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4 - Narrative Focus and Elusive Thought in Homer

from PART I - DEFINING THE GREEK TRADITION

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 September 2014

Ruth Scodel
Affiliation:
University of Michigan
Douglas Cairns
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh, UK
Ruth Scodel
Affiliation:
University of Michigan, USA
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Summary

This chapter will consider three aspects of Homeric narrative whose interaction produces characteristic and influential effects. The first, and most famous, is reliance on direct speech. Homer accomplishes his characterisations largely through speeches (including speeches in which characters attribute motives or traits to each other). By itself, Homer's reliance on direct speech does not mark a uniquely Greek narrative tradition, since Sanskrit epic, for example, also presents many speeches. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that in this respect the Homeric epics were outliers in early Greek epic tradition (Aristotle, Poetics 1460a5–11), and Apollonius uses direct speech far less than the Homeric epics do.

Reliance on character-speech is one typical quality of Homeric narrative. Others are not quite as familiar. First, ‘interest-focus’ – where the audience directs its attention – changes frequently. ‘Interestfocus’ is Chatman's term; structuralist narratology has not given careful attention to interest-focus, perhaps because it is so closely connected to characterisation, which classic narratology neglected. Also, structuralist narratologists were preoccupied with precision about the nature of focalisation in the strict sense, and with critiques of the concept. Shifts of interest-focus do not present such difficult theoretical problems, even though they are inherently harder to define with precision.

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Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2014

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