Threnos – Sounds of Sadness

threnody (n.) Look up threnody at“song of lamentation,” 1630s, from Greek threnodia, from threnos “dirge, lament” + oide “ode” (see ode). Greek threnos probably is from a PIE imitative root meaning “to murmur, hum;” cf. Old English dran “drone,” Gothic drunjus “sound,” Greek tenthrene “a kind of wasp.”

I was looking earlier today at some Trecento (fourteenth-century) depictions of the lamentation of the Magdalene at the death of Christ – hand flung widely, face distorted with sadness and weeping, and thinking about the Byzantine iconography of ‘threnos’; in the seventeeth century giving rise to ‘threnody’, the song of lamentation. A thrum of sadness, a dirge, from the root meaning ‘murmer’ or ‘hum’.  A hum, to me, is a steady undercurrent of resonating sound, deep and deeply musical – like sadness which, when one adjusts, runs like a current beneath the surface of things – a sustaining thrum. 

This choreographic detail from Caravaggio’s Entombment is a good example of what I mean – how can silent paint convey tears and the music of mourning?

 eodoes one, in silent painmourning?Image


About hickson1

Art historian, professor, Italian Renaissance and Baroque specialist, Italophile
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