When I started to generally ease my way back into the SCA, one of the goals and intentions I set for myself was to learn more things that my persona (late 16th-century German bourgeoisie) might have encountered. As I am interested in the Bardic arts, I decided to look for some German poetry forms, and chanced upon the “priamel.” I originally found it in Todd H.C. Fischer’s excellent encyclopedia of period poetry forms, Ossa Poetices. From there, I found the additional references I list at the bottom of the page. I recently entered this poem into the Poeta Atlantiae competition, and was gratified that people found it funny (although to be honest, there was a certain cheekiness in writing the poem about certain people in the Kingdom and then submitting it to a poetry contest in said Kingdom, but poking fun at important people is a documentable practice, so I stand by my complete and total lack of regret at doing so.)
I did receive some excellent feedback, particularly in the area of my documentation. One judge suggested that they wanted to see a documentation that would give them enough information to go and try their hand at writing their own poem. I’ve taken this under advisement, and I’m actually thinking of creating a class on writing priamels. Just one more thing on the old to-do list. In the meantime, here is my crack at writing this particular pithy poem-form.
A Priamel or, A Pithy Warning Upon Being “That” Lord
The bow that at self-glory aims
And finds itself a different fame;
The fencer who in preening wit
O’er lunges and ends up in the shit;
The steward who hastens to bend the knee
When a noble breaks wind in his company;
The pupil who his own lesson makes hard
Learns—never, ever piss off a Bard.
What is a Priamel, or The Documentation!
A priamel, according to William H. Race in The Classical Priamel from Homer to Boethius (Race 2): “…refer[s] specifically to a minor poetic genre composed primarily in Germany from the 12th to the 16th centuries.” The form consists of a set of short, pithy statements, sometimes paradoxical, wrapped up in a final, culminating verse that works similarly to a punchline. While certain historians have placed the priamel as a form within a developing continuum from classical times, the German form is more likely original to Germany in these centuries, and is a form that combines a “series of parallels ideas along with an artistic viewpoint and seeks to bind them to a central unity.” These poems often lent themselves to a satirical theme, and the final stanza was often quite pointed.
My study of this form stems from an enthusiasm for learning about the poems and literature my 16th-century German persona might have encountered; as a popular “Volkspoesie,” or folk poem, it is likely I would have heard someone dash off a witty priamel or, perhaps, as a middle-class merchant family, been the butt of one.
 “Demnach ist das Priamel [ein Form] die eine Reihe paralleler Einzelheiten in bestimmten Formen mit künstlerische Absicht zu einer inneren Einheit zu verbinden sucht.” (Euling)
Euling, Karl. Das Priamel bis Hans Rosenpluet. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1977.
Race, William H. The Classical Priamel from Homer to Boethius. Boston: Brill, 1982.
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