Modus Operandi – The Ways of Greek Literature

Story-telling and presentation are two literary techniques vital to the development of plot and theme, systematic traditions meant to illustrate the idea of the author in terms of the medium of the narrative. Epic, poetry, and drama all utilize these techniques within their respective genres, but the interpretations of their strategies differ highly, as well as the techniques themselves – story-telling usually propels the development of a character or an essential plot, whereas presentation is used in a variety of ways to establish characteristics or themes within the narrative of the story. These devices are all illustrated in a assortment of ways within epic, poetry, and drama, yet the general similarity of their applications establishes a coherence among the three forms that solidifies story-telling and presentation as two essential characteristics of the respective art forms.The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer’s epic poems that describe well-known legends surrounding the Trojan War, employ story-telling and presentation differently within their genre to create a diversion between the structure of the texts that yields a richer definition of the two literary devices. The Iliad contains a more basic utilization of both techniques, its presentation already semi-established with the common knowledge of the legend. Homer introduces the listener by putting him straight into the middle of a scene, letting previous reputations of characters serve as jumping points from which to delve into the thematic complexities of the epic. Homer also uses the narrative device of story-telling to create a presentation of the characters, with his long speeches and biographies by the patriarchical figures like Nestor and Priam establishing an historical context into which the listener can place the character conflicts and plot complexities. This mingling of the techniques is seen often in the different genres, as the works commonly need to create a compelling way to get across necessary information or significant intricacies. Story-telling itself is seen within the obvious mediums of the Gods’ discussions and the characters’ interactions, but is also more subtly used within the actual language of the epic, for example the epithets Homer assigns to the respective characters. These are not only identifying devices, the words serve as codes to the reader of the character’s origins and possibly his destiny.The Odyssey is more complex in its use of the two techniques, but their motivation remains the same – to inform the reader and develop the story. The main difference between the two epics is the use of the “story within a story” thematic tactic– The Odyssey is driven by the presentational and story-telling aspects of this device, whereas in The Iliad its utilization is much more straightforward. The mini-Odyssey of Menelaus, the ten year voyage of Odysseus – all are examples of the dominance of the “story within a story” technique. Another difference between the two epics is the mode of presentation – The Odyssey contains the Telemachy, a whole part of the epic devoted to introducing the reader to the characters, and especially Odysseus, through the prism of other viewpoints, while The Iliad relies on common knowledge to inform the reader of the personalities of the fighters.Poetry, along with the epic genre, also explores the possibilities of these two artistic techniques. The Hymn to Demeter illustrates a mix in the two, much like the way The Iliad mingles their properties to serve to its narrative advantage. The presentation comes straightforwardly at the beginning, with Homer addressing the subject of the poem in the first line. Common knowledge also informs the reader, as the story was well-known among Greek society. But unlike the epics, this poem serves to explain something, so the story-telling is subservient to the greater purpose of the poetry, the explanation of the seasons. The same utilization of epithets occurs in the poem as in the epics, making them a common mode between the artistic forms. Also, one finds the same “story within a story” technique as in The Odyssey, as Persephone and Demeter share two interpretations of the same tale. Thus the two genres share many of the same modes of narrative device, with poetry creating a system in which to provide allegorical significance to story-telling and presentation.Drama synthesizes these two techniques into one audience-oriented device called the exposition, the staged interpretation of the written way to inform the audience, listener, or reader. Such plays as Oedipus Rex or The Bacchae depend upon the exposition to form the base of the tragic and emotional elements of their drama, because without the dramatic irony, the audience cannot become involved within the action. Drama thus differs from the modes of presentation and story-telling used in epic and poetry because it intermingles them much more purposefully, even though they do sometimes remain independent of each other. Yet along with this difference, there is an important similarity in one major mode of story-telling: the “story within a story.” Oedipus Rex relies on the narrative exploration of Oedipus’ past within the story of his present, and The Bacchae as well depends upon the visually integrated story of the women’s cult of Dionysus to propel its plot.Thus epic, poetry, and drama all interpret the basic devices of story-telling and presentation, all three arts illustrating various aspects of the traditions. The basic generalities of character development and plot complexity universalize these two themes, yet each artistic medium finds various ways in which to use their respective techniques to the fullest. Even in modern works authors continue to build upon the founding notions of technical device proposed by these three genres, signifying their importance to the development of narrative exploration in literary art.

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