Friday, July 16, 2004



The first thing that Dante notices when he enters the gates of hell is the noise (Inferno 3.22-30, tr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow):
There sighs, complaints, and ululations loud
  Resounded through the air without a star,
  Whence I, at the beginning, wept thereat.
Languages diverse, horrible dialects,
  Accents of anger, words of agony,
  And voices high and hoarse, with sound of hands,
Made up a tumult that goes whirling on
  For ever in that air for ever black,
  Even as the sand doth, when the whirlwind breathes.

Quivi sospiri, pianti e alti guai
risonavan per l'aere sanza stelle,
per ch'io al cominciar ne lagrimai.
Diverse lingue, orribili favelle,
parole di dolore, accenti d'ira,
voci alte e fioche, e suon di man con elle
facevano un tumulto, il qual s'aggira
sempre in quell'aura sanza tempo tinta,
come la rena quando turbo spira.
Charles Singleton explains "sound of hands" thus: "The damned smite themselves and each other with their hands."

Milton coined the word "Pandemonium" to mean "the high Capital Of Satan and his Peers" (Paradise Lost, 1.756-757). Its meaning soon shifted from that particular noisy place to any noisy place, and is now used of noise pure and simple. The etymology of this word is an apt reminder of the hellish, diabolical nature of noise.

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