Monday, February 28, 2011


Sounds Frozen and Thawed

Plutarch, Moralia 79 a (= On Man's Progress in Virtue 7, tr. William W. Goodwin):
Antiphanes said playfully that in a certain city words were frozen directly they were spoken, owing to the great cold, and were thawed again in the summer, so that one could then hear what had been said in the winter.
On this story and its survival, see Eugene S. McCartney, "Antiphanes' Cold-Weather Story and its Elaboration," Classical Philology 48 (1953) 169-172. I haven't seen H. Sasaki and H. Morioka, "Migration of a Popular Tale: Frozen Words," Tsuda Review 25 (1980) 45-83.

There is a curious poem based on this story in The Gentleman's Magazine (January 1737), p. 56. The anonymous poem is in Latin, with an English translation immediately following. I will reverse the order and present the English translation first:
Are sounds in sounding bodies found? No.
Or is't the air that gives the sound? Yes.

Amongst the natives of the Scythian coast,
Whose soil is perish'd with continual frost,
A story goes reported by the fair,
That words in speaking harden in the air,
And hang like hoar on Berenice's hair.
But when the spring returns, the melting sound
Begins to spread a gabling noise around,
And drops each kind expression to the ground.
Words that were long a secret in the sky,
To their own bosoms when unloosen'd fly.
Nay, if a Scythian farted, in a trice
The fart congeal'd and crusted into ice;
But when the spring th' imprison'd fart let go,
You'd hear it cracking, and might smell it too.
So that if any of the female kind,
Should send a wintry vapour from behind,
The next warm season certainly sent back
To ev'ry dame her own distinguish'd crack.
The Latin:
An Sonus fit in corporibus sonantibus? Negatur.

Ultra Riphaios montes, Scythiamque nivalem,
  Quo glacie semper dura rigescit humus,
Hiberno dicunt concrescere in aere voces,
  Et pendere super verba coacta gelu.
At dum vere novo concretus liquitur aer,
  Tum quoque vox blando sole soluta cadit.
Verba repressa diu prodit tum garrulus aether,
  Quique dedit reduces tum capit aure sonos.
Si crepitum quis forte dedit, crepitum excipit aura,
  Brumalique premens tempore, vere refert.
Agnoscit vel anus, vel quicunque ante pepedit,
  Et fruitur crepitu, quodque pepedit, habet.


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