In the introduction to Robert Fagles' translation of The Illiad (published by Penguin), Bernard Knox writes
expanding on this, he saysThe language of Homer is of course a problem in itself. One thing is certain: it is not a language that anyone ever spoke. It is an artificial, poetic language... (pg. 11)
My question is simple: is this generally agreed on by scholars? It seems not only true, considering the argument put forward by Knox in the immediately preceding pages, but, as he says, certain, given what Knox adduces on page 15 (utilizing the scholarship of Milman Parry):The language of Homer is the "creation of epic verse" in a strict sense too: it is created, adapted and shaped to fit the epic meter, the hexamete. (pg. 12).
Knox summarizes Parry's discovery like so:Parry...demonstrated that in fact there was an intricate system of metrical alternatives for the recurring names of heroes, gods and objects....Parry demonstrated that the system was more extensive and highly organized than anyone had dreamed, and he also realized what it meant. It meant that this system had been developed by and for the use of oral poets who improvised.`
Knox continues (and this is the last quote!) his explanation of Parry's discovery on page 17:The Homeric epithets were created to meet the demands of the meter of Greek heroic poetry, the dactylic hexameter. They offer the improvising bard different ways of fitting the name of his god, hero or object into whatever section of the line is left after he has, so to speak, filled up the first half (that too, quite possibly, with another formulaic phrase.)
There was so much more to include in Knox's introduction (for example, his quotations of the Greek, his summaries of previous scholarship), but my curiosity extends beyond it. I really want to know:There is one aspect of Parry's discovery, however, that changed the whole problem of the nature of our Homeric text. The oral bard who uses such formulaic language is not...a poet reciting from memory of a fixt text. He is improvising, along known lines, relying on a huge stock of formulaic phrases, lines and even whole scenes; but he is improvising. And every time he sings the poem, he does it differently. The outline remains the same but the text, the oral text, is flexible. The poem is new every time it is performed.
(1) Do scholars generally agree that an epic poet and bard named Homer actually existed? If not, what do they think, or is there nothing like general agreement among scholars on this question?
(2) Do scholars generally agree that Homeric Greek was not a spoken language but a constructed one, one which employs various words and phrases that are peculiar to certain dialects and which repeats certain set phrases, and all this in order to fulfill the needs of the hexameter? If not, what do they generally think? or is there nothing like a generally accepted answer to this question?
(3) Do scholars generally agree that our versions of Illiad and Odyssey (which Knox makes clear also vary, but not dramatically so, between editions and between the centuries) are directly descended from Homer, a poet who culminated through writing a long tradition of an improvised oral epic? If not, do they think that what we have now is a canonized, written form of what was once a long oral tradition which was later written down and more or less canonized? If neither of these, what do they generally think? or is there nothing like a generally accepted answer to this question?
And lastly, if any of you could offer reading recommendations which influence your answers to my questions, that'd be fantastic.