In modern histories of folklore scholarship, when the topic concerns pioneers of oral epic fieldwork prior to Milman Parry and Albert Lord, no scholars are mentioned more often than Wilhelm Radloff and Matija Murko.1 Though the two worked in different language families and belonged to different scholarly generations (Radloff was nearly a quarter-century older than Murko), the reasons for their influence are well known: Radloff was one of the first to collect oral epics from Turkic-speaking peoples in Russia and Siberia, doing so throughout the 1860s and 1870s, while Murko, in his time as a professor in Vienna, Graz, Leipzig, and Prague, conducted extensive fieldwork in Yugoslav lands among epic and lyric singers as early as 1909 and as late as 1932.2 Today both are regarded as two of the earliest observers of oral epic to have provided substantial firsthand documentary accounts of performances they witnessed in the traditions within which they worked, and both are frequently cited in debates surrounding the role played by oral epic in the twentieth-century form of the “Homeric Question.” What has never before been recognized or discussed, however, is the fact that the two were also personal acquaintances who spent time together in St. Petersburg, Russia, during the years 1887–89. In what follows I report and translate the Slovenian-language source, written by Murko himself, that mentions the friendship in a single passage (M. Murko 1951b:70–71), and I then discuss their scholarly acquaintance in a more elaborated historical context of institutions, methodological traditions, and technologies influential (but mutating) at the time.
Although Radloff did produce editions of the songs he transcribed, and though Murko did publish a small number of song transcriptions (very few in comparison to Radloff3), neither was involved in the establishment of a national epic corpus on behalf of his own ethnopolitical group—a crucial point that separates both from earlier collector-scholars such as Vuk Karadžić and Elias Lönnrot. In comparison to this earlier period of epic collection, then, both Radloff and Murko can be located at a later but still significant historical moment when the establishment of new institutions, university chairs, scholarly congresses, and academic journals had become an additional impetus for the collection and analysis of folklore. When considered from this perspective, the scholarly contributions (not to mention, friendship) of Radloff and Murko can be shown to belong to a period when European institutions were undergoing various forms of transformation and modernization, a process that took place according to different disciplinary temporalities and tempos, to be sure, but which eventually gave way to an institutional landscape, and an ensemble of methodological concerns, that more closely resemble those of the post-World War II period.4 What is especially striking about Murko’s autobiographical remembrance is the fact that every single person mentioned in it by name was intimately involved in one way or another, though in different cultural domains, with this particular period of methodological, institutional, and technological change. I return to this point, with expanded comments, in the second half of the paper and in the conclusion.
Radloff and Murko in the Field
Though research on folk epic constituted only a portion of both Radloff and Murko’s scholarly corpora, their reputations with folklorists today derive to a significant degree from the emphasis placed by both on rigorously collected fieldwork, an emphasis one does not typically find in the work of their contemporaries.5 Outside of each’s own discipline, their reports made a significant impact on Milman Parry, as has been discussed and documented on several occasions.6 John Miles Foley (1990:72–130), for example, included translations of seminal writings by Radloff (1990) and Murko (1990) in a group of articles devoted to early scholarship on oral epics. Lauri Honko (1998:177–79), in his monumental textual ethnography Textualising the Siri Epic, paid tribute to Radloff’s rigor by giving an incisive evaluation of Radloff’s transcription methods. In a more recent book on Altay oral epic, Lauri Harvilahti (2003) concluded his chapter on Altaic oral epic performance by citing passages from Radloff, one of which included Radloff’s...