Comparative Methods

Connie Bloomfield (UCL)

My doctoral research looks at classical receptions in the rich oral poetic cultures of modern northeast Brazil. Traveling cantadores, inheritors of African and indigenous oralities and the European troubadour and court poetry traditions brought by the Portuguese to Brazil in the 16th century, engage in public improvised poetry agōnes, where social reputations are created and contested. Ancient Greek and Roman mythologies accompanied troubadours on this journey, carving labyrinthine new trajectories of classical transmission and reception in contexts both far removed from the study of classical texts in Europe, and within social systems with startling parallels to those producing archaic Greek poetic orality. These poetries offer a crucial case study for the interaction and hybridization of classical antiquity with oral traditions globally, not only Medieval European but West African and Indigenous Brazilian. These traditions offer an equally exciting case study for the intersection of the textual and the oral; towards the end of the 19th century, popular poets began to produce printed chapbooks of their own poetry called folhetos. However, folhetos are still intended to be performed, and many of their consumers were (and to an extent still are) illiterate, buying a folhetos for a literate family member to read aloud. As leader of a reading session, I would provide translations of samples of these poems, drawn from textual archival records of early 20th-century oral agōnes and my own live recordings during fieldwork in rural Brazil. Whilst these poetries arise from a modern rather than an “early”culture, the close parallels with archaic oral poetic cultures open new ways to approach earlier traditions. These poetries especially lend themselves to stimulating discussion in an interdisciplinary setting, since they themselves hybridise geographically and temporally diverse oral cultures, and they represent a living example of dynamic negotiation between the oral and the textual.

Tyler Creer (Brigham Young University)

My current book project explores the surprising similarities between the Iliad and a medieval Japanese war tale, Heike monogatari. This project uses comparative method to gain insight into the development of the oral tradition that produced the final form of the Iliad by looking at it alongside that of the Heike, whose surviving manuscripts attest to nearly 100 variant texts that were developed in both written and oral forms over several centuries. This helps us understand the textual history of the Iliad because Homeric scholars have long been baffled by the apparent, but largely undetectable, interplay between the poem’s oral and written forms. I argue that the Iliad likely existed simultaneously in oral and written form for some time before written texts created to help performers memorize and recite the tale came to dominate the tradition, and that this development led to the eventual demise of oral-formulaic composition among Homeric bards. The Heike tradition provides a useful model of how this mixed heritage might have come to produce the standard version of the Iliad, and my project explores how that process might have unfolded, based on the available Greek evidence and appropriate Japanese parallels. I am thus most interested in the transition of traditions from oral to written, as well as in the role that oral formulaic composition, a well-worn concept in Homeric studies, did or did not play in those transitions, as well as the use of comparative method.