Who Is the First Bard in the World?

by Amy

The term “bard” evokes images of poets and storytellers, often wandering minstrels who weave tales of heroism, romance, and adventure. In many cultures, bards have played a crucial role in preserving history and tradition through oral storytelling. But who is the first bard in the world? To answer this question, we must explore the origins of bardic traditions across different civilizations, examine the earliest known poets and storytellers, and understand the cultural contexts in which they emerged.

The Definition of a Bard

Bardic Traditions Across Cultures

A bard, in the traditional sense, is a poet and storyteller who composes and recites verses celebrating the feats of heroes, the beauty of the natural world, and the values of society. Bards are often associated with Celtic cultures, where they held esteemed positions as custodians of oral history. However, the concept of a bard is not limited to the Celtic world. Similar roles existed in various ancient cultures, including Greece, India, and the Middle East, where poets and storytellers were integral to cultural and historical preservation.

The Role of Bards in Society

Bards served as the memory keepers of their societies. In the absence of written records, their oral compositions were vital for transmitting cultural values, historical events, and genealogies from one generation to the next. Their performances were not just entertainment; they were educational and often carried moral and ethical lessons. The bard’s role was multifaceted: they were historians, entertainers, and moral guides, all rolled into one.

The Earliest Known Poets and Storytellers

Homer: The Epic Poet of Ancient Greece

Homer is perhaps the most famous early poet, often considered the father of Western literature. Living in ancient Greece, Homer is traditionally credited with composing “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” epic poems that have profoundly influenced Western literary tradition. These works, composed in the 8th century BCE, were initially transmitted orally by bards known as rhapsodes. While Homer himself is shrouded in mystery—some even debate his existence—the enduring legacy of his epics highlights the importance of early bards in preserving and shaping cultural heritage.

Valmiki: The Adikavi of India

In Indian tradition, Valmiki is revered as the Adikavi, or the first poet. He is credited with composing the “Ramayana,” one of India’s greatest epic poems, which narrates the life and adventures of Lord Rama. Valmiki’s work, believed to have been composed around the 5th century BCE, is foundational to Indian culture and literature. His poetic compositions, filled with moral and spiritual guidance, reflect the bardic tradition’s role in shaping societal values and preserving history.

Enheduanna: The First Named Author in History

Enheduanna, an Akkadian high priestess of the moon god Nanna, is often considered the world’s first named author. Living in the 23rd century BCE, she composed hymns and religious texts that were both poetic and devotional. Her works, such as the “Exaltation of Inanna,” provide insight into the religious and cultural life of ancient Mesopotamia. Enheduanna’s contributions underscore the early role of poets and bards in recording and transmitting cultural and religious traditions.

The Bardic Tradition in Celtic Cultures

The Druids and Bards of Ancient Ireland and Wales

In Celtic cultures, particularly in Ireland and Wales, bards held a prestigious place within society. They were part of the Druidic order, serving as the keepers of oral tradition and cultural memory. These bards composed and recited poetry that celebrated the deeds of warriors, the lineage of kings, and the mystical aspects of the natural world. Their works, though largely oral, were later transcribed into manuscripts such as the “Book of Kells” and the “Mabinogion,” preserving their rich heritage for future generations.

The Evolution of the Bardic Tradition

The bardic tradition in Celtic cultures evolved over centuries, adapting to changes in society and the advent of written language. Despite these changes, the essence of the bardic role remained the same: to celebrate, preserve, and transmit cultural knowledge through poetic composition. This continuity underscores the enduring importance of bards in maintaining a society’s cultural and historical integrity.

Ancient Bardic Traditions in Other Cultures

The Griots of West Africa

In West African cultures, griots (also known as jalis) perform a role similar to that of bards. They are oral historians, musicians, and poets who preserve the genealogies, histories, and cultural traditions of their communities. The griot tradition is particularly prominent in countries such as Mali, Senegal, and Guinea. Like their Celtic counterparts, griots are revered for their extensive knowledge and skill in storytelling and music.

The Ashiks of Anatolia

In Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), ashiks were minstrel poets who composed and performed songs and poems that often contained elements of both entertainment and moral instruction. The ashik tradition dates back to the medieval period and continues to be a vital part of Turkish cultural heritage. These poets, like the bards of other cultures, were instrumental in preserving the oral history and cultural identity of their people.

The Oral Tradition and Its Importance

Preservation of History and Culture

Oral tradition, the primary medium for bards and similar figures, is crucial for the preservation of history and culture. Before the widespread use of writing, oral storytelling was the main method by which societies recorded and transmitted their collective knowledge. This tradition ensured that important events, genealogies, and cultural values were passed down through generations, maintaining continuity and identity within communities.

The Transition to Written Records

The transition from oral to written records marked a significant shift in the way societies preserved their histories. While writing provided a more permanent and widespread method of documentation, it did not diminish the importance of oral tradition. Many early written records were based on oral compositions, and the role of bards and poets remained vital in societies that continued to value oral storytelling.

The Legacy of the First Bards

Influence on Literature and Culture

The legacy of the first bards is evident in the lasting influence they have had on literature and culture. Their works laid the foundation for epic poetry, storytelling, and historical documentation. Figures like Homer, Valmiki, and Enheduanna set the standards for literary excellence and cultural preservation that subsequent generations of poets and writers have followed.

Modern Interpretations and Continuations

The bardic tradition continues to inspire modern poets, writers, and musicians. Contemporary storytellers often draw upon the themes, styles, and techniques of their ancient predecessors, ensuring that the spirit of the first bards lives on. The continued relevance of bardic traditions in modern culture highlights the timeless appeal and importance of storytelling in human society.


Identifying the first bard in the world is a complex task, as the role of the bard has existed in various forms across many ancient cultures. Figures such as Homer, Valmiki, and Enheduanna represent the earliest known poets and storytellers who played crucial roles in their societies. Their contributions to literature and cultural preservation highlight the importance of bards in maintaining the historical and cultural integrity of their communities. The legacy of these early bards continues to influence and inspire modern storytelling, ensuring that the tradition of the bard remains an integral part of human culture.

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