Mudcat Café message #2278916 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #109111   Message #2278916
Posted By: Nerd
03-Mar-08 - 11:23 PM
Thread Name: Folk terminology
Subject: RE: Folk terminology
While we're on the subject of hyperbole, the longest of the Robin Hood Ballads, A Geste of Robin Hood, has "only" 456 verses, not "well over 800." Similarly, The Iliad does not in fact recount the whole Trojan War and what led up to it. It recounts only a short slice--about 50 days of a war that lasted over ten years. The poem runs from Achilles' anger at Agamemnon over Brieseis to the death and burial of Hector, "breaker of horses." No seduction of Helen, no Trojan Horse...none of the incidents most people remember about the story of Troy.

More importantly, none of these is, or ever was, a "folk song." The Geste is a popular romance, made by retelling various incidents in Robin's life, some of which may have belonged to folk songs, but most of which did not--the tale is, in Child's own words, "eminently original" to the poet who wrote it. There is no evidence of it ever having been sung (until modern times), or even recited; it is a product of the printing press, not the retentive memories of the singers of yore.

Whether the Iliad or Beowulf ever were sung is a matter of scholarly conjecture. Essentially, the argument has been made that they were sung because they resemble to some extent the South Slavic epics that were sung to Albert Lord and Milman Parry from the 1930s through the 1960s. However, it is equally true that many literary works, that were not sung, resemble these epics in the same way. In other words, textual features that seem to be the result of oral delivery in one place became mere literary conventions in others. The result is, it's very possible no one ever sang The Iliad or Beowulf either. Even if someone did, they weren't "folk songs" but orally-composed epics, a distinct but interesting genre in its own right.

The only reason it's important to remember this stuff is that there's a tendency to romanticize the good old days, when everyone had the attention span for a 97 verse ballad. In fact, in most cultures, at most times, most people did not seem to engage in such long stories... but, happily, there were always a few who who did. Rather like today!

Jim, did the guy really say "my chick split?" Are you sure it wasn't Neil from the Young Ones?