Today's date:
Fall 1996

The Ephemeral Genre and the End of Literature

George Steiner is Lord Weidenfeld Professor of Comparative Literature at Oxford. His most recent book of essays, No Passion Spent, was published this year.

Oxford - I imagine many of you will already have seen it, so I apologize. The current issue of that key journal of comparative papyrology of the Romanian Academy has an enormously interesting fragment, recently deciphered. It appears to be a conversation from 5th century BC Corinth about the first public readings of the Illiad and the Odyssey. It is quite clear from the conversation that these are judge to have no future whatsoever. The issue is whether to waste the expensive sheep skin - and a great many sheep - on transcription when the story is so manifestly too long, too repetitive, full of endless formulas, with that rosy-fingered dawn to every 10 lines, so full of dull patches and with such a messy ending. Is Odysseus going to stay at home, or is he leaving. No one can really make it out. It was a very brave effort, but destined for oblivion.

back to index