The Oral Tradition of Classical Arabic Poetry: Its Characters and Implications (331 Page Mega eBook)
Throughout centuries of Arabic literary scholarship, there has been little serious doubt that pre- and early Islamic Arabic poetry was produced and transmitted through the operation of some kind of oral tradition. What that fact really meant, however, and what the character and implications of such a tradition might have been, were questions that were seldom if ever asked. But some have been asking them in recent years, and Professor Zwettler asks them here as well; and he makes a considered attempt to answer them in terms of the "oral-formulaic" theory of poetic c o m position worked out by Milman Parry, Albert Lord, and others. Because of the differences between the clas sical Arabic qasida and the long narrative poems on which Parry and Lord based their theory, D r . Zwettler proposes various adap tations necessary to accommodate it to the exigencies of the early Arabic tradition, then applies it in making an exhaustive analysis of the presence in the famous mu 'allaqa of Imra'alqays of the three features that Parry and Lord have identified as distinguishing poetry in the oral tradition from patently literary poems: a significantly higher proportion of "formulas" and "formulaic usages"; a very high incidence of end-stopped lines and a very low incidence of what Parry calls "necessary en jambement"; and a series of conventional, stereotyped themes and motifs that recur from poem to poem. From examination of the inflective language known as classical Arabic, Dr. Zwettler argues, it becomes clear that it was, in fact, a special linguistic form peculiar to, and conditioned by, the rhymed and metered verses of oral poetry and certain other highly formal and elocutionary utterances, and that the 'arabtya of poets, soothsayers, orators, and the Prophet Muhammad embodied a number of features that would have been archaic, anomalous, or artificial in the vernacular in practically all of its dialectal varieties. The most conspicuous among these nonvernacular features, Dr . Zwettler finds, was the regular use of a system of inflective case and mood endings — the Crab so typical of the 'arablya of the literary Arabic that was derived from it and that came to replace it. Dr . Zwettler proposes in conclusion that two aspects of classical Arabic poetry that have posed problems to critics and scholars for more than ten centuries —the abundance of their variant readings, and the uncertainty of the authenticity both of the poems them selves and their attributions —are best under stood as characteristics inherent in the normal operation of oral tradition, wherever it is encountered, and follow from the natural pro cesses of poetic composition and rendition employed by unlettered poets in any age and any culture. Michael J. Zwettler is associate professor in the Arabic Program of the Department of Romance Languages at the Ohio State University.