stanford university

Sp09-CLASSGEN-130-01 : From Homer to Hip Hop

SPRING 2009

Course Description

Casanova Caz & DJ Theodore demonstrate the scratch technique.

This course is about the epic poem in ancient and modern times. Students will examine the history of the epic narrative poem, and trace its journey from Homer — in classic Greece, to hip-hop today.

Course Meetings

Section(s)

Name Teaching Staff Dates Day Time Location
Lecture Section(s)
CLASSGEN-130-01 -
T,Th
11:00 AM - 11:50 AM
110-111O

Classics 130 Introduction

Play Classics 130 Intro

Course Syllabus

Classics 130 Singers of Tales: The Epic In Action -
From Homer to Hip-hop Oral Narratives in Oral Culture


Stanford University
Classics
 
Spring 2009
Instructor: Cecil Brown (stagolee@mac.com)
 
Rationale:
This course is about the epic poem in ancient and modern times. Students will examine the history of the epic narrative poem, and trace its journey from Homer — in classic Greece, to hip-hop today.
 
Scholars think of epic poetry as Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, Virgil’s The Aeneid, Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Since these works were written down, it was assumed that an epic was limited to a culture that had a written tradition.
 
Since the breakthroughs by classicist Milman Parry and Albert Lord, however, the definition of epic poetry has been interpreted to mean oral poetry — a narrative composed and transmitted without writing. Homer did not write his poems — he sung them.
 
 
Redefining epic as oral poetry — as a song narrative permits the inclusion of the oral traditions of Africa, Asia, and India. As a form that is not dependent on a written tradition, epic oral poetry would encompass contemporary performances such as hip-hop and rap music too.
 
In African American culture, many oral poets were in the position of Homer. Like Homer, they had no access to literacy. Unlike Homer, they had literacy all around them but were forbidden to use it.
Just as the heroes survived the Trojan War, so the American rappers survive the Modern City. Rapper’s themes are similar to those of the Greeks: survival, honor, conquest, status, and immortality in battle.
    
Both African Griots and African American rappers, like the Greek oral poets, relied on non-written traditions and institutions.
The critical questions that we will examine are: 1) epic and ethnicity, 2) social paradigms (like “heroes,” “rappers,”), 3) the effects of literacy, 4) the role of change in traditional society, 5) oral performance as art, 6) forms of speech, 8) media and change in a digital age, and 9) oral culture and electronic culture, 10) composition in performance.
 
With the change from print to the digital world, the oral epic has absorbed the pain that results from such transitions. Since geography and history have an affect on the type of epic poetry that a people produce, we will begin each section with an online introduction to that area of study.
 
Geographic/historical areas:
Area 1: Greece
Area 2: West Africa: Mali
Area 3: East Africa: Tanzania (Hayaland)
Area 4: Egypt
Area 5: America South, U.S.A.
Area 6: Bronx, U.S.A.
 
Structure: Two 1-1/2 hour sections per week, together with lecture and discussion. Attendance is assumed. Final 3-hour essay exam. One 15-minute in-class presentation on a specific area, dates will be assigned during the second week of classes. Two short (8-page) papers during term, one to be related to the presentation.
 
Weekly readings: Student should read the weekly readings before the session in which it will be discussed. You should expect to be called upon or to initiate discussion based on the assigned written or on-line material.
 
Sections
 
Note: the discussion section (Fridays, 11-12) is mandatory.
 
Reader: No reader.
 
In attention to these themes, we will follow the travels from the Greek world on a war ship to the African slave ship to the modern space ship.
 
Course Requirements and Grading
 
 Breakdown of grade: Paper 1, paper 2, oral presentation, are each 20 %; participation in class discussions is 15 % and the final is 25 %.
 
 
Schedule of Readings:    
 
Tuesday March 31,  2009
          
Area 1: Greece. Main issues in this module will be
“Epic” and its implications, the Greek hero, epithets in hip-hop, speech acts, oral culture, secondary Orality, types of performances, epithets in Greek and hip-hop, Milman Parry and Oral Formulaic Theory.
 
 
READING FOR April 2: Powell’s “The Historian's Homer” in Homer. (35-50) Fagles’ Odyssey, Book One (77-92).
          
ONLINE: VIEW CLIPS (Film clip)
Ice Cube, and Ice T. DJ Herc’s invention of “hippity-hop” rap Video “The Hip-Hop Years,” “The Trojan War”
          
 
READING FOR April 7: Lord, Singer of Tales (vii-29).
HOMER, FROM HANDOUT, Introduction to the Oral World (cont.) American life and Culture before the discovery of Hip-hop.
    
READING FOR APRIL 9
Singer of the Tales, (30-59); Ong, (5-15); Powell’s “The Philologist’s Homer” in Homer, (3-34); Fagles, Odyssey Book 8. pp 191-210, Brown’s “Grecian Formula.”
Read http://www.oraltradition.org/ “Homer and Hip-hop.”
 
READING FOR APRIL 14
Powell “Reader’s Homer,” (51-61); (115-129) Plato's Ion
Finish with “Ion” and return to Demodocus. He has been cut from the movie, “Troy”
 
READING FOR APRIL 16
 
Ong, "Orality of Language," pp:1-15 READING FOR APRIL 21 Ong, "Orality of Language," pp:1-15. Handout, "from Writing:The Greek Alphabet," pp:227-254 READING FOR APRIL 23
Barry Powell’s visit and talk on new book on writing.
 
Video “Keita – The Heritage of a Griot” READINGS FOR APRIL 30 Ong's "The Discovery of Orality," pp:15-30; John Willams Johnson's "Son-jara, The Mande Epic" (handout)

Area 3:East Africa, Tanzania (Hayaland)

 

READINGS FOR MAY 5

Okepewho, The african Epic, "Elements of the oral Narrative Style" (pp: 203-240)
 
Smithsonian Global Sounds.

 

READING FOR May 7

We will discuss the handouts ""Caught in the Web of Words: 'Praising,' 'Boasting,' and 'Abusing." We will finish "The elements of Oral Narrative Style."


READING FOR May 12
Taj Mahall visit.  Theme: The connection between African epic style and American Blues.Listen to: Kulanjan:Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate.

Handout: "The Anthropology of Texts, Persons and Pubics: Oral and Writeen culture in Africa and beyond" Karen Barber.
 
READING FOR May 14

Ahmad Lewis, Hip-Hop, rapper

Ong,  Ong’s “Some Psychoral dynamics of Orality,”(31-74). We will discuss "writing" with DJ Ahmad Lewis, who will be joining us.

READING FOR May 19

Richard Martin visits and talks on "Muthus" (myth).  speech acts and the ethnography of speech. Handout: "Horton" and "The Message of the American Folk Sermon" Listen to Rev. Franklin's "The Eagle Stirreth The Nest"

READING FOR May 21Area 4: American South
Main issues in this module, will be new “epic poetry:” The Blues ballad, the sermon, proto-hip-hop George Horton, preaching, imitation, mimesis, “reality,” “the dozens.”

Horton, the Slave Poet, and Stagolee as Archetype

READING FOR May 21

Brown,“Stagolee Shot Billy” (1-30).
Listen to the Stagolee Ballads on Website. Iceberg Slim’s “Reflections,” Hustler’s Convention,”
Brown, “Dude, Where’s My Black Studies,” (120-150).
 
Rap as History, as epic poetry from the streets, mimesis, reality,  (Handout) Havelock, “The Psychology of the Poetic Performance,” (145-164).
 
READING FOR May 26

Urban Epic defined.
 
(Handout) Dennis Wepman, “The Toast,” in The Life: the Lore and Folk Poetry of the Black Hustler, (6-165 from Handout).
  Iceberg slim and “reflections.”

Area 6: Bronx, U.S.A.
Main issues in this module will be origins of hip-hop, Jay-Z, KRS-1, the utility of oral traditional forms, ethno poetics and Noetics, Caliban, hip-hop slang, baggy pants, graffiti, cursing, a new literature of hip-hop: urban epics.Oakland's Too Short and the Urban Epic.

 Time will be spent for 15-muntes presentations.See, Too Short Film
 
READING FOR May 28

M. Mcluhan's Playboy Interview; Brown,”Why White Kids Love Hip-hop,” “Cornell West versus Harvard University’s President Summers,” In Dude, Where’s my Black Studies Department?

READING FOR JUNE 2

No Readings. Time will be spent for 15-muntes presentations.
 
READING FOR June 4

No Readings. Time will be spent for 15-muntes presentations.
 
> Second 8-page paper due.
 
Books for the Class:
 
Barry Powell, Homer: Blackwell Publishing, latest paperback.
Walter Ong, Literacy and Orality, latest edition
Plato, Ion (ed. Albert A. Anderson (Audio CD) paperback $14.00; CD downloadable file $ 9:50.
Cecil Brown, Stagolee Shot Billy, Harvard University Press.
Albert Lord, The Singer of Tales, latest edition Harvard University Press.
Isidore Okpewho, The Epic in Africa: towards a poetics of oral performance. Indiana University Press, 1992.

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