Reviewed by Eva Stehle
This volume collects twenty papers from the Eighth International Conference on Orality and Literacy in the Ancient World, held in the Netherlands in July, 2008. In the introduction, the editors explain that their aim was to challenge and perhaps modify a prevalent conception that in the earlier period Greek “state religion” relied on oral forms, in contrast to the association of writing with “secret, private and marginal cults,” whereas in Roman times religions became more bookish. They conclude (2) that both oral and written forms were in use in both state and private religions in Greece as well as Rome. While the efficacy traditionally associated with oral forms of communication remained unchallenged, “the appreciation of oral and written forms in the religious life of the Greeks and Romans had less to do with the kinds of religion they practised than with the differing effects they ascribed to these modes of communication.” Moreover (12), “[w]ritten texts regularly imitated or relied on elements of oral communication in order to increase their own efficacy.”
In Part I, Elizabeth Minchin uses discourse analysis, the study of how speakers use language, to determine whether there is a difference between the gods’ speech and human speech in the Iliad. She finds relatively little divergence, although the gods seldom use certain speech genres found in mortal speech, such as sarcasm or soliloquy. The gods’ majesty is represented instead principally through their forms of address to one another and human attitudes toward them. They lack the seriousness of the human heroes.