EN 1006 Lecture Notes - Itsy Bitsy Spider, The Song Of Roland, Nursery Rhyme

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9 Nov 2011
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Lecture 2 Notes
1. The Oral Tradition: Content
Incy Wincy Spider (itsy bitsy spider) – Nursery rhyme
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Johnny Mathis – When A Child is Born
The Royal Wedding Vows
Harry Potter Spells
--proverbs and riddles
--fairy tales and other oral stories
--myths and legends
--spells (magic, victory, protection spells)
--marriage vows
--rituals and incantations
--nursery rhymes
--street games
--word games and puzzles
--oral poetry: epics, ballads, historical lays, love lyrics, elegies, psalms, laments
--dramas, etc.
----The most popular genres in oral poetry are epics, ballads, heroic lays, love lyrics
Epic – a long narrative poem retelling a series of heroic deeds of national, religious, or
historical significance; the main epic conventions are: the presence of a hero who is
usually undertaking a journey or quest, the involvement of supernatural beings, such as
gods and goddesses, monsters, etc., and graphic descriptions of battle scenes, etc.
Some of the most popular epics are the Mesopotamian The Epic of Gilgamesh, the
anonymous French epic The Chanson de Roland, and Homer’s The Iliad and The
Ballad— "balada"--dance, or song sung while dancing.
--a shorter narrative poem recounting a heroic act (a particular episode in the life of the
hero rather than a series of such events); it is less ambitious and its language is less
elevated than that of the epic; it has a fast pace that sustains the suspense; love is a
common theme in ballads, often interwoven with the heroic act itself
Well-known ballads are the medieval Chinese ballads, and Anglo-American
ballads such as Lord Randal, Bonny Barbara Allan, and Sir Patrick Spens
--The Powerful Epic Tradition
The epic world and universal qualities (common for any culture):
– about heroic deeds that inspire heroism
--about the struggles of nations and their abilities to overcome obstacles and rise above
suffering, in a pursuit of happiness
-- the memory of a culture as it goes through its most painful experiences
--about national pride and valour; about patriotism, loyalty and friendship
-- about loss and winning over death; and facing death heroically
-- about questioning fate
-- the search for the meaning of life and death
-- the search for glory and immortality
-- the human nature and its primitive drives (revenge, aggression, violence) as well as its
unsurpassable courage and great potential for compassion and love
King Priam and Achilles from Wolfgang Peterson’s TROY
In summary, in the term “oral tradition” we incorporate all these songs, poems, and
narratives that have been orally composed and transmitted from one generation to
another. Along with them, important cultural information, beliefs, and values have
also been transmitted and preserved for many centuries ahead.
2. Orality vs. Literacy
We distinguish two basic types of oral societies:
--of Pure/Primary Orality – where writing is totally absent, a non-literate society, in
which writing has not been introduced; as in ancient Egypt before the invention of the
alphabet, the earliest known alphabet, around 2000 B.C.
--of Residual Orality – a society in which oral forms of communication are still present
but they exist within a literate society; so the oral tradition coexist with written works and
literacy in general
In Literate societies the majority of the society practices writing, and is able not only to
read and write but “to use language proficiently”
There are several subdivisions of literate societies:
--of Scribal Literacy – where writing is limited to small groups of scribes (monks and
clergy), or the wealthy who can afford education
--a Hyperliterate society– where writing is widely imbedded in society; people write
constantly as in the Middle Ages in Europe, and our present culture
We also speak of
--chirographic culture– in which writing has been introduced; another term for literate
--typographic – indicates the presence of printing; those societies after the invention of
the printing press
--electronic culture -- a popular use of electronic devices (computers, etc.); today, in
Canada, we speak of people with computer illiteracy because there are not many people
who lack basic computer knowledge
Another important term that you will encounter in our study is oral-derived texts.
Thus, we distinguish oral stories (not oral texts, which is oxymoron, because they
cannot be texts and oral at the same time) and oral-derived texts.
--oral-derived texts – are based on oral primary sources, but they are not the original
material; the originals have been transcribed or reworked in some ways due to writing
Examples: the medieval romances such as “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, the
Anglo- Saxon epic “Beowulf”, Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, the
Finnish epic “Kalevala”, etc.
Homer’s The Iliad – from its original oral composition to its many translated versions
--Ancient Greek, The Iliad – lines 1-30 (2 min.)
3. Orality: Historical Perspective and Theoretic Approach
The Orality/Literacy theory started with 19th century efforts to understand Bible, Homer,
and the Oral Tradition.
--Milman Parry and the Homeric Question