Epic Hero Essay

Epic Hero Essay-36
The first of these three methods is the most elusive, though it happens to be the most general.It involves comparisons of parallels between structures that are not necessarily related to each other.But it cannot depend - or at least it cannot fully depend - on diachronic analysis, which cannot independently account for historical contingencies.§7.

These indications will be useful to readers who need to look up references made elsewhere to the printed version of this book.

Even within a single tradition like Homeric poetry, heroes like Achilles and Odysseus seem worlds apart.

What is needed is an integration of comparative perspectives.

In order to achieve the broadest possible formulation, I propose to integrate three comparative methods, which I describe as (1) typological, (2) genealogical, and (3) historical.§4.

My object here is not so much to advocate a reform of structuralism for future applications to the study of literature but to record an early moment in its past history when structuralism was first applied to the study of pre-literature, that is, to the study of oral traditions as the historical sources of literature as we know it. The work of Parry was cut short at an early stage of his career by his violent death in 1935, but it was continued by one of his own students, Albert Lord, who ultimately published in 1960 the foundational work on oral poetry, This book, reflecting the cumulative research of Parry and Lord, is a masterpiece of scientific methodology. The more he learned from typological comparanda, the less certain he became about the cross-cultural applicability of either of these two terms, “epic” and “hero.”§11.

It is empirical to the core, combining synchronic description with typological comparison. Lord’s most extensive typological comparisons linked the epic heroes of ancient Greek traditions, especially Achilles and Odysseus, with modern South Slavic analogues.By “comparanda” I mean simply the evidence to be compared, and I will be referring to the comparanda in terms of the same three methodologies I have just outlined: (1) typological, (2) genealogical, and (3) historical.§8.In the case of typological comparanda, the comparative methodology involves, to repeat, a structuralist perspective.It is nowadays associated mostly with the study of literature.In its newer applications, structuralism has become an unstable and even unwieldy concept, which cannot any longer convey the essence of the methodology it once represented. It was this former student of Saussure who advised one of his own students, a young American in Paris named Milman Parry, to undertake a typological comparison of ancient Greek epic with modern South Slavic “heroic song,” as represented by the living oral traditions of the former Yugoslavia.He showed courage and intelligence when he was in Polyphemus the Cyclops's cave. First Odysseus showed his intelligence by telling the Cyclops that his name was "Nobody." So when Odysseus stabs Polyphemus in the eye he couldn't tell anyone who did it, because "Nobody" did it.Odysseus stabbing the giant Cyclops showed lots of Courage...A standard book using this kind of argumentation is §3.These two kinds of general explanation make use of a wide variety of specific approaches.Such modern epic comparanda are relevant to ancient epic, since typological comparison is not bound by time.The same observation holds for medieval comparanda: in of ancient Greek epic traditions remains the initial point of comparison, while the original evidence of the South Slavic songs collected by Parry and Lord “still has a claim to being one of the best comparanda.”§13.


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