Both entertainment and education have been integrals parts of the human experience since the beginnings of time. Many scholars insist that the two institutions often serve jointly, with entertainers and entertainment serving as a main source of education. There is little argument, then, that in addition to generally appealing to the masses, entertainers have regularly fulfilled the role of a teacher to typically unsuspecting audiences. Entertainers have served as educators throughout history, from the origins of oral narratives through the Middle Ages.
The earliest forms of unwritten communication were essentially used to spread knowledge from one source to another. Religious disciplines were the first information passed from person to person through entertainment. In the third century B.C., Buddhist monks tried to win converts outside India through the use of theater and song (Burdick 97). They taught the precepts of Siddhartha and Buddha in such theatrical epics as Ramayana and Mahabharata, setting exacting rules for theater performance in the process (Burdick 99). Similarly, Irish monks established singing schools, which taught uniform use of music throughout the church (Young 31). Through chants which were all the same, they spread identical teachings. Christian psalms and hymns in Apostolic times were sung to spread the knowledge and faith of Christianity. In fact, Christianity was promoted from the start by music. Churches were for long the only centers of learning, with monks teaching all lessons through music (Young 39). Through the use of sacred music, monks and clergy successfully spread the teachings of their religions in a practical manner.
Entertainers used the theater as a place to tell the stories of the day, both fictional and topical. The African oral tradition was rich in folk tales, myths, riddles, and proverbs, serving a religious, social, and economic function (Lindfors 1). Likewise, Asian actors covered their faces with masks in order to act out a scandal of the day without the audience knowing who was passing along the gossip (Archer 76). European puppets were another medium which permitted entertainers to spread current gossip without revealing the identity of the storyteller (Speaight 16). The theatrical productions of the Greeks further explored the use of theater as an instructional tool. Because the theater provided such a diverse forum for expression, stage actors and playwrights consistantly utilized this locale to eduate the general public.
Oral communication was widely used to educate society about morals and basic truths. The most highly developed theoretical discussions from ancient times were those of he Greeks, who passed on this knowledge through music and stories. Homer, the eighth-century B.C. poet, court singer, and storyteller, embodied ideal Greek morals and heroic conduct in his spoken epic, The Iliad (Beye 1). Homer and other poets used qualities not found in written language to make the memorization of their works easier so their sagas could be repeated for generations (Edwards 1). African tribes people and Native Americans also instilled morals and lessons to their communities through stories and fables (Edwards 1). These oral narratives were soon after recorded on paper as early forms of literature became prevalent.
Many of the thoughts previously expressed through oral
communication only could now be recorded for the future as writing became wide-spread. The era of writing began with Chinese literature more than 3,500 years ago, as the Chinese recorded tales on oracle bones (Mair 1). The Greeks, however, were the first known civilization to translate their oral history into writing (Henderson 1). While the earliest Greek literature was produced by the Indo-Europeans in 2,000 B.C., the most essential works began in Ionia with the epics of Homer in the eighth century B.C. (Henderson 7). This oral poetry is the foundation of Greek literature, and epic poetry such as...
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