On the Association of Music and Lyrics in Sung Verse
Poetry and music in archaic and classical Greece. Some thoughts
Our life is immersed in sounds. Cars’ horns, engines’ roars, TV screams and murmurs, music echoing in public places, an infinity of voices, harmonies, rings or plain noises to whose existence we have grown insensitive, unless all that suddenly stops, for one reason or another. Our life goes on inside a veritable phonosphere. And in the ancient world? What was ancients’ phonosphere like?
With these observations, in a recent, beautiful book, Maurizio Bettini sets out tackling the question of the ancient phonosphere.1 Even if Bettini chooses to deal with music but cursorily, privileging generally neglected aspects of the ancient sonorous landscape (sounds and noises; animals’ voices; birds’ song, and so forth), music was without a doubt a fundamental ingredient of the archaic and classical Greek phonosphere.2 In order to assess this fact, it suffices us to recall the largely central role that music played in the mythical narratives. We may recall, for example, the doings of the many legendary divine singers, whose ← 15 | 16 → tidings are recorded in our sources: Orpheus, to be sure, but the Theban Amphion as well, capable of moving stones by the sound of his lyre, or Thamyris, the Thracian singer that was blinded for challenging the Muses and deprived of his divine singing and of the art of lyre playing (Hom. Il. II 594–600), or else the tales of divine heuresis of musical instruments (an outstanding example being the invention of the lyre by Hermes).3 As a matter of...
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