Homer and the resources of memory: some applications of cognitive theory to the Iliad and the Odyssey

Oxford University Press (2001)
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How could a poet who worked in an oral tradition maintain the momentum of his song? How could a poet such as Homer weave a tale which filled an evening or, perhaps, a whole long night? The answer lies in memory, as we have known. But this bald explanation does not do justice either to thecomplexity of memory or to the richness of the Homeric epics. Now that so much more information has become available to us, from cognitive psychology and linguistics, about the workings of the mind, we can identify with greater precision those contributions which memory makes to the composition andperformance of oral traditional song. In this study the author shows that the demands made on the poet, who relies neither on rote memory nor on written notes, have led him adopt to certain memory-based strategies which have left their traces in the text. What we discover is that the poet in an oraltradition makes intense and creative use of those resources of memory, which are available to us all - episodic memory, auditory memory, visual memory, and spatial memory - to assist him both in the preparation of his song and at the moment of performance.



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Memory Structure and Cognitive Maps.Sarah K. Robins, Sara Aronowitz & Arjen Stolk - forthcoming - In Felipe De Brigard & Walter Sinnott Armstrong (eds.), Neuroscience & Philosophy. MIT Press.

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