Our Toolkit is one of the most exciting things about setting up Helicon – not least because it has forced us to re-read our favourite poems in detail!
At the moment, the toolkit is a giant excel spreadsheet for each poem. Although still under construction (we’ve done about half of both the Odyssey and Iliad), it already clocks in at well over 500 entries.
We are searching for the primary components of oral composition: type-scenes, similes, epithets and other repeated phrases.
A type-scene may be regarded as a recurrent block of narrative with an identifiable structure, such as a sacrifice, the reception of a guest, the launching and beaching of a ship, the donning of armor. Many of the commonest of these were identified and studied nearly sixty years ago. (Edwards 1992)
For each quote we include in the toolkit, we log the line number and particularly notable alternate translations, and then we sort it into one of 8 general categories. These categories are defined by the type-scenes the quote roughly relates to, and each type scene has further subtypes – eg. the type-scene Hospitality has the subtypes Arrival and Reception, Feasting, and Departure and Gifts among others.
We also make a note of whether the quote is a simile, which character(s) the quote is related to, and whether the quote relates predominantly to the mortal or immortal plain.
These tags allow us to quickly and easily search and filter the quotes; for example, if we are telling a story in rehearsal that features a guest arriving and a feast being held in their honour, we can search Hospitality/Feasting and instantly view relevant quotes from the original text.
We can then riff off the structure of the original language to create semi-improvised typescenes that can be used in any number of stories, and constantly reinterpreted. This is the living, breathing part of the oral tradition of storytelling!