Parry, a Harvard Classics scholar during the first part of the 20th century, is called the ‘Darwin of the Classics’ for his theories about oral traditions and poetry in ancient Greece. Parry argued that Homer and his ilk neither wrote verse in the modern sense of the word, nor memorized and recited text, but made up poems on the fly based on story schematics handed down orally.
Riley writes: “In his elegant biography of Parry, Hearing Homer’s Song, Robert Kanigel tells this complicated story to the general reader with inspired calm. To Kanigel, Parry confronted classical scholarship’s ‘failure to see the difference between written and oral verse,’which formed ‘the greatest single obstacle to our understanding of Homer.'”