College of Arts and Sciences

Ancient Studies

Performers of Tales

A Seminar Sponsored by the Program in Ancient Studies

April 30, 2015
College Arts & Humanities Institute
1211 East Atwater Avenue

9:30-10:30 am: Mark Bender, The Ohio State University, "Traditions of Dialogic Oral Narrative from the Yangzi Corridor, China"

China is a multi-ethnic state with hundreds of local oral narrative traditions that use many formats for delivery of narratives. This paper will examine three traditions of long narrative performance from local cultures in southern China that employ techniques of delivery in the form of dialogues. One is a still popular style of professional storytelling from the Yangzi Delta that is predominantly executed in local Wu dialects by pairs of storytellers utilizing stringed instruments. Another is an endangered tradition of epic singing of the Miao/Hmong typically performed by two pairs of singers who interact in an antiphonal dynamic. The third is a style of oral epic delivery associated with priests and folksingers of the Yi ethnic group in southern Sichuan province, the latter performing in the format of an antiphonal duet. The three traditions will be juxtaposed and discussed in terms of means of performance, contexts of performance, content, and artistry.

10:45-11:45 am: Shem Miller, University of Mississippi, "Performance Keys in the Dead Sea Scrolls"

Although modern ethnographic studies of the world's oral literature might appear irrelevant to the ancient Jewish library discovered at Qumran, linguistic anthropology nonetheless provides tools to unlock "the keying of performance" in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Using Richard Bauman's work on verbal art as an etic framework, this presentation surveys the ways in which performance was keyed within the ancient Jewish speech communities that lie behind the poetry in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In particular, we will consider how special codes, parallelism, paralinguistic features, formulae, and spatialization were conventional communicative means to invoke and facilitate oral performance.

1:45-2:45 pm: Daniel Prior, Miami University, "Epic Moments in Performance and Writing"

Creativity and plot design in oral epic performances is aided, in some traditions at least, by signal structural nodes called epic moments—tense scenes of visual and aural magnificence that illuminate the narrative's important cruxes. Elaborating Arthur T. Hatto's theory, John D. Smith found that epic moments mark the enactment and fulfilment of heroes' commitments. I have argued that epic moments can be diagnostic indicators of the 'heroic' in an epic tradition. My paper explores the theory of epic moments in terms of two things that happen to epic traditions: they change over time (always), and they get written down (sometimes).

3:00-4:00 pm: Merrill Kaplan, The Ohio State University, "How to Perform a Pagan Ritual"

Can Richard Bauman's ideas about performance help us understand a short tale in a fourteenth-century Icelandic manuscript? The Tale of Vǫlsi purports to describe an obscene heathen ritual carried out in late pagan Norway. The text itself is a scribal performance—an attempt to depict a paganism that a Christian audience living 300 years after the Conversion will find credible. Inside the narrative, characters evaluate each other's skill at performing their respective roles in the ritual. Exploring both layers helps twenty-first-century readers see that the humor of the piece depends less on raunch and more on genre and performative competence.

4:20-5:20 pm: Jonathan L. Ready, Indiana University, "The Scribe as Performer and the Ptolemaic Papyri of Homeric Epic"

The Ptolemaic papyri of the Homeric poems preserve the work of scribes who copied texts of the Iliad and Odyssey in fifth- and fourth-century BCE Greece. Building on a model popularized by scholars of Anglo-Saxon and Israelite texts, this paper demonstrates that these scribes performed in the very act of copying the Homeric poems. Attending to the phenomena of entextualization, communicative competence, and intertextuality—as outlined by Richard Bauman—reveals the ways in which these scribes performed.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the following IU entities: CAHI, CEUS, Classical Studies, Folklore and Ethnomusicology, and the Dean's Office of the College of Arts and Sciences.