Go to Eric Miller's homepage

Go to epic homepage


(approximately 4 pages)

Consisting of notes (mostly direct quotes)
from my first week of reading:
Richard Dorson's intro to Heroic Epic and Saga.
Victor Mair's Painting and Performance.


Heroic Epic and Saga: An Introduction to the World's Great Folk Epics.
Felix J. Oinas, ed.  1978.

Introduction by Richard Dorson:

page 1
Hector and Nora Chadwick's The Growth of Literature(1924)
looked at the heroic epic as a cultural rather than literary phenomenon.
Epic poems grew out of appropriate conditions, the so-called Heroic Age
bridging nomadic and sedentary stages of civilization, a preliterate era
when bards celebrated the deeds of great warriors.

Literary texts widely influenced the performance of epics in European
and Slavic countries from the ninth century onward.

What kind of heroes do heroic epics portray?

Human qualities:
Pagan--physical might, bravery, trickery, a champion.
Christian--wisdom, valor, humility, pure-mindedness, a martyr.

Shamanic qualities:
magical ability, master of natural forces.

Some epic heroes are adventuresome, all are martial.
There are no philosopher-heroes in epic and saga.

The Chadwicks, Lord Raglan, Otto Rank, Joseph Campbell
have developed separate outlines of the hero's biography.

Chadwicks' assertion, Raglan's denial
of the historicity of the hero.

Precocious strength of the hero.

A folkloric element lies in the demonic creatures overcome
by the hero.  Typically, they slay monsters and dragons.
Beowulf's grapple with Grendal typifies the encounter between
the youthful champion of his people and the loathsome
creature of darkness terrorizing the land.
[Is this motif universal, or is it especially in patriarchal epic,
telling of and justifying the overthrowing of the old
goddess-centric culture?--EM]

In epic, legitimate history merges with folklore, mythology,
supernaturalism, and romance.

Stylistics is increasingly engaging the attention of folk epic
and saga critics, as they turn from the endless puzzles of historicity,
origins, and symbolism to concentrate on language, metrics,
and dramatic structure.
[I hope "stylistics" includes performer-listener 
physical and aural relationship!--EM]


Painting and Performance: Chinese Picture Recitation
and Its Indian Genesis.  Victor H. Mair.  1988.

Even though these events took place in the remote past,
the "illusionist-reciters" represent them as actually
happening in front of the audience.

Other names for such performers (translated from Sanskrit):
magician, trickster, clown, shadow-playman, puppeteer,
juggler.  All of these words derive from the root, "subh",
which means, "to appear; flash; flit; shine; look like; adorn."

In India, China and elsewhere, kings often employed these
itinerant showmen as spies.  They were valued for their
high mobility.

Common motif of Asian picture-showmen:
bringing the dead back to life.

Picture-showmen often recite and point to the picture:
"Having done that, one attains to that state (heaven).
Having done this, one attains to this state (hell)."
...showing different destinies.
...publicly demonstrating the doctrine of Karma.

One description of a Chinese picture-showman:
"one who understands the root of illusion."

The mantic and titillative functions of his performance
betray his origins in a folk tradition.

In narrative art, the Sogdians of Central Asia (along the Silk Route)
employed the technique of the "continuous pictorial epic,"
to use Guitty Azarpay's term.  She defines it as referring
"to the use of a continuous sequence of individual scenes
of secular and epic interest, in which identical persons appear
in episodes or events separated in time."  This is the same
technique used in virtually all picture-storytelling traditions.

In the Chinese folk Buddhist tradition, the performer of
transformations endeavored to call forth the appearance
of spirits and demons by means of his phantasmal pictures
and enchanting speech.

"Transformational realization" (Chinese term for picture-storytelling)
was used for religious instruction.

(Javanese puppet-storytelling)
The entire performance is an attempt to animate the sculptures.
..."bas-reliefs that come to life."

The distinction between puppetry, shadow-puppetry,
and picture-storytelling is artificial.

From an invocation to be used before a Thai puppet play--
"By magical power He appears to scatter the guts on the ground.
By magic He causes them suddenly to fall and die.
Then the possessed ones are transformed,
Becoming once more subjects of the Great Lord."
(Written text dated 1782.)

The various types of wayang...
were traditionally bound up with exorcism, propitiation,
and the invocation of fertility.

When the story is finished, there is an elaborate religious ritual
for ending the wayang show and returning the shadow figures
to their box.

The view is emphatic that the Pali chants should be recited aloud
and that through listening to them the congregation gains merit,
blessings, and protection.  Yet the sacred Pali words a such are
not understood.

The art is that of illusion.  All shamans impersonate the forces
that they experience.  They are often excellent ventriloquists.

Wayang has even been experimented with as a medium
of mass communication to take government propaganda
into the villages.

In various wayang bebar scrolls, the protagonists and
antagonists are divided into two opposing camps,
the forces of good on the right, those of evil on the left.

"A belief in the exorcising power immanent in the leather puppets
appears in their practice of making a person possessed
by an evil spirit to sleep near the shadow-box for three or four nights,
which is believed to scare the spirit away."

In India and elsewhere, the picture-showman's favorite themes
are drawn from popular mythology and may focus on matters
of social injustice.  In the latter case, they often end with
a depiction of hell and the evildoer receiving his just dues there.

The death knell of a vital folk art is frequently sounded
when urban entrepreneurs and the scholarly elite
take possession of it for their own ends.

Virtually all picture-storytellers (in India and elsewhere)
are itinerants of low social class.  Their poverty is often reflected
in the way they live in make-shift camps outside their patrons' villages

Picture-showmen often sell copies of their picture sheets
or selected lyrics.  In such cases, the performance functions
as advertisement for the wares.

Etoki (Japanese picture-showmen) read the snatches of conversation
written on the pictures of the scrolls as they reached out to point to

Picture-showmen are rarely monks in established religious orders.
Rather, they are typically persecuted by the authorities.  The latter
scorn them because they are manifestations of the rude, folk culture,
and fear them because their performances are sometimes capable
of stirring the people to protest.

The subjects of the bankelsanger (German picture-showman)
were often topical events of a sensational nature, such as fires,
robberies, and murders.

In _The Shoemaker's Prodigious Wife_ (1930), Frederico Garcia Lorca
uses the device of picture-storytelling to trick the audience within
the play and to convey to his real audience the close link between
fantasy and reality, pointing out the essential reality of fantasy.

< end >