Tag Archives: Homer

A Kind of Poetical Galaxy: Ismail Kadare’s The File on H

“The droplets of condensation on the window pane reminded her of tears on a tragic-comic mask…”

Oral poetry fascinates me. In particular, I’ve always found the story of Milman Parry and Albert Lord’s pathbreaking investigations into the origins of the Homeric epic – that I wrote about here – spellbinding. So when, in Aeneid lectures this week, the professor informed us that Ismail Kadare’s (a name I was hearing for the first time) The File on H was an absolute must-read for anyone interested in the oral epic, I promptly issued it from the Balliol library.

A quick google reveals that Kadare is considered to be the foremost Albanian writer and poet of the 20th century (whatever that might mean or signify), and that he won the inaugural Man Booker International Award in 2005. Here is the blurb:

Society in rural Albania had evolved little since the Middle Ages. What better place in which two Irish-American scholars might study the tradition of oral poetry, in the hope of understanding how Homeric epics came to be composed and handed down, to elucidate the strange commerce between memory and forgetting. The small country town through which they pass, and the remote inn that serves as their base, are not left unaffected, however, by their presence: the society ladies, and not least the restless and ambitious wife of the Governor, insist on having their due; the Governor himself is under instructions from the Minister for the Interior to spy on the scholars’ activities, which are assumed to be an insidious form of espionage; and the notion of trapping the speech of the traveling rhapsodes in their new-fangled tape-recorder excites fear and outrage in a country where even a person’s shadow, let alone his voice, is considered capable of capture and annihilation. The two simple, dedicated scholars realise only too late that they have stumbled over an ant’s nest…

This is a brilliant book. In it, the bleakness of Kafka meets the laughter of Wodehouse; the unsparing psychological portraits of Maupassant mingle with the surrealism of Garcia Marquez; and the whole work is shot through with a wistful yearning for days past, a brooding reflection on memory and loss, and a dirge for the breaking of things.

As the blurb suggests, the story is a fictional re-telling of the Parry-Lord journey to central Europe to solve the Homeric question by examining a living oral epic tradition. Of course, while Parry and Lord went to Bosnia, Max and Bill, their (fictional) equivalents, journey to Albania. But, just like Parry and Lord, they too carry with them the recently-invented tape-recording technology, desperate to salvage something of a dying tradition, in the last place where it yet survives, before it is gone forever.

Kadare begins with a series of acute portrayals of life in a provincial Albanian town, with all its dreariness, weariness and ennui, a world seen most starkly through the eyes of the deeply frustrated wife of the governor.

“She picked up the telephone under her customary cloud of melancholy, condensed from dozens of disappointments when, on hearing the same bell ring, she had rushed to it in the hope of hearing some really uplifting news that would relieve the monotony of her life, only to hear through the perforated Bakelite her husband’s trivial interrogations…”

And when the news of the foreigners first arrives:

“…and the day, wound up like a string by that bell, had been transformed from a slack stretch of time into its opposite – into a day full of surprise and mystery…”

Setting off a rapid chain of fantasising:

“… and she imagined herself in the arms of the one, then in the arms of the other, dancing the tango to the tune called “Jealousy…”


She ran back to the phone but as she picked up the receiver she froze. Before passing on such radiant news to the postmaster’s wife she felt the need to savour it all alone for a little longer…”


“Chaotically, without seeking to make her mind keep to any logical sequence, she saw herself first entangled with the hairy redhead, Max Ross, not because she was really attracted to him, but by force of circumstance, or rather by the desire to encounter the whole range of initial emotions, exhaustively and sophisticatedly (rivalry, exacerbated jealous etc.) before plunging fully into an affair with the other, Bill.”

And for the governor himself:

Good God, how do you manage to keep the same smile on your face for hours at a stretch, for dozens of people?


with his early-evening smile upon his face…

The characterisation is sparse, spare, almost like – to use a pet analogy of mine – an impressionist painting, leaving the reader to complete the vision with his mind’s eye. And, like the best of impressionist paintings, it is utterly compelling.

Things begin to get complicated when spies are deputed to watch the movements of the Irishmen, suspected as they are (as all foreigners are) of unknown and unknowably nefarious purposes. Here is where we begin to get drawn into a Kafka-esque world of the infinite State with its labyrinthine machines and machinations, but unlike Kafka, Kadare is relentlessly humorous; his spies and his provincial officials are so puffed up, so taken in by their own sense of self-importance, so utterly mock-Machiavellian, that it is impossible to be bogged down by the crushing inevitability of individual destruction that accompanies The Castle or The Trial. Of course, the shadow of secret police, show trials, purges and darkness at noon is ever-present in the background, and a distinct sense of unease pervades the novel, but it never grows to define it. So, consider:

“He tried to get “notwithstanding” into his report three times over, but however hard he tried, he could not manage to get it in the right place; it stuck out from the other words like a foreign body, like an unacceptable and even comical intrusion, and he crossed it out three times over with a stroke of the pen that was more like the lash of a whip. “oh, oh,” he groaned aloud. A vulgar little spy who can write better than I can! Well, anyway, he added by way of self-consolation, flowers also grow better on dunghills. “

And then, with these two themes playing in the background, as Max and Bill arrive in the old inn at the crossroads of the rhapsodes’ ways, we begin to slip into the theme of epic. We are informed, early on, about how their project is not simply a work of detached, academic investigation into the Homeric question. Rather:

“For more than a thousand years, Albanians and Slavs had been in ceaseless conflict in this area. They had quarreled over everything – over land, over boundaries, over pastures and watering holes, and it would have been entirely unsurprising had they also disputed the ownership of local rainbows. And as if that were not enough, they were also squabbling over the ancient epics which existed, just to make things completely intractable, in both languages, Albanian and Serbo-Croatian. Each of the two people asserted that it had created the epic, leaving the other nation the choice of being considered either a thief or a mere imitator.”

And, as Bill reminds Max, their work on Homer plunges them right into the conflict, working on a question, as they are, that will decide the controversy of historical precedence in the occupation of the Balkan peninsula. If, as they suspect, they find evidence linking the Albanian epic to the Greek, then it is proof that Albanian were present in the Balkans during classical times, and certainly before the Serbo-Croats. Epic poetry will become a formidable weapon in political conflict.

As the Irishmen’s work goes on, we are taken deeper into the nuances of oral epic poetry. We are introduced to the core of the oral tradition, the formulaic epithet, that tool both of memory and of metre:

What shifts and what stays fixed in epic poetry? Is there an unchanging core of material that ensures the integrity of the art-form over the centuries?… up to now we believed that the anchoring role was played by the figures of speech, the models or fixed forms of the language, or, to put it another way, the basic moulds into which epic material was poured… so we were convinced that the ancient laboratory’s linguistic equipment, which was itself unchanging, guaranteed the homogeneity of its poetic production. 

That is the standard Parry-Lord thesis. But, as Bill and Max find out, even the formulae are subject to change, albeit slowly and incrementally. And it is linked, in the end, to the art of forgetting – what prevents the epic from attrition – or dissolution – is the individual rhapsode’s ability to both remember and forget – to add as well as subtract from the corpus available to him.

“How are we going to know why and by what mysterious means a line that has been forgotten and shrouded in darkness for years may emerge into the light once again? And that’s leaving aside the fact that the phenomenon occurs not just within the repertoire of an individual rhapsode, but, as if carried along by a subterranean stream, an omitted line can be restored by some other rhapsode in a different time and place. Epic fragments seem able to climb out of the gave where the bard’s body has been rotting away for years, claw their way through the earth, and come alive in another’s song, as if death had not changed them at all.”

I think what’s important about the passage is its re-emphasis on an idea that cannot be stressed enough: assumptions of individuality and authorship, assumptions that we bring unthinkingly to our reading of written texts, simply don’t apply to the oral tradition which is, in a very Eliotic sense, a “tradition“. The image of a stream, a stream of epic that flows through time and space, borne along by the currents of its own logic, independent of individual efforts to dam or direct it, is a very striking one. As the scholars recognise, at another point, while they muse upon the history of epic poetry:

They thought that if Homer’s version of the Iliad had not been written down and subsequently published, then it too could easily have been fragmented and then been reassembled later on into a quite different shape. The cycles of condensation and dissolution of this kind of epic poetry must have some resemblance to the cycles of creation, fragmentation and re-creation of possible worlds from cosmic dust… more and more, epic poetry seemed to the like a kind of poetical galaxay under the sway of mysterious forces.

So much for that. As the reader approaches the book – especially a reader aware of the work of Parry and Lord, he is undoubtedly very sympathetic to the project. Saving – rescuing – salvaging – preserving for posterity – these are the things that come to mind when one contemplates what Bill and Max are trying to do. They are trying to keep a dying tradition alive by recording the songs of the last of the oral rhapsodes.

And yet, is it truly that simple? At the end of the first recording, when the Irishmen – and we – are flushed with a sense of triumph, of having participated in a great and memorable moment, of having set out on the road to making a fundamental contribution to the world’s heritage, we are given the first, faint sense of something being wrong. Because, when they play back the recorder, and the rhapsode’s now-artificial voice fills the room, Bill and Max feel that:

There was something quite horrifying about this disconnection, this removal of a man from the attributes which give him his distinct and independent existence. 

But what, precisely, is so horrifying about this? I don’t think that this is a point about imitation in general, but is uniquely characteristic of oral poetry. That is because, as I discussed earlier, when writing on Parry-Lord, the “distinct and independent existence” of the performer is one of the cornerstones of oral poetry. There is no original, no standard, no text; on the contrary, each performance is an act of creation, and each performer an author many times over. And this, of course, changes fundamentally with the advent of a device like the tape-recorder. As Kadare writes:

The rhapsodist is the main wheel in the machinery of the epic. He is publisher, bookseller and librarian all at once, and also rather more than that: he is a posthumous co-author and, in this capacity, has the right to amend the text. It’s perfectly legal, no-one disputes his right, and no one criticizes him for doing so, except perhaps his own conscience.  

Of course, I have serious reservations about using the word “text” and “amend” at all (I wonder if something’s been lost in translation), because we know from Parry and Lord that in oral poetry, there is no such thing as a “text”, and consequently, no such thing as an “amendation” (since you need a standard to amend). But that minor quibble apart, what changes with the advent of the tape-recorder is precisely what changes with the advent of the written word – the creation of a model, a standard. And as Parry and Lord tell us, the written word destroyed the oral. Ex hypothesi, does not a recording device serve exactly the same function as the written word?

At some points, the thought occurs to Bill and Max themselves:

On other occasions they told themselves that oral epic could only ever exist in the scattered form in which they found it, and they there were betraying and altering their material by trying to put its pieces together. In that way of thinking, oral recitation was less like a poetic entity than a medieval order… 

And certainly, to the locals. This, from a conversation:

“This machine walls up the ancient songs, imprisons them within itself, and you know as well as I do what happens to a song when you wall up is voice. It’s like when you wall up a man’s shadow. He wilts and dies. That’s what happens to him. It doesn’t matter to me, I’m only a foreigner myself, my land and my Serbian songs are far away in a safe place, but I deplore what’s going on for your sake. With this machine these Irishmen will cut limbs from your body. They’ll mow down all those old songs that are the joy of life, and without them it will be like being deaf. You’ll wake up one fine morning and find yourselves in a desert and you’ll hold your heads in your hands; but meanwhile, those devils will have fled far away. They’ll have robbed you of everything, and you’ll be condemned to deafness for the rest of your lives.”

Normally, we would be inclined to give this short shrift, since the conversation occurs in a deeply political context, and the monologue is clearly motivated by nationalist fervour. Nonetheless, Kadare has destabilised our conceptions enough, by now, to make us wonder: could there actually be a kernel of truth in this? Can the nature of oral poetry ever remain the same once it has been recorded? Even if, like Parry and Lord, like Bill and Max, your purpose is to preserve as much as you can, as many versions of the same story (does that even make grammatical sense in the context of oral poetry) – because what you’ll have at the end of that is multiple standards/models, but standards and models nonetheless.

Is the very idea of “preservation” antithetical to the essence of oral poetry? 

And does that mean that if oral poetry is dying, we are faced with the grim choice of either letting it die or, by preserving it, change its fundamental character – so that oral poetry is dead anyway? And what ought we to do.

Kadare is profoundly ambivalent on this point, an ambivalence that is summed up towards the end, as Bill and Max reflect on their work:

Whereas they had previously despaired at the dispersion of the Albanian epic tradition, they now felt reassured that the entire corpus was in good order. What to begin with had seemed like shards scattered through space and time, as ungraspable as the mane of rainbows, as wind and burnt dust, and quite impossible to collect, was now locked in numbered metal reel cases. Sometimes it seemed hard to credit that they had managed to tame all that hatred and all that passion. 

As the underlined phrases suggest – and as the images of “locking” and “taming”, as opposed to “ungraspable” signify – the soul of oral poetry lies in its resistance to being caught, labeled, classified, pinned down, defined. Once you do accomplish that, you lose something precious.

What conclusions, then, are we meant to draw about the project? At times it seems absurd to even begin to doubt, to doubt the value of Parry-Lord’s work, and the worth of their discoveries, their contribution to our knowledge about a great field of human endeavour. But Kadare makes us wonder. And the ending – which I won’t spoil here – only serves to make the ambivalence deeper and more profound.

As is the case with the best of books, you can’t quite sleep at night after having turned the last page.

Kadare’s Wiki entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ismail_Kadare

The File on H: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_File_on_H

The opening page: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/k/kadare-file.html

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/95916.The_File_on_H


Filed under Albania, Epic, European Writing, Homer, Ismail Kadare, Milman Parry & Albert Lord

Parry-Lord and Reading Homer

The other day, at my friend’s behest, I was watching the first part of Leonard Bernstein’s What is Classical Musicon Youtube. Like a good 1950s man, Bernstein begins with the question of the definition of classical music, in an Aristotelian framework of exclusion and inclusion. He considers epithets such as “good“, “serious“, “art” and even “long-haired“, only to reject them all. He finally isolates the essence of classical music in the comparatively minimal degree of freedom that it affords the performer of a piece, and the correspondingly greater degree of control that it vests in the composer. Bernstein then comes up with the following three adjectives to define classical music: “permanent, unchanging, exact“.

I nodded when I heard this for the first time. Permanent, unchanging. Makes perfect sense.

And yet, does it? Notice one thing. “Permanent” and “unchanging” are not synonyms. We normally agree that something is permanent as long as its essence remains the same – the thing itself can modify and evolve over time. And then again, something can be unchanging, but only temporarily. Why then does it seem natural for Bernstein – and for us – to run the two words together, as though it was simply… natural? We know from Foucault, after all, that words only take their meaning through other words; and as the great legal philosopher, Dworkin, points out, our language both constructs and protects a certain social environment. Is it, then, a human need for constancy (and notice, here, that “constant” is closer in meaning to both “permanent” and “unchanging” than they are to each other) that makes it natural for us to view these words in mutual company?

I bring this up because it is an idea bridge to discussing something that I read this summer, one of the most fascinating pieces that I have come across in recent times. I refer to Albert Lord’s book, The Singer of Tales. The theme is oral epic; in particular, Homer.

Homer and I have had a long and troubled association. Apart from a personal reminiscence, however, I think it reflects a broader, more interesting point. Like any child growing up with even the slightest interest in literature, I would hear ad nauseam about the greatness of Homer, the first and the best ever. Consequently when, as a callow youth of twelve, I took up The Iliad, I was already telling myself that I would have to enjoy it; anything else would reveal a serious lack in me. Yet, try as I might, I couldn’t enjoy it. The catalogue of ships in Book II bored me to tears. The seemingly endless repetitions of different people dying in the same violent and graphic way made little sense. Even the climactic Achilles-Hector battle was decent, at best. I blamed it on Samuel Butler’s turgid prose. Then I read Keats’ On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, and was utterly smitten. Convinced that the fault lay not in my Homer but in my Butler, I scoured the Delhi bookshops for the man who, speaking out “loud and bold“, had made the great romantic feel like both an astronomer and stout Cortes, by turn. I finally got my hands on Chapman’s translation, and started with the Odyssey. By Book IV, I was so put off by the forced rhyming, that I cursed Keats, and abandoned it. One thing in Homer made perfect sense to me: the imagery. There was no doubt that the Iliad’s imagery is special. I recall, for instance, as a too-sentimental teenager of 19, in the first throes of rejected love, declaiming in the room of a friend, another self-confessed Homer fan, the lines “surely the grey sea bore her, and the sheer cliffs begot her, so cruel and remorseless is she!” But apart from that, I resigned myself to never quite understanding what was so special about Homer, that they all acknowledged him King and master. And I think many of my friends have had a similar experience with Homer – almost universally, for instance, we prefer Virgil to Homer (caveat – none of us know Latin, we can only read translations).

Until I read Lord’s The Singer of Tales, and understood that I was doing it all wrong. I was approaching Homer with a set of assumptions and presuppositions that were simply inapplicable, like trying to play football while following the rules of hockey. You’ll be playing something that resembles football, but which it isn’t football at all. So too for Homer. Let me try and explain.

We’ll start with the vexing Homeric question: how is it that the first practitioner of the art of epic was also its greatest? The beginning of any art form is riddled with flaws, a certain consequence of experimentation. It is only after trial and error, constant evolution, frequent regression, and the trial of years that an art form reaches its apotheosis (think of the evolution of perspective in art, for instance, from 13th century Italy to the paintings of Carlo Crivelli at the peak of the Renaissance). So how on earth did Homer stand at the beginning of epic, and also at its head? Well, Milman Parry and Albert Lord, after years of research and fieldwork, came to the startlingly simple conclusion: Homer wasn’t an epic poet who wrote the Iliad. In fact, the Iliad wasn’t, at first, written at all. Homer was an oral poet, who was part of an ancient and flourishing tradition of oral epic poetry, which was fundamentally different, in every conceivable way, from the written word.

I cannot describe, in any kind of details, the arguments that Lord puts forward for the Parry-Lord hypothesis in his book. I’ll come straight to the crucial differences between oral epic and the written word. First, and most importantly, the written tradition, ex hypothesi, assumes the existence of an original, a uniquely identifiable piece of text that is the work. There can be many translations of The Aeneid, and many interpretations, but there is only one Aeneid, what Virgil wrote. Scholars may divide forever over how best to understand Sailing to Byzantium, but nobody divides over what the poem is. It is what Yeats wrote (in a brilliant essay called What is an Author?, Foucault tries to question this fundamental premise with which we approach literary texts, but I, for one, don’t think he manages to make any dent in that mode of thinking – how could he?).

But that is not the case for oral poetry. There is no original, no “standard”, no “model”. Every performance is an act of individual creation. Yes, there exists a set of themes and motifs that can be loosely called The Iliad. But as an oral poet, whenever I sing the song of Achilles and Hector and Priam and Ajax, I am not imitating/interpreting/adapting/modifying a defined original, but rather, I am creating or composing something new. To use Bernstein’s terminology: a written text is permanent, unchangeable. Oral tradition is the very antithesis of that.

Secondly, oral poetry is composed under a set of conditions that differ radically from that of written works of art. Oral composers are performing for an audience; their primary concern is with holding the attention of their listeners. This has a number of consequences. Primarily, speed. Oral composition needs to be continuous. The problem, however, is that it also needs to adhere to a strict metre (the Iliad, for instance – dactylic hexameter; the yugoslav oral epics that Parry and Lord examine – lines of ten syllables, divided into half lines of 4 – 6). How on earth is the poet going to compose metrical verse on the spot? The answer lies in a stock of formulaic phrases and epithets that form part of the oral tradition, which every poet learns during his apprenticeship, and which he can draw upon as he sings. These “formulae” are designed specifically for adhering to the metrical form – for instance, for a four-syllabled half line, you will have a number of three-syllabled words that you can join with an “a” or a “the” or a “said”, or something of that sort. The skill of a great oral poet, therefore, lies in how he can manipulate the stock of formulas at his disposal – because all poets will have the corpus available to them – to create verse of great and enduring beauty. This, then, explains the constant repetition in Homer – if you already have a metred formula that describes death in battle, you don’t need to go out on a limb and find a new way of describing it each time. Originality, which all of us value so highly, simply isn’t a consideration here.

While formulae exist at the micro-level of lines and half-lines, they also exist at the macro level of themes, and how themes succeed each other. Lord talks about how the theme of an “Assembly” is extremely common throughout ancient epic – there are four assemblies in the first two books of the Iliad – and often, these are linked with speeches by heroes, by gift-giving, by the arrival of heralds, and by the declaration of war. This, again, explains why so many themes and motifs recur throughout Homer.

Thirdly, oral poetry is performed within a small-ish group (remember, we’re talking of pre-writing societies here) all of whom are aware of – and operate within – the tradition. Furthermore, the essentially fluctuating and variable nature of the performance means that standard requirements of coherence and consistency are entirely inapplicable. This allows us to come at the vexing catalogue of ships in Book II from two angles: first, the names and places Homer is mentioning would have been thoroughly familiar to his audience, and they would have been able to make the associations and connections that we cannot now – Homer was not writing for readers through time, but performing for a specific audience at a specific place at a specific time (unlike Virgil – compare Book VII of the Aeneid – the description of the Latin heroes – with the catalogue of ships; Virgil, writing an epic for contemporary Rome, knows that he cannot simply describe them like Homer, and leave the rest to the imagination of his audience; so, he punctuates his descriptions with passages of individual poetic beauty. Adam Parry points to one in particular – the mourning landscape that laments the death of Umbro: Te nemus Angitiae, vitrea te Fucinus unda,/ Te liquidi flevere lacus – For you the grove of Angitia mourned, and Fucinus’ glassy waters,/ And the clear lakes. Homer needs no such device, and has no use for it.)

Secondly, it helps us understand that the standard Aristotelian presuppositions with which we approach a text – unity of time, place, action do not apply to oral poetry. Homer is not concerned with presenting to us a tightly bound, internally coherent, economical narrative. Digression is no evil. There is no “central plot theme” that we expect from a novel, no core idea that binds the rest together. And that is why The Iliad is full of what we consider to be irrelevancies, random digressions, inexplicable departures from what we see to be the “main theme” – the siege and battle for Troy. There is no main theme in the first place, there is no logic of the narrative that dictates what is to happen next, and how.

In these few paragraphs, I have done little or no justice to the complexity, the ingenuity, the sheer wealth of detail and the brilliant argumentation of the Parry-Lord hypothesis. Their book is a beautiful work, argued with passion and flair. I cannot now think of reading Homer, or any of the major oral epic works, without having first read this book. It is honestly like trying to read a foreign language without knowing its linguistic structure.

But what this makes me think of that fundamental question. How ought we to approach a text? So far, I was reading Homer with all the presuppositions of a twenty-first century reader who has lived in, and has had his thought structured by, a world where written texts are the norm without exception. Now that he has learnt this was not the environment in which Homer composed, how should he proceed the next time he takes up the Iliad?

And this is THE classic debate in hermeneutics, one that is applicable not only to literature, but also, as far as I know, to history and to law, to take two areas I have a vague knowledge of. William Dilthey believed that it was possible to entirely overcome the limitations that existed in trying to understand/interpret texts from different eras and cultures. He argued that one could rise above one’s own bounded position, and understand texts entirely in their own terms – that there was this place (think of E.H. Carr’s image of the eagle on a crag, looking down upon the march of humanity) where all prejudices and all boundedness simply dissolved, and we could dispassionately examine and analyse anything, and arrive at the truth of its essence. In Truth and Method, Gadamer rejected this position, and along with it, rejected “prejudice” as something that one should strive to overcome in the first place. Gadamer’s prejudice is responsible for our fore-understanding of a text – that is, a Heideggerian notion of the understanding we bring to it before we have even read it. This “prejudice” is formed by our social and cultural environment. But crucially, for Gadamer, this is something to be welcomed; it does not cloud the truth, but rather, helps to reveal it. The horizon, he says, is only all that we can see from a particular point of view. And truth in interpretation is arrived at by achieving a merging of horizons. Habermas, in his turn, criticised Gadamer for simply accepting prejudice, and refusing to subject it to a critical examination. For Habermas, it is vital to examine the presuppositions and assumptions that constitute our fore-understanding in the first place.

It is hardly my place – and nor am I remotely competent – to present some kind of adjudicatory opinion on the merits of these positions. What I think this does demonstrate, however, is that even once we know the Parry-Lord hypothesis, it isn’t an open-and-shut case, how best we should read Homer. We need to think about what we are reading forwhy we are reading, what the point of literature and the aesthetic experience is, if we are to come to a conclusion about whether and to what extent we ought to try and put ourselves in the shoes of a sixth-century Greek listening to a singer around a fireside, to what extent it is even possible, if at all.

For my part, I will keep Parry-Lord at the forefront of my mind, the next time I take up The Iliad, because my first objective is to get past the catalogue of ships without feeling intensely put off!

The wiki entry for The Singer of Tales: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Singer_of_Tales

Keats’ brilliant poem that is also, in my opinion, a grave error of aesthetic judgment: http://www.bartleby.com/101/634.html

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Filed under Epic, Homer, Literary Studies/Criticism/Theory, Milman Parry & Albert Lord