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Introduction to Epic Poetry/Oral Tradition

How are Epic Poetry and the Oral Tradition related to freestyle rap, anyway?
by

Jonathan Kutis

on 8 April 2013

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Transcript of Introduction to Epic Poetry/Oral Tradition

Epic Poetry and the Oral Tradition So, you might be thinking... Why are we learning about Epic Poetry? This stuff is thousands of years old! Does this even matter? And my personal favorite -- how does this apply to things today, or the "real world?" Epic Poetry has been around for thousands of years, and will likely remain a cultural centerpiece for thousands of years to come! Epics were told, passed on, and maintained throughout the ages in a manner that we call the "Oral Tradition," or cultural material transmitted orally (verbally) from one generation to another. The messages or testimony are verbally transmitted in speech or song and may take the form, for example, of folktales, sayings, ballads, songs, or chants. In this way, it was/is possible for a society to transmit oral history, oral literature, oral law and other knowledges across generations without a writing system. Let's start in Greece, around the end of the 8th century BC. The Odyssey is composed by the ancient Greek
Poet, Homer, and tells the story of the hero
Odysseus and his journeys and travels after the
Trojan War. These epic poems were truly EPIC -- They were usually hundreds, if not thousands of lines long! Because of the lack of writing materials (and literacy!) these poems had to be memorized and recited in order to be shared. Watch the clip - This is the closest that we can come to looking into the past and seeing true epic poetry being shared as it would have in ancient times! What did you notice?


How is this like and unlike what
you're used to seeing during a
play, performance, or movie
in today's time period? How were the actors speaking? What kind of special effects were used? Fast-Forward to 800-900 AD The oral tradition continues to this time period
in many cultures, including Scandinavia. Special poets that continued the oral tradition
of epic poetry in this time/place were called
"Skalds," and they were responsible for
entertainment, news, and maintaining culture
and history. Skalds during this time were a lot like TV, music, and the movies, and the internet all wrapped up in one person! Oral tradition and epic poetry evolved since it was
first created - Listen to the audio in the clip and note the differences in speech and structure from the first clip that we watched. Does this rhyme at all? How many lines are there per stanza? How many syllables are there (usually) per line? What do we know about meter?
Let's have another listen... Moving along--Now we're in the 1800's-present day in the "Basque" region, or the area between Spain and France. The Oral Tradition continues here in the form of
"Bertsolaritza," or the art of singing extemporary composed songs according to various melodies and rhyming patterns. And what do Epic poetry and Oral tradition have to do with rap/hip hop music, anyway? Let's find out... Let's watch a short clip about this evolution of the Oral Tradition... What are two ways in which this evolution of Oral Tradition differs from examples of past forms? What are two ways that Bertsolaritza is similar to
older examples of Oral Tradition/poetry? How was the crowd behaving? Was the audience large or small? What kinds of people were present in the audience? So, how are things like Epic Poetry and Oral Tradition related to rap/hip hop? What does Bertsolaritza share with modern-day freestyle rap? What about the poetry of Skalds? And ancient Epic Poetry? So, let's talk... What's the connection between rap and the Epic Poem? What's your opinion on the future of the Oral Tradition, given the advances in technology in the last 200 years? Will there still be a place for it 200 years from now? So, how would things like meter, rhyme, and a set number of lines per stanza help a Skald to recite an Epic Poem consisting of thousands of lines? Hopefully now we can all see the modern-day relevance of ancient Epic Poetry!
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