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By Gregory Nagy

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"In this super wealthy quantity, the Harvard classicist G. Nagy examines a variety of features of the Hellenizaton of Indo-European poetics, delusion and formality, and social ideology."―The magazine of Indo-European experiences, Spring/Summer 1993
About the Author
Gregory Nagy is Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard college and Director of Harvard s middle for Hellenic reports in Washington, D.C.

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35 Since the singer starts his performance by asking his Muse to “tell him" the subject, his composition is in fact being presented to his audience as something that he hears from the very custodians of all stages of reality. The Muses are speaking to him, and they have the ipsissima verba of the Heroic Age. The poet’s inherited conceit, then, is that he has access not only to the content but also to the actual form of what his eyewitnesses, the Muses, speak as they describe the realities of remote generations.

49 Cf. Meillet 1923, Jakobson 1952, Watkins 1963 and 1982a, West 1973a and 1973b, N 1974a and 1979b, Vine 1977 and 1978. 50 N 1974a. 191-228. 30 The Hellenization of Indo-European Poetics supplemented with the discovery, made by Antoine Meillet,51 that in early Indie poetry metrical trends do not create new phrases. Rather, there are traceable tendencies of preferring phrases with one kind of rhythm over phrases with other kinds of rhythm. Predictable patterns of rhythm emerge from favorite traditional phrases with favorite rhythms; the even­ tual regulation of these patterns, combined with regulation of the syll­ able count in the traditional phrases, constitutes the essendals of what we know as meter.

But we have already noted that the hypothetical existence of fixed texts in, say, the eighth century cannot by itself account for the proliferation of Homeric and Hesiodic poetry throughout the city-states. That process, as we have also noted, must be attributed long-range to the recurrent competitive performances of the poems over the years by rhapsodes at such events as pan-Hellenic fes­ tivals. Thus we must resort to positing the existence of early fixed texts only if the competing rhapsodes really needed to memorize written ver­ sions in order to perform, and for this there is no evidence.

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