No. XLIV (2013)

Poetic Grounds of Epic Formulae

Lidija Delić
Institute for Literature and Arts, Belgrade

Published 01.12.2013


  • oral formulae,
  • oral epics,
  • poetics,
  • conceptualization of space and time,
  • South Slavic tradition,
  • folklore
  • ...More

How to Cite

Delić, L. (2013). Poetic Grounds of Epic Formulae. Balcanica - Annual of the Institute for Balkan Studies, (XLIV), 51–78.


The study of oral formulae in the twentieth century had several phases. After the initial – very stimulating and influential – research by M. Parry and A. B. Lord, who focused on the technique of composing the poem and the mnemotechnic function of formulae, the focus at first shifted to the concept of performance (J. M. Foley), and then to the mental text (L. Honko), which introduced into research horizons social, ideological, psychological and mental conditions of improvisation, interaction between the singer and the audience, collective and individual factors of memorising, cultural representation, and the like. Although all the abovementioned aspects undoubtedly determine the structure of a specific variant, it should be kept in mind that formulae transcend concrete improvisations and connect different epic zones, different local traditions and different times. The formula precedes verbal improvisation both chronologically and logically. Therefore – before explaining the repeating of formulae by the needs and nature of improvisation (composition-in-performance) or the generating of formulae in specific variants by textualisation of mental text – we must explain the existence of the formula in the first place. This paper seeks to point out the complex system of factors that determine the genesis of formulae. Formulae are regarded as cultural codes, which combine elements from different spheres (the conceptualization of space, time, colour and so on, elements of rituals, customary norms, historical experience, life realities, ethics, etc.). Therefore, their structure is described in terms of hidden knowledge, hidden complexity, frame semantics, the tip of the iceberg, compressed meanings. Meanings “compressed” in the formulae are upgraded with new “income” in every new/concrete realisation (i.e. poem) and this is the area where aesthetics rivals poetics.


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