Past Parry lectures
2013 Joseph Russo
Audrey and John Dusseau Emeritus Professor of Humanities and Classics, Haverford College
The Ghost of Patroklos and the Language of Achilles
Joseph Russo, who studied with Adam Parry at Yale, has spent a lifetime teaching and writing about the Homeric epics and oral traditions, including folklore, folktale, and Sicilian oral traditions. His work throughout his career has demonstrated the methods and talents that were once so beautifully exemplified by the Parrys: the thoughtful and detailed analysis of Greek and Latin texts that is, at once, adventurous, elegantly written, and critically informed. Professor Russo’s lecture on ‘The Ghost of Patroklos and the Language of Achilles’ was a masterful example of this kind of scholarship, and a perfectly fitting inauguration of this series. Elaborating on Adam Parry’s landmark 1956 essay, ‘The Language of Achilles,’ Professor Russo described how Parry’s assertions about the inadequacy of heroic language to express non-heroic emotions were, despite making a dazzling first splash, subsequently dismissed as a kind of passé Whorfism. But he made a compelling case for the abiding genius of the essay that overrides its flaws, pointing out that Homeric language as an artificial product necessarily comes with Whorfian constraints, and yet the poet can manipulate these inadequacies to express subtle emotions obliquely but effectively.