Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/697

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ORIGIN OF LITERARY FORMS.

From this phase dates amorous poetry, which was destined to take so large a development. There are good grounds for supposing that women may have especially participated in the creation of this lyric of the erotic kind. This is still the case in some Slavic countries and in Kabylia; and it is possible that in Greece Sappho only gave a brilliant personification to a more especially feminine literature, of which few specimens have come down to us. The lyric poetry of men is less confined to the domain of the amorous feelings. It touches more varied subjects and those of a more general interest, notably mythical and historical legends, capable of interesting a whole virile population, but possible to be versified and sung by isolated artists.

To accompany these individual songs of every kind, suitable instruments were needed, not noisy enough to drown the voice of the singer, but of suffciently extensive register to follow all the shadings and modulations. Stringed instruments happily fulfilled this purpose; and thus all the superior races have invented or adopted them, while in Greece, one of them, the lyre, served to give a name to passionate and personal poetry.

By virtue of their improvement, literary arts, song, poetry and instrumental music became difficult of practice. To perform them required a special education, while in principle everybody could participate in the execution of the primitive choruses. Then appeared those popular artists, of whom the Hellenic rhapsodists, the Scandinavian skalds, and the Celtic bards are the best-known types, but of whom we find a few everywhere, even in tropical Africa, in Polynesia, and among the Tartar, Kabyle, Finnish, and Slavic populations.

At first these barbaric songsters limited themselves to following their own inspiration; but they were not slowly subjected to powerful influences. The priests on one side and the kings on the other attached them to themselves, and required them to sing the mythical legends or the achievements of their heroes and princes. Outside of these official subjects the professional bards took for the themes of their compositions everything of interest to their fellow-citizens that presented itself, and became thus the poetic annalists of all notable events. These poets, most frequently wanderers, were the first to give precise form to the popular traditions current among the people, and their songs, transmitted from generation to generation, constituted the material for the epics composed much later by less inspired but more skillful artists, at a period when epic customs were only a recollection.

We find many occasions showing how closely literature depends on the social and political state. At the origin of societies, during the age of the communistic clan, literature, always very poor, is the exact expression of what might be called the collective