Tradition and the Collective Talent: Oral Epic, Textual Meaning, and Receptionalist Theory

Essay Excerpt

For some time, literary critics, folklorists, oral theorists, and all scholars interested for one reason or another in oral literature and tradition have wrestled with a nagging and seemingly insoluble dilemma that has taken many forms and resists being held captive in any single, all-encompassing formulation. I mention as examples the academic jousting over analytical terms such as the phraseolog­ical "formula" and the narrative "theme" and the long debates over what is or is not a ''motif.” The basic question amounts to this: can we agree on a grammar of compositional units and further, does our chosen model remain viable as we cross the linguistic line from one tradition to another?

John Miles Foley was Curators' Professor of Classical Studies and English and W. H. Byler Endowed Chair in the Humanities. Professor Foley passed away in 2012.

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