We were pleased to welcome back Gregory Nagy of Harvard University for an Online Open House discussion about Sappho Song 44 and about his postings on Classical Inquiries.
The process of remembering in ancient Greek song culture requires a special medium, song. When I say song here, I include poetry, even though the word poetry in modern usage is understood to be different from song. In the ancient Greek song culture, however, both poetry and song are understood to be a medium of singing. And such singing is an oral tradition. The epic poetry of the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey derives from such an oral tradition of singing, which is a process of composition-in-performance. That is, composition is an aspect of performance and vice versa. In this kind of oral tradition, there is no script, since the technology of writing is not required for composition-in-performance. In Homeric poetry, the basic medium of remembering is heroic song or kleos. (Gregory Nagy, The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, 2§12)
Song 44 of Sappho, which has a form conventionally described as lyric, is not only related to the form of epic as exemplified by the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey: more than that, this form of lyric, like the form of epic, originates from an oral tradition. (Gregory Nagy, “Song 44 of Sappho revisited: what is ‘oral’ about the text of this song?,” Classical Inquiries, 2016-09-01)
You can watch the recording in the frame below, or on the Center for Hellenic Studies YouTube channel.
Mentioned in this discussion:
- Nagy, Gregory. Comparative Studies in Greek and Indic Meter, available online at the Center for Hellenic Studies.
- Nagy, Gregory. 1979. The Best of the Achaeans, available online at the Center, second edition 1999.
- Nagy, Gregory. 2013. The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013, available online at CHS.
- Nagy, Gregory “Song 44 of Sappho and the Role of Women in the Making of Epic” Classical Inquiries 2015.02.27
- Nagy, Gregory “Song 44 of Sappho revisited: what is ‘oral’ about the text of this song?” Classical Inquiries 2016.08.31
Gregory Nagy is the Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University, and is the Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, DC. In his publications, he has pioneered an approach to Greek literature that integrates diachronic and synchronic perspectives. His books include The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry (Johns Hopkins University Press), which won the Goodwin Award of Merit, American Philological Association, in 1982; also Pindar’s Homer: The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), Homeric Questions (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996), Homeric Responses (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003), Homer’s Text and Language (University of Illinois Press 2004), Homer the Classic (Harvard University Press, online 2008, print 2009), and Homer the Preclassic (University of California Press 2010). His latest work, Masterpieces of Metonymy, is now available online. He co-edited with Stephen A. Mitchell the 40th anniversary second edition of Albert Lord’s The Singer of Tales (Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature vol. 24; Harvard University Press, 2000), co-authoring with Mitchell the new Introduction, pp. vii–xxix. Professor Nagy has taught versions of this course to Harvard College undergraduates and Harvard Extension School students for over thirty-five years. Throughout his career Nagy has been a consistently strong advocate for the use of information technology in both teaching and research. He is currently writing articles for Classical Inquiries, including commentaries on Iliad.