The Diversity of Oral Epics: Language and Meaning

FFSS99, Workshop II

Group leaders: John Miles Foley (U.S.A.), Lauri Harvilahti (Finland)

Report by the group leaders & Camilla Asplund (Finland), Mehri Bagheri (Iran), Qubumo Bamo (P.R. China), T. Dharmaraj (India), Mihai Fifor (Romania), Anneli Honko (Finland), Jouni Hyvönen (Finland), Djamilya Kurbanova (Turkmenistan), Aaron Tate (U.S.A.) and Senni Timonen (Finland); with visits and contributions from Paul Hagu (Estonia), Lauri Honko (Finland), and Dell Hymes (U.S.A.)

I. A sketch of Workshop II activities

From the beginning of our collective work, we have been principally concerned with two main areas: (1) acquiring a “menu” of approaches to understanding oral and oral-derived traditional epics, and (2) demonstrating the inherent diversity of the complex expressive systems – or registers – within the traditions represented by our group. We have been very fortunate in this regard to have colleagues with expertise in the following fields: Altaic, Ancient Greek, Bangaladeshi, Estonian, Finnish, Mongolian, Native American, Old English, Persian, Romanian, Setu, South Slavic, Swedish, Tamil, Tulu, Turkmen, and Yi.

In regard to approaches, we focused chiefly on three schools: Oral-formulaic theory, Performance theory, and Ethnopoetics. Making an effort to avoid favoring any single approach, we examined the advantages and the disadvantages of each, using examples from various traditions to show how they can be applied. During these meetings, the discussion was mostly theoretical, as we tried to understand how the three approaches share some basic lines of reasoning.

II. Theoretical “menu”

Oral-formulaic theory depends on the concept of what we might call “big words,” units of expression larger than what we mean by a word in a text. In many traditions the shortest unit is the whole line or half-line, corresponding to what Milman Parry and Albert Lord meant by the “formula”. We also explored the two additional levels of structure described by Parry and Lord: the “theme” or “typical scene”, a narrative increment; and the “story-pattern”, a “map” for the entire epic. We learned how these two researchers used fieldwork in the former Yugoslavia to prove experimentally that singers employ such “big words” to compose epics of great length and elaboration without the aid of writing.

Among the positive aspects of this first approach are its explanations of heavily repetitive language, of how preliterate singers could create epic poetry, and of so-called “flaws” in performances; it provides an emphasis on comparative insights on structure as well. But there are also problems with this model, which leaves little or no room for the individual singer or for artistry, creates a false dichotomy of oral versus written (which is not borne out in fieldwork, and places limits on comparison because it depends on a universalized model instead of attending to difference in traditions, genres, and individuals). Most significantly, it focuses on composition at the expense of reception. In order to prove truly useful, Oral-Formulaic Theory must address the spectrum of oral and oral-derived forms, make room for the individual singer and his or her art, and consider the idiomatic implications of the traditional units (as opposed to their literal meanings).

Performance theory was examined chiefly through the writings of Richard Bauman, who has maintained most basically that performance is simply part of the meaning. He has stressed that the performer is effectively saying to the audience: “Take this communication in a special way; do not understand it only literally.” In order to grasp this approach in a practical fashion, we discussed what Bauman has called “keys to performance,” signals that a performer sends in order to alert his or her audience that the communication will proceed according to a special code that they share. He lists the following keys as a partial, suggestive inventory, recognizing that each tradition will have its own set of signals: special codes (any aspect of the specialized taletelling language), figurative language (a greater density than outside of performance), parallelism (the expressive units lined up like “beads on a string”), special formulae, appeal to tradition (“Once upon a time…”), disclaimer of performance (“I can’t tell a joke, but…”), and special paralinguistic codes (gestures, music, etc.). Invoking any one of these keys – or whatever signal a given tradition employs – establishes a privileged channel for communication. One could say that performance implies as much as it explicitly portrays.

Like any other approach, Performance theory is not without complications and drawbacks. Not all of the keys translate to texts, so that this approach has weaknesses when applied to transcriptions of oral traditions that one can no longer examine in fieldwork. Oral- derived epics from the ancient and medieval worlds are particularly hard to address via this theory. We should add that performance- centered approaches have not produced many usable editions of oral traditional works. Perhaps the advent of more sophisticated media, especially hypertext and other digital presentations, will eventually make performance-centered editions more feasible.

Ethnopoetics was the third approach we explored, and we were very fortunate to have Dell Hymes as a guest participant while doing so. It was chiefly through his writings that we examined this theory. At every point, Ethnopoetics seeks to understand oral traditional communication from the inside, that is, on its own terms. By considering the etymology of the term, we saw that the primary concern is with the poetics of the ethnos (“tribe, ethnic group”). For that reason, this approach gives priority to internal traditional categories without making prejudgments. Thus researchers have been able to expose Western scholars’ very narrow view of poetry, for instance, illustrating that measures like syllable-count are not applicable to poetries that depend on organization of lines by breath- groups. Ethnopoetics pays particular attention to the question of “What is the unit?” or “What is the pattern?” and does not impose external, irrelevant criteria from the outside. It maintains that logical modes of organization are inherent in the form, and will vary from one tradition and genre to another. We stressed the point that from this perspective traditional categories are constitutive; that is, they are meaningful in themselves, and if they are lost a part of the meaning is lost.

There are of course some dangers associated with Ethnopoetics, as with the other approaches. For one thing, researchers must be sure that they have located the truly significant features and organization of the given performance or transcription. Discovering the actual structures and strategies of an utterance can be very difficult. Also potentially dangerous is the overburdening of a text with too many performance signals for the reader to process all at once. While inserting cues is of course a laudable practice, texts can only do so much.

Another perspective on this approach is offered by what Lauri Harvilahti refers to as “ethnopoetic strategies,” a term he employs to describe all those features that mark the specialized languages of epic composition, distinguishing them from ordinary speech. By using these strategies, the singer designates a channel for the transaction of epic communication, signalling to the audience that he or she is intending a particular kind of reception. He also refers to the “ethnopoetic substrate,” by which he means the features shared across different epic traditions within the same closely knit language family and more widely, such as Finnic and Central Asian. Our group discovered similarities among the North Asian and other traditions, for example, that can only be explained by the existence of interrelating epic languages. This larger unity has important implications for comparative studies.

III. A composite theory

We also spent some time with a single, unified theory that draws from the three schools that we examined separately. In brief, it can be described as consisting of three items in a simple equation: Register + Performance Arena = Communicative Economy.

A register, or “way of speaking” as Hymes calls it, is a marked variety of language serving a particular social situation. As such, it is a specialized language, with specialized rules for composition and performance. Registers usually differ from everyday “street” language, often employing archaisms, alternate dialect forms, special structures or vocabulary, or other eccentric forms. They do their particular job extremely well, serving the singer and the audience as a narrowed and focused medium. In order to do that, they sacrifice the wide variety of applications to which ordinary speech can be put.

The performance arena is the place where bards and their audiences go to sing and hear oral epic. It is always a particular place, of course, but more importantly it is a virtual space, within limits the same virtual space every time. Thus the performance arena is defined most fundamentally not by geography, but rather by the action that recurrently takes place there. Effectively, it serves as a frame that keys performance.

Communicative economy is what results when the participants use the register within the performance arena. Because all parties are fluent (in varying degrees) in the specialized language, a great deal of communication can take place very quickly and economically.

IV. An international perspective on oral epics

Much of our workshop was devoted to study of the particular registers or ethnopoetic strategies used by epic singers and their audiences around the world. We feel very fortunate to have had a tremendous variety of traditions represented around the table, and we feel that we all learned a lot about the diversity of expressive systems in epic and other genres. During our discussions it became obvious that one of the relevant viewpoints was “transparency of genre.” In other words, for example, a mythical tale could be transformed to a lyric epic and still retain the basic features of structure and diction. Because the amount of information developed by our group far exceeds the few pages we can present here (as well as the patience of our own “epic audience” for this report), we have decided to sample the evidence accumulated and to consign the rest to the report’s appendix.

Each participant in the group then read the excerpt representing the copious data he or she contributed to our joint studies.

IVa. Romanian epic
(Mihai Fifor)

The Romanian repertoire of epic songs consists of about 330 types of songs. These are of three general categories: (1) heroic songs, which account for 50%; (2) “novelistic” songs, another 40%; and (3) “fantastic” songs, the final 10%. The heroic songs include both hajduk narratives, which detail the adventures of highwaymen, and stories about battles against the Turks. The average size of a singer’s repertoire is from 20 to 45 songs. In the southern area of Romania, songs run between 200 ad 400 lines in length, while in Timoc and the northeastern part of Serbia they reach 700 to 900 lines.

Characteristics of the Romanian epic register include formulaic phraseology, leonine or in-line rhyme, catalectic lines (5-7 instead of 6-8 syllables), acatalectic lines (the reverse process), anaphora, epiphora, anadiplosis (also known as terracing or pleonasm), intertextuality, and rhetorical interrogation. Some of these are traditional features that affect every line and some are intermittent, but all of them help to create the performance arena by invoking the poetic tradition.

Let me focus on two of the features more closely. First, catalectic lines are lines with a verb in final position; they can occur only if the musical component of the performance allows their formation. They provide for end-line rhyme by using the past continuous tense:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
De ve-dea si iar ve-dea
If he was noticing that again and again
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Ca lo-god-nici îi ve-nea
That suitors were coming for her

A second strategy that distinguishes the Romanian epic register from everyday speech is the use of the possessive dative form to emphasize the high emotional charge of the episode. Here are two examples:

Dumnezeu ca mi l-a dat / God gave him to me
Dumnezeu ca mi l-a luat / God took him from me

IVb. Swedish folktales
(Camilla Asplund)

When the Finnish-Swedish collector V. E. V. Wessman met the blind storyteller Berndt Strämberg in Leksvall, Ekenäs (Finnish Tammisaari) parish in 1909, it was a field day. Blind Strämberg, as he was called, related 120 folktales, and he claimed to know more than 300. I will dwell primarily on two of them here, since they contain the same theme, which I have labeled “The First Encounter with the Troll,” and will focus on some formulaic expression used by Strömberg in constructing different narratives. I have also integrated this approach with my previous findings related to the notion of intertextuality.

Here are some examples of formulaic expressions found in Berndt Strömberg’s folktales. The first is frisk o rask ‘hale and hearty’, as in the following two instances:

flikkan vekst opp o va frisk o rask
The girl grew up and was hale and hearty
flikkan va rask o frisk o nettär o välskapa
The girl was hearty and hale and pretty and healthy

My second example is the expression: so lengi ja vil, ska sjipe stå dör ‘as long as I will, the ship must stay there’, which corresponds to the utterance of a female troll addressing a shepherd who has strayed to her cottage: “sit do bara stilla,” sejär gomman, “int far fåren nogo bort, so lengi ja vil, ska dom hollas hör” = “You just stay put,” the old woman says, “the sheep won’t run away, as long as I will, they must stay there”.

Oral-formulaic theory can thus be applied to this kind of narrative as well, at least in part, since the narrator employs recurring themes and expressions in structuring his tale. There are further implications for the theory in the area of intertextual relations. Whether this stock of formulas is construed as a pool of tradition (Honko) or an ethnopoetic substrate (Harvilahti), it is part of the specialized language of the folktale.

IVc. Turkmen epic
(Djamilya Kurbanova)

The Goroglu epic is known among many nations and ethnic groups in a great variety of languages, including Turkic, Caucasian, and Tadzic versions. Among the different traditions the mode of performance varies from versified epic to prose to a mixture of prose and verse. Among the Turkmen the singers are called baksi, a term that has connotations of teacher, shaman, and singer of tales.

A number of features mark the register of Turkmen epic, identifying it as a specialized language or “way of speaking”. The Goroglu epic consists of many parts (saha), and each of them is an individual dastan. This unit consists of both poetry and prose. Performances of any one dastan show variation within limits, depending on the “performance arena” and the disposition of the singer or baksi. Before he starts performing the dastan, the baksi sings some introductory songs that are not connected with the plot in order to get the attention of the audience and to prepare his throat. Vocal ornamentation is the characteristic of the master singer, but he is also able to perform in prose and to bring contemporary elements to the description of legendary heroes’ lives. The narrative structure of the dastan correlates with the melodic structure: the high or low points of a particular melody correspond to the resolution of the dastan. This is a clear example of how a traditional signal participates in conveying the meaning of an epic song.

IVd. Persian epic
(Mehri Bagheri)

The Persian national epic, the Shahname or Book of the Kings, has reached us in the form of a literary composition, that is, as an epic chronicle poem. Different cycles of heroic legend are interwoven into a multitude of historical traditions to form the texture of this work. Shahname was composed by a certain Ferdowsi in the eleventh century over a period of thirty years. He claimed that he compiled this epic by reference to two kinds of sources: either the oral tradition or the Pahlavi texts (the pre-Islamic texts written in the old system of inscription).

In this epic three different strata are discernible: mythic, heroic, and historical. As a tradition, the heroic stories of the epic were performed in the coffeehouses and the “sport halls.” Nowadays, performance in the coffeehouse is very rare, whereas the sporting context is still alive.

I have discovered that the verse form of the Persian national epic consists of a pair of 11-syllable rhyming cola. Her is an example transcribed in Latin letters:

AGAR TOND BADI bar AYAD ze KONJ
be XAK AFKANAD na RASIDE TORONJIf a tornado rises from a corner
and fells the unripe orange,
do you call it harmful or just?
Is it artful or artless?

Interestingly, epic episodes typically begin with a metaphorical passage like this one; they serve as characteristic features of the register, that is, as signs or strategies.

In order to demonstrate how the metrical structure works, I retranscribe the line quoted above as a series of syllables (“I” stands for a consonant, “O” for a vowel):

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
)a gar ton d(o) bâ dî ba râ yad ze konj
IO IOI IOI IO IO IO IO IO IOI IO IOII
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
be xâ kaf ka nad nâ ra sî dê to ronj
IO IO IOI IO IOI IO IO IO IO IO IOII

In addition to colonic structure, this example shows that each syllable consists of a vowel plus one, two, or three consonants. None of the syllables starts with a vowel, and a long vowel is equivalent to two short ones. Overall, we can observe that one metrical formula, a combination of melody and rhythm, governs the whole epic.

IVe. Old English/Anglo-Saxon oral-derived poetry
(J. M. Foley)

Our copies of Old English poetry come from manuscripts dating to the last third of the tenth century AD, but we know that a comparative Germanic oral tradition predated the conquest of Britain by the Angles and Saxons from 449 forward. Only 32,000 lines remain, 3182 of them constituting the epic Beowulf and the rest distributed among a wide variety of genres.

The Old English poetic register is distinctive. It does not rely on syllable-count, but requires alliteration between half-lines and four stressed elements per line (up to two of these stresses can be taken on the lyre, the instrument used by the scop or bard to accompany himself in performance). Here is a short excerpt:

Nu we sculon herian heofonrices Weard,
Now we shall praise heaven-kingdom’s Guardian,
Metdes meahte, ond his modgethanc
Measurer’s might, and his mind-thought

Formulaic phraseology is abundant, and typical scenes structure the narrative verse. It is important to observe that formulas take traditional-specific form in Anglo-Saxon, just as in any other language; universal or archetypal ideas about repeated phrases and memorization cannot be linguistically justified. To demonstrate the traditional nature of the register and its poetic productivity, I recomposed a short poem, “Caedmon’s Hymn,” using alternate formulas and alliterations. It is by all criteria a very poor poem, illustrating both the rule-governed flexibility of the register and the importance of the individual poet’s use of the specialized language.

IVf. Tamil bow-song performance
(T. Dharmaraj)

The particular text which I use here, “The History of Saatha,” is a bow-song performance. It was compiled from palmleaf manuscripts and printed by K. Arumugap Perumal Nadar, an indigenous medical practitioner by profession. This publication is dated February 22, 1979, has a total of 32 pages, and sells for Rs. 1.80. The text of “The History of Saatha,” comes to about 30 pages, with the remainder given over to the editor’s prescribed medicines for minor ailments. The prescriptions are also in verse form.

The register of this Tamil song is highly structured, with a great many rules governing its composition and keeping the performance stable from one instance to another. In “The History of Saatha” we find the following features (with Tamil terms in parentheses): formulaic phrases with epithets (maraputh thodar) and formulaic systems, anaphora (edhukai), alliteration (monai), epiphora (thodai), parallelism (irattai kilavi), and theme or typical scene.

Examples of formulaic epithets include kangai veiyan (the one who wears the river Ganges) and veerappulienum vallarakkan (Vallarakkan, the brave tiger). As for anaphora, here is a series of lines linked by the initial sound “k”:

kanni thanaiitap paakam vaitha
kangai veniyan uruvaik kandan
kandu arakkanum nirpa alavil
kayilai yaliyum manathi ranki
who has the virgin on his left side
he saw the one who wears the river Ganges
as the demon looks at him
the “yali” of Kailya hills worries about him.

A final feature or traditional sign is called kavadi chindhu, the Tamil term for a metrical pattern in which each stanza starts with the last word of the previous stanza. It is both a device for keeping the song ordered and stable and a key to performance.

IVg. Altay epic
(Lauri Harvilahti)

The singers of epic songs from the Upper Altay region use a special style of overtone singing called kaj. They are able to produce formants in a very high frequency, up to 6 kilohertz, and at the same time perform the epic text. This unique technique is known in a very small region. The traditions of the Altay peoples belong to the most archaic Turkic mythological epics, related to those of the Buryats and Yakuts. There are abundant shamanistic features in this tradition of epic, as well as heroes and motifs resembling the epics of other Turkic and some Mongolian traditions.

As an example, consider the depiction of the center of the world as a hitching post. The upper part belongs to the god of the heavens, generally known as Uc-Kurbestan; the middle belongs to the poem’s hero and other human beings; and the lower part belongs to Erlik, the god of the underworld.

At the mouth of the ninety-sided stone yurt
Stands a ninety-sided silver hitching post.
Its lower part is in the underworld,
It is Erlik’s hitching post.
The upper part extends to the upper world,
It is Uc-Kurbestan’s hitching post.
The middle part belongs to
The one who rides the dark gray steed,
It is the hitching post of the hero Maadaj-Kara.

IVh. The Siri epic in Tulu
(Anneli Honko)

Instead of choosing ethnopoetic details from the Siri epic let me describe my present study on the differences and similarities between two renderings of the Siri epic as performed by Gopala Naika, an agriculturalist and possession priest living in Belthangadi Taluk in Karnataka, India. The dictated telling (Siri B) derives from 1985-86, when a student Ms. Sudha (and partly Dr. Chinnappa Gowda) took down in longhand (in Kannada script) the epic in response to the singer’s wish in several sessions over a six-month period. The sung telling (Siri A) comes from a seven-day performance in December 1990 which our Finnish-Tulu team documented on video and audio and which has been published in Folklore Fellows’ Communications 265-66 (1998).

The first task was to check and rectify the Siri B transcription in order to achieve an accuracy comparable to the Siri A text, although the method of documentation via dictation leaves certain aspects of oral textualisation unclear, such as intonation, melody, repetitions, and certain prosodic features.

The second task was to translate the Siri B text. This I have done, into both Finnish and, more recently, English. Professor Viveka Rai of Mangalore University has kindly checked my translation. The work has profited from the earlier Siri A translation, yet the use of similar translations of formulas and phrases has proved problematic, because the expressions are hardly ever identical and because their co-text varies as well.

The third phase will consist of a sequential analysis of both renderings, placing them side by side. Differences will be many, although the main storyline remains the same. I am especially interested in the impact of different modes of performance, that is, which differences are due to dictation or singing and which derive from changing composition strategies and the situational adaptation of plot.

The analysis will continue toward external and internal characterisation of both renderings, the nature of topography, the spiritual worlds as stages of epic events and interactions between humans and gods, the ethical perspectives and the narrator’s viewpoint, which ranges from external description to identification. Finally, the relations between the Siri epic tellings and the other oral epics that our team collected from Gopala Naika will be considered.

IVi. Kalevala-metric oral poetry
(Senni Timonen)

The famous Ingrian-Finnish singer Larin Paraske was widowed in May 1888, at the age of 55. Three weeks after her husband’s death, on May 31, she went to see the young priest Adolf Neovius. He had begun to collect Paraske’s songs a year earlier. They had worked now and then, but there had been a pause of several months. On the second day of her visit she sang a composite lyric of 105 lines. In this song she treated the life crisis she was just living through.

The song can be interpreted in two possible frames. The first of them is her life situation as a newly widowed woman. The second is the performance situation, a dialogic encounter between her (the singer) and the priest (the listener). I look at the song from the point of view of the composite theory developed in our workshop; it stems from a combination of oral-formulaic theory, performance theory, and ethnopoetics.

For example, the core formula in the lyric is “I don’t know,” which echoes through the poem as she describes her relations with her closest family members. It also indexes her grief in a traditional way. Here are lines 20-30 from the section concerning her children:

20 Pojastaase miu isooni
pojastaase miestä toivoo
mutt en tiie mie polonii
en tiie polonen piikuu

tullookos polon pojastu
25 laiha linnu lapsoisestu
emolle elättäjäini
maamon maahan saatajaini.
Mie en tiie itsekkään
mitä tulloo tehhystääni
30 kasvaa kannettuisestaini.
20 My father hoped to see his son
hoped to see his son to manhood
But poor me, I don’t know
But I, poor girl, don’t know
if the wretched one’s son
25 the lean bird’s child
will take care of his mother
and see her back to the earth.
Even I do not know
what will become of the one I made
30 what will emerge of the one I wore.

Paraske has composed her song using her “idiolect,” her special command of the lyric register of Kalevala poetry – its specialised language and metre – as well as the ability to construct new wholes from independent lyric songs and themes. This particular song is composed of 13 different lyric units. With the aid of the “thick corpus” of 2000 songs, it is possible to see that she uses each of them many times in other co-texts, but never in the same manner or with the same meaning as here.

IVj. Yi oral traditions
(Bamo Qubumo)

In China the concept and definition of epic are quite different from the working assumptions of Western scholars. Within the circle of Chinese epic studies, even Chinese folkloristic theories, scholars have usually divided epic songs into three types: (1) Creation epics, (2) Origination epics, and (3) Heroic epics. Until the 1980s, there was a general agreement that heroic epics existed only in the north and northwest of China, including Tibet. However, as the result of further exploration and publication, folklorists have come to realise that epics exist among many Southern ethnic minorities, such as the Naxi, Dai, Dong, Pumi, Zhuang, and Yi.

Yi sacred transcriptions, or scriptures, contain different genres of traditional poetry, such as myths, legends, tales, wedding songs, laments, curses, epics, lyrics, and proverbs. These are fixed texts that are revocalised in oral performance. The Bi-mot, or priest of the native religion in Yi society, is the authentic singer of the epic scripts and ritualised texts.

Yi oral traditions have specialised “ways of speaking” or registers that show many of the same features discovered in other areas. Among these are formulaic structure, typical scenes, anaphora, epiphora, mesodiplosis, terracing, parallelism, and performatives (syllables with no semantic function). Additionally, narrative genealogies follow the traditional form aabb, bbcc, ccdd, and so forth, with the last two elements of the father’s name doubling as the first two elements of the son’s name.

IVk. Lönnrot’s textualisation of the Kalevala
(Jouni Hyvönen)

I analyse the textualisation process under three headings: formula- cluster; idiolect and dialect; and themes, schema, and reproduction. The first two of these will be examined here.

First is the dimension of textualisation at the level of formula- clusters. A single formula can head a series of variants of itself. Usually these variations connect together by parallelism or by other semantic means. When formulaic lines activate other lines that are closely related to this formula by structural or other associative ties, accumulation results. These instances of accumulation have been termed “formula-clusters” (Harvilahti 1992), and are relatively common in the charm register. Lönnrot’s textualisation can proceed via combinations of the different variants of the same formulas, extension of the formula-clusters, or contractions of the formula- clusters. Here is an example of combination:

(a: oral, from Archangel Karelia)
Niin sie turvu tuskiisi,
painut pakko päiviisi,
haluisi halkiele
[thus you will swell up in your agonies,
you will be forced into distress
you will split in your desires]
(b: oral, from Archangel Karelia)
itse turvu tuskihisi,
painu pakkopäivihisi,
halu huiki halkieli!
[you yourself swell up in your agonies
you be forced into distress,
you be split in your desires!]

(c: oral, from Ladoga Karelia)
ite turvu tuskiisi,
paisu pakkopäiviisi,
halkia, paha, kaheksi,
konna, kolmeksi muruksi
[you yourself swell up in your agonies,
you swell up in distress,
you split, evil thing, in two,
villain, into three pieces!]

(Old Kalevala 10: 285-288)
Vielä turvut tuskihisi,
Haluisi halkielet,
Halkiat paha kaheksi
Konna kolmeksi muruksi.
[Still you will swell up in your agonies,
you will split in your desires,
you will split, evil thing, in two,
villain, into three pieces.]

The second dimension is idiolect and dialect. Lönnrot could not adapt the textuality of compiled rune-episodes to the system of only one rune-singer. So the textuality of the rune-episode is a compromise between different aspects of variation in the original runes. The charms that Lönnrot used to textualise certain charm-episodes should be seen as a textual corpus unified by semantic and morphosyntactic features. But this raises the question of differences between dialectal and idiolectal aspects of the charm register, because Lönnrot combined charms from different regions sung by many rune-singers. Thus the textual corpus on which he based his textualising varies at both dialectal and idiolectal levels of stability. This varying textuality should be compared with the textuality created by Lönnrot.

IVl. Mongolian epic
(Aaron Tate)

I present here a rough sketch of possible traditional rules and other prosodic options, according to N. Poppe, L. Harvilahti, and A. Tate. It consists of four features.

1. Anaphora between adjacent lines, not always required. In other words, sometimes other performance-based or narrative needs, such as the use of a longer two-line formula, override this rule.

2. Mesodiplosis, or the repetition of a lexical unit inside the verse line.

3. Epiphora, the equivalent of anaphora at the end of the line.

4. Blocks, through which material is sometimes organized into flexible clusters, but not fixed.

These features are illustrated in the following passage (anaphora in bold, mesodiplosis in underlining, and epiphora in italics):

Tögrög tögrög ordondu
Nogoon oyu nuruutoi
Nomin jörön tulguurtoi
Har dzandan hantai
Ulaan dzandan onitoi
Caasan cagaan deevertei
Cagaan möngön tuuragtai
Tas cagaan oosortoi
Tobci doloon haalagtai, gene
In the round, round palace
With a green jade ceiling
With an emerald coral pillar
With a black sandalwood wall-frame
With a red sandalwood rafter
With a paper-white roof
With white silver panels
With a pure white rope
With seven tightly closed gates – it was told

Mongol epic can be performed in three ways: singing with musical accompaniment, singing without musical accompaniment, or recitation alone. The meter is neither syllabic nor podic nor entirely stress-based. It varies according to the music, and both vowel lengthening and line-end catalexis occur.

IVm. South Slavic epic
(J. M. Foley)

A draft version of my edition of “The Wedding of Mustajbeg’s Son Becirbeg,” sung for Milman Parry and Albert Lord by the Stolac guslar Halil Bajgoric, was distributed to the members of Workshop II. It contains a facing-page translation of the 1030-line epic song, together with a number of supplements intended to thicken the corpus. When completed, the introduction will cover broad-based issues of context, such as the heroic code, the system of Ottoman Empire government, the history of audiences for Moslem epic, and the role of Parry and Lord’s translator and field interviewer, Nikola Vujnovic. Scholars have paid little attention to Vujnovic as either a co-investigator or transcriber, but the mere fact that he was himself also a singer of tales in the South Slavic tradition demands attention.

There will also be a section on usage, a linguistically based record of archaisms, dialect forms, and other unusual lexical or phonological points that help to mark the poetic register as specialized. Instead of a critical apparatus or apparatus criticus, which text-based scholars use to open up the work they are editing, I will employ an apparatus fabulosus, or story-based apparatus that explains the meaning of traditional elements and structures by reference to occurrences in this performance and others. The edition will also contain discussion of the particular features of the register (metrics, phraseology, typical scenes, story-pattern, and so forth), but will concentrate on the idiomatic implications of these traditional forms or signs. That is, I am just as interested (if not more so) in the referentiality of the traditional register as in its structure.

It appears at this point that my research on oral epic in South Slavic will result in three books: a relatively short edition of “The Wedding of Mustajbeg’s Son Becirbeg,” with the thickened corpus described above; a bilingual anthology of Moslem epic songs from the Stolac area; and a study of the poetics of this consummately traditional art, with references to Homeric and medieval English analogues.

Envoi

Since I am the last speaker this morning, let me take the opportunity to offer our group’s collective thanks to all those people who have worked so hard and so cleverly to make FFSS99 such a success. We in Workshop II are especially grateful that you brought us together, and that in doing so you fostered our learning from one another. It is hard to imagine a more diverse ensemble of epic scholars, or, as Lauri Harvilahti and I have agreed, a harder-working or a more talented one. Again, we very much appreciate our hosts’ kindness and generosity, and assure you that our work here will continue in the various parts of the world to which we will soon return. In a word, “vive le FFSS!”