The, An American Classical Scholar

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In the 20th century Milman Parry, an American classical scholar, began to draw on the work of the Analysts and Unitarians to establish a hypothesis of an oral Homeric tradition which would prove to be revolutionary. By observing South Slavic oral poetry first hand, he was able to prove that the formulaic structure of Homeric epic was characteristic of oral composition. Due to the pressure of composition in performance, as would have been the norm, he also demonstrated that repeated words or phrases would have been fundamental in the composition of oral epic poetry. Whether these took the form of noun-epithet formulas, larger formulaic phrases or entire scenes, the mnemonic power which they created served to make epic poetry entirely possible. Parry defined these formulas as “an expression regularly used, under the same metrical conditions, to express an essential idea”. Following from Lord’s assessment of the first 15 lines of the Iliad, he estimated that up to 90% of the total poem consisted of formulas or contained formulaic elements. While studying those formulas comprising of a noun and fixed epithet, Parry called attention to the fact that they almost always appeared directly after the mid-verse caesura or after the caesura in the fourth foot and thus conveniently fell into the cola of the hexameter. Now the poet had a vast library of stock phrases at their disposal which they could employ whenever the metre required. Such phrases include ‘ (‘swift-footed Achilles’) and

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