Associate Professor of Classics Steve Reece will deliver the fall Mellby lecture, "Homer, Jesus and Bass Fishing in Minnesota" on Thursday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. in at St. Olaf College in Viking Theater, Buntrock Commons. The lecture is free and open to the public.
More than 15 years of research have gone into Reece's lecture, which will compare oral and textual cultures. According to Reece, the difficulty in reading ancient texts is figuring out how they were first performed before being written down. He will use examples of groups that today rely on oral communication to explain how early cultures functioned and how they relate to today's culture of written texts.
Reece believes that some phrases in works by the Greek epic poet Homer, which do not seem to fit in the context of the larger story, result from misheard or wrongly divided words. Reece sought out these phrases and compared their use in other ancient texts. And he looked at other languages where similar changes were known to have occurred. He expected to find only a dozen phrases with signs of being misheard but instead discovered 60. Reece hopes that researchers in a variety of disciplines will use his methods.
"My research would not have been possible 10 years ago," he says. "You have to take advantage of the time you live in and see what opportunities it offers." A wide variety of materials, including all ancient Greek texts, are now readily available via computer. He also hopes that his research will help them to look at the implications of an oral culture more closely, noting that for the majority of history people have lived in one.
Presenting the Mellby lecture also will be important for Reece personally. "It gives me the opportunity to share what I've learned with a variety of people," he says. "I think it's a healthy thing to have to explain your work to others and explain how it's relevant to their lives. What happened with Homer has happened with every language and every culture," Reece says.