Monday, June 17, 2013

Mournful Songs

“The second phenomenon with which goetes regularly were connected was singing and more broadly music of all kinds. The Suda and Cosmas defined goeteia as an act of “calling upon” (epiklesis) the dead; earlier sources repeatedly connected goeteia with the epoide, or chanted song. The Dactyls were credited both with the invention of various forms of music and with the composition of epoidai. Their student Orpheus, of course, was the most famous singer of all – by classical times we find him using his lyre and his voice to persuade the gods of the dead to release the soul of his wife, and by Varro's day he was known as the author of a book called the Lyre, which taught others how to invoke souls through music as well. The crediting of such a book to Orpheus verifies that in ancient eyes what Orpheus did with his music was not really different from the way a goes used epoidai or the incantations written on curse tablets to call up a soul, even if Orpheus and the goes desired the souls they invoked for very different reasons. Broadly, all of these connections between invocation of souls and song are part of a belief in the ability of all kinds of sound to enchant the individual soul.

But we need not go so far afield in proving the importance of this association between goeteia and song, for it is attested by the very term itself. As already noted, goes and its cognates are built from the same root as the older words goös and goao. This makes sense: the goes, like the lamenter, wishes to communicate with the realm of the dead...” (p. 111-112)

“[...] the second way of understanding the connection is to remember the role that music played in communicating with souls and with the powers of the Underworld: since mystery religions depended upon an intimate knowledge of how the Underworld worked, the highly talented singer could also become an excellent initiator. This point can be inferred from the fact that an Orphic poem entitled Journey to the Underworld (Katabasis) included doctrines important to mysteries, but it is also made very nicely by Orpheus himself, in the opening lines of his Argonautica, when he claims that everything he sings to mortals about the Underworld was learned when he descended to Hades, “trusting in my cithara, driven by love for my wife.” The Argonautica is late in the tradition, but articulates what the Journey to the Underworld and other works from Orphic literature imply: Orpheus knew what he did because he had special connections to the powers of the Underworld, and he was able to make those connections because he was a good singer; now, as a good singer, he would pass his knowledge on. There is a fluid triangularity between music, mysteries, and goeteia that operates in all directions. Some mythic figures or religious milieux emphasize two of the sides in preference to, or even exclusion of, the third (we never hear of Musaeus or Eumolpus interacting with the dead in extant sources), but the structure as a whole hangs together, and at least once was crystallized into a single figure, Orpheus himself.” (P. 114 – 115.)
- Sarah Iles Johnston, Restless Dead: Encounters between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece. University of California Press, 1999.


Brother Christopher said...

and thus why I try to sing my orphic hymns. I say try because I just free form the melody and it always ends up sounding kind of plainchant like, but hey, it's still a kind of singing

Jack Faust said...

Bro. Chris: I also try and 'sing' the Orphic hymns. What seems most important to me, at least at this point, is 'filling' the hymn with emotion. I'm not sure excellent singing is required, but passion (or serenity, in some cases) certainly is.