Rhythm And Poetry (RAP)

min3Greek education by the end of 450 B.C. was mostly centred on athletics, grammar but particularly on music. We understand the importance of the latter,only if we think that the word music derives from the Greek word“μουσικός”, Mousikos, that is, relative to the Muses, the goddesses of Greek and Roman mythology who were considered of the inspiration of literature, science, and the arts, hence the very were source of knowledge.The word refers also to “technique”, which also comes from the Greek word “τέχνη” / techne, therefore music is the technique or better the art of the Muses.  Originally the term did not indicate a particular art, but all the arts of the Muses, so it was referred to something “perfect” and harmonious. As Plato said:

Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.

Musical innovation is full of danger to the State, for when modes of music change, the laws of the State always change with them.

min8That is why rhapsodes and aedi were held in higher estimation at those times.They were not only the living  memory of the history of  a country, but they could use the art of all arts to celebrate the deeds of their heroes to impress them in the minds of the listeners. Aedi, in particular, were sacred figures, who were also considered prophets. They were traditionally portrayed as blind, like Homer, for instance. Their blindness allowed them to sharpen their sensitive skills so that they could get in touch directly with the gods (through the eyes of the soul) that inspired them . “Goddess, sing me the anger, of Achilles, Peleus’ son, that fatal anger that brought countless sorrows on the Greeks….”. Homer invoked at the beginning of the Iliad. The Muse spoke through him.

min9Aedi were part of the so-called face-to-face society. The transmission of the text, in fact, was done orally, with a “performance” in which the aedo was in direct contact with the audience. As he did not have a written text, he became a composer in turn. Oral transmission required the use of a clear and direct language, so there is a great use of similes and the language is characterized by a formulaic style, with many repetitions and the presence in large amount of names as surnames, as well as the so-called topos, that is, the sites where the narration takes place. In case the aedo had forgotten the next stanza ,well, he could “dwell” on what he was still singing using the tools of his trade.

min2However, these figure were not typical only of the Greeks, the powerful combination of musical rhythm and poetry was well-known in other societies. For instance the Bards formed, along with the Druids and the foreseers, the three priestly castes of the Celts. The Bards were considered the guardians of knowledge and were instructed to store all the traditions and myths of the people. In some regions they were distinguishable from the other two orders for a special cloak they wore. In the Gaelic society  a bard was a professional poet, committed to compose eulogies for his lord and if  his employer refused to pay the compensation decided, the bard composed a satire against him.

In medieval Ireland there were two distinct group of poets : the bards and the fili. Despite the formers constituted a professional hereditary caste of highly trained, learned poets,  they were considered lesser class poets, not eligible for higher poetic roles as described above; while the latters were visionary poets, associated with lorekeeping, versecraft, and the memorisation of vast numbers of poems. They were also magicians, as Irish magic is intrinsically connected to poetry, and the satire of a gifted poet was a serious curse upon the one being satirised. However, it has also been argued that the distinction between filid (pl. of fili) and bards was a creation of Christian Ireland as the filid were more associated with the church.

min6In Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman Conquest, the professional poet was known as a scop (“shaper” or “maker”), who composed his own poems, and sang them to the accompaniment of a harp. In a rank much beneath the scop, were the gleemen, who had no settled abode, but roamed about from place to place, earning what they could from their performances. Late in the 13th century, the term minstrel (from the Latin “ministralis” “retainer”)  began to be used to designate a performer who amused his lord with music and song. Minstrels created their own tales, but they also memorized and embellished the works of others. Love, magic, death, war, these were the themes they amused and entertained  the high society with, but as the courts became more sophisticated, minstrels were eventually replaced at court by the troubadours, therefore many became wandering minstrels, performing in the streets.

We may say, therefore, that the core idea the poets sung in their poems, tales or ballads reflected the societies that produced it. Hence the evolution goes from the magical to the  heroical and finally to the domestic, while its function changes from encouragement to entertainment. And today? Who are the closest depositaries of this tradition? Fine narrators, with a mastery in rhyming, use of similes, refrains etc. Somebody who can still beautifully re-create that magic narration made of Rhythm And Poetry. Well, the answer is :the rappers. RAP is the acronym of Rhythm And Poetry, didn’t you know it?




Homer’s legacy


hom4The first time a man attempted to engrave a sign or a sketchy hunting scene on a rock, he was actually doing more than a simple drawing, he was defying time. That sign allowed him to overcome his transient nature, it was the everlasting witness of his existence, which could also become the legacy of his experience. Man, differently from any other species, soon understood that the transmission and storage of data was the key for his evolution and survival. The outcomes of present experience were to be passed to the next generations in order to be enriched with new developments and discoveries. It is the record of man’s achievements that allows us to overcome the limits our body, which is subjected to time and decay. But how could data be transmitted and stored in times when there was not the help of technology or not even the use of paper yet?

hom5The first rudimentary means could be only memory. Greek epic poems, for example, played an important part in maintaining a record of the great deeds and history of a culture, before the development of writing. At first they were memorized and only  later, they were written down. However, it was a huge effort, if you think that a popular translation of the Iliad runs to nearly to five hundred pages in small font, hence, one cannot but wonder on how the rhapsodes could sing their lengthy poems without any written texts. As far as we know, their performances could last many days. Techniques such as rhymes, rhythm, similes etc helped the bards memorize the lines for sure, but the story was the most helpful of all.

hom6The main actors of these stories where the heroes, who actually embodied the highest expression of  the values of their society: loyalty, honour, love for the country, sacrifice. With their deeds, they were the symbols of the power, pride but also ethics of their people, thus contributing, through a natural process of identification, in the making of what could be called national awareness. The Iliad, the Odyssey and the many poets and tragedians who followed up Homer‘s themes gave a “running” report of how to be Greek, which the young naturally learned to imitate. We have to consider, that at the time of Plato almost everyone could recite some or many portions of Homer or other poets, therefore, there were many who held in their memory not only the episodes of Polyphemus, Circe etc  among the others, but also the knowledge.of the agricultural, metallurgical and building techniques of the times, food recipes etc. thus making epic poetry a sort of tribal encyclopedia as Professor Eric Havelock defined it.

hom7The verses of Homer, in fact, not only guided archaeologists to the interpretation of the finds of  excavations, but they proposed significant elements for the study of the first agriculture and livestock in the Aegean world. The Odyssey, in particular, provides some important elements which are absolutely singular.  For example, when Odysseus visits the orchards of the King of the Phaeacian, he accurately gives details of  the  prodigy of irrigated agriculture of the time. Then, once landed in Ithaca he climbs through the woods and comes to the pigsty built by his servant Eumaeus, there he reports about a genuine breeding system for 600 sows, which seems to forerun modern farm models. Two prominent scholars of primitive agriculture, Antonio Saltini, professor of history of agriculture, and Giovanni Ballarini, a professor of veterinary pathology, were able to estimate, from the reading of Homer,  the amount of acorns that the oaks of Ithaca could produce and the number of pigs that were breeded. When Odysseus meets his father, he reminds him of the different plants that the old man had given him for his first garden, mentioning 13 varieties of pears, 10 of apples, 40 types of figs and 50 different grapes, as proof of the intensity of the test selection which man had already subjected the fruit species at the dawn of the first millennium BC.

Therefore, Homer and the poets were not only artists but rather “ the equivalent of mass media, Internet and official state religion rolled all in one“. In times when there was no other form of communication, they were those romantic figures who had the task to spread the seeds of knowledge in order they could grow and blossom to guide man to modernity.