Genesis Vs The Iliad
For centuries, the Bible and Homer’s Iliad have been heralded as perfections in the literary world. The authors word choice, phrasing, rhythm and poetic stance are still copied today by great writers and poets.
But this summary will look only at the first few lines of these two books and how they compare and contrast. The voices of both are unique to one another, and yet they both share similarities in flow. Also, Walter Ong (1982) breaks down briefly both books.
Homer introduces his famed story with a triumphant and confident voice. To me, I picture an animated story-teller that is giving a large group of important people the story of the great Achilles. Homer’s words want to be put into an action play or read aloud to a group with props and lots of big gestures.
Homer starts the story with a command—“Sing, O goddess…”. This entrance into the story calls for immediate attention. A modern day example would be like the musical opening to a Star Wars movie—sudden and attention-grabbing.
The opening to Genesis seems a bit more quieted and regal. The words God uses are simple, understandable, and straightforward. There are no adjectives like “brave”, “countless”, “great”, which Homer used in his opening lines. Genesis chapter one tells of a great story , told by the Creator, but in a reverential tone.
Although both books are introduced in different tones or voices, they share a similarity in their general flow. Both the Bible and the Iliad open with a long, drawn-out thought. The thought is continued with “ands” and commas, which create long sentences.
Also, the opening of both introduces the main character of the book immediately—Achilles and God. “Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus” and “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.”
To Walter Ong (1982), the orality of the openings to Genesis and Iliad differ in expression and thought. The first few verses of Genesis are considered by Ong to be “additive” in their type of orality. When read aloud, one will pick-up on the numerous usages of “and”. These “ands” continue the thought introduced in verse one—the “ands” are adding to the thought.
Ong (1982) describes the orality of the Iliad as “aggregative”. As I mentioned before, the language in Genesis is straightforward, while the Iliad is descriptive. In aggregative orality, adjectives are frequently used to dress-up nouns. Homer uses “brave soul”, “countless ills”, and “great Achilles”.
Adjectives—or the aggregative style—can be used to help paint a picture, but sometimes can be held in a negative light to literary societies. Ong (1982) states that “oral expression thus carries a load of epithets and other formulary baggage which high literacy rejects as cumbersome and tiresomely redundant because of its aggregative weight.“ Oral societies prefer all the adjectives and descriptive words, whereas literary societies prefer less dressed-up language. Homer’s Iliad is better suited to be told orally rather than read.
These two great books have set the stage for many great works produced in recent centuries. We could almost say the Bible has helped most writers and poets produce their influential works since it is the oldest lasting book in human history. But there are still many other unique ways to produce literature. It would be interesting to break down the types of writing, their origins, and how they have influenced others. This is a good subject for another time and another day.