Thomas J. Nelson deposited ‘Most Musicall, Most Melancholy’: Avian Aesthetics of Lament in Greek and Roman Elegy in the group Ancient Greece & Rome on Humanities Commons 10 months, 3 weeks ago
In this paper, I explore how Greek and Roman poets alluded to the lamentatory background of elegy through the figures of the swan and the nightingale. After surveying the ancient association of elegy and lament (Section I) and the common metapoetic function of birds from Homer onwards (Section II), I analyse Hellenistic and Roman examples where the nightingale (Section III) and swan (Section IV) emerge as symbols of elegiac poetics. The legends associated with both birds rendered them natural models of lamentation. But besides this thematic association, I consider the ancient terms used to describe their song, especially its shrillness (λιγυρότης/liquiditas) and sweetness (γλυκύτης/dulcedo) (Section V). I demonstrate how these two terms connect birdsong, lament and elegiac poetry in a tightly packed nexus. These birds proved perfect emblems of elegy not only in their constant lamentation, but also in the very sound and nature of their song.