Edited By Leslie Boldt, Corrado Federici and Ernesto Virgulti
Part VI. Classical and Medieval Silence: Poets, Saints, Mistresses
15. When Must a Singer Be Silenced? Anton Jansen Is censorship ever justified? Different answers to this question are encoun- tered in several ancient Greek sources. In Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (ca. 750 B.C) a number of scenes define aspects of the ancient Greek take on censorship. To the Greeks the essential aspect of censorship was its treatment of the singer (aoidos). This is a term that refers to any person who presents material orally. The later term poet (poietes) is somewhat more inclusive since it includes people who work in other media. Nevertheless, the terms are almost interchangeable to the ancient Greeks. Was such an individual, usual- ly seen as blessed with the gift of second sight or divine inspiration for his words, free to say what he felt and thought? Homer shows us that, whether it is justified or not, censorship is simply going to happen. The singer’s ability to be heard is always socially constrained in Homer’s works. Only certain people have the right to speak at certain occasions. In Homer the rules are very different for nobles (aristoi) and singers (aoidoi). Nobles have the greatest freedom to speak followed by singers. Commoners are even more constrained as far as speech is concerned. A more direct answer to the initial question is found in what is perhaps the most famous ancient Greek answer to the question of censorship, the one found in Plato’s Republic (ca. 380 BC). Plato sees poetic and artistic inspira- tion as a danger...
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