Published online by Cambridge University Press: 31 October 2019
In 1977 the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges published a short story called El espejo y la máscara (The Mirror and the Mask).2 In it the king of Ireland instructs his court bard Ollan, a singer-poet and harpist, to “sing his victory” over the Norwegians. The bard returned to the king three times at one-year intervals with a new poem. The first was a work of carefully inscribed perfection: it obeyed the rules and conventions of his art, reproduced the teachings of the ancients, and in its written form showed skill in “rhyme, alliteration, assonance, quantities, the artifices of learned rhetoric, the wise variation of meters.” The king accepted the poem, ordered thirty scribes to copy it twelve times each, and awarded the poet a silver mirror. But the king was not yet satisfied: “… nothing has happened.
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