One can also seek aid and comfort from specialists in the study of oral literature.  Milman Patry and Albert Lord have shown how folk epics as long as The Iliad are passed on faithfully from bard to bard among the illiterate peasants of Yugoslavia.  These ‘singers of tales’ do not possess the fabulous powers of memorization sometimes attributed to ‘primitive’ peoples.  They do not memorize very much at all.  Instead, they combine stock phrases, formulas, and narrative segments in patterns improvised according to the response of their audience.  Recordings of the same epic by the same singer demonstrate that each performance is unique.  Yet recordings made in 1950 do not differ in essentials from those made in 1934.  In each case, the singer proceeds as if he were walking down a well-known path.  He may branch off here to take a shortcut or pause there to enjoy a panorama, but he always remains on familiar ground—so familiar, in fact, that he will say that he repeated every step exactly as he has done before.  He does not conceive of repetition in the same way as a literate person, for he has no notion of words, lines, and verses.   Texts are not rigidly fixed for him as they are for readers of the printed page.  He creates his text as he goes, picking new routes through old themes.  He can even work in material derived from printed sources, for the epic as a whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts that modifications of detail barely disturb the general configuration.

–– Peasants Tell Tales as printed in The Great Cat Massacre (and Other Episodes in French Cultural History) by Robert Darnton p 19


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