Professor Tim Whitmarsh

Tim Whitmarsh, Leventis Professor of Greek Culture at the University of Cambridge and author of Battling the Gods, proposes an alternative view of the performance of the Homeric poems. 

The traditional approach is based around Odyssey Book 8 where the bard Demodocus is summoned to provide after-dinner entertainment at the palace of King Alcinous, singing stories to the accompaniment of a lyre. In the twentieth century this picture of epic singers was given further support by Milman Parry, an American scholar, who unearthed similar performances by guslari in parts of the former Yugoslavia. However, Prof Whitmarsh suggested that equal weight must be given to performances by rhapsodes, who did not hold a musical instrument. Their name literally means ‘stitcher of songs’ and they are depicted holding a stick (in Greek rabdos). Together with clothing and physical gestures, the stick might be used as a prop to provide a more dynamic performance of the stories. Though superficially related to acting, the origins of Greek drama seem to lie elsewhere in the world of ritual and do not arise from the rhapsodic tradition.

Julian Lloyd
Head of Classics

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