Wednesday, April 29, 2009



The Century Dictionary defines synaesthesia, or synesthesia, as "The production of a sensation in one place when another place is stimulated." According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the word means "A phenomenon in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as the hearing of a sound resulting in the visualization of a color."

Baudelaire in Correspondences and Rimbaud in Voyelles explored the phenomenon. In Theophanies, I briefly discussed the synesthesia in Revelation 1.12 (tr. David E. Aune):
Then I turned to see the voice speaking to me.

Καὶ ἐπέστρεψα βλέπειν τὴν φωνὴν ἥτις ἐλάλει μετ’ ἐμοῦ.
Another example occurs at Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 21-22:
where you shall see neither voice nor form of any mortal man

ἵν᾽ οὔτε φωνὴν οὔτε του μορφὴν βροτῶν
Mark Griffith, in his commentary on Prometheus Bound (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 87 (on line 22 ὄψηι), has a good note:
strictly this can apply only to μορφὴν, not to φωνὴν; but such 'synaesthetic' metaphor is not uncommon in Greek poetry, e.g. Hom. Od. 9.166...ἐς γαῖαν ἐλεύσσομεν ἐγγὺς ἐόντων / καπνόν τ᾽ αὐτῶν τε φθογγὴν ὀίων τε καὶ αἰγῶν. Aesch. Th. 104 κτύπον δέδορκα, Soph. OT 186 παιὰν δὲ λάμπει, Virg. Aen. 8.360 armenta videbant / ... mugire; see further Stanford (1) 47-62, Sansone 18-19.
The modern references are to W.B. Stanford, Greek Metaphor: Studies in Theory and Practice (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1936), and David Sansone, Aeschylean Metaphors for Intellectual Activity (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1975) = Hermes Einzelschriften, 35, to which could be added C.P. Segal, "Synaesthesia in Sophocles," Illinois Classical Studies 2 (1977) 88-96; Christoph Catrein, Vertauschte Sinne: Untersuchungen zur Synästhesie in der römischen Dichtung (München: K.G. Saur, 2003), reviewed by E.J. Kenney in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.09.46; and Benjamin Stevens, "The Scent of Language and Social Synaesthesia at Rome," Classical World 101.2 (2008) 159-171. I haven't read any of these.

See also the commentary of N. Wecklein (tr. F.D. Allen) on Prometheus Bound (Boston: Ginn, 1893), p. 35 (reading ὄψει):
belongs by zeugma to φωνὴν as well as μορφὴν: neither a voice (shalt thou hear) nor yet a form shalt thou see. Cp. Suppl. 1006 πρὸς ταῦτα μὴ πάθωμεν ὧν πολὺς πόνος, πολὺς δὲ πόντος εἳνεκ᾽ ἠρόθη δορί. 'Frequentissime hoc fit ubi grammatici αἴσθησιν ἀντὶ αἰσθήσεως poni aiunt, quibus in locis cum nomine notio verbi congeneris tacite comprehenditur' (Lobeck).
I bought a copy of Wecklein's commentary at a local bookstore this past weekend for $2.00, slightly more than the $1.40 it originally cost in 1893. Of course, Griffith's commentary is more up to date, but the format of Wecklein is the kind I prefer, a few lines of text over twin columns of commentary on each page.

For a more unusual example of synesthesia, see Patrick Leigh Fermor, Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece (rpt. New York: New York Review of Books, 2006), p. 221 (with footnote):
"It's nearly ready!" Marko exulted. He sprang to his feet and advanced to the middle of the firelit room rubbing his hands and almost dancing with contagious delight. "Just listen to that wonderful smell!"*

*By an odd demotic usage, smells are acoustically perceived: "Akou tin miroudiá!": "Listen to the smell!"

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