Friday, September 22, 2017


Paola Angeli Bernardini (ed.), Le funzioni del silenzio nella Grecia antica: antropologia, poesia, storiografia, teatro: Convegno del Centro internazionale di studi sulla cultura della Grecia antica: Urbino, 9-10 ottobre 2014. Biblioteca di "Quaderni urbinati di cultura classica," 12. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2015. Pp. 232. ISBN 9788862278294. €72.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Stephen Kidd, Brown University (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

This volume originated in a conference held at the University of Urbino in October 2014. It comprises 14 essays on the uses of silence in Greek literature and culture. Although literary studies are most prominent (Homer, Pindar, the tragedians, Aristophanes, Chariton), there are also studies on ritual silence, the "silences" found in genealogies, and the silencing of the demos in the oligarchic coup of 411 BCE. What constitutes "silence" can at times be rather wide-ranging, including not only secrets, conspiracies, omissions, and ritual silences, but also barbarian language, false names, rhetorical devices like praeteritio and aposiopesis, and the strategic choices that poets make in choosing one mythological tradition over another. There are thus a number of questions raised for the reader regarding the boundaries of silence and how, considering this broad range, silence ought to be defined.

After a brief introduction from Bernardini (9-16), the volume begins with Spina's meditation on the relationship between the silent dead and the living community which wishes to give voice to that silence. Although funerary epigram becomes the eventual focus of the piece (21-3), an illuminating modern parallel is found in the curious applause found at certain Italian funerals. Why the applause? Much like the inability of audiences to allow silence to linger at the end of theatrical and musical performances, so too at the funeral (24): there is an urge to fill the silence rather than letting it speak.

Fileni argues that barbarians, because of their inability to speak Greek, are conceived of as incapable of producing normal human sounds, exhibiting instead a pathology of speech which groups them together with non-human animals: they are thus effectively reduced to silence. The central text behind this view is Sophocles' Trachiniae 1058-61 where the word aglossos is used to describe non-Greeks. She develops her interpretation with Strabo and others, but the most helpful context comes at the end where it is noted that communication with non-Greeks could not have been uncommon (44-5).

Serafini collects references to instances of ritual silence in the cult of the Eumenides (51-7), Demeter (57-60), magic ritual (60-5), Pythagorean cult (65-8), as well as the observed silences that surround homicides (68-71). This wealth of material cannot be adequately covered here, but regarding the last, there is a useful conception of words' ability to convey pollution (68: "i Greci erano profondamente convinti che il miasma potesse trasmettersi anche attraverso le parole"), as he discusses Orestes, the silent drinking of the Choes festival, Jason and Medea's visit to Circe in the Argonautica, and the Lex Cathartica of Cyrene.

Amatori confronts the "silences" found in genealogies, focusing on the omission of women (73-6), the omission of secondary branches from family trees (76-8), and the silences that arise from the so-called "floating gap," that is, the chronologically middle section of a genealogy which is of less interest than the distant origin or present time, and so regularly forgotten (78-83). These phenomena are not caused by issues of logistics or simply lost information, they are rather strategic silences (82: "i silenzi…non sono mai casuali, ma al contrario svelano schemi convenzionali e strategie precise").

Santucci reconstructs the silences of the Athenian assembly before the oligarchic coup of 411, focusing on Thucydides' account and Aristophanes' Lysistrata. The brilliance of the conspirators lay in their co-opting democratic language to advance their agenda, while fear and suspicion prevented the majority from speaking its mind. In such a scenario, it becomes impossible for a majority to ascertain the size of a conspiracy since the majority remains silent in fear while a vocal minority is perceived to be much larger than it actually is.

Catenacci's chapter considers Odysseus' false name of "Aithon" which he reveals to Penelope in Book 19. Since many of Odysseus' false names are interpreted as meaningful or "speaking" names (Outis, Eperitos, Apheidas) what is Odysseus doing with the name "Aithon"? After overviewing past theories on this question (105-107), he offers his own: Aithon is an allusion to the similar-sounding aietos (eagle) which not only regularly represents Odysseus (108), but, more significantly, is the symbol of the dream Penelope will soon relate to him.

Montiglio, whose book Silence in the Land of Logos (Princeton, 2000) is regularly cited in this volume as foundational for the subject, expands her earlier study which focused mainly on archaic and classical Greece with a chapter on Chariton's Callirhoe. Unlike Odysseus, who is characterized by his ability to use silence for his own purposes, the heroes of this novel reflect a different ideal: Chaereas and Dionysius are regularly struck dumb with emotion, while Callirhoe, although voluntarily silent, is compelled by aidos. In fact, it is only the lower characters who use silence for rhetorical ends.

Lomiento explores Pindar's rhetorical devices of aposiopesis (132-3), praeteritio (133-5), and ainigma (135-9) as forms of silence. Aposiopesis often marks a transition and draws attention to whatever is left unsaid, while praeteritio can be seen as the avoidance of excess, not just for the purposes of performance (e.g., avoiding boredom), but because measure is a supreme ethical value (134). Ainigma requires consultation of the contentious scholia which report Pindar's "riddling", for example, about Simonides and Bacchylides. These scholia should not be dismissed but rather "registrano la convinzione ferma dell'esistenza… di un discorso sommerso" (138-9).

Olivieri examines Pindar's choices of myths in non-epinician poetry: Paean 2 omits certain features of Abdera's founding and history (143-6), Enc. frs. 118-19 Maehler treat the history of the Emmenidai differently from Ol. 2 (146-7), while Paean 12 and Hymn 1 treat differently the birth of Apollo and Artemis. The context of patronage and performance explains these differences, and similar strategies can be found in the treatment of Heracles in Isth. 4 (what to make of his eight children dying as adults?), and Melampus in Paean 4. These strategic choices do not reflect "opportunismo" but a "disincantato realismo" (150).

Beltrametti examines the use of silence in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, Euripides' Hippolytus, and Prometheus Bound. The silence and apprehension at the beginning of Agamemnon returns in the problems of articulation in the third stasimon. Hippolytus creates a mirroring structure where Phaedra maintains silence about her unspeakable passion until it becomes Hippolytus' secret to keep. Prometheus meanwhile is silent not just for the first 87 lines of the play, but holds the play's secret of Zeus' overthrow, which may be connected to secretive Orphic cults at the end of the fifth century (165-7).

Galvani collects and organizes the moments when characters in tragedy command the chorus to be silent. Although he notes there is no way to categorize these moments precisely—there will always be sui generis outliers (171)—he identifies three headings: 1. to draw attention to the stage action, e.g., the entrance of a new character (171-5), 2. to prevent the noisy chorus from awakening a sleeping character (175-80), 3. to ask the chorus to keep a secret (180-5). An exemplary outlier is the choral silencing at the beginning of Seven Against Thebes: Eteocles' motive is to protect the city from the women's infectious fear (185-90).

Bravi wishes to improve on the treatment of comedy's euphemia in Susanne Gödde's 2011 book by examining euphemia in not one but all of Aristophanes' comedies. This includes a nuanced appreciation of the metrical and musical changes that surround calls for euphemia, with helpful hints from the scholia. Although such changes do not occur at each call for euphemia, the overview does suggest a pattern: euphemia (unlike sigē and siōpē) always bears a religious or sacred aspect, whether the context be a sacrifice, a consecration of a certain space, or a prayer to the gods (202).

The volume ends with an appendix, Danese's chapter on the uses of silence in two films: Pasolini's Medea (1969) and Taymor's Titus (1999). Pasolini uses silence to characterize Medea and the Colchians as ideal and wild (read: rural proletariat) and contrast them to the talkative Greeks (read: capitalist bourgeoisie). Taymor's Titus has the mutilated Lavinia able to narrate her story first by using the "voce muta" of a book (212), but then, in a departure from Shakespeare, renouncing the voice by choosing to write not with her mouth, but with her whole body: it is the choice of a "silenzio assai fragoroso" (214).

Many connections are waiting to be made between the chapters, and I offer a few that occurred to me, for example, between ritual silence (Serafini) and dramatic silence (Beltrametti, Galvani, Bravi). Dikaiopolis' ritual silence at his homemade phallic procession (Ach. 237, discussed at 195-6) reminds of Semos of Delos' On Paeans (FGrHist 396 F 24 = Ath. 14.622a-d), where performers are described as entering in silence (sigēi) and only breaking that silence when they reach the middle of the orkhestra, at which point they turn to the audience (theatron) and announce the entrance of the god "erect and engorged". Is this ritual silence or dramatic silence and what is the relationship between the two? Is it that both ritual and drama share in some timeless rhetoric of silence (e.g., a silence which draws attention to what is about to be performed), or are the two historically related in some way (e.g., dramatic silences emerge from ritual silences)? Spina describes well the silences at the end of performances (24), but there are also the quasi-ritual silences that precede them as well.

Another question emerges from the Pindar chapters: if certain silences arise whenever a poet chooses one mythological tradition over another (141-50), or, like Catenacci's Odysseus, leaves riddling clues that the majority of listeners do not even register (135-9 for Pindaric ainigma), where is the line of "silence" to be drawn? Does all figurative language create a certain silence, inasmuch as the non-figurative version of the utterance is left unsaid? Or should one be more bold and claim rather that all language—by choosing to say one thing rather than another—is surrounded by the unspoken? Such a model reminds of Santucci's interesting description of the democratic assembly where a unified resolution conceals an unknown number of voices—unknown because they are silent—while a vocal minority is mistaken for the voice of the people.

Thus, there was often a desire for some over-arching definition of, if not consensus about, silence beyond the helpful remarks and examples of Bernardini's introduction. On the other hand, as I found myself wishing to impose that over-arching meaning on this volume about "Silence", I could not help but recall Spina's opening meditation on applause and the inability of audiences to allow silence to speak after a performance: one always surrenders to the anxious need to control silence's meanings by breaking it. Perhaps Bernardini wished to avoid just this sort of imposition on Silenzio, leaving it to the rest of us to applaud.

Authors and titles

Paola Angeli Bernardini, Introduction (9-16)
Luigi Spina, "Tacere, parlare e applaudire dinanzi alla morte" (19-25)
Maria Grazia Fileni, "Aglossos gaia: il silenzio dei barbari" (27-48)
Nicola Serafini, "Il silenzio come atto rituale: fra culti 'ctonî' e cerimonie magiche" (49-72)
Alessandra Amatori, "I silenzi nelle genealogie in età arcaica e classica: strategie e convenzioni" (73-84)
Marco Santucci, "Funzioni del silenzio nella dialettica politica di V secolo ad Atene: la katalysis tou demou del 411 a.C." (85-99)
Carmine Catenacci, "Odisseo e il falso nome Aithon (Hom. Od. 19,183)" (103-13)
Silvia Montiglio, "Emozioni e strategie: aspetti del silenzio in Cherea e Calliroe" (115-26)
Liana Lomiento, "Il silenzio nell'encomio. Riflessioni sulle figure del non detto nell'epinicio pindarico" (129-39)
Oretta Olivieri, "Dire o non dire? Strategie mitiche nella lirica pindarica" (141-50)
Anna Beltrametti, "Quali silenzi per quali segreti in tragedia: scandali, tabù, sapienza" (153-68)
Giampaolo Galvani, "Esortazioni al silenzio nella tragedia di V secolo" (169-93)
Luigi Bravi, "Scene di εὐφημία nella commedia di Aristofane" (195-203)
Roberto M. Danese, "I loquaci silenzi filmici di Medea e Lavinia. Medea di Pier Paolo Pasolini e Titus di Julie Taymor (207-15)

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