Homer's Winged Words

The Evolution of Early Greek Epic Diction in the Light of Oral Theory


For over 2500 years many of the most learned scholars of the Greek language have concerned themselves with the topic of etymology. The most productive source of difficult, even inexplicable, words was Homer’s 28,000 verses of epic poetry. Steve Reece proposes an approach to elucidating the meanings of some of these difficult words that finds its inspiration primarily in Milman Parry’s oral-formulaic theory. He proposes that during the long period of oral transmission acoustic uncertainties, especially regarding word boundaries, were continually occurring: a bard uttered one collocation of words, but his audience thought it heard another. The consequent resegmentation of words and phrases is the probable cause of some of the etymologically inexplicable words in our Homeric texts.

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Steve Reece, Ph.D. (1990) in Classics, University of California, Los Angeles, is Professor of Classics at Saint Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. He has published widely on Homeric studies, New Testament studies, comparative oral traditions, historical linguistics, and pedagogy.
" There is indeed no comparable work. Reece's book will be of interest to those interested in linguistic change and the history of Greek, prosody (in the broader sense encompassing e.g. rhythm, intonation, and syllabification, and not just metrics), and of course the Homeric Kunstsprache and the oral-formulaic theory of performance and composition. We are indebted to Reece for undertaking such a comprehensive investigation of the topic (the book is just over four-hundred pages)." D.M. Goldstein, BMCR 2010.03.03

"While the book can be read piecemeal, Reece builds a solid and cumulative case for his thesis that poetry composed
and experienced within an oral tradition is especially liable to certain kinds of verbal innovation, which in turn
explains the origins of some of the most notoriously obscure Homeric expressions."

Jenny Strauss Clay, University of Virginia.
Religious Studies Review, vol. 37 nr. 2 2011
Those interested in all areas of Homeric studies, Greek language and linguistics, historical and comparative linguistics, oral theory, and comparative oral traditions.