The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #75102 Message #1319829
Posted By: Nerd
07-Nov-04 - 04:28 PM
Thread Name: Wee pen knife
Subject: RE: Wee pen knife
I have no idea what you're talking about now, Russ. I never said that there were formulae that had no relationship to reality.
"Homer (or whoever) didn't simply pull "strong greaved Achaeans" out of the air one day while casting about to add needed syllables to a line."
I said he might have done just that.
Where does this imply "a formula that is/was clearly arbitrary and unrelated to any reality?"
All I am saying is that to assume the Achaeans' greaves were stronger than anyone else's based solely on the formula would be foolish. Also, it would be foolish if you discovered that the Achaeans' Greaves were NOT stronger than average, to claim that Homer really meant "average-greaved Achaeans," since this is more realistic. This is what the weapon-knife theory amounts to.
To return to the original topic, I was talking about wee pen knife, which is a plausible murder weapon and therefore bears enough relationship to reality to become a formulaic murder weapon, even if it is not the MOST LIKELY murder weapon in a given realistically-described situation. So the sea may be described by Homer as "wine-dark" even when the sea is rarely actually that dark.
In neither case does one need to resort to reductio ad absurdum as you are doing. If I were claiming that in ballads people were routinely stabbed with bananas because that's formulae for you, I might understand what you were talking about. As it is, I think you're just trying to pick a silly fight.
So to clarify, literature that is not "realistic" must still bear some relationship to reality. In ballads, people are not stabbed with bananas. But to try to claim that the ballad must be as close as the composer could get to reality, so that wee pen knives must really be weapon-knives when the murderer is more likely to have a weapon-knife than a wee pen knife, or that the proportion of milk-white steeds and dapple-greys must be accurate, or that every singe person must have gone to bed after mass, is foolish. "Mass was sung and bells were rung and all men bound to bed" is just a formula, and in fact is contradicted in most ballads when some men appear who were NOT bound to bed. Wee pen knife is just a formula, and while it bears SOME relationship to reality (it is possible to stab someone to death with one) it is not necessarily the most realistic option available. It IS the easiest thematic and metrical convention available.
That's all I was saying, Russ.