Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

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Paul Derouda
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Post by Paul Derouda » Fri Nov 15, 2013 12:38 pm

Thanks guys. You have restored my faith in humanity (and perhaps in performance, too...)

Have you actually read Skafte Jensen's book? What do you think about it? I didn't get very far reading it when other things came up. I wondering whether I should start reading that again.

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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Post by Qimmik » Fri Nov 15, 2013 1:17 pm

Which Skafte Jensen book, the earlier one or the new one? I read the earlier one some time ago but getting a hold of the newer one is difficult or impossible outside of Scandinavia. She's a hard-core "oralist" (as West would call them) and did field work in Albania, but I thought the earlier book was well-argued when I read it, probably 20 years ago. She puts "Homer" in the 6th (!) century.

I too am uncomfortable with the "privileging" of the Serbo-Croatian tradition, as if the Homeric poems must have arisen out of an oral tradition that in every respect was identical to the South Slavic tradition studied by Parry. I don't think that Parry or even Lord went that far, but some of the current crop seem to think that they can prove a point about "Homer" by simply citing the evidence of the Serbo-Croatian tradition--which most contemporary Homeric scholars who embrace a more or less hard-core oral view haven't studied in depth anyway.

One book I found really illuminating is Homer's Trojan Theater, by Jenny Strauss Clay. She tries to map out the topography of the battle books, suggesting (without embracing any particular theory about the origin of the poem) that the composer of the Iliad had a very concrete map in his (or her) mind and used it to keep everything straight throughout the narrative--and, more broadly, that this was a technique that an oral poet/singer might have used to manage the task of committing a long narrative to memory. But the book is valuable for explicating the action of the battle books, quite apart from her ideas about compositional technique.

One other thought: ultimately, I think speculation about the origin of the Homeric poems has run its course. It doesn't really contribute to our understanding and appreciation and enjoyment of the poems. That's not to say that much of the scholarship of the past 200 years--much of it focused on the search for origins--has made no contribution to our understanding of the poems. But the specific focus on how the poems came into being has hit a dead end. The more we know about the poems, the more complex the processes, the more contradictory the evidence, and the more mysterious and irrecoverable the origins of the poems become.

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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Post by Paul Derouda » Fri Nov 15, 2013 1:49 pm

Qimmik wrote:Which Skafte Jensen book, the earlier one or the new one? I read the earlier one some time ago but getting a hold of the newer one is difficult or impossible outside of Scandinavia. She's a hard-core "oralist" (as West would call them) and did field work in Albania, but I thought the earlier book was well-argued when I read it, probably 20 years ago. She puts "Homer" in the 6th (!) century.
I meant the newer one. I've read an article where she puts forward her idea of a 6th century dictating "Homer", the whole epics being dictated in a very short time, like 1 song per day (I don't remember exactly). That part of it was not at all convincing to me. But she has perhaps some good insights with comparative evidence from other oral traditions.
One book I found really illuminating is Homer's Trojan Theater, by Jenny Strauss Clay. She tries to map out the topography of the battle books, suggesting (without embracing any particular theory about the origin of the poem) that the composer of the Iliad had a very concrete map in his (or her) mind and used it to keep everything straight throughout the narrative--and, more broadly, that this was a technique that an oral poet/singer might have used to manage the task of committing a long narrative to memory. But the book is valuable for explicating the action of the battle books, quite apart from her ideas about compositional technique.
I guess that book's on my reading list. Incidentally, M.L. West also thinks the Iliad poet knew the Troad well.
One other thought: ultimately, I think speculation about the origin of the Homeric poems has run its course. It doesn't really contribute to our understanding and appreciation and enjoyment of the poems. That's not to say that much of the scholarship of the past 200 years--much of it focused on the search for origins--has made no contribution to our understanding of the poems. But the specific focus on how the poems came into being has hit a dead end. The more we know about the poems, the more complex the processes, the more contradictory the evidence, and the more mysterious and irrecoverable the origins of the poems become.
I'm not so pessimistic. It's just that all the threads have grown so overwhelming for a single individual. It's unrealistic that anyone could ever convince everybody, even if he found out the truth. It's not like natural sciences, you can't make uncontestable experiments to show that your solution to the Homeric question is true. You have to convince other people, and if other people haven't done their homework, they won't believe you, even if you're right. There will always be noisy Felipe Vincis, creationists and whatever to obfuscate the truth, but you don't have to listen to them.

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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Post by Scribo » Fri Nov 15, 2013 3:00 pm

Skafte-Jensen's new book, wow what a difficult text that was to get hold of. My own library was useless, the press wanted to charge me £50! Luckily my partner is in Cambridge where they're eminently sensible and I spent a weekend forgoing...early pleasures in order to read it.

Basically, she's to be commended for doing her own fieldwork and some of her criticisms of Nagy's evolutionary model were interesting iirc. I think overall her late date is untenable, but then reading the book gave me several ideas of my own so there's that. It was not a wasted time.

I too agree that there's quite a lot to be learnt from investigating composition, I just think people are faffing about in the wrong areas. I think sometimes it's a question of distance too...my opinions, actually my approach, changed markedly not just by examining other Greek stuff but traditions from around the word. I can still rapidly perform/improvise Sanskrit version with even only a slight grasp of the old Indic formula system. I can go for quite a few lines too before forgetting where I'm meant to be going with the story...

Spatial dimensions: I liked it too, but nothing new since the Celticists (is that a word?) have long since maintained similar stuff about the Filid.
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Post by Qimmik » Sun Nov 17, 2013 4:04 pm

One troublesome aspect of the "hard Parryist" (for want of a better term) school that Paul mentioned is the tendency to remind us that the success of the Homeric poems crowded out virtually all the rest of the enormous body of oral poetry circulating in archaic Greece, and then to construct arguments based on what the rest of the tradition might have been.

If you're prepared to read an 800+ page book built on extravagant flights of fancy of that sort, I would highly recommend Hippota Nestor by Douglas Frame, with the imprimatur of the Center for Hellenic Studies, an institution that promotes this sort of thing, right here in Washington, DC. I have to admit that I haven't read it, but I was intrigued enough to buy it because it wasn't too expensive.

It turns out--again, admittedly, on casual inspection--to be based on an actual in-depth engagement with archaic Greek evidence, but very much akin to the book that places the Trojan War in Finland in the wild fantasies it constructs out of the evidence.

http://www.amazon.com/Hippota-Nestor-He ... ota+nestor

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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Post by Scribo » Sun Nov 17, 2013 5:25 pm

Yeah I sat through that book, I really can't say anything nice about it whatsoever. I mean there are some glimpses of worthwhile stuff about e.g an Ionian context but little that can't be found elsewhere. Overall...yeah just read something less mental.
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Post by Paul Derouda » Sun Nov 17, 2013 5:31 pm

I haven't read the book, but I remember the BMCR review because of its memorable opening line:

"There is something humorous about the garrulous Nestor of Homeric epic as the subject of a 900-page book".

http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2010/2010-12-04.html

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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Post by Scribo » Sun Nov 17, 2013 5:49 pm

Ha that's actually a pretty good review. I forgot about the bit about cattlemen twins, ha. Poor Periklymenos! cattleman here, guardian of the dead elsewhere, how many interpretations is he going to get.
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Post by quendidil » Wed Feb 05, 2014 12:45 am

I like The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization by Bryan Ward-Perkins.

It is about the economic history of the late Western empire based on both texts and archaeology.

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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Post by daivid » Wed Feb 05, 2014 1:02 pm

quendidil wrote:I like The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization by Bryan Ward-Perkins.

It is about the economic history of the late Western empire based on both texts and archaeology.
I also enjoyed this book and he very effectively reaffirms that the fall was indeed dire.

His book is a good example of how heresy is the new orthodoxy. Rather than stress that the case he is putting is reaffirming what most historians have always thought he takes great pains to talk up the "fall - what fall?" school of historians. By making those historians who argue that very little changed when German kingdoms were established across the western empire appear as the new establishment, he positions himself to be an iconoclastic rebel.

Peter Heather's The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History makes a nice companion to Ward-Perkins book dealing with the how rather than the consequences.
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