Does True Epic Survive the Transition from Oral Storytelling to Literary Work?
Oral storytelling has been a cherished tradition for thousands of years. All cultures have adapted their own unique form of painting a picture with words. Whether it is teaching lessons, instilling moral values, recording history, bringing meaning to the unknown, or simply entertaining an audience, the oral tradition is a necessity to all societies. Though the written word is a well respected art form in and of itself, there are many ways in which the oral telling of stories can achieve more than a literary work. I do not believe true epics, such as Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, survive the transition ...view middle of the document...
1-8). A reader has the potential to mistake such powerful words for playful sarcasm, a satire of the powerful Gods of the Greeks. An audience, however, could hear the clear and authoritative tone of the speaker and immediately be aware of impeding war.
Epics such as these, the stories of intriguing, intricate journeys taken by larger-than-life characters were meant to be enjoyed as festive events. With their exceptional raconteuring, men like Homer captivated audiences of all social standings, from the poor and commonwealth to the highest social elite; all found themselves entranced by the excitement of the orators performance in the telling of Gods and men. When such works are translated to paper they can lose their luster and be read as flat, dry, and boring.
Another way printed epics founder in the presence of oral tradition is that most authors do not have the ability to write they way they speak. Apollonius of Rhodes was strictly a literary poet, most of his works being composed in private and on papyrus. Given this, Apollonius had the grueling task of writing, revising and polishing his works numerous times so that ideas would be better grasped whilst reading in ink. Vergil was considered by most to be a literary poet as well; it is thought that Vergil composed his works in private, but first as a spoken poetic stanza and not to be written until each line perfected. Working so adamantly in private, the author had time to create his own sort of poetic language that could be read almost exactly as the way he spoke (Otis, 5-14). Although the reader may not physically see the emotion of the poet, the work itself was tailored so that correct emotion could be evoked through reading.
The works of Vergil are considered secondary epics to differentiate them from more primitive works like those of Homer who were thought to be strictly oratory until later translated on to papyrus by scholars. The beauty of oral storytelling is the spontaneity with which the narrator tells the story. Because speakers like Homer do not have the ability to edit or improve whilst in the midst of a tale, words are organic and the experience becomes more personal for the audience. This also gives the orator the ability to tailor their epic for each audience, altering details or word choice in the story allows the listener a greater chance to form a bond with or attach meaning to the story being told. For example, if Homer were performing for those of the social elite he could tailor his hero to reflect traits of the elite and similarly if he were performing for common workers of the field.
“It was King Pelias who sent them out” (Argo 1.4). This being the first line of Apollonius’ written work The Voyage of the Argo, the reader gets a simple glance of the setting of the epic and then immediately embarks with the Argonauts. Although the point is made, little to no detail is given to the reader, leaving the statement open to interpretation. Due to...