Παρασκευή, 24 Ιανουαρίου 2014

On Narration in Homer


On Narration in Homer

The Odyssey goes out of its way to praise singers and storytellers. When they are mentioned, they are first described and exalted. The description of narrators/singers has a deep effect on the internal audience, as the singer is always revered above others. The way in which the narration is at times played with also has a profound effect on the audience, drawing them deeper into the story. Homer's narration is a key component to how the audience reacts to the story.

When speaking of another narrator (that is, singer) in The Odyssey, the narrator is always portrayed on a somewhat higher level. In book 1 line 325, the singer is described as περικλυτός. Here, the entire audience (including the disorderly wooers) sits in silence while listening to what the singer sings in noiseless reverence. In line 336 the bard is described as θεῖον—again attesting to a narrator's elevated status. While Penelope addressed Phemios beginning at line 337, she recognizes the fact that Phemios knows "…many other actions of mortals and gods, which can charm men's hearts and which the singers celebrate" (Φήμιε, πολλὰ γὰρ ἄλλα βροτῶν θελκτήρια οἶδας, ἔργ᾽ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε, τά τε κλείουσιν ἀοιδοί)1 —exhorting the songster before pleading with him to stop telling the sad tale. Telemachos responds, rebuking his mother for attempting to silence the faithful (ἐρίηρον) singer. Clearly, the one who sings is not to be scolded for doing what is best. Indeed, even a singer's life is spared at the end of The Odyssey.

Odysseus himself is quick to praise yet another vocalist in chapter 8. Here is revealed an additional description of a singer, extolled above all others and prized as having been taught by one of the gods (ἢ σέ γε μοῦς᾽ ἐδίδαξε, Διὸς πάϊς, ἢ σέ γ᾽ Ἀπόλλων)2 for knowing so well the stories that are told. The singer is, as far as Odysseus is concerned, blessed with god's words (θέσπιν).

As can be seen, the singer has a profound effect on the internal audience, enough to cause those listening to sit in silence in book 1. The singer is expected to sing and should suffer no reproach for what is sung, but should continue in his singing. The audience expects the singer to sing and also expects that they know many songs. It can also only pique an audience's attention when a man is said to have the omniscient words of god.

Audience, both internal and external, is also affected greatly when the narrator changes perspective. This is especially evident when the narration changes from being told what happened in third person to an actual account in first person. This happens when Phoinix tells his friends an old story and this consequently draws the audience in much more effectively. No more is it a tale being retold—there is only an internal audience that the external audience is forced to be a part of through listening. Suddenly the external is a part of the internal without knowing it and in silence listens to the story told.

The narrating of an epic tale has many facets that draw internal and external audiences into the story. Whether it is magnifying the genius and work of the singer or changing the perspective of the story, the act of narration is a key component to how the audience is forced to react to the tale.


1) 1,337 - 38
2) 8.488
The Hellenic Club

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