- Series: Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature, 24
- Paperback: 319 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 1981)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674808819
- ISBN-13: 978-0674808812
- Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,544,108 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Singer of Tales (Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature, 24)
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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) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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Part one looks in detail on the oral-formulaic form of composition and performance, where the line between these two is blurry at best, but may be better described as non-existent. The book discusses the formulaic building blocks of the poetry, as well as themes and other building blocks of content and plot. Lord's attention to detail is astounding, and the breadth of his analysis is incredible.
Part two looks at applying this to Homeric and medieval epic. In addition to an in depth review of the Iliad and the Odyssey, we see notes on the Song of Roland, Beowulf, and others.
I did notice a couple logical errors in the book but none worth deducting any stars. For example, Lord suggests that the references to other stories in the Odyssey are unusual in oral-formulaic poetry, but his only comparison here are contemporary Yugoslav traditions. When we look at other works (including Beowulf) we indeed see large numbers of references to other stories. Moreover, Calvert Watkins (How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics) shows indexical purposes for such references throughout early Indo-European poetry in general. However, these issues are minor. No author can be right all the time and we shouldn't expect it.
What is important is that Lord provides tremendous insight into this topic. Highly recommended.
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.
Lord's work—and that of Milman Parry, with which it is so tightly interconnected—is so helpful because it not merely sets out a model of "creation in performance" based on literary analysis, but then proceeds to test that model through actual fieldwork on living oral cultures.
The book is also invaluable for its study of the training and career of a young oral poet, as well as for it's application of oral formulaic analysis to cultures beyond Greek and South Slavic. This trend has since been picked up by hundreds of other scholars, applying the methodology here to a myriad other traditions. (It works very nicely for the Qur'an, for instance).
A ground breaking book.