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Journal Articles Humanities Year : 2016

Music and Language in Ancient Verse : The Dynamics of an Antagonistic Concord


In antiquity, the relationship between “music”, “poetry”, and “language” was very different from the way they relate to each other today, for back then each of these mediums was endowed with a distinct, independent signifying code expressing a semiosis all its own. However, these separate “semiospheres” nonetheless never ceased growing towards and into one another. This is so because music and “melic” poetry were believed to have the capacity to denote something ordinary language could not denote but could not do without, namely “etymonic truth”. As a result, the users of ordinary language were obsessed with divining the “hyponoia” poets encoded in music and chant. Above all, they wanted this hyponoia to constitute the signifié of their language. For this reason, the meaning expressed in language was subject to a process in which it was constantly being “deported” from its ordinary acceptations and transported towards meanings encoded in music. However, this “deterritorialization” of ordinary meaning never resulted in a full “reterritorialization” upon the terrain of the truth encoded in music. Musicians and poets would not tolerate it. As far as they were concerned, music and poetry would cease being “truthful” if the semiosis they conveyed and the semiosis conveyed by language were interchangeable. For, again, as a signifying code, prosaic language was sui generis incapable of representing the truth. Hence, the relationship between these three codes consisted of a sort of intersemiotic dynamic equilibrium in which language was continuously evolving towards a non-linguistic expression of meaning which conferred truth upon it and what it means. And yet the music and poetry which were the source of that truth deliberately kept language from consummating the aspiration of accosting the truth they encoded. This paper explores the mechanics of this intersemiotic dynamic equilibrium




Dates and versions

hal-02497309 , version 1 (03-03-2020)



Fionn Bennett. Music and Language in Ancient Verse : The Dynamics of an Antagonistic Concord. Humanities , 2016, 5 (1), pp.8. ⟨10.3390/h5010008⟩. ⟨hal-02497309⟩
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