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The Dance of the MusesChoral Theory and Ancient Greek Poetics$
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A. P. David

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199292400

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199292400.001.0001

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The ‘Choral Signifier’: The Shaping of Homeric Speech

The ‘Choral Signifier’: The Shaping of Homeric Speech

(p.138) 5 The ‘Choral Signifier’: The Shaping of Homeric Speech
The Dance of the Muses

A. P. David

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers the influence of a performance mode depicted by Homer — Demodocus the singer surrounded by a dancing circle — upon the phonological and semantic features of Homeric verse. A circle dance is a locus of conjuration and chanted noun-and-epithet phrases, delimited metrically by the turning points of the dance, become uniquely evocative ‘choral signifiers’. Paolo Vivante’s aesthetic theory of these phrases thereby receives a grounding in attested performance practice, although ‘choral theory’ is required to account for both the poetics and the aesthetics of Homeric verse. The effects of a non-linguistic dance rhythm upon Homeric and Hesiodic phonology, morphology, and diction are discussed. It is shown that ‘poetic license’ is a necessary component in an honest analysis of epic usage. Gregory Nagy’s derivation of the hexameter from smaller, later lyric metrical segments is critiqued in light of Pierre Chantraine’s observation that the Greek language is demonstrably maladapted to the hexameter, as is not the case with lyric metres. The choral signifier cannot be reduced to a purely linguistic phenomenon.

Keywords:   Homer, Demodocus, circle dance, noun-and-epithet phrase, Paolo Vivante, Hesiod, Gregory Nagy, Pierre Chantraine, hexameter

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