The formula and theme in the Arabic chivalrous romance

The anonymous Arabic chivalrous romances (sīrats) belong to a large family of heroic epics common to most cultures. After several centuries of oral transmission during which their number considerably increased, they were written down in the 14th-16th centuries in the Mamluk Egypt. However, the art of oral transmission continued to exist. Sīrats are extremely bulky: an average work numbers a couple of thousand pages. It has not been explained yet how the narrator controlled such an immense material and managed to transfer it orally as a coherent work, which was very attractive to the middle and lower strata of the contemporary society. The size of the sīrat precluded its being learned by heart. Thus, each recital, which sometimes lasted several days, was an improvisation, that is a one-time creative act, but not the literal reconstruction of the work. This may be evidenced by the surviving versions of the particular sīrats, differing between themselves. At the same time, the diversity of language and com- position of these literary works can be seen not only within one sīrat, but also in the whole collection of sīrats. Thus, there had to be some ways, which allowed the narrator to recite it fluently, a certain stock of rules and tricks shaping and organizing their linguistic material and theme. In Arabic literature there is no evidence on the skills of the narrator.
Madeyska Danuta, The formula and theme in the Arabic chivalrous romance, Studia Arabistyczne i Islamistyczne 5, 1997, pp. 126-133