Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Waldron compares Homer with Tanakh

The remaining essays take up the functional uses of scriptures and other texts in various cultures and contexts. Cordell M. Waldron, in “From Performance to Casket Copy: Comparing the Homeric Epics with the Tanakh as Scriptures,” Postscripts 2 (2006) 190-208, asks why Homeric epics, despite their unrivaled influence in ancient Greek society, did not function as scripture in the way that the Jewish Torah did and does. Though the Homeric poems shaped the imagination of vase painters and even, in Hellenistic times, functioned occasionally as iconic material books, oral performance dominated Greek use of their national epic:

While both Greeks and Jews formulated their national identities around their favored stories, they did so in very different ways. The Jewish Tanakh commands and exemplifies a text-centered community in which that which is written is most important. The Greek Homeric poems portray a world characterized by oral performance in the Iliad’s tearful conversation between Priam and Achilles and the Odyssey’s bards. Writing is suspect; orality is privileged. Greece had no great collection of commentary upon commentary around Homer to compare to the Mishnah and midrash, but neither does ancient Judaism have an Aeschylus or Euripides. (p. 206)

The full article is available in .pdf from Equinox publishing.

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