epics and oral traditions

Allen Thrasher athr at loc.gov
Fri Jun 6 14:46:20 UTC 1997

The problem is not so much pragmatics as mnemotechnics, whether it is
possible to stabilize an oral 'text' in an unchanging verbal form without
writing.  Parry, Lord, and Ong, as I understand it, deny that it is.  Ong,
in a talk at the U. of Washington some years ago, said he knew of no
verified example of a text even as long as the Nicene Creed (which I would
add is pretty comparable in length to Vedic hymns) being created and
transmitted in an unchanging form without the use of writing.

On the other hand, the samhitas do seem to represent an older form of
Sanskrit than the brahmanas, although on the Parry-Lord thesis the
constant change involved in oral transmission should erode archaisms and
leave the form of a hymn linguistically quite similar to that of a
commentary on it.  Then can we say that it is possible that a population
(the ancient brahmins) can without the use or knowledge of writing keep an
older form of language linguistically productive while for other sacred
uses and much more for secular uses a changed more recent form is used? 
I.e. did the brahmins of some centuries B.C. continue to produce and
transmit hymns in the grammar of the Samhitas whilst producing Brahmanas
in a changed grammar and presumably using something changed yet further
for everyday secular uses?

Allen W. Thrasher

The opinions expressed do not represent those of my employer.

On Fri, 6 Jun 1997, Dominique.Thillaud wrote:

> 	Dear Birgit,
> 	I'm not a Vedicist but I know that epics and prayers are two
> literary genres who differ totally in pragmatic: nor same circumstances,
> nor same 'talker', nor same 'addressed' (men/Gods), nor same intention
> (compare Pater Noster or Ave Maria with Holy Bible). So you can't apply
> Parry's work to the Vedas and Renou was quite right.
> 	Regards,
> Dominique
> Dominique THILLAUD
> Universite' de Nice Sophia-Antipolis, France

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