“Word upon a Word”: Parallelism, Meaning, and Emergent Structure in Kalevala-meter Poetry

This essay treats parallelism as a means for articulating and communicating meaning in performance. Rather than a merely stylistic and structural marker, parallelism is discussed as an expressive and cognitive strategy for the elaboration of notions and cognitive categories that are vital in the culture and central for the individual performers. The essay is based on an analysis of short forms of Kalevala-meter poetry from Viena Karelia: proverbs, aphorisms, and lyric poetry. In the complex system of genres using the same poetic meter parallelism transformed genres and contributed to the emergence of cohesive and finalized performances.

Diachronic Homer and a Cretan Odyssey

This essay explores the kaleidoscopic world of Homer and Homeric poetry from a combined diachronic and synchronic perspective. Linguists refer to “synchronic” as a given structure that exists in a given time and space, and “diachronic” as a structure that evolves through time. Nagy argues that from a diachronic perspective, the structure known as Homeric poetry can be viewed as an “evolving medium.” From a diachronic perspective, Homeric poetry is not only an evolving medium of oral poetry, but it is also a medium that actually views itself diachronically. In other words, Homeric poetry demonstrates aspects of its own evolution. A case in point is “the Cretan Odyssey”—or, better, “a Cretan Odyssey”—as reflected in the “lying tales” of Odysseus in the Odyssey. The author claims that these tales give the medium an opportunity to open windows into an Odyssey that is otherwise unknown. In the alternate universe of this “Cretan Odyssey,” the adventures of Odysseus take place in the exotic context of Minoan-Mycenaean civilization.

The Tale of Meleager in the Iliad

This essay employs narratology and oral theory in a close reading of Phoenix’s tale of the Kalydonian hero, Meleager, in Book 9 of the Iliad. The author aims to clarify the function of this embedded narrative within the Homeric epic. Phoenix compares Achilles to Meleager, and the crux of the analogy—angry withdrawal from battle—has tempted some in the past to suppose that a pre-Homeric epic about an angry Meleager was the source for the Iliad’s angry Achilles. But since most ancient narratives about Meleager do not feature withdrawal from battle, Homerists today have more generally concluded that Phoenix invents Meleager’s withdrawal in order to pursue his analogy. Though Burgess essentially subscribes to this conclusion, analysis of the poetics of Phoenix’s narrative have often been misguided. This essay explores the traditionality of Phoenix’s story and its narratological construction in the Homeric epic. The main goal is to better calibrate the significance of the Iliad’s version of the story of Meleager. The issue is relevant to how the Iliad employs material from outside its boundaries, including the Epic Cycle.

The Transformation of Cyavana: A Case Study in Narrative Evolution

The assessment of possible genetic relationships between pairs of proposed narrative parallels currently relies on subjective conventional wisdom-based criteria. This essay presents an attempt at categorizing patterns of narrative evolution through the comparison of variants of orally-composed, fixed-text Sanskrit tales. Systematic examination of the changes that took place over the developmental arc of The Tale of Cyavana offers a number of insights that may be applied to the understanding of the evolution of oral narratives in general. An evidence-based exposition of the principles that govern the process of narrative evolution could provide more accurate diagnostic tools for evaluating narrative parallels.

Beginning from the End: Strategies of Composition in Lyrical Improvisation with End Rhyme

This essay examines the basic principles of constructing improvised verses with end rhyme in three contemporary cultures: mandinadhes, Mallorcan gloses, and Finnish freestyle rap. This study is based on ethnographic interviews, in which improvisers analyze their methods of composition. This knowledge is complemented by a textual analysis of examples of performances in the given traditions. Sykäri shows that competent improvisers master complex cognitive methods when they create their lines that end with the poetic device of end rhyme, and in particular when they structure the discourse so that the strong arguments are situated at the end of the structural unit of composition. This “reversed” method witnesses a tendency to use parallel phonic patterns in a way that is largely the opposite of those employed with semantic (or canonical) parallelism.

“Hear the Tale of the Famine Year”: Famine Policy, Oral Traditions, and the Recalcitrant Voice of the Colonized in Nineteenth-Century India

This essay considers the appearance of British colonial representations of Indian oral traditions in administrative documents concerning famine relief policies, as an example of the connection between colonial ethnography on the one hand and forms of disciplinary control on the other. Raheja analyzes eleven Hindi and Punjabi famine songs recorded in colonial texts, songs that addressed issues of hunger, famine, “custom,” and famine policy in tones of either compliance or critique. The singers of these songs occupied various locations within local hierarchies and with respect to the colonial state; she reads their words as historically situated, reflective, heterogeneous, and diversely positioned memory and critique. Raheja argues that while compliant native voices in a few of these songs were characterized as “the voice of the people” and entextualized in colonial documents to create an illusion of Indian consent to colonial rule, other voices–the voices of remonstrance and lament–were erased or marginalized or criminalized, to contribute to that same illusion.

Remembering and Recreating Origins: The Transformation of a Tradition of Canonical Parallelism among the Rotenese of Eastern Indonesia

This paper examines and illustrates key oral traditions of canonical parallelism among the Rotenese of eastern Indonesia. The Rotenese are concerned with maintaining a knowledge of origins and the poets who perpetuate this knowledge are known for their ability to recount long chants that reveal these origins. On Rote, a traditional ritual canon of origins that recounts relations between Sun and Moon and the Lords of the Sea has now been complemented by a Christian canon based on the appropriation of Biblical knowledge. This Christian canon strictly adheres to the paired lexicon and rules of composition of the traditional canon, but has developed its own appropriate lexicon of theological pairings. Another, lesser canon has also begun to emerge to recount the celebration of national origins. All of these canons now form part of a continuing body of creative traditions expressed in the paired language of parallelism.