Authority as ‘Resultant Voice’: Towards a Stylistic and Musical Anthropology of Effective Speech in Archaic Rome

In: Greek and Roman Musical Studies


Analysis of a large number of texts from the archaic period of Roman culture shows that the authoritative character of a solemn utterance (a prophecy, the formula uttered by a praetor, a religious praefatio) was based principally on specific sound patterns. From these utterances’ use of parallelisms, phonic echoes and syllabic repetitions there emerged a sort of ‘resultant voice’, which made their exceptional character immediately apparent. From the perspective of their intended hearers, the sound-construction of these pronouncements had the capacity to arouse what the Romans called delectatio: that is, the disposition to believe in the truth and validity of what they were hearing. That the Romans included all these acoustic phenomena within a single perceptual domain is demonstrated by the fact that music, too, had the power to produce delectatio—and by the fact that the verb cano and its derivatives refer as much to musical as to poetic expression.

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  • 1

    Bettini 2008a, 313-75. Similar utterances are concerned with a form of effective speech which in many respects recalls that of the ‘masters of truth’—the prophet, the singer and the justice-dispensing king—discussed by Detienne 2006 (= 1965); cf. also Detienne 2005, 92-3.

  • 2

    Goffman 1979, 1-29. Cf. Dubois 1986, quoted by Leavitt 2001, 281-6; Duranti 2007, esp. 87 ff.; Carmina Marciana 1, 8 Morel.

  • 7

    Lowth 1787, II, Lecture XIX, The Prophetic Poetry is Sententious, 24 ff., 35 ff.

  • 8

    Jakobson 1960, 350-77.

  • 11

    Bettini 2008a, esp. 344 ff.; Duranti 2007, 73 ff.

  • 18

    See the masterly discussion of Traina 1999, 55 ff.

  • 23

    Moore 2012, 15-16; 2008, 3-46; Excerpta de comoedia, 8, 9 ff.: deverbia histriones pronuntiabant, cantica vero temperabantur modis non a poeta sed a perito artis musicae factis. neque enim omnia isdem modis in uno cantico agebantur sed saepe mutatis, ut significant qui tres numeros in comoediis ponunt, qui tres continent ‘mutatis modis cantici’. 10 eius qui modos faciebat nomen in principio fabulae post scriptoris et actoris superponebatur. 11 huiusmodi carmina ad tibias fiebant, ut his auditis multi ex populo ante dicerent, quam fabulam acturi scaenici essent, quam omnino spectatoribus ipsius antecedens titulus pronuntiaretur. agebantur autem tibiis paribus, id est dextris aut sinistris, et imparibus. dextrae autem tibiae sua gravitate seriam comoediae dictionem pronuntiabant, sinistrae [Serranae] acuminis levitate iocum in comoedia ostendebant. ubi autem dextra et sinistra acta fabula inscribebatur, mixtim ioci et gravitates denuntiabatur. Cf. Donatus, Praefatio 1, 7 to each of the five comedies of Terence on which he comments (Aeli Donati quod fertur Commentum Terenti, ed. P. Wessner, Teubner Leipzig 1902, I-III); Duckworth 1952, 361 ff.; Landels 1999, 182-9; Baudot 1973, 57-65. The evidence mainly relates to the practices of the comic theatre, but there is no reason to think that those involved in tragic theatre operated in a different way; there are indeed some indications that they were very similar.

  • 26

    Vernant 1990, 22.

  • 28

    Bettini 2009; Lentano 2007, 163.

  • 33

    Cf. Dupont 1985, 65 f.

  • 34

    Severi 2008, 104; Boyer 1988 (cited in Severi, op. cit.). Berio 2006, 46 f. (concerned with the Banda Linda of Central Africa and with the pentatonic melody which arises from a group of forty trumpeters, without any of them actually playing it).

  • 35

    Martinet 1960, 22-30.

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