Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond by Gregory Nagy

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By Gregory Nagy

This booklet is a comparative learn of oral poetics in literate cultures, concentrating on the issues of textual fluidity within the transmission of Homeric poetry over part a millennium, from the Archaic in the course of the Hellenistic sessions of historic Greece. It stresses the function of functionality and the performer within the re-creative technique of composition-in-performance. It addresses questions of authority and authorship within the making of oral poetry, and it examines the efforts of historical students to edit a definitive textual content of the "real" Homer.

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Example text

Ill prat son gen, pel novel deport que reingna, me ven al cor grans jois jacer. When the nightingale in the leafy wood gives of love, asks for it and takes of it and composes (moves) his song rejoicing and joyous and beholds (reflects) his she-equal often, and the streams are clear and the fields are pleasant, through the new sense of pleasure that reigns, great joy comes to lie in my heart. Here in Song I of Jaufré Rudel, the symbol of the singing nightingale is drawn into a parallel with the singer who is the {15|16} poet.

As we will see, neither of these concepts provides an immediate answer to the question at hand, but together they help shape an ultimate answer. The term mouvance was suggested by Paul Zumthor as a way of coming to terms with his perception that a medieval literary production like the Chanson de Roland is not so much a finished product, un achèvement, as it is a text in progress, un texte en train de se faire. [7] Viewing mouvance as a widespread phenomenon in medieval manuscript transmission, Zumthor defines it as a quasi-abstraction that becomes a reality in the interplay of variant readings in different manuscripts of a given work; he pictures mouvance as a kind of “incessant vibration,” a fundamental process of instability.

Here the composer is implying his certainty that the setting for the performance is to be authoritative, as surely as if it were written down on parchment, thanks to his confidence in both the performer and the intended audience. Even in the sort of situation where the composer allows himself to express a concern that his song may be exposed to unauthorized performance, as if there were a danger that someone will “move” it in a negative sense, this concern turns out to be a rhetorical way of seeking reassurance from the audience that the performance really is authoritative, so that those who heard the song and learned to perform it can thus implicitly “move” it in a positive sense, much as the nightingale “moves” his own song.

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