Kathy Lou Schultz

Epic Worlds

Rhapsodes, Griots, and modes of performance

The Kora, a twenty-one-stringed harp-lute or bridge-harp, http://www.accessgambia.com/

“On the basis of available evidence,” writes Gregory Nagy, “it appears that rhapsodes did not sing the compositions that they performed but rather recited them without the accompaniment of the lyre” (6). Performers of the Homeric epic, rhapsodes recited epics as a group during festivals, taking turns to perform each part. Neither did rhapsodes compose epics for such occasions; rather, they recited learned poems from memory. Furthermore, rhapsodes did not sing the epics at all; the mode of performance was recitation.

'From the Heliconian Muses let us begin to sing'

Muse Calliope, Athenian red-figure pyxis C5th B.C., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some of my students find it outrageous that I would ask them to actually walk into a library and find print sources for their research. They believe that they can find everything they need to know online — and in some cases they might be correct. At eHow.com, you can learn “How to Build a Concrete Storm Shelter”[1] or “How to Clean Your Coffee Maker With Vinegar.”[2] Using the information collated there, a friend of mine renovated an entire house to ready it for sale. But wait, there’s more: should you decide to write an epic poem, eHow breaks the process down into seven easy steps. Here are steps one through three:

1) Write a brief statement of the poem’s purpose before you begin recounting the story — say, to detail your dog Champ’s heroic crusade against backyard birds — followed by an invocation of the Muse.

2) Give a short, general outline of the action of the poem in the statement of the poem’s purpose.

3) Invoke the Muse next by first praising her, then by asking her to aid you in the writing of your poem. The Muse of epic poetry was Calliope, but you can also invoke Thalia (Muse of comedy) or Melpomene (Muse of tragedy).