Codifications

Another use of verse was for the codification of knowledge or principles that it was thought important to preserve from the past and transmit to the future. By being versified they made a deeper impression and were more easily remembered. More than that, the language of poetry invested them with a certain solemnity and a relative fixity.

In general, verse could be used for listing names or things and for ordering them, for example the details of genealogies, or catalogues of places and peoples. There is much material of this kind in the Indian Puranas. It forms the basis of the Greek tradition of catalogue poetry as exemplified in the Homeric Catalogue of Ships and the Hesiodic Theogony and Catalogue of Women. It bulks large in early Irish poetry: genealogies, lists of local kings, lists of battles fought by a king or a tribe, heroes who took part in an expedition, and so on. And it is present in several of the Eddic poems, such as Vgluspa, Grimnismal, Vafprudnismal, and Hyndluliod. Many such catalogues, technically called pulur, are preserved in manuscripts; we have over 700 lines of them, making up a kind of poetic thesaurus, catalogues of kings, dwarfs, giants, titles of Odin and other gods, terms for battle and weapons, the sea, rivers, fishes and whales, ships and parts of ships, earth, trees, plants, animals, birds, islands, and so on.116 There is no doubt some truth in the view that poets maintained these lists and catalogues primarily as raw material for their own use, to draw on the information contained in them as and when it came to be needed.117

Verse was also a convenient medium for the transmission of laws and precepts. The Solonic law-code once existed in a poetic version; the two opening lines are preserved as a quotation. The Spartan and Cretan laws were taught as songs, and the laws of Charondas too circulated in verse form. The

116 CPB ii. 422-46. There was a type of official orator called pulr, Old English pyle, whose function may originally have been to memorize and recite such lists; cf. de Vries (1956), i. 402 f.; Lorenz (1984), 280.

117 Cf. Thurneysen (1921), 56 f.; Campanile (1981), 53-74; (1988), 16; (1990b), 64 f., 66, 108-10.

Agathyrsi of Transylvania, perhaps a Dacian people, sang or chanted their laws 'so as not to forget them'. In Gaul the administration of justice, according to Caesar, lay in the hands of the Druids, the custodians of all tradition and poetic wisdom. Law-tracts in verse are among the oldest documents of Irish literature, law being the speciality of one class of fili.118

Gnomic verse is well attested in Indic, Greek, Latin, Irish, Old English, and Norse.119 In the case of Hesiod's Works and Days, the prime representative of the Greek tradition, we must certainly admit the influence of parallel traditions in the Near East.120 On the other hand, his formula 'I am going to tell you .. . Put it in your heart' (av 8' ivl fipeal áWeo oyioiv) has close parallels in the Gathas and Old Norse that may suggest common inheritance:

saxvsn! ... mraoml ... : msnca i [mazjdazdtim. These prescriptions I speak .. . Commit them to mind.

módur ord ber ^ú, mogr, hedan, ok lát ^ér í briósti búa.

Take away your mother's words, lad, and let them dwell in your breast.121

The similar Homeric formula dwo 8é toi ipéo>, av 8' ivl fipeal áweo ayiaiv, 'I will tell you another thing, and do you put it in your heart', may have originated in gnomic poetry of the type where successive sections began with the same formula, as in the maxims of Phocylides each section began Kal TÓ8e 0wKv\[8ew. An Old English gnomic poem in the Exeter Book is presented as being the wisdom that a wise father taught his son, and the sections are introduced by 'The experienced father again addressed his son another time', 'A third time the wise man with his breast-thoughts taught his child', and so on until ten lessons have been reported. In the twelfth-century Proverbs of Alfred each of twenty-eight sections is introduced with the formula pus quad Alfred.122 In Odin's instructions to Loddfáfnir in the Hávamál (112-37) each stanza begins

Rádomc ^ér, Loddfáfnir, at ^ú rád nemir: nióta mundo, ef ^ú nemr, ^ér muno gód, ef ^ú getr.

118 Solon fr. 31; Clem. Strom. 1. 16 78 = Terpander test. 40 Gostoli; Ael. Var. hist. 2. 39; Hermippus fr. 88 Wehrli; [Arist.] Probl. 19. 28; Caesar, Bell. Gall. 6. 13. 5; Dillon (1948), 172 n. 31; (1975), 114; Campanile-Orlandi-Sani (1974), 239-41.

119 See West (1978), 15-20. Cf. Campanile-Orlandi-Sani (1974), 241 f.; Campanile (1977), 86-8.

121 Hes. Op. 106 f., cf. 10/27, 274, 688; Y. 53. 5; Gróugaldr 16, cf. Hugsvinnsmál 129.

122 M. L. West, JHS 98 (1978), 164 f., where a Sumerian parallel for this format is also cited.

I counsel thee, Loddfafnir, and take thou my counsel: profit shalt thou, if thou takest it, good thy gain, if thou learnest.

The first line here very much resembles the Homeric formula, which may have served a similar purpose in pre-Homeric gnomic poetry.

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