The Birth of Merchant Patriciate’s Genres from Fishermen’s Lore

(The Genre Evolution of Fishermen’s Oral Tradition)

   Prehistoric cultures developed from two alternative origins. Africa was a home of herbivorous plant-gatherers with axe-tool industry, who lived in large collective longhouses and matriarchal societies with endogamous matrilocal marriage. In the Neolithic they mastered the skills of farming agriculture and developed sedentary cultures of peaceful peasantry. On the other hand, Asia became a home of Denisovans and Zhoukoudian man, who probably fathered Asiatic races remarkable for flake-tool industry and hunters with patriarchal exogamous societies. Their archaeological complexes witness splitting into societies of prehistoric big-game hunters with Mousterian lance-heads and Levalloisian fishers with prismatic Leptolithic knives points. Their Mesolithic and Upper Palaeolithic descendants include Aurignacians, Epi-Cardial Pelasgoids, Magdalenians and Maglemosians with waterside, riverside, lakeside and seaside ecotypes. Later they integrated  into civilised societies as fishers, anglers, sailors, seafarers, pirates, merchants, money-changers and patricians.      

Piscimorphous folklore – most prehistoric fishermen’s tribes  recruited from Aurignacian, Epi-Cardial Pelasgoid, Magdalenian and Maglemosian cultures and complemented fish-catching nutrition by hunting antelopes, reindeer and other ovicaprids; they practiced exogamous patrilocal marriages based on eloping foreign brides and dragging them off to the rockshelter abodes of the paternal husbands’ clan; they believed that their tribe descended from totem ancestors of the fish, reptile, serpent or amphibian stock; their religious creed consisted in worshipping sacred rocks and circumventing their circuit; they assumed that after death their souls would enjoy another life by the postmortal transmigration of soul into ichthyic, serpentine or reptilian creatures. If a fisher died by a fatal tragic death, his life ended by petrifying into a rock, cliff or crag. 

Fishermen’s totemistic tales – waterside, lakeside and seaside animal species  set out on expeditions and hunt other animals without distinguishing the human nature from animal beings. Some expeditions resulted in catching a pretty young animal female, saving her life and end by eloping her to their fathers’ campsite; fishermen observed exogamous marriages and abode by taboo bans of flirting with their kinswomen; they could marry only by kidnapping a foreign girl from a neighbouring clan or paying bride price to her father; since foreign tribes were regarded as animal species with different totemic customs and identity, spouses often quarrelled about their totemistic customs; the hunter’s animal clan hated his newly-wedded wife for wearing different fur-clothes and urged her to dress like her husband’s kinswomen; if the kidnapped wife begot a child and wrapped it in her totemistic furs, she was blamed for giving birth to an animal cub.

Semihuman totemistic tale – the narrator’s and hero’s kinsmen begin to be perceived as creatures of human species, while members of neighbouring tribes continue to be regarded as frogs, snakes, sea mermaids and other aquatic animals.

Fishermen’s wooing tales – a young fisher chases a foreign fishy or amphibian girl, likes her looks and elopes her by force to his home; he employs her as a wife but their harmonious marital life is marred by her beastly nature and customs; their marriage often ends by the girls’ flight after her husband burns her animal fur-dress and breaks her totemistic taboos:

·         son’s account (male endomythium) one of parents’ sons brings home  a froggy bride that agrees to get married and turns into a human being; he hates her wearing a froggy skin and offends her totem by burning her clans’ totemistic tokens; she feels humiliated and flees from his camp,

·         daughter-in-law’s account (female exomythium) some parents’ daughter is kidnapped from her native camp by a fishy water monster; her brothers set out on a travel to rescue her from the kidnapper’s camp,

·         childbirth account (female exomythium) – parents’ daughter gets married to a frog-like or fish-like bridegroom from a different tribe; their marital happiness is marred by expected childbirth; the eloped wife begets a baby but wraps it into the fur of her own totem; her husband and his fellow-wives accuse her of giving birth to an animal cub.

Animistic totemism – members of foreign tribes are regarded as dangerous supernatural spirits; they are considered as semihuman and semi-beastly creatures inhabiting special waterside ecotypes.

Animistic courting tale – a girl is abducted from her home by a river spirit or a lake ghost spirit and her brothers set out on expeditions so as to rescue her.

Dynamistic totemism – members of foreign tribes are distinguished according to their rank as chieftains, kings and tsars of an animal kingdom.  

Dynamistic courting tale a girls is kidnapped by a mighty chieftain spirit or an evil wizard inhabiting a dragons cave or a subaqueous realm. Her brothers are determined to bring her back, but she is locked in the wizard’s fortified unassailable cave. Her brothers want to set her free and during their escape they mask themselves like roadside rocks and bushes. The story-teller explains these masking tricks as black magic and enchanting metamorphoses.

Fishermen’s folklore – with transition from nomadic to sedentary life-style fishermen tribes begin to inhabit more durable cave shelters and rock overhangs; beside fishing they hunt also antelopes and reindeer; from the Neolithic revolution they complete fishy sustenance by herding goats and sheep; in addition to living in wintertime cave shelters they build also summertime teepee tents on artificial islets or wooden platforms on pillars rammed into the lake bottom; the hours of patient lengthy waiting for fish prey make anglers variegate whiles of inactivity by singing nostalgic and melancholic melodic dirges with the accompaniment of wind instruments such as reed flutes, bulls horns, pipes and trumpets.

Patrilinear inheritance and avunculate fishermen lived in large families headed by chieftains or elderly patriarchs; their property and prigileges were inherited by their firstborn sons and nephews; women had no rights as heiresses.

Heirdom tale – three brothers compete with one another to show who will be the best guardian of the  herds of the patriarch’s goats, who will bring him the most wondrous magic objects and who is the ablest heir worthy of his heritage.

Trophy tale – fishermen dream about killing a big shark, lizard or dragon and desire to die a heroic death in combat with a water monster so as to reincarnate into its body in the future life; they depose the dead corpse of their fellows by throwing it into water depths so as they might be devoured by water predators; their belief in metempsychosis implies that they were born from fish and spend after-death life in the embodiment of a strong fishy creature that ate their flesh.

Hesitation folktale – a fisher spends time woefully in meditations and waits for some fish catch; when he pulls out a little fish he hesitates to let it go free; he hopes that it will grow up and fulfill him three wondrous wishes in the future.

Merchants’ folklore – from the rise of feudal monarchies fishermen’s tribes practice sedentary fishery, undertake fishing voyages and sell their catch on the  market in the central plazas and squares of the town; they enhance their economic prosperity by controlling the urban marketplace and building rows of palaces with stalls, shops and arcades on its surrounding; moreover, they make living by travelling as itinerant merchants and move their goods to neighbouring towns in carriages; seaside fishers become skilful seafarers who exchange attractive articles of drapery, salt and spice with far-away harbours; they sell their goods for precious metals and gather them in treasuries or hidden hoards;   they do not despise piracy, assaulting and looting foreign seafarers’ ships, either; their hoards of gold, coins and precious metals predestine them to become wealthy money changers, bankers and usurers.

Patrician estate – at the end of feudal Middle Ages itinerant merchants turn into wealthy patriciate that overthrows the rule of castle aristocracy in town and get hold of power in urban centres as rich moneyed tyrants. They expel the reign of rich noble landowners, buy their land possessions and replace feudal tithes and natural exchange of corn by the monetary system of precious coins.

Elegiac spiritual epic – in opposition to the string instruments of the landowning nobility of warriors the ascent of patrician merchants and fishery tradesmen cultivated the musical style of auletics with flutes, pipes and horns; instead of heroic epic and sagas warrior nobility it engendered nostalgic and melancholic compositions; it gave preference to meditative and didactic poetry composed in the meters of elegiac disticha and biblical 4-line strophes. 

Dialogics – the state of feudal disintegration at the end of the Middle Ages gave rise to administrative fragmentarisation and distributed the monarch’s central power to rich regional oligarchs; their rising political powers is facilitated by parliaments, where they can vote and take part in disputations; this process promoted the fashion of theological discourses, tournaments of knights and poetic altercation; such political conditions the feudal castes dividing landlords, vassals and thanes broke down and was replaced by a hierarchy of free estates; the feudal nobility turned into gentry, religious orders of monks fused into the estate of clergymen and the merchants transformed into the estate of wealthy patricians; they had to serve in the military as horse-riding chivalry, and this is why they were called ‘horse-riders’ (equites); the fragmentarisation of timocratic societies split them into classes of independent factions represented by spokesmen in assemblies of estates; the prominent estates included nobility, clergymen’s orders, patricians and urban craftsmen’s guilds; such social changes divided social layers according to their possessions and the proprietary census; they caused the dialogisation of Minnesang and the rise of new literary genres based on public disputations in the parliament; they were manifested in parliamentary discourses, chivalric knights’ tournaments, theological disputations of ecclesiastic synods and poetic altercations. Fictitious quarrels between monks, merchants and knights were staged also in estrifs, dances, miracles and shepherds’ pastorellas.

·         Estrif  – amorous courting between a lady, a merchant or a knight.

·         Altercation poetic disputation about social advantages of the merchants’ secular standing and the ecclesiastic estate of monks.

·         Pastorella – an amorous dialogue between a enamoured patrician and a fictive  beautiful shepherdess.

·         Allegorical disputes – dream visions with discourses of merchants and the estates of landlords, knights, monks and craftsmen.

·         Miracle – a dramatic performance about  miraculous deeds of saints.

Patrician culture – in the beginning of Renascence the ruling aristocratic culture of hillfort castles dies out to be replaced by the urban civilisation of rich merchants and patricians living in city palaces and countryside pleasure houses; fortified oppida and castles on high promontories withdraw to give ground to rows of columnal pallaces with arcades around the central town square; medieval ascetic divine service is substituted by the Epicurean amorous and pleasure-seeking spirit of revels.  

Renascence novella – a series of funny amorous erotic stories plotted into a frame narrative about a party of fellow-travellers telling their recollections.

·         Renascence lyrics – amorous poetry determined for solitary domestic reading without an instrumental accompaniment of the lute.

·         Idyll – a bucolic eclogue about quiet life in the countryside environment.

·         Elegy – nostalgic elegiac amorous lyric confessions, in which the poet expresses his feelings of Platonic passionate love to a fictitious mistress.

·         Epyllion – a small lyric genre with an epic plot telling about a romantic love between a mythological shepherd and a beautiful shepherdess.

Baroque theatre – alongside with the weakening of Renaissance absolutism there emerges a revival of court life in tragedy, ballet and masque.

·         Elegy – nostalgic amorous lyrical confessions with a tragic undertone.

·         Amorous novel of tragic passions – chivalric erotic romances in prose.

·         Romantic amorous tragicomedy – moving mythical love stories.

·         Baroque tragedy of passions – drama of an intellectual titan’s stoic revolt against the despotism of an unscrupulous tyrant.

Romanticism – the breakdown of liberal dialogic discourse and a return of dramatic forms to romantic epic; court revels revived in upper-class parlours.

·         Romantic novel – noble heroes reign in parlours and clothe tragedies of emotional passions into literary forms of bourgeois prose.

·         Byronic lyric tale – a titanic hero fulminates against his era’s pettiness. 

Table 1. The birth of meditative elegics from fishermens dirges


Adapted from Pavel Bìlíèek: Systematic Poetics II. Literary Ethnology and

Sociology. Prague 2017, pp. 199-203