Living in Iron, Dressed in Bronze


oral poetry
the Myth of Ages

How to Cite

Létoublon, Françoise. 2018. “Living in Iron, Dressed in Bronze”. Brolly 1 (2).


Names of important metals such as gold, silver, iron, and bronze occur many times in the Homeric Epics. We intend to look at them within the framework of oral poetry, with the purpose to determine if they form a more or less coherent set of “formulas”, in the sense defined by Milman Parry and the Oral Poetry Theory2, and to test a possible link with the stages of the evolution of humankind. Though several specialists criticized some excess in Parry’s and Lord’s definitions of the formula, we deem the theory still valuable in its great lines and feel no need to discuss it for the present study3. The frequent use of bronze in epical formulas for arms, while the actual heroes fight their battles with iron equipment, and the emphasis of gold in the descriptions of wealth may reflect a deep-seated linguistic memory within the archaic mindset of the Ages of Mankind. With Homer’s language as our best witness, metal formulas testify to the importance of the tradition of the Ages of Mankind in understanding the thought patterns and value-systems, as well as some linguistic usages of the Homeric Epics.