Saturday, October 23, 2010


In Greece and Ireland and other places in Europe, stories and epic poems weren't written, but performed - improvised, somewhat differently each time -- by traveling bards. Then, sometime in ancient history (around 800 BC, in Greece, some scholars think), people started writing them down, on skins and, later, papyrus......Of course in China they'd had paper for centuries, but paper came late to Europe.

When Greek epics were first written down and read, some people were outraged -- we know because there are comments in written Greek histories and plays. What was happening, they said, this was going to ruin poetry if, instead of being performed by bards, artists, anyone -- even people too lazy to memorize -- could just read it. Anytime they wanted to.

Then, some hundreds of years later, illuminated manuscripts became an artform -- handmade dyes, monks lovingly copying and painting and embellishing......until Gutenberg invented the printing press. Again, there was outrage.

You can see where I'm going with this. Something was lost each time -- all those bards and performances, all those beautiful paintings and gold letters. But something was gained, too.

Maybe it doesn't matter if our stories are memorized or written on skins or papyrus, or inked and painted by hand on parchment or printed on paper-- or passed on in some other form I can't even imagine (implanted in people's brains by electronic transmission? telepathic communication?).....I'm not sure I really believe this (I love books!) but there's at least part of me that thinks what REALLY matters is that some people go on loving language and using it to make up the best stories they can -- and that other people go on reading (or maybe I should say "Getting") them.

2 comments: said...

I love your big picture outlook on stories, Libby! Art and story in various incarnations, like brain transmission is a fascinating idea...

alvinaling said...

Great post. Although I will be sad when/if books on paper go away, I do agree that it's the stories that are important. We will always have stories!