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Sing, Muse: songs in Homer and in hospital
  1. Robert Marshall,
  2. Alan Bleakley
  1. Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, Truro, UK
  1. Correspondence to Robert Marshall, Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, Knowledge Spa, Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro, Cornwall TR1 3HD, UK; robert.marshall{at}


This paper progresses the original argument of Richard Ratzan that formal presentation of the medical case history follows a Homeric oral-formulaic tradition. The everyday work routines of doctors involve a ritual poetics, where the language of recounting the patient's ‘history’ offers an explicitly aesthetic enactment or performance that can be appreciated and given meaning within the historical tradition of Homeric oral poetry and the modernist aesthetic of Minimalism. This ritual poetics shows a reliance on traditional word usages that crucially act as tools for memorisation and performance and can be linked to forms of clinical reasoning; both contain a tension between the oral and the written record, questioning the priority of the latter; and the performance of both helps to create the Janus-faced identity of the doctor as a ‘performance artist’ or ‘medical bard’ in identifying with medical culture and maintaining a positive difference from the patient as audience, offering a valid form of patient-centredness.

  • Homer
  • oral poetry
  • identity construction
  • memory
  • narrative
  • medical education
  • Greek history
  • narrative medicine
  • poetry
  • performance

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.