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Orality and Textuality: The Alexius Legend and the Brothers Grimm

Authors
  • Bricker, Mary A.1
  • Winston-Allen, Anne1
  • 1 Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Department of Languages, Cultures, and International Trade, 1000 Faner Drive, Mail Code 5421, Carbondale, IL, 62901, USA , Carbondale (United States)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Neophilologus
Publisher
Springer Netherlands
Publication Date
Nov 15, 2018
Volume
103
Issue
1
Pages
99–114
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1007/s11061-018-9584-6
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
Yellow

Abstract

Da Silva and Tehrani’s (Roy Soc 2016, 10.1098/rsos.150645) article using statistical phylogenetic analyses to trace the ancient roots of Indo-European folktales was widely reported in the popular press as proof that the Brothers Grimm were “right after all.” Its conclusion that some folktales had been passed down orally for 6000 years within individual Indo-European language families and had not spread geographically through trade or migration seemed to reassure readers that the beloved Grimms’ Fairytales were “authentic.” Findings of scholars who had argued for later origins and text-based transmission seemed to have shaken the foundations of beliefs held since childhood in a secure cultural patrimony. Other arguments that tales passed back and forth between oral and written forms, being told and retold in various versions were not comforting and tended to pit folklorists and philologists against one another. The present study seeks an alternative approach by conducting a case study of an actual Brothers Grimm tale that dates back 1500 years and can be traced in various media back to a fifth-century Semitic text. The investigation traces how the tale of The Holy Man of Edessa migrated from the Near East throughout Western Europe, being retold and rewritten in multiple languages as it was reshaped to appeal to different audiences. Examples reveal the role played by redactors who reshaped the story to address their own concerns along with those of audiences. It concludes that examining examples in specific historical and social contexts clarifies the process of how and why folktales developed as they did.

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