Bards - Medieval and Then Some
tapestry of King Arthur that hangs in The Cloisters, New York
Nope! King Arthur was not a bard. At least, not to the best of my knowledge. But we know of him because of bards. Their oral traditions kept his legend alive until that time when they were written down.
And so it was with all the lore and history handed down by word of mouth for generations upon generations before writing.
Happy Medieval Monday! When I began researching this topic -- bards -- I realized it might be vast. But I had not an inkling...
The term “bard” comes from the Proto-Celtic word bardos, which referenced a poet-singer or minstrel. But bards were known by other names in other places, and they were not all singers or musicians.
While their responsibilities obviously varied from place to place and in different times, their responsibilities were multifold, serious, and often took courage.
They were the ones who made the rounds and shared good news and bad with their king/patron/chief as well as the people. They went into battle with their lords to both provide stress relief for the warriors and to witness their deeds.
They were storytellers of the highest degree, teachers, historians, and genealogists. So much from religion and prehistory would have been lost without the bards.
The Scottish bárds passed down clan history. In Ireland, there were different classes of bards. There were also Druid bards who were honor-bound to keep Druid lore alive but secret.
Welsh bardds kept King Arthur’s legends alive. French troubadours romanticized it.
Norse skalds told the sagas.
To say nothing of the world of religious traditions, creation stories, and ancient myths, etc., etc.
It gladdens my heart to know that there is a resurgence in the bardic tradition. Many, many storytellers honor their mission and take it seriously.
Bards are not prophets. They’re more historians. Aren’t they? In viewing time as more fluid -- ebbing and flowing -- perhaps they’re both?
Be sure to visit Barbara Bettis and Mary's Tavern for more Medieval Monday!
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Love the post, Anastasia. You're right. We don't give 'bards' enough credit. Although some may have been guilty of creating stories to glorify (and maybe embroider) exploits of local heroes to entertain folks, serious bards as you mention did, indeed, transmit oral history. I had to smile at the info about Druid bards--tasked with keeping the information alive--but secret :) :)
Hi, Barb. You are so right about the glorifying part, not to mention outright slander at times. While I was researching, it quickly became clear to me that the topic is much, much bigger than I had imagined. I have to say, I was a little alarmed. Phew! I did have to decide just what it was I wanted to focus on. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thank you, thank you for stopping by.
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