The Iliad and the Odyssey are emotional powerhouses largely because of their extensive use of direct speech. Yet this characteristic of the Homeric epics has led scholars to underplay the poems' use of non-direct speech, the importance of speech represented by characters, and the overall sophistication of Homeric narrative as measured by its approach to speech representation. In this pathfinding study by contrast, Deborah Beck undertakes the first systematic examination of all the speeches presented in the Homeric poems to show that Homeric speech presentation is a unified system that includes both direct quotation and non-direct modes of speech presentation.
Drawing on the fields of narratology and linguistics, Beck demonstrates that the Iliad and the Odyssey represent speech in a broader and more nuanced manner than has been perceived before, enabling us to reevaluate our understanding of supposedly "modern" techniques of speech representation and to refine our idea of where Homeric poetry belongs in the history of Western literature. She also broadens ideas of narratology by connecting them more strongly with relevant areas of linguistics, as she uses both to examine the full range of speech representational strategies in the Homeric poems. Through this in-depth analysis of how speech is represented in the Homeric poems, Beck seeks to make both the process of their composition and the resulting poems themselves seem more accessible, despite pervasive uncertainties about how and when the poems were put together.