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A Voice without a Muse

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Primates and the Ancient Phonosphere in Greek and Roman Cultures

image of Greek and Roman Musical Studies

Ancient sources often describe non-human primates as imitative animals, i.e., living beings able to reproduce, with different degrees of perfection, gestures and movements carried out by human beings. Indeed monkeys are often characterized as mimeloi, mimetikoi, terms coming from the same semantic field of the noun mimos (< *mim-).But what about the world of sounds? Are non-human primates regarded as good imitators and performers also when it comes to music and singing? Ancient evidence clearly indicates that other animal species (like nightingales or partridges), and not monkeys, were mainly regarded as excellent singers worthy of imitation by human beings. Through a detailed analysis of ancient Greek sources, especially some passages in Galen, this paper aims at investigating why non-human primates were not considered good singers. In particular, this survey tries to shed a new light on some cultural associations, according to which the small and weak voice of monkeys (µικροφωνία) and the voice of other figures in ancient society (like actors, musicians, kids, eunuchs and so on) were described in a similar way.

Affiliations: 1: Université Côte d’Azur CEPAM (CNRS, UMR 7264)Università degli studi di Siena Centro Antropologia e Mondo Antico marco.vespa@univ-cotedazur.fr

10.1163/22129758-12341298
/content/journals/10.1163/22129758-12341298
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2017-08-10
2017-11-20

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