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Mythologizing Performance

Cover image of Richard Martin's book "Mythologizing Performance"
Cornell University Press
October 2020

Building on numerous original close readings of works by Homer, Hesiod, and other ancient Greek poets, Richard P. Martin articulates a broad and precise poetics of archaic Greek verse. The ancient Greek hexameter poetry of such works as the Iliad and the Odyssey differ from most modern verbal art because it was composed for live, face-to-face performance, often in a competitive setting, before an audience well versed in mythological and ritual lore. The essays collected here span Martin’s acclaimed career and explore ways of reading this poetic heritage using principles and evidence from the comparative study of oral traditions, literary and speech-act theories, and the ethnographic record.

Among topics analyzed in depth are the narrative structures of Homer’s epics, the Hesiodic Works and Days, and the Homeric Hymn to Apollo; the characterization of poetic and musical performers within the poems; the social context for verses ascribed to the legendary singer Orpheus; the significance of various rituals as stylized by poetic performances; and the interrelations, at the level of diction and theme, among the major genres of epic and hymn, as well as "genres of speaking" such as lament, praise, advice, and proverbial wisdom.