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The Iliad

            Modern culture is dominated by writing as we live in a world that is saturated with words, emblems, and logos. It is safe to say that western culture as a whole has developed into a largely literate tradition. When examining ancient Greek works, however, it is important to recognize that they are the products of a chiefly oral tradition. This is not to say that oral and literate traditions are conflicting with one another, but rather that the guiding principles of early Greek art revolve around the notions of memory and orality. The Iliad, in particular, represents the step out of an oral tradition and the beginning of western literature. Homer uses repetition, simile, and metaphor in order to on the one hand, aid the memorization and presentation of his epic poetry, and on the other, to present the performance of the poem as more memorable for the audience. Later authors like Sappho and Sophocles build on these literary devices in a blending of oral and literate cultures. The advent of Greek theatre, for example, can be considered the perfect example of memory and orality preserved within an early literate tradition.
             Oral traditions pass down historical and cultural knowledge from generation to generation by means of spoken language, song and poetry. It makes sense that during these ancient times reading and writing were limited to certain privileged people, and therefore many early cultures relied on the use of oral and performed avenues as the basis for communication. Orality, then, is that which makes verbal communication and presentation effective for the reader and audience. Orality relies on spoken language and performance for the transmission of cultural knowledge. Memory also functions in at least two ways in an oral culture. On the one hand, the memory of the poet must be reinforced by oral conventions to be able to produce a performance, but on the other hand, the memory of the audience must be able to follow, learn and ultimately be entertained by the wisdom the poem imparts.

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