In the parodos of Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes the chorus of Theban girls pictures the Argive enemies who are approaching their city. By making comparisons with the scout’s words in the prologue as well as with non-dramatic choral lyric, I show that this song stimulates vision in a remarkable way and induces feelings of fear. The picture that the chorus sketches of the enemy results from what the chorus says it is hearing rather than seeing. This ‘ear-based’ image contrasts sharply with the scout’s eyewitness report. At the same time, the chorus in its movements and behavior visualizes the enemy approaching the city. The chorus’ emotion is more vehement than the emotive expressiveness of non-dramatic choruses, which also provide the audience with a ‘model’ of how to overcome these emotions. The differences between the descriptions of the chorus and the scout can be related to other differences between them, e.g. their emotional register. The opposition between hearing and seeing in the play represents a hierarchical relation and belongs to a broader set of dichotomies in the play which thematize two irreconcilable views on war. This sensory play between eyes and ears seems unique to the Seven.
This chapter explores the use of visual imagery in parthenaic song, and argues that it is a distinctive feature of the genre. The chapter examines visual imagery in the surviving partheneia (Alcman PMGF 1, 3, Pindar fr. 94b S.-M.) and contrasts this with the type of self-referentiality we find in choral lyric performed by male singers. While the identity of the singers is important to various types of lyric, it is only in partheneia that we find detailed descriptions of their appearance and actions. We find a similar fixation on the bodies of the performers in dramatic choruses who impersonate female singers, while other Greek texts which describe female chorality draw on this imagery. The chapter argues that this emphasis on the visual can be connected with the songs’ role in female transition and in displaying young women safely within their communities.
In the Cologne papyrus poems Sappho builds her poetic discourse on very specific cultural and visual patterns that help to shape cognitive reception through mental imagery, particularly in oral performance contexts. Sappho draws on images and concepts of chorality and mythic dancing in a solar context; as cultural symbols they are in service to highlight the unifying themes of beauty, poetic and musical self-referentiality, and rejuvenation. The mention of Orpheus in the new Hellenistic poem which follows on from the text of Sappho lends additional confirmation to the metapoetic and self-referential reading of Sappho’s poem on Tithonus. Death, night, lament, love, song, music, and the cosmos—in short, all that Orphism represents—are the decisive themes that unite the fragments. The deferral of love becomes its own song in the interruption and continuation of a reperformance. The original pedagogical-didactic reception gives way to secondary receptions, determined by changing occasions of reperformance. In the fourth century BC the new performative practice even showcases a Hellenistic cult of poets and metapoetic self-consciousness. Cyclic rejuvenation and the erotic poetics of desire and absence are more constitutive than ever. Through its deep visualizing power Sappho’s songs have lived on indeed, even until they have reached us today.