Relative Chronology and the Language of Epic

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The songs of the early Greek epos do not survive with reliable dates attached. The texts provide few references to events outside the songs themselves with which to establish a chronology, and thus much study has centered on the language of the songs. This study takes as its starting point the well-known and influential work of Richard Janko on this topic, especially as presented in his Homer, Hesiod, and the hymns: Diachronic development in epic diction, which seeks to establish relative dates for the songs of the epos through statistical analysis of certain linguistic features found therein. Though Janko's methodology is flawed, it does highlight the principal aspects of the question of the epic language and chronology. This thesis first establishes the problematic relationship between the oral tradition and our textual representatives of that tradition, as well as the consequences of that relationship for the question of chronology. The existence of an Aeolic phase of epic diction is next refuted, with important results for chronology. Finally, the evidence of the Homeric digamma reveals the "paradox of archaism." The epic language can be shown to work in such a way that many apparent archaisms depend crucially on innovative forms for their creation. This phenomenon is recognized for the first time as a special kind of innovatory language, one which undermines the possibility for simple, linear development of the epic language on which Janko and others have relied. While this finding does not yield dates of the songs of the early Greek epos, it nevertheless provides a more accurate picture of the nature of the epic language.

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Homer; Epic


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dissertation or thesis

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