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The Singer of Tales Paperback – May 5, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0674002838 ISBN-10: 0674002830 Edition: 2nd

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Product Details

  • Series: Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature (Book 24)
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 2nd edition (May 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674002830
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674002838
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #652,896 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

For the folklorist, Lord's Singer of Tales is the prime text of the second half of our century. Its power continues, and this fastidiously prepared new edition is a blessing.
--Henry Glassie, Indiana University

This seminal work...is now reissued, forty years after its first appearance, with a new introduction by Stephen Mitchell and Gregory Nagy and an accompanying CD-ROM...[the CD] itself...splendidly justifies the reprint...Here at last we can hear the quirky drone of the gusle and the sing-song chant of the poets themselves, as they intone "The Song of Baghdad' or 'The Wedding of Smailagic Meho." The initial effect is disconcerting, but quickly becomes addictive.
--Alan Griffiths (Times Literary Supplement)

About the Author

Gregory Nagy is Jones Professor of Classical Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature, Harvard University, and the Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies, Trustees for Harvard University.

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41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Ian M. Slater TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
Albert B. Lord's "Singer of Tales" was published in 1960, as Number 24 of the "Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature," and was picked up in paperback by Atheneum only a few years later (1965). Over the course of four decades, and a variety of reprintings, "The Singer of Tales" has established itself as probably the most widely read book in the monograph series, and the most controversial. It is certainly the best known of its author's books and articles.

"The Singer of Tales" is established as a fundamental work in the study of oral literatures, and literatures which appear to have emerged from oral traditions (Biblical, Old English, African, and others). The book presented to English-language readers studies of oral heroic poetry collected in the Balkans in the twentieth century, analyzed their technique, and compared them in detail to the Homeric poems, and, to a lesser extent, medieval European works with similar traits. Homer's repeated phrases and verses were shown to be explainable as a technical device to assist the rapid composition of poems as they were recited, not a sign of scribal corruption or sloppy editing of independent short songs. The comparisons were not new - French scholars had called attention to the nineteenth-century collections of Balkan heroic songs -- but were presented in a coherent and even attractive package, and included additional material from Lord's own fieldwork.

The heart of the book, however, was the work of Lord's teacher, Milman Parry, who had died in 1935 leaving a seven-page draft of his projected synthesis. Parry's works had not had a great reception from English and American classicists (a major study was then available only in French), but the basic ideas had filtered into classical studies in an unsystematic way.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Ian M. Slater TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
Albert B. Lord's "Singer of Tales" was published in 1960, as Number 24 of the "Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature," and was picked up in paperback by Atheneum only a few years later (1965). It is probably the most widely read book in the monograph series, and the most controversial. It is certainly the best known of its author's books and articles.

Over the course of four decades and a variety of reprintings, "The Singer of Tales" has established itself as a fundamental work in the study of oral literatures, and literatures which appear to have emerged from oral traditions (Biblical, Old English, and others). The book presented to English-language readers studies of oral heroic poetry collected in the Balkans in the twentieth century, analyzed their technique, and compared them in detail to the Homeric poems, and, to a lesser extent, medieval European works with similar traits. Homer's repeated phrases and verses were shown to be explainable as a technical device to assist the rapid composition of poems as they were recited, not a sign of scribal corruption or sloppy editing of independent short songs. The comparisons were not new, but were presented in a coherent and even attractive package, and included additional material from Lord's own fieldwork.

The heart of the book, however, was the work of Lord's teacher, Milman Parry, who had died in 1935 leaving a seven-page draft of his projected synthesis. Parry's works had not a great reception from English and American classicists (a major study was published in French), but the basic ideas had filtered into classical studies in an unsystematic way. In "A Preface to Paradise Lost" (1942) C.S.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Jason R. Tibbetts on July 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
Like many graduate students in Classical Studies, I had to read _The Singer of Tales_ in a course on Homeric poetry. What I found in it completely altered my understanding of Homer and of epic, and even today it's almost impossible for me to read the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_ as anything other than oral poems. I did a research paper on another book edited by Albert Lord (_The Wedding of Smailagic Meho_), an epic sung by a Yugoslav Muslim and recorded by Parry in the 1930s. The similarities, both in plot and in formulaic style, between this epic and Homer's are unmistakable. I highly recommend this book; it's much more accessible than Parry's collected papers.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
In the 1930's, a young scholar named Milman Parry journeyed to Yugoslavia to study the Serbo-Croatian oral bards, the 20th century's "Singers of Tales". He went to study their techniques of extemporaneous oral composition, and was then able to show that the works we know as the Iliad and the Odyssey were composed in exactly the same way, as extemporaneous performances by ancient Greek bards who sang of the deeds of heroes. This is undoubtedly the greatest insight into the mind of Homer made in this century. Parry died tragically young, and Albert Lord continued where Parry's work, producing this fine and highly readable book. This is one of the finest books I have ever read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Caleb Hanson on April 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
In the 1930's, Milman Parry (and his hero-worshipping research assistant, Albert Lord) recorded and studied the songs of the guslar of Yugoslavia, one of the last traditions of illiterate, purely oral literature still being practiced in Europe. (Hey, this was the 1930's, they weren't going to go to Africa or Inner Asia.) In the 1950's, after Parry's death, World War II, and a return to Yugoslavia for more recordings, Lord wrote this book. "Singer of Tales" began the serious academic study of oral literature as oral literature. The first undergraduate major in folklore and mythology in the United States grew out of the research work done for, and later studies inspired by, this book. It's that important.

Now, it is the foundation of the discipline, not its perfection: it does have its flaws. The lengthy chapters on Formula and Theme accumulate much more than enough evidence for Lord to make his point--we don't need a whole page of different ways to say "'By Allah,' he cried / and mounted his horse," and I don't think we did even at the time of writing when the discipline still had to be proven. And while Lord's case for the Yugoslav tradition is documented, solid, and authoritative, when he then generalizes it to Homer, and then to all oral literature, it seems to be a bit of a leap. Still, his work is so thorough that the burden of proof is now on anyone who would challenge it--if you're going to say "No, that's not how oral tradition works," you've got some work to do. (I'm sure some have.)

The fundamental basic thesis, as laid out in the first two chapters of the book: in oral tradition, by definition, there cannot be one definitive original text to memorize, therefore each storyteller's version of the story is his own, and all performances must be to some extent spontaneous and improvised. The rest is commentary; highly recommended.
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