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Voice, Mortals, and Muses in the Hesiodic Aspis 272-86

Stephen A Sansom

Stanford University

This paper analyzes the theological and poetic significance of voice in the ekphrasis of the Hesiodic Aspis 272-86. Scholars have long noted the inspirational link between the Muses, Zeus, and Hesiod described in the opening of the Theogony 1-103 (e.g. Clay 2003, Stoddard 2004, Goslin 2010, Lachenaud 2013). In particular, Collins 1999 has argued that the Muses endow Hesiod with an inspired voice (audê) that mediates the divine voice of the gods (ossa) and the creation of glory (kleos) through song. No commentators, however, have explored the way this taxonomy of voice extends beyond the Theogony and, in particular, to the ekphrasis of the Hesiodic Aspis and its depiction of a wedding procession (272-86). In this paper, I show how this scene transfers inspired voice (audê) beyond the Theogony and into ritualized, musical performance in the Hesiodic Aspis. First, I show how the wedding procession combines two musical performances of the Muses on Olympus in Hesiod (Asp. 201-6 and Theog. 39-44). Second, I argue that the wedding scene extends Hesiod's taxonomy of voice by reworking a frequent Hesiodic formulaic 'tag' of the Muses (“cast their divine voice” [ossan hieisai, Theog. 10, 43, 65, 67]) as mortals who “cast their inspired voice” (hiesan audên, 278). By doing so, I suggest that the scene expands the imagined function of divinely inspired song beyond the opening of the Theogony and more widely into the Aspis and human institutions characteristic of a peaceful city.

The wedding procession of the Aspis occurs in a scene full of musicality: celebratory dance (272, 277, 282, 284) is scored by the music of 'clear syringes' (278), phorminges (280), auloi (281, 283), and song (282, cf. 274). Although the scene takes place in the mortal 'City at Peace,' it combines elements from two previous performances by the divine Muses. It echoes the song and dance of the Muses earlier in the ekphrasis (201-6), which features Apollo on a golden phorminx (202-3), encompassing signifiers (peri d'..., 204 ~ peri de..., 279), and the Muses who lead the divine dance (hieros choros, 201) and song (205-6). The wedding scene also includes musical elements found in the Muses' performance on Olympus in Theog. 39-44, including echo (Theog. 42 ~ Asp. 279), laughing (Theog. 40 ~ Asp. 283), and song (Theog. 44 ~ Asp. 205; 282). Most importantly, the singers in the wedding procession reformulate the Muses' voice in a phrase that is unique in epic: hiesan audên / ex hapalôn stomatôn (Asp. 278-9) ~ audê / ek stomatôn (Theog. 39) and ossan hieisai (Theog. 43).

Following Collins' taxonomy of voice in Hesiod, the replacement of “divine voice” (ossan, Theog. 43, passim) with an “inspired voice” (audê, Asp. 278) suggests that these representatives of the idealized 'City at Peace' perform not only a wedding song, but also the divinely sanctioned ideology of Olympus as narrated in the Theogony. It does so in terms that are notably ritualistic: the song is characterized as a hymenaios (the song-genre of weddings, 274), the event as a wedding (êgont' andri gynaika, 273-4), and the procession as a kômos ('ritual procession, revel' 281). As a poetic reworking of the divine chorus of the Muses and a prominent Hesiodic formula for voice, the wedding scene depicts a city that functions peacefully according to the musical order of Zeus as described in the Hesiodic corpus (cf. Kowalzig 2007, Carey 2009, Wilson 2003). This paper thus furthers our understanding of the musical and divine aspects of voice in Hesiod and early Greek poetry.

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Homer and Hesiod

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