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Language Change in Epic Greek and other Oral Traditions

  • Alain Blanc (Rouen)
  • Albio Cassio (Roma)
  • Jeremy Rau (Harvard)
  • Rudolf Wachter (Lausanne)
  • Andreas Willi (Oxford)
Thursday 27 October 2016 - Saturday 29 October 2016
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden
Room: TBA

Conference Call

The language of Homer (epic Greek) was in many respects unlike the Greek vernaculars: it contains linguistic forms from different periods and dialects, as well as numerous artificial forms. Epic Greek is therefore commonly described as an artificial language, a Kunstsprache. However, the language was not created overnight: epic Greek is adapted so well to metrical performance that it must have acquired its shape by gradual changes, introduced over generations of poets. This conference is dedicated to language change in the Greek epic tradition and in other oral traditions.

Throughout the history of Homeric linguistics, much attention has already been paid to the question of dialectal influences on epic Greek, and also (though less prominently) to the issue of artificial word formation. Leiden University Centre for Linguistics currently hosts the research project “Unraveling Homer’s Language”, funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and conducted by Lucien van Beek. One of the main questions studied in this project is: to what extent did epic Greek develop autonomously and according to clear principles? In particular, the project investigates whether there is evidence for independent phonological changes within the epic tradition.

This conference, part of the project “Unraveling Homer’s Language”, is dedicated to the following questions:

  • In which ways did epic Greek change under external influence (introduction of linguistic features from literary dialects and vernaculars)?
  • Which principles of internal linguistic change played a role in the development of epic Greek (artificial word formation, but also the possibility of epic-internal phonetic and phonological developments)?
  • What about similar oral traditions, such as Avestan or Vedic? Which internal developments took place in these traditions? Which principles governed the relation between these oral poetic languages and the everyday language of the poets?

Keynote speakers will be:

  • Alain Blanc (Rouen)
  • Albio Cassio (Roma)
  • Jeremy Rau (Harvard)
  • Rudolf Wachter (Lausanne)
  • Andreas Willi (Oxford)

We welcome contributions on topics relating to the study of epic Greek or the language of similar oral traditions as autonomous linguistic entities. Papers on the genesis or history of the Homeric (Avestan, Vedic etc.) texts are also welcome, provided that they shed a light on linguistic issues such as those mentioned above. Those interested in submitting an abstract may think of topics such as the following (the list is by no means exhaustive):

  • Meter and its influence on language;
  • Prosodic irregularities and their (historical or synchronic) explanation;
  • Differences in use and function between isometric alternatives;
  • Artificial features in domains like Word Formation, Lexicon (functional synonymy), Syntax, and Phonology;

Or, for Epic Greek in particular:

  • Non-Ionic epic lexicon and morphology (Aeolisms, Mycenaean forms, Attic redaction, etc.);
  • Models for explaining Aeolisms in Homer (Aeolic phase, diffusion, or otherwise);
  • Structural differences (e.g. lexical or morphological) between Homeric and Classical (Ionic-Attic) Greek;
  • Linguistic comparison between Homeric Greek and other pre-classical sources (e.g. para-epic hexametrical inscriptions, lyric poetry with epic thematics);
  • Possible linguistic differences between our oldest textual sources (paradosis, papyri, testimonia) and early oral versions of the poems;


- The conference will take place in Leiden on 27-29 October 2016.

- Talks will be 20 minutes plus 10 minutes for discussion.

- The call for papers was closed on Wednesday 15 June 2016. 

- It is our intention to publish conference proceedings in a peer-reviewed series.

- A modest conference fee of 20 euros will be charged; this will cover a conference folder, coffee/tea and lunches. Participation in the conference dinner will cost an additional 35 euros.


Attached you can find the programme and the abstracts of the talks.

Registration and contact

In order to register for this conference, please enroll via the online registration system paylogic. If you follow the registration link below, a new window will open where you can select whether you would like to register for the conference including dinner (55 euro) or excluding dinner (20 euro). English language can be selected at the at the left side (next to 'paylogic'). Payment can be made by Visa, Credit Card or (for the Dutch participants) by IDeal.



Traveling from Schiphol to Leiden

There is a swift and easy train connection between Schiphol and Leiden. The intercity service takes 16 minutes. There are no intermediate stops. Plan your travels at http://9292.nl/ or download the app. All trains to Leiden leave from platforms 5 and 6. Make sure to buy your tickets before going down to the train platforms as there are no vending machines downstairs. You can buy a one-way train ticket from the machine; make sure to check in by holding the card against the yellow check-in posts as tickets may be inspected on the train and there are fines for traveling without a valid ticket.
Alternatively, you could consider buying an 'anonymous OV-chipkaart'. This card is also available at the vending machines and costs €7,50. It can be topped up and can be used for a period of 5 years. The single-journey cards (also single bus tickets; see below) usually cost a little more per journey than buying the card and paying per km. Read more about the cards here

How to get to the conference

The Lipsius building is within walking distance from Leiden central station. Click here for a map and directions. Alternatively, you may take bus 1 (direction Leiderdorp Alrijne Zkh) or bus 3 (direction Station De Vink). The bus stop is 'Paterstraat'; it is marked at the bottom of the map, across the water from the Lipsius (marker B). Bus tickets are available to buy at the bus driver, but if you are traveling to Leiden by train and you also wish to use the bus, it is best to buy a so-called 'anonymous' OV-card. Plan your bus travels at http://9292.nl/ or download the app.


Below is a list of some hotels in Leiden that we can recommend. 

De Doelen


Nieuw Minerva


Ibis Leiden Centre


Tulip Inn Leiden Centre


Golden Tulip Leiden Centre


Hampshire Hotel Fitland


Rembrandt Hotel Leiden


Hotel Mayflower


Bastion Hotel Leiden


Mariënpoel Hotel Leiden


Huys van Leyden


Boutique Hotel d'Oude Morsch


Van der Valk Hotel Leiden



For any questions concerning the conference, registration, or traveling to Leiden, please contact the organizers or the conference assistant at epic_greek@hum.leidenuniv.nl.

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