Itinerant poet

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An itinerant poet or strolling minstrel (also known variously as a gleeman, circler, or cantabank) was a wandering minstrel, bard, musician, or other poet common in medieval Europe but extinct today. From a lower class than jesters or jongleurs because he did not have steady work, he instead roamed about to make his living.[1]

Medieval performers[edit]

In Medieval England, a gleeman was a reciter of poetry. Like the scop, the gleeman performed poetry to the accompaniment of the harp or "glee wood".[1] The gleeman occasionally attached himself to a single/particular court but was most often a wandering entertainer, unlike the scop, who was more static. A gleeman was also less likely to compose or perform his own poetry and relied on the work of others for his material.[1]

A source cited that the number of itinerant poets were augmented by disgraced courtiers, clairvoyants, and even the deformed as these entertainers formed troupes and catered to the whims of individual patrons.[2] An example of notable itinerant poet was Till Eulenspiegel, a fictional character famous in the 12th century.[2] These, however, do indicate that the itinerant poet is merely a fool working to elicit laughter with his acts. There are those considered geniuses such as the Scottish bards and performers of the harp who were credited for composing and preserving "many fine old songs".[3]

Ancient strolling songsters[edit]

Prior to the emergence of medieval itinerant poets, there were already strolling minstrels in ancient Greece. An account also identified these strolling songsters as Rhapsodists during Homer's time.[4] These were more than entertainers, with an account describing them as men who recorded honorable feats and aristocratic genealogies.[5] They were thus supported by a culture of patronage.[6] Even in ancient England, their skill was considered divine and their person as sacred so that they were accorded honor and reward everywhere they perform.[7] Both in Ireland and Scotland, every chief or Regulus had his own bard, who did not only entertain but also served as ambassador.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Bahn, Eugene; Bahn, Margaret (1970). "Medieval Period". A History of Oral Interpretation. Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Co. pp. 56–57.
  2. ^ a b Cornwell, Neil (2006). The Absurd in Literature. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 38. ISBN 0719074096.
  3. ^ Gelbart, Matthew (2007). The Invention of 'Folk Music' and 'Art Music': Emerging Categories from Ossian to Wagner. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 83. ISBN 9781139466080.
  4. ^ MacPherson, James (2010). The Poems of Ossian, Volume 4. Boston: General Books LLC. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-154-43238-1.
  5. ^ Guerrini, Anita (2017-05-15). Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500-1800. Routledge. ISBN 9781317176374.
  6. ^ Fumerton, Patricia; Guerrini, Anita; McAbee, Kris (2010). Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500-1800. Surrey, UK: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-7546-6248-8.
  7. ^ McDowell, Paula (2017). The Invention of the Oral: Print Commerce and Fugitive Voices in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 240. ISBN 978-0-226-45696-6.
  8. ^ Brack, O. M.; Chilton, Leslie; Keithley, Walter H. (2016). The Miscellaneous Writings of Tobias Smollett. Oxon: Routledge. p. 281. ISBN 978-1-84893-503-7.