greeks.31)
But what about the use of writing for literary purposes on a larger
scale? I suggest that in the eighth century the historical conditions
were highly favourable for doing that. At that time the Greeks had
long since re-established the contacts with the Eastern literary cul-
ture, where they could notice several resemblances to their own
epics; and furthermore their renewed feeling of national strength
enhanced their self-assertation implying an increased interest in their
heroic past, the memory of which had been preserved by their oral
poets throughout the centuries.32)
The new alphabet seemed to offer almost unlimited possibilities.
The most conspicuous field of application must have suggested itself
very soon: to follow the example of the Eastern peoples, i.e. trans-
mit oral poetry to writing. This idea must inevitably have appeared
to the Greeks many times during the ‘dark centuries’, when they
felt inferior to the Eastern peoples who possessed written literature
since one and a half millennium. Thus, when the alphabet had
been at their disposal for a sufficiently long time, they were mentally

30) Strab. 6.8 (259) states that the Epizephyric Locrians were the first to write
down their laws. In Athens the lawgiver Dracon was said to have recorded his
laws, and the Gortyn law, preserved on stone c. 450, was written boustrophedon.
This old-fashioned law, together with this way of writing, suggests an early date,
see Jeffery 1990, 309-14.
31) Jensen (1980, 92) mistakenly compares with the slow acceptance of print-
ing, tapes, movies, and television. Writing and written poetry at Homer’s time
were no innovations; their history extended over more than one and a half mil-
lennium.
32) For the notion of a ‘Greek renaissance’ as an adequate term for the pro-
gressive spirit of that time, see Snodgrass 1971, 416-36, and Hiller 1983. See fur-
ther Burkert 1992, 114-20.
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EASTERN LITERACY, GREEK ALPHABET, AND HOMER 175

prepared to use it for poetry. And they did so. The most probable
time for this enterprise is the period 800-750, as assumed by Powell.
And Ruijgh (1997, 556, 582) rightly assumes that Euboea is the
most probable place. The Euboean merchants had been the first to
start commerce with the Levant, and in the eighth century they
had become as rich as to be able to provide the expensive writing
material needed.
Lord (1960, 156) was the first to suggest clearly that “the idea
of recording the Homeric poems, and the Cyclic epics, and the
works of Hesiod, came from the observation of or hearing about
similar activity going on further to the East”. Recently, the follower
of Lord, R. Janko, expressed this thought as follows (1998, 12):
“One influence on the person responsible for the recording must
have been knowledge of the existence of written literature, which
means the written epics of the Levant.”

5. Confutation of the Oral Theory


This answer to the ‘Homeric question’ might be expected to be
reasonable enough to gain general approval. Nevertheless, some peo-
ple have rejected this explanation and somehow revived the ‘ana-
lyst’ way of looking at the history of composition of the Homeric
poems. An undecided position was taken by Kirk, who first rejected
the suggestion that “a written text of some kind, perhaps a much
abbreviated one, must have been produced as each poem pro-
gressed”, declaring that “personally I believe this to be an unnec-
essary hypothesis”; but then, in the same monograph, he intimated
that “early written texts of the poems were still unskilled and prob-
ably incomplete”.33) Later he came to a decision when, in criticiz-
ing Adam Parry’s article Have we Homer’s Iliad?,34) he censured his
opinion as “the apparently old-fashioned one that Homer wrote
down, or had someone else write down, virtually every word of the
Iliad (and presumably also the Odyssey) as we have it”.35)
Lowenstam (1997) compares the motifs on painted archaic vases
with those of the Homeric poems and finds both agreement and

33) Kirk 1962, 98 and 301 f.


34) A. Parry 1966.
35) Kirk 1976, 129.
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176 SVEN-TAGE TEODORSSON

differences. He concludes (p. 25) that “the evidence for composi-


tion in the eighth or early seventh century is extremely tenuous”.
He identifies (p. 54) “a number of vase-representations containing
Iliadic and Odyssean subject matter that do not correspond with
our Homeric poems”.
Lowenstam’s finds cannot be taken as evidence of a late record-
ing of the poems. He himself is aware of the possibility that the
vase painters also took their motifs from other sources than Homer,
for example folk tales and local folk lore. As to the Homeric poems,
we should not think that they, after the recording in the eighth cen-
tury, would have been secured against minor or major changes,
additions or transpositions. It is not to be expected that the text
was ever authorized before the Pisistratean recension in the second
half of the sixth century. The reciters (=acƒdo¤), who were former
singers (éoido¤) may, if they were creative to any extent, have been
tempted to make occasional changes.
It was of course not the case that the whole corporation of singers
stopped being oral poets after the Homeric poems had been recorded
in writing. Some of them took up the task of reproducing them
and became careful reciters who tried to stick to the text, while
others may have felt more free in their performances. The known
Homeridae in Chios were presumably a guild of reciters who were
conscientious in preserving the poems of the great poet, others were
less careful.
In any case, the very appearance of the new profession—and the
new appellative, =acƒdo¤—of reciters reproducing the fixed texts of
an author indicates that a radical break had occurred in the oral
tradition, which suggests the introduction of the new medium, writ-
ing, in poetry. The two new notions, author and fixed text, are
alien to oral tradition as such.36)
Instead of taking up an attitude of doubt towards the early record-
ing of the Homeric poems, Lowenstam should have asked himself
how it came about that we do have them in the present form if
the text had not been laid down previously in a written text. The

36) Nagy (1992; 1996, 109, 151 f.), who represents an extreme oralist position,
does not acknowledge the distinction between éoido¤ and =acƒdo¤. His opinion
that the Homeric poems are quite multiform has been shown by numerous critics
to be unfounded; see Finkelberg 2000, 1 f.
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EASTERN LITERACY, GREEK ALPHABET, AND HOMER 177

difficulties of reproducing oral poetry in successive performances


without detrimental effects, not only in details, but also to larger
parts, are obvious. In addition to the general difficulties there is the
exceeding length of the Iliad and Odyssey. No individual is able to
learn more than limited parts of these poems by heart and preserve
them in his memory. For a complete performance, teamwork is
needed. But what is more, memorizing without the support of a
written text presupposes that the oral singer, Homer, performed his
long poems little by little to the reproducers, and repeated these
fractions until they had learned them by heart. This procedure,
word for word memorization aiming at exactness, would in itself
have been a radical break in the traditional oral method of trans-
mission, in which there was not, and could not be, any demand
for verbatim precision. Any performance of a song, by the same
singer, is different in part from all previous versions. Incidentally,
the procedure of engraving the poems on the memory of the appren-
tices in endless repetitions would have been a laborious task that
would have been devastating to the poetic ability of poor Homer.
In sum, in adopting the theory of an oral transmission up to the
time of the Pisistratids, we would not have Homer’s poems. We
will return to this problem further below.
Classicists who since the 1930ies have criticized the oral theory
have not always done so because of conservatism and prejudice, of
which they have often been accused, but rather because of its intrin-
sic inconsistency. The discussion has been strange and paradoxical
from the very beginning, seeing that Milman Parry did not himself
utter a definite opinion about a possible date of recording; and espe-
cially considering that Lord, his highly competent follower, arrived,
on the basis of solid experience and logical reasoning, at the con-
clusion that the Homeric poems must have been recorded at Homer’s
own dictation. I feel obliged to recall Lord’s report of a field expe-
rience that made him see the conditions clearly. He writes:37)
An interested audience, with time and desire to listen for a long period
and from one day to another, coupled with a singer of talent in a
rich tradition might produce songs as long as the Homeric poems.
But our texts, as we have shown in a previous chapter [p. 125], could

37) Lord 1960, 148 f.


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178 SVEN-TAGE TEODORSSON

not have been written down during performance. Actual performance


is too rapid for a scribe. One might possibly suggest that the scribe
might write as much as he could at one performance, correct it at
the next, and so on until he had taken down the text of the whole
from several singings. I mention this because Parry had an assistant
in the field at the beginning who thought that he could do this, but
the variations from one singing to another were so great that he very
soon gave up trying to note them down. It should be clear by now
that such a suggestion makes sense only when there is a fixed text
being repeated. In oral epic performance this is not the case. Without
recording apparatus, it is impossible to obtain an exact text of actual
performance, and hence we cannot say that our texts of the Homeric
songs represent oral poetry in the first degree.
This was the reality encountered by Parry and Lord. As a con-
sequence, a long period of oral transmission of the Homeric poems
was inconceivable to Lord. He maintained that they represent oral
poetry in the second degree and that this degree is the dictated text
of the author. In his view, they must have been dictated by the
poet himself. Otherwise we would not have these extraordinary
poems of exceeding length and extraordinary poetic quality. It is
simply impossible that they should have been transmitted orally for
two hundred years. Lord (1960, 153 f.) argues that “to Homer
belongs the distinction of having composed the longest and best of
all oral narrative songs. Their unusual length predicates exceptional
circumstances of performance. If I be not mistaken, dictation to a
scribe provides this opportunity.” Furthermore, Lord (1960, 49) rules
out what he calls “the third degree of oral composition”, when the
oral poet is literate and himself writes down a poem. His conclu-
sion follows from his observation (1953, 129 f.) that semi-literate
oral singers produce worse poems than illiterate ones.
In my view, Lord is undoubtedly right. Those who insist upon
a writing Homer have not recognized his obviously oral style, in
contrast to the incomparably less formulaic style of the Hesiodic
poems. The difference is significant. Homer is identifiable by his
formulaic style as an illiterate oral poet, while Hesiod’s style sug-
gests that he most probably composed his poems in writing. Formulaic
elements are few. His poems are characterized by a free and var-
ied literary style.38)
38) Kakridis (1992, 829) calls variation “the antipode of formulaic style”.
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EASTERN LITERACY, GREEK ALPHABET, AND HOMER 179

Both these poets, one belonging to, the other, Hesiod, dependent
on, the old oral tradition, produced poems of another kind and of
higher poetical quality than the products of oral improvising per-
formances. This is due to the time factor. A writing poet of course
writes down his lines according to the speed of his composition
activity, while a poet who is dictating must comply with the lim-
ited writing speed of the scribe(s). The low pace of dictation offers
extra time for consideration to the poet. He may even occasionally
allow himself to instruct the scribe to make minor modifications in
the dictated text. In any case, writing is an invaluable aid for the
composer, because he is more free and, consequently, can be more
creative. The best parts of Homer’s poems are those that are the
least formulaic. He reduces or abandons the formulaic style in those
passages where he has something important to say.39) The greater
freedom enhances creativity and productivity so that the poet may
also enlarge his compositions to a great length. The length, unity
of composition, and variation in style and content exhibited by the
Homeric poems are characteristics which are all incompatible with
purely oral poetry.
The influence and aid of writing made it possible for the poet
occasionally to compose lines almost entirely without using formu-
laic phrases. This means that these parts of the poems are some-
thing else than purely oral. In fact, they are more like written poetry.
Thus, the Iliad and Odyssey should rightly be called transitional texts,
seeing that they combine oral and written style.
Parry and Lord were convinced that such a thing as a transi-
tional text cannot exist, and this is still the conviction of the adher-
ents of the oral theory. They maintain that any text is either oral
or written.40) This is a strange idea. It would mean that even the
less formulaic parts are the natural outcome of purely oral com-
position. But Lord himself (1960, 148 f.) suggests that this is not

39) Pope (1963) has shown that the poems are not in their entirety built up
with formulaic phrases as elements of composition, as Parry (and Lord) maintained.
See further Lesky 1966, 69 f.; see also Schadewaldt 1966, 161 f.; Erbse 1972, 180-2;
Heubeck 1974, 141; Kakridis 1993, 831.
40) Parry (1933, 180): “one part of literature is oral, the other written”; Lord
(1960, 129): “it is not possible that he be both [italics original] an oral and a writ-
ten poet at any given time in his career”; Lord 1991, 43-5; Jensen 1980, 89 f.
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180 SVEN-TAGE TEODORSSON

so: during dictation longer and technically better texts can be pro-
duced than in actual performance. Lord (153 f.) explains the length
of the Iliad and Odyssey as due to the opportunity the dictation offers
to the poet. And the spontaneous judgements of Yugoslav singers
themselves corroborate Lord’s impression: “Sung songs are truer,
dictated songs are finer!” Lord (1991, 47) paraphrases this as: “Sung
songs are closer to what we have heard from others, but we can
be better poets in dictated song!”
In my view, the logical conclusion in consequence of these obser-
vations must be that dictated song, as an intermediary form between
purely oral and purely written composition, should be called exactly
a transitional text.
Lord repeatedly underlined that the notion of a fixed text does
not exist for a genuine oral singer. This is certainly true. But in
spite of this fact the adherents of the oral theory regard the Iliad
and Odyssey as essentially composed by ‘Homer’ in the eighth cen-
tury, with the prospect that these poems should be preserved for
the future by means of oral transmission in the form given to them
by him. This implies, then, illogically, that the poet must somehow
have worked with the idea of a fixed text and thus have under-
taken to secure a true transmission of his poems by oral singers,
an enormous enterprise indeed, and thus unrealistic from the out-
set. The poet would have had to sing them in endless repetitions
to a number of apprentices who had to memorize them to the limit
of their capacity as thoroughly as possible. This would have been
extremely difficult, considering that Homer himself, as an oral singer,
without the aid of a written text, could hardly repeat his lines in
identical form every time and, as a traditional singer, may not even
have been anxious to do that. Consequently, if perchance his appren-
tices succeeded to learn the master’s songs—each of course mem-
orizing a part of them, because no single person could be in command
of them as a whole—the variation of versions would have been con-
siderable already at the beginning of the transmission. It is easy to
imagine that after two hundred years, on these conditions, a thor-
ough recension would have been sorely needed. Without the sup-
port of a written text the poems would have been sung to pieces.41)

41) Merkelbach (1952, 33-6) compares the Homeric poems with other European
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EASTERN LITERACY, GREEK ALPHABET, AND HOMER 181

Now, fortunately this did not happen. Our sources42) on the


Pisistratean recension do not speak about putting together scattered
parts, still less of recording in writing old poems till then orally
transmitted, but about restoring the order of books. One of our
sources explicitly indicates that a written text existed in Pisistratus’
time.43) And in fact, the poems as we have them definitely do not
present a picture of general confusion. Their unity and coherence
of composition show only a few defects. The facts invalidate the
arguments of the adherents of the oral theory. The Homeric poems
are not multiform, as maintained by Nagy,44) Seaford,45) Scodel,46)
Jensen.47) The Homeric poems present themselves as the works of
an organizing genius, not as a collection of fragmentary epic mate-
rial barely assembled into a whole by an editorial board in Pisistratean
Athens or Aristarchan Alexandria. The outcome of the latter approach
is disillusion and desperation, as expressed by Jensen,48) who finds
it difficult to understand why the two poems were ever written at
all, and finally she is overcome by a feeling of utter irresolution.49)
It remains to make a remark on the fact that the virtually total
lack of reliable biographic data about Homer makes it possible to
doubt even his existence. This is the position of West, who points
out50) that in most ancient literatures anonymous works are com-
mon. We have no author’s names for the earliest books of the Old

epics and lays stress upon their unity and high quality and excludes the possibil-
ity of oral transmission during many generations. He supports (p. 34) Drerup
(Homerische Poetik I 77), who wrote: “. . ., daß ein großes Epos, ohne schriftliche
Fixierung in den Fluß einer noch lebendigen Volksdichtung von den impro-
visierenden Rhapsoden wieder ‘zersungen’, ja geradezu atomisiert werden müßte”.
42) For a comprehensive collection and analysis of these see Merkelbach 1952,
23-47.
43) Cic. de Orat. 3.137 . . . Pisistrati, qui primus Homeri libros, confusos antea, sic dis-
posuisse dicimus, ut nunc habemus.
44) See above, footnote 36.
45) Seaford 1994, 144 f.
46) Scodel 2002, 43-5.
47) Jensen 2000, 59-67.
48) Jensen 2000, 58.
49) Jensen (2002, 103): “However, all the various hypotheses seem to me more
or less desperate; the Iliad and the Odyssey are simply too long. Especially, I want
to challenge the idea that the epic tradition in archaic Greece aimed to produce
the Iliad and the Odyssey. . . . So I suggest that we turn the picture upside down
and discard the written Iliad and Odyssey altogether as anomalies.”
50) West 1999, 365.
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182 SVEN-TAGE TEODORSSON

Testament, or some early Babylonian epics, or for the works of


Hittite literature, or for the Mahabharata, or for Beowulf, or for the
Nibelungenlied, or for the Elder Edda. However, unlike West, I do not
regard this as a valid argument against the existence of an indi-
vidual as composer of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Anonymity is typ-
ical of the pioneer works of written literature, probably just because
they are transitional texts recorded on dictation by an oral poet
who remained anonymous according to the oral tradition.

6. Three Concurring Simultaneous Factors of the Genesis of Greek Literacy


The ninth and eighth centuries were an extraordinary period in
Greek history. Three factors in those centuries operating simulta-
neously favoured the creation of the Iliad and Odyssey as well as
their recording in writing: (1) The massive influence on the Greeks
by the Eastern civilizations, especially the inspiration of their liter-
ary culture; (2) the recent creation of a complete, nearly phonetic,
and easily usable Greek alphabet, which was eminently suitable for
the accurate recording of poetry, and (3) the appearance of Homer,
that outstanding genius of poetic composition. The coincidence of
these three factors formed a singular juncture of conditions, which
Heubeck (1974, 149) quite appropriately called “a happy kairÒw”.
The adherents of the oral theory have expressed doubts about
the practical circumstances in the eighth century as regards the
availability and costs of writing materials. Papyrus is not known for
certain to have been used in Greece before the sixth century. Instead
parchment is known to have been used. However, we know that
papyrus was used by the Phoenicians in the eleventh century at the
latest, and probably already in the thirteenth. The Jews and the
Assyrians began to write on papyrus in the eighth century.51) This
was exactly the time when the latter extended their empire as far
as Phoenicia. It must then also have been quite natural for the
Greeks to use this material. It was certainly rather expensive, but
considering that those who listened to Homer (and his colleagues)
were no doubt well-to-do people, this can hardly have been deci-
sive. Rich merchants and/or upper class landowners with economic

51) See Heubeck 1979, 152-6, esp. 155.


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EASTERN LITERACY, GREEK ALPHABET, AND HOMER 183

resources might willingly have paid for the glorious enterprise of


accomplishing a written Greek epic that could challenge the famous
epics of the Eastern peoples.52) The recent archaeological discover-
ies in Euboea, especially at Lefkandi, and the Euboean pioneer col-
onization in the West (Pithekoussai, Ischia) suggest that they were
the first Greeks after the so-called ‘Dark Age’ that attained a level
of wealth high enough to make it possible for them to defray the
costs for the recording of Homer’s epics in writing. Powell53) and
Ruijgh54) propose to view Euboea as the most probable place not
only of this event, but also of the creation of the alphabet. The
rich nobility of Euboea certainly appreciated the songs of Homer
and other singers very highly, because they recalled the great deeds
of the heroic age when their ancestors were the protagonists in the
events. It was most probably these people who induced Homer to
dictate his poems. And the eminent poetic quality of his songs will
have been the reason why they chose to venture the enterprise of
having exactly his epics recorded, thus bringing about an excellent
Greek counterpart of the Eastern epic. That Homer should himself
have initiated the recording is hardly conceivable.
It was indeed a great and paradoxical event that these monu-
mental poems of Homer were recorded in writing as the very first
conspicuous achievement of Greek literacy. It is natural that it has
been doubted that it happened so early. Lord (1960, 156) wonders
why those who regularly listened to Homer would have had any
reason for wanting his two songs, or any songs, written down. But
he then directly suggests an explanation, the only possible one in
my opinion, namely that the enterprise was due to inspiration from
the Eastern literary civilizations. Jensen,55) pondering over all con-
ceivable difficulties connected with the taking down of oral poetry
in writing, refers (p. 59) to Lord’s (1960, 124) enumeration of the
problems and states (p. 58), somehow with a sigh of resignation:
“It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand why the two
poems were ever written.”

52) Heubeck 1979, 159 f.


53) Powell 1991, 231-3.
54) Ruijgh 1997, 556, 594 f.
55) Jensen 2000, 58 f.
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184 SVEN-TAGE TEODORSSON

In my view it is of no avail to focus on the difficulties. As a mat-


ter of fact we do have lots of oral poetry which have been taken
down in writing all over the world. The problems in doing that
were presumably not greater in Homer’s time than later in history,
for example in Athens in the sixth century BC.56) Instead, the three
above-mentioned converging factors existing in the eighth century
no doubt formed a stronger stimulus than those existing two centuries
later.
The recording of Homer’s monumental poems meant a very
effective start to Greek literacy. The Homeric Cycle, the early
Homeric Hymns, and Hesiod’s poems followed in rapid succession.
The old oral tradition was transformed into written literature within
a space of time less than a hundred years. And from the middle
of the seventh century onward there was “a sudden spate of definitely
written literature”.57) It is easily seen that a new conception of poetry
had obtained a firm footing in the middle of the old oral tradition.
The decision to take poetry to writing demonstrates a radically new
understanding of poetry: A poem performed by a singer could now
be preserved for the future, according to Eastern models, and the
singer could be designated its author, a formerly unknown idea.
Homer is the only Greek poet known to us who was still a member
of the old corporation of oral singers. This fact, and the purely nar-
rative character of his poems, explain his enigmatic anonymity.58)
Homer himself, as a mouthpiece of the oral tradition, does not even
make a hint of his own person and apparently yet lacked a feeling
of identity as author.59)
In Hesiod we meet with a quite different attitude. He presents
himself as a self-assured poet and interpreter of the message of the
Muses. He is fully aware of his mission as author and teacher of
theogony and wisdom. As was said above, this indicates that Hesiod

56) Recording of poetry on dictation may be problematic, depending on the


ability of the singer to accommodate his dictation to the pace of the scribe. This
was experienced and described by the collector and compiler of the Finnish epos
Kalevala, see Honko 2002, 14 f.
57) Kirk 1962, 71; see also Heubeck 1979, 160 f.
58) This topic was touched upon by A. Parry (1966, 185) and, with lack of
understanding, by Jensen (1980, 95).
59) Cf. above, n. 50, with my remarks on West’s opinion.
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EASTERN LITERACY, GREEK ALPHABET, AND HOMER 185

was most probably a writing poet. When he introduces himself as


author, he follows the lead of Eastern models. The earliest author’s
name known to us is Enheduanna, daughter of king Sargon of
Akkad (2334-2279), composer of a cycle of hymns to Inanna/Ishtar.60)
Another example is Kabti-ilani-Marduk, son of Dabibu, author of
the Babylonian Poem of Erra/Irra, dated c. 850 BC.61) It was also
customary that the scribe signed his manuscript with his name and
title(s).62) The Eastern scribes were obviously men of merit and high
prestige.63)
To conclude, I come back to the so-called Pisistratean recension,
although this event is of limited import in case there existed a writ-
ten text at that time. That this was actually the case is indicated
explicitly by one of the sources,64) whereas the others, without using
the word ‘book’, speak of bringing order to the confused tradition.
Nowhere is recording mentioned or even suggested. It is not rea-
sonable to conclude e silentio that this was done in the sixth cen-
tury, considering the incomparably stronger evidence showing that
this happened in Homer’s own time, supposedly towards the mid-
dle of the eighth century. Consequently, we can safely answer Milman
Parry’s son Adam Parry’s question65) in the affirmative: Yes, we do
have his Iliad and Odyssey, not the poems of some anonymous sixth
century oral singer(s)!

Institute for Classical Studies


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60) See Hallo & van Dijk 1968, 1-11.


61) Deforge 1992, 82 and 84.
62) See ANET 135, 141, 149 and UNP 42, 141, 164, where the famous scribe
Ilimalku enumerates his titles: ‘Student of Attenu the diviner’, ‘Chief of the priests’,
‘the Thaite [= cultic officiant] of Niqmaddu, the king of Ugarit’.
63) Incidentally, it seems reasonable to suppose that the scribe(s) who under-
took to write from Homer’s dictation were likewise well-educated men of the upper
class, and no slaves as was usual in the later Graeco-Roman culture.
64) See above, n. 43.
65) Have we Homer’s Iliad?, A. Parry 1966.
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186 SVEN-TAGE TEODORSSON

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