Traditional Oral Epic: The <i>Odyssey</i>, <i>Beowulf</i>, and the Serbo-Croation Return Song

Univ of California Press
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John Miles Foley offers an innovative and straightforward approach to the structural analysis of oral and oral-derived traditional texts. Professor Foley argues that to give the vast and complex body of oral "literature" its due, we must first come to terms with the endemic heterogeneity of traditional oral epics, with their individual histories, genres, and documents, as well as both the synchronic and diachronic aspects of their poetics.

Until now, the emphasis in studies of oral traditional works has been placed on addressing the correspondences among traditions—shared structures of "formula," "theme," and "story-pattern." Traditional Oral Epic explores the incongruencies among traditions and focuses on the qualities specific to certain oral and oral-derived works. It is certain to inspire further research in this field.
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About the author

John Miles Foley is William H. Byler Distinguished Chair in the Humanities, University of Missouri, and founding editor of Oral Tradition.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Univ of California Press
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Published on
Jan 1, 1991
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Pages
680
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ISBN
9780520914483
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / Semiotics & Theory
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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In recent decades, the evidence for an oral epic tradition in ancient Greece has grown enormously along with our ever-increasing awareness of worldwide oral traditions. John Foley here examines the artistic implications that oral tradition holds for the understanding of the Iliad and Odyssey in order to establish a context for their original performance and modern-day reception.

In Homer's Traditional Art, Foley addresses three crucially interlocking areas that lead us to a fuller appreciation of the Homeric poems. He first explores the reality of Homer as their actual author, examining historical and comparative evidence to propose that "Homer" is a legendary and anthropomorphic figure rather than a real-life author. He next presents the poetic tradition as a specialized and highly resonant language bristling with idiomatic implication. Finally, he looks at Homer's overall artistic achievement, showing that it is best evaluated via a poetics aimed specifically at works that emerge from oral tradition.

Along the way, Foley offers new perspectives on such topics as characterization and personal interaction in the epics, the nature of Penelope's heroism, the implications of feasting and lament, and the problematic ending of the Odyssey. His comparative references to the South Slavic oral epic open up new vistas on Homer's language, narrative patterning, and identity.

Homer's Traditional Art represents a disentangling of the interwoven strands of orality, textuality, and verbal art. It shows how we can learn to appreciate how Homer's art succeeds not in spite of the oral tradition in which it was composed but rather through its unique agency.

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