Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/231
of popular or semi-popular composition, and vast numbers of scholars have devoted themselves to the collection and investigation of folk songs and folk tales from every corner of the world. Most interest has doubtless centered in the poetry, as most labor and ingenuity has been spent upon the great epics, such as the "Iliad" or the "Nibelungenlied." But the excellence of much popular prose narrative has also been recognized, and this also has been very extensively studied.
INFLUENCE OF POPULAR UPON ARTISTIC LITERATURE
Though popular fiction has not always occupied a dignified place in the works on literary history, it has long exerted an important influence on the more sophisticated forms of literature. In the ancient world, it is almost too obvious to point out, the myths upon which drama and epic turned were at the outset often popular tales of gods and heroes. The fable, as the embodiment of moral wisdom, has been, of course, the constant resource of speakers and writers, and in the hands of such poets as Marie de France in the twelfth century, or La Fontaine in the seventeenth, it has received the highest finish of art. Though the "Arabian Nights" collection, as a whole, is of recent introduction into European literature, Oriental tales of the sort which compose it circulated extensively in Europe from the time of the crusades and supplied much material for the fiction of the Middle Ages. In the last century, too, poets have found a rich storehouse in the traditions of the days of "good Haroun Alraschid." The folktales of northern Europe, again, as represented by Celtic and Scandinavian sagas or by the modern German collection of the Grimms, have been the source of much lofty poetry and romance. Many a great play or poem goes back in substance to some bit of fairy mythology or to a single tale like that of a persecuted Cinderella, or of a father and son unwittingly engaged in mortal combat. The splendid romances of King Arthur have derived many of their essential elements from popular sagas not very different in character from the account of Da Derga printed in this series. In the hands of court poets or polite romancers the original stories were, of course, often disguised beyond easy recognition. Their motives were
- H. C., xxxv, 103ff.
- H. C., xlix, 199ff.