Homer’s Literary Legacy
Why was the work of Homer, famous author of ancient Greece, so full of clichés?
A Until the last tick of history’s clock, cultural transmission meant oral transmission, and poetry, passed from mouth to ear, was the principal medium of moving information across space and from one generation to the next. Oral poetry was not simply a way of telling lovely or important stories, or of flexing the imagination. It was, argues the classicist Eric Havelock, a ‘massive repository of useful knowledge, a sort of encyclopedia of ethics, politics, history and technology which the effective citizen was required to learn as the core of his educational equipment’. The great oral works transmitted a shared cultural heritage, held in common not on bookshelves, but in brains. In India, an entire class of priests was charged with memorizing the Vedas with perfect fidelity. In pre-Islamic Arabia, people known as Rawis were often attached to poets as official memorizers. The Buddha’s teachings were passed down in an unbroken chain of oral tradition for four centuries until they were committed to writing in Sri Lanka in the first century B.C.