n Literator : Journal of Literary Criticism, Comparative Linguistics and Literary Studies - The man with the phrase book in his head : on the literariness of the illiterate Homer : research article




In the early 1930s Milman Parry's theoretical substantiation of the oral composition of the and the was widely interpreted as a major breakthrough in the field of oral traditional research, even as the founding act of a new discipline - Oral Theory. The "oral-formulaic" theory which underscored this breakthrough has, however, been increasingly criticized in recent times. While acknowledging the fundamental importance of Parry's work in the field of Oral Theory, the present article seeks to reinterpret the essential orality of the Homeric poems in the light of its broader implications for the recognition of an oral aesthetics / oral literature. Parry's work on the and the has generally been appreciated for its postulation of a characteristically oral textual economy. This article sets out, by contrast, to look more closely at the possibility Parry opens up for the orally composed text to be considered "literature" in its fullest aesthetic sense. Crucial to this is the creative role of the reader / audience in terms of the text's "horizons of expectations", that also serve to contradict the famous characterisation by Walter Ong alluded to in the title of this article.


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