Hearing Homer’s Song: The Brief Life and Big Idea of Milman Parry

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The Greek poet Homer was not like Virgil or Aeschylus. Indeed, there likely was no single person named Homer and he certainly was not the author of the Odyssey and the Iliad, no matter what you may have learned in school. Hearing Homer’s Song is a deeply researched biography of Milman Parry, the classics scholar who proved that these poems, like other ancient epics from around the world, came from an oral tradition. They were composed—but not written—by “poets who had no scroll, no stylus, no paper, no papyrus, no alphabet,” and the results were handed down through the generations. Such poets and singers were not praised for originality but for their ability to tell these stirring stories in ways that were familiar and always delivered within certain metrical constraints and patterns. Although the tales may have evolved over time, their long regular lines remained constant. Parry died young in a violent death, but his work was carried forward by his acolyte Albert Lord, aided by the hundreds of recordings they made of traditional singers in Yugoslavia whose songs were sung differently each night. For several centuries, academia did not believe that culture could exist without literacy; Parry and Lord cracked that narrow view wide open. This is a fascinating book that will leave you musing about traditions, culture, and what else you may have learned that needs a fresh examination.


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Author Robert Kanigel
Star Count 5/5
Format Hard
Page Count 336 pages
Publisher Knopf
Publish Date 27-Apr-2021
ISBN 9780525520948
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue July 2021
Category Biographies & Memoirs
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