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1. Orality

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In this module, we think about the Iliad and Odyssey as oral poems and how (if at all) the origins of the Homeric poems should impact how we read them. In particular, we think about: (i) the range of questions that make up the so-called ‘Homeric Question’ – who was Homer? Did he even exist? If so, did he write both the Iliad and the Odyssey or just one of them?, etc.; (ii) the stylistic features of the Homeric poems that suggest that they were originally composed and transmitted orally; (iii) the research of Milman Parry and Albert Lord; (iv) the three major ‘schools’ of thought in relation to the ‘Homeric Question’ – analysts, unitarians and oralists; (v) the transmission of Homeric poems – how did they survive the 2,500 year journey from when they were first written down to now?; and (vi) the extent to which the way we interpret the Homeric poems depends on how the poem was composed.


In this course, Dr Emily Hauser (University of Exeter) provides a comprehensive introduction to Homer. In the first module, we think about the Iliad and Odyssey as ‘oral poems’ and consider this should impact how we read them. The following four modules (2-5) focus in the Iliad, with discussions of: (i) the narrative structure of the poem; (ii) the role of the gods; (iii) the nature of heroism; and (iv) the presentation of war and warfare. The five modules after that (6-10) focus on the Odyssey, with discussions of: (i) the theme of ‘nostos’; (ii) the theme of ‘xenia’; (iii) the nature of heroism; (iv) the role of women; and (v) the related themes of disguise and recognition. Finally, in the eleventh model, we think about the reception of Homer from antiquity to the twenty-first century, and how – if at all – it is possible to escape ‘the shadow of Homer’.

Note: Translations from the Iliad are taken from Martin Hammond (Penguin Classics, 1987) and those from the Odyssey from E. V. Rieu (Penguin Classics, 1946), unless otherwise noted.


Dr Emily Hauser is a Lecturer in the Department of Classics at the University of Exeter. Her research centres on the intersection between gender and poetics in the ancient world, with a particular focus on authorship and gender in antiquity, women in Homeric epic and classical reception in contemporary women's writing. Her recent publications include (as co-editor) Reading Poetry, Writing Genre English Poetry and Literary Criticism in Dialogue with Classical Scholarship. (2018).

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Hauser, E. (2020, September 10). Homer - Orality [Video]. MASSOLIT.

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Hauser, E. "Homer – Orality." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 10 Sep 2020,

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