The Oral Background of Persian Epics: Storytelling and Poetry

The Oral Background of Persian Epics: Storytelling and Poetry

The Oral Background of Persian Epics: Storytelling and Poetry

The Oral Background of Persian Epics: Storytelling and Poetry

Synopsis

This volume discusses the indirect influence of oral transmission on the genesis and evolution of the Persian written epic tradition. On the basis of formal characteristics of naqq¢li (Persian storytelling) performance, a set of formal and thematic criteria is proposed to determine the extent to which written Persian epics show structures ultimately deriving from oral performance. It is applied to the Sh¢h-n¢me of Ferdowsi (c. 1000) and to the Garsh¢sp-n¢me of Asadi (c. 1064-66). The first part of the book examines the Oral-Formulaic Theory and proposes an alternative approach focusing on naqq¢li. The book may be relevant to both oralists and Iranists; it demonstrates the complex process where orality interacts with written tradition in the genesis of the Sh¢h-n¢me.

Excerpt

The present work considers what role oral tradition played in the genesis of the Šâh-nâme ('The Book of Kings') of Aboʾl-Qâsem Ferdowsi (ŠNF; ca. 1000 CE). This work has marked a watershed in the transmission of the Persian national legend. While reflecting the culmination of a long development which could be traced back to ancient times, it quintessentially inaugurated the Iranian written epic tradition in early Islamic times; ancient materials were synthesised and recast into a new literary form, intended for a Muslim audience. in order to appreciate both what the ŠNF inherited and what it created, it is necessary to understand the process in which both written and oral traditions played a part in transmitting the national legend. While the written tradition of the ŠNF has been studied extensively, the oral tradition virtually remains unexplored. This work will therefore concentrate on the role of oral tradition in the predominantly written environment in which the ŠNF was composed.

The question this work will be concerned with is, therefore, not whether Ferdowsi used written or oral sources, but rather how oral tradition interacted with writing in the genesis of the ŠNF. the question of sources, which still dominates academic discussion, seems to be incapable of definite proof in the absence of the relevant information on the textual tradition of the ŠNF; there is apparently no certainty concerning any written intermediate sources between the Xwadây-nâmag—a (hypothetical) source of the ŠNF and other related works—and the ŠNF itself. the theory of a written background is formally as speculative as that of oral transmission. As the very nature of oral tradition dictates, there is nothing against postulating oral tradition as Ferdowsi's source, but on the other hand such a hypothesis is virtually incapable of positive proof. As it stands, the question of the origin of the ŠNF seems to have reached a dead end. the question addressed in this work is therefore the broader one of the indirect influence of oral tradition on the ŠNF.

the term 'national legend' is defined by William Hanaway as “the legends of
the Persian speaking population of the Iranian cultural area” (Hanaway 1970:5,
n. 3).

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