Darwin of Homeric studies

I just finished reading “Hearing Homer’s Song: The Brief Life and Big Idea of Milman Parry” by Robert Kanigel, and it’s a fascinating journey into the life of Milman Parry. Known as the “Darwin of Homeric studies,” Parry reshaped our understanding of ancient literature in a big way.

The book takes you from Parry’s early days as the son of an Oakland druggist to his groundbreaking work challenging the idea that Homer’s stories were written down. Instead, Parry argued that they were passed along through talking, a revolutionary idea at the time.

Following Parry’s adventures from UC Berkeley to the Sorbonne, Harvard, and even Yugoslavia, where he explored traditional singers of heroic poetry, the book provides a peek into his personal life, including marriage and parenting struggles in Paris.

The mystery surrounding Parry’s unusual death at a hotel in Los Angeles adds an extra layer of intrigue. The book ties it all together by showing how Parry’s ideas still influence us today, shaping how we understand stories from ancient times like Beowulf to more recent creations like hip-hop.

And it got me thinking – what if we applied the same kind of research to other classical ancient books? Take, for example, the Chinese book “I Ching,” also known as the “Book of Changes” or “Classic of Changes.”

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