Taking its inspiration from Peter Brooks’ discussion of the “narrative desire” that structures novels, this paper seeks to articulate a specific form of narrative desire that would be applicable to traditional oral narratives, the plots of which are generally known in advance by audience members. Thematic and structural features of the Odyssey are discussed as evidence for the dynamics of such a “traditional narrative desire.”
This essay builds on work in The Poetics of Consent (2013), which argues that the Iliad’s representation of politics reflects the workings of the oral tradition underlying the poem as we have it, a tradition that developed in the context of Panhellenic festivals. Applying a similar perspective to poetry belonging to the very different performative context of the symposium, this essay draws evidence from Theognis and Alcaeus suggesting that the social dynamics of sympotic performance could be expressed in terms of political fragmentation and alienation. In the Odyssey, the contrast between the epic singers Phemios and Demodokos reflects an awareness of the difference between these performative contexts.