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ISSUE 119 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/4/2005

Reece talks Homer

By Emelie Heltsley
Staff Writer

Friday, November 4, 2005

An audience filled Viking Theater on Thursday to hear Steve Reece, associate professor of classics, give his Mellby Lecture talk, "Homer, Jesus and Bass Fishing in Minnesota."

Reece presented his findings as a classical scholar regarding the differences between oral and written traditions, the importance modern culture places on the written word and how oral traditions have left marks on ancient texts.

Reece explained that a primary interest of his is the differences between oral and written culture and why those differences exist.

"Why do we moderns value the written word over the oral, when the ancients did the exact opposite?" he asked. Reece said that the ancients would never have read a text silently to themselves because they believed that words on the page meant nothing until they were spoken.

Reece gave those gathered a quick "tour" of the written word, starting with modern computers and flash drives, and ending with ancient papyrus, parchment and manuscripts.

"And before that, there were generations and generations of oral tradition," Reece said, expressing his desire to see what lies beyond the written word.

Reece went on to discuss Homer and hints of an oral tradition found within the ancient written texts. He told the audience that the earliest written copy of the Iliad was written about 1,700 years after the time of Homer, and was not written in a reader-friendly format.

To show the audience what ancient texts look like and prove the difficulty in reading and understanding them, Reece took St. Olaf’s mission statement and presented it as in the style of an ancient text. None of the words were divided or separated from each other, everything was written in capital letters and all double letters in words were removed. While the first line of the text was written from left to right, the second line was written from right to left, the third line was written from left to right, and so on.

Reece’s research focused on the presence of "lexically isolated" words found only in Homer, which make up approximately one in 18 words in Homeric texts. Reece explained how he looked at every single word Homer wrote to see if some of the lexically isolated words could be explained by mishearing other words around them.

"I feel like I’'ve solved 60 of them," he said, saying that how he has added to the Greek lexicon and actually located Homeric cities which archaeologists have not been able to find.

"What can make a classicist’'s heart beat faster?" he asked.

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