Formula symposium about oral poetry and prose

5–7 December symposium “The formula in oral poetry and prose. New approaches, models and interpretations” will be held in Tartu. It is part of the project “Formulae in Icelandic Saga Literature”.

During the 20th century scholars discovered that oral poetry in entirely unrelated cultures in the world share a basic characteristic: the use of verbal formulas, that is: more or less fixed word strings which were inherited from tradition instead of invented by the individual poet. The discovery revolutionized the understanding of oral tradition and how oral poetry was transmitted. Homer, Eddic poems, Karelian laments, Serbian heroic poetry etc. were suddenly seen in a new way. The present symposium aims to study such formulas in a broad context and let oral traditions from all over the world shed light on each other. Especially it aims to deepen our understanding of the function and meaning of the formulas. The symposium is organized by the Department of Scandinavian Studies as a part of the research project Formulae in Icelandic Saga Literature. The plan is that the symposium will be a recurring, annual event.

The symposium is unique in that it brings in oral tradition from cultures all over the world, rather than focussing on one certain culture. The symposium thereby gathers scholars with little previous knowledge of each other’s work, hopefully resulting in new contacts and collaboration. Another unique feature is that the symposium focuses equally much on formulas in oral prose – usually formula studies have focused exclusively or mainly on poetry.

The primary target audience is scholars and students with an interest in oral tradition and in the specific poetic tradition treated in the lectures (Homer, Eddic poetry, Icelandic sagas, Slavic and English folktales, Karelian poetry etc.). The symposium does, however, welcome everybody who might be interested in these topics.
The symposium gathers many prominent international scholars, such as Stephen Mitchell from Harvard University, Frog from Helsinki University, Elena Melnikova from Russian Academy of Sciences, but also several scholars from the University of Tartu such as Daniel Sävborg from the Department of Scandinavian Studies, Janika Päll from the Department of Classical Philology, and Jonathan Roper from the Department of Folklore. In all, 32 scholars from 13 different countries will present their papers at the symposium.

The organizers hope that the symposium will result in a new interest in the use of formulas, in a deeper understanding of oral composition ad in developed contacts between scholars from different fields. The organizers also hope that a wider audience will get new knowledge of the interesting field of oral poetry and storytelling and of the activities going on at the National University of Estonia.

Futher information: Daniel Sävborg, Head of Department of Scandinavian Studies and Professor of Scandinavian Studies, 737 6250,