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What evidence is there that the Iliad was composed before the art of writing was applied to the composition of poetry - Research Paper Example

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The poem that we know as The Iliad comes from an age so far back in history that we cannot be entirely sure of its exact origins. Its form is a long poem in the epic style, which means that there is a heroic context with great themes of war, fate and national pride. …
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What evidence is there that the Iliad was composed before the art of writing was applied to the composition of poetry
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What evidence is there that the Iliad was composed before the art of writing was applied to the composition of poetry

Download file to see previous pages... The two sets of evidence are considered together with the intention of finding a definitive answer to this question. In the introduction to the text of the poem in English G.S. Kirk points out that the Greeks started to use writing around 725 B.C. which was relatively late compared to their neighbours, the Mesopotamians who had used their cuneiform script for some thousand years already. (Kirk, 2008, p. ix). Using items like figure scenes and vases, quotations in other poets, and mention of the Iliad and Odyssey in other surviving writings, Kirk notes that historians have dated the composition of The Iliad been around this time, or possibly as late as 680 B.C,. Archaeological evidence and historic individuals mentioned in the text would suggest that the battles between the Greeks and the Trojans which are described in the poem took place another 600 years before the time of Homer, around 1200 B.C. This means that a very long time had passed before the material came to be worked on by Homer. It is theoretically possible that even older oral versions existed on which Homer perhaps based his work. There is no evidence of this, however, and so older sources have to remain a speculation. It is clear that in the time of Homer, Greek civilization was not heavily dependent on writing. There are some inscriptions from this period but they are very brief. The technical limitations of the early Greek script made it unlikely that Homer could have made much use of it as a writing aid for such a long poem, according to Kirk. Moreover, Kirk points out that the audience for the poem were certainly not readers: “ He (= Homer) composed for people who were essentially non-literate, who listened to poetry as their ancestors had…” (Kirk, 2008, p. x) This dating evidence proves that there was plenty of poetry existing in written form before Homer came along. The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, was written in Sumerian script, and dates from around 2000 B.C., well before the Trojan wars. The Iliad was composed in Greek many centuries after this, and so in an absolute sense it is not true to say that it was composed before anyone had used writing for poetry. In a local and Greek sense, however, this is a possibility worth investigation, because the Greeks may indeed have composed, performed, heard,and preserved The Iliad in only oral form. Scholars have carefully studied the surviving text of The Iliad to try and work out if there are clues to its origin in the way it is written. The presence of many formulaic phrases which are repeated again and again is explained as a feature of oral literature: the hexameter form requires that a certain rhythm be maintained, and so these ready-made little phrases are called upon to fill spaces in the poetic line in a predictable way. An example of this is the way the named characters in the epic have a little descriptive phrase attached to them such as “Agamemnon, Atreus’ son” (Book 1, p. 1) which is varied as “The son of Atreus,/ ruler of the great plain, Agamemnon…” (Book 1, p. 3) or “… son of Atreus, tamer of horses (Book 2, p. 18). These epithets add interest to the story because the heroes are mentioned often, and it could become even more repetitive if the simple names were used without these variations. Finnegan explains the so-called “Homeric epithet” as a structural device: “The poet had at his disposal this series of traditional patterns built up over ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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