‘flyting’

Next term we’ll be reading the classic Subculture: The Meaning of Style, which I always look forward to. It is fun to seek out the hidden sources of punk. I look forward to finding out more from this latest news tidbit: Ferenc Szasz posits a theory that rap is actually from the ancient Caledonian art of ‘flyting,’ carried over from Scottish slave owners. Having trouble finding out more…

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1 Response to “‘flyting’”


  1. 1 wynnj26 February 8, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Update: My friend, Mary, offers a report on flyting. I’m including it here, unedited, despite her request. Heck, I’ll include her request too:

    So I looked at your blog a while back and noted your entry on flyting. Have to disagree with Szasz’s theory that rap is “from” flyting, although some rap may briefly resemble some flyting. How’s that for a tenuous link? The term is Scottish but it’s used across the board to describe the trading back and forth (which is key) of insults in song form, verse, or prose. Most flyting does not involve music. Flyting has been found across many cultures (Norse, Greek, Arabic, Scottish, Inuit, possibly more), and in varied eras (no I can’t be more specific), but the general sense is that it’s *old*.

    There’s flyting in Beowulf (I don’t remember which part), and an entire section in the Norse Poetic Edda called the Lokasenna, or The Flyting of Loki. Some of the latter is actually pretty funny. Maybe some rap and hip hop (especially the MC wars from years ago) have some aspects of flyting in them, but it’s really a stretch: rap and hip hop are simply not trying to resurrect or adapt ancient Norse or Scottish verse forms, and if they were, they would have failed miserably. Any similarity (uh, the occasional insulting banter in some rap) is more of a vague near-coincidence. If anything, flyting is perhaps closer to the ‘dozens’ than to most forms of rap or hip hop.

    [And in a second email] Anyway–more flyting stuff. Feel free to use any information in this for your blog, but, as I mentioned in my last email, reword my scattered explanations rather than quote me, please. I found out that there are also instances of flyting in Homeric Greek texts and the Bible, but unfortunately I don’t have any examples for you at hand. The last few things I wanted to mention are more for your consideration rather than explanations in themselves (read: I didn’t have any time to research what I wanted to research).

    1). As far as the Scottish slave traders go, their presence was, from what I understand, much stronger in Jamaica, the West Indies, and other Caribbean locations than in America. I couldn’t find (see note about research above) any statistics on the percentage of Scottish slave *owners* who settled here. This reduces the number of Scottish flyters and the amount of time they would have spent flyting in front of the African slaves who wound up in America.

    2.) Even if there were significant numbers of Scottish slave owners here, what areas did they settle in and how densely, how many of them actually engaged in flyting, how often would they do so, and, out of those times, how often would the slaves be allowed to be part of the audience?

    3.) Language barriers, hmmm, may be an issue for the Africans in transit and those newly-arrived in the country. Does the author of the “rap-music-has-Scottish-origins” deal with this problem at all? Or does he assume that the very nature of flyting transcends language differences? Perhaps the Scotsmen were thoughtful enough to translate their verbal battles into the myriad African languages….

    The common threads of flyting (a duel of insults) pop up in different forms in very discrete cultures across the world. The vague similarities it shares with some–but by no means all–rap are loose indeed. It’s akin to claiming that jumprope rhymes have their origins in Greek drama because of their use of rhyme and meter. Ridiculous. And it’s insulting to ascribe what is in all probability an American cultural manifestation with African-American roots to–well–to the white male oppressor. It stinks of condescending “Look what we gave you” propaganda.

    I’ve found an interesting reaction to this article; it’s got flaws, but it’s certainly worth reading.


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