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In this same context, Zwettler notes that scribal mistakes “do not constitute a major source of variation.”

In the three paragraphs that follow, I summarize from another work my analysis of the findings of Zwettler and others (Nagy 1996:27-28).

Following Lord, Zwettler emphasizes not only the multiformity inherent in the oral tradition of Arabic poetry, as evidenced especially in the pre-Islamic stages of this poetry, but also the futility of attempting to establish an “original” text on the basis of attested variants. Showing that the oral poetry of the Arabs lives through its variants, he finds it ironic “that scholars of Arabic poetry have so often cast doubt upon the ‘authenticity’ or ‘genuineness’ of this or that verse, poem, or body of poems or, sometimes, of pre-Islamic poetry in general, because they have found it impossible to establish an ‘original version’” (Zwettler 1978:189).

Following Zwettler, Olga Davidson (1994:54-72) argues that the degree of textual variation in the medieval Persian manuscript transmission of the epic Shāhnāma of Ferdowsi likewise reveals the product of an oral tradition. She advocates the need for a monumental new edition of the Shāhnāma that would account for all attested variants above and beyond the verifiable instances of scribal error, in order to come to grips with “the full creative range of the Shāhnāma tradition” (Davidson 1985:139). Like Zwettler, Davidson stresses the futility of trying to recover the archetypal fixed text from a mass of textual variants that can all be judged “genuine” in terms of the poetic tradition that had generated these variants.

Another study of variation in textual transmission as a mark of oral tradition is an article by Joseph Nagy [1986] on medieval Irish traditions: he concludes that “the bewildering proliferation of variants which often characterizes the medieval literary transmission of Irish narrative takes on new meaning when viewed as the imprint of an ongoing oral tradition” (J. Nagy 1986:288, with references to the related work of Melia 1975:37 and Slotkin 1977-79:450).

All this comparative evidence is relevant to the original concept of a multitext format as devised by Rupert Pickens for his 1978 edition of the songs of Jaufré Rudel. As I noted already at the beginning of my presentation, this format was intended to account for the multiform nature of the textual tradition that preserved those songs. I use this term multiform in describing that textual tradition because its texts, like the other texts that we have just surveyed, are replete with textual variants that correspond to the kinds of variations we find in living oral traditional songmaking, which is by nature multiform.

From what we have already seen so far, then, it is clear that multitextuality in textual traditions can be viewed as a symptom of multiformity in oral traditions .

In Poetry as Performance , I link the need for a multitext format in editing the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey (Nagy 1996:26, 31) with the concept of multiformity (same book, pp. 109, 113-114, 134, 149), since the degree of variation we see in at least some attested phases of Homeric textual traditions is a clear sign of such multiformity (pp. 151-152). In other works as well, the need for a multitext format in editing the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey is highlighted (Bird 1994 and Dué 2001).

Questions & Answers

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s.
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s. Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, Online humanities scholarship: the shape of things to come. OpenStax CNX. May 08, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11199/1.1
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