The Center for Hellenic Studies

Drops of Poetry, Drops of Music: Performing as Weeping

Anna Bonifazi, University of Heidelberg
ἄριστον μὲν ὕδωρ
Sure, the best is water
Pindar Olympian I 1
Nagy (2009) identifies one of the esthetic values associated with the reflections of Homeric poetry in later authoritative voices of Greek and Latin literature as the “esthetics of fluidity.” The flow of narration/poetry is often depicted as the flow of tears or drops of water, whose source produces impermanent and changeable forms of art. Nagy’s argument points out passages from Homer, Hesiod, Callimachus and Virgil, whose language either encodes or clearly alludes to such images. The present contribution draws a connection between water or tears as a metonymy for the performance of poetry, on the one hand, and tears as the metonymy for the performance of music in the works of Dowland, on the other hand. John Dowland (1563–1626), recognized as the greatest English composer of lute music and lute songs, [1] used the motto “Semper Dowland semper dolens” as his signature. Just as weeping while narrating or while viewing narrative paintings is argued by Nagy to be coextensive with the live medium of a performance in motion, so Dowland’s engrossment with tears can be argued to ultimately eulogize the flow of music. The deep link between weeping and performing poetry or music does not rest so much on the emotional component of its causes and effects. Rather, it rests on the acknowledgment of the powerfulness of a medium that is effective only when it is “fluid,” that is to say, when art comes alive through performance, which is a great source of enjoyment (τέρψις).

An “esthetics of fluidity” in classical poetry

“Esthetics of fluidity,” along with its dialectical counterpart, that is, “esthetics of rigidity” are terms used by Nagy (see 2009:72 and 187 respectively) to illustrate the paradigms of changeability vs unchangeability of art forms. The author claims that the changeability of the Homeric performance (and, by extension, of the Homeric tradition) “originates from the idea of fluidity” (2009:187). Among the several passages he quotes, which metaphorize the medium of communication as a flow of liquids also outside of the Homeric epic, are the following lines from Hesiod’s Theogony:
Τῷ μὲν ἐπὶ γλώσσῃ γλυκερήν χείουσιν ἐέρσην,
τοῦ δ’ ἔπε’ ἐκ στόματος ῥεῖ μείλιχα
For this man [=for this ideal king] they [=the Muses] pour sweet dew,
and from his [=the king’s] mouth flow sweet words.
Hesiod Theogony 83–84; tr. Nagy 2009:157
Further Hesiodic lines vividly exploit the same image. [2] However, this passage features two semantic links with particular emphasis. One is the mention of the source of the flow—or, to be more precise, the double source, namely the Muses first, and consequently the kings’ mouth—where sweet words-in-performance originate. [3] The second feature is the reference to dew in connection with the ideal king. The latter will be commented on later. Nagy emphasizes the former (the idea of source) in terms of presupposition of the flow (“…the motion itself must have an origin, a beginning. The flow needs to have a source”) and in terms of perfection of the flow (“…the theme of fluidity expresses the idea that the humnos must have a perfect beginning. The humnos flows from a perfect source, and so it becomes the perfect performance.”). [4]
I should like to expand this idea by suggesting a link between the source of liquids and Onians’ argument about the earlier meaning of the word αἰών. Onians suggests that αἰών is “the stuff of life and strength,” whose loss brings about dryness and therefore death. [5] αἰών is physically perceptible in the liquids (tears and sweat) produced by the human body in particular circumstances, but it originates from the cerebro-spinal fluid (or marrow) which is particularly concentrated in one’s head. Before functioning as a generic substitute for “lifetime,” αἰών indicated the principle of life, and a physical one. αἰών is located in the head, that is, the source of thoughts and feelings. The liquids which flow from individuals at special moments in their lives are associated with a person’s vitality—displayed and dispersed at the same time. Onians (1974:201) reminds us that the verb κατείβειν in Homer is exclusively used to describe tears and water; therefore, he argues, what happens to weeping Odysseus as he is found by Calypso on the seashore should be translated not as “his life ebbed” but as “his αἰών was flowing down”:
τὸν δ’ ἄρ’ ἐπ’ ἀκτῆς εὗρε καθήμενον· οὐδέ ποτ’ ὄσσε
δακρυόφιν τέρσοντο, κατείβετο δὲ γλυκὺς αἰὼν
νόστον ὀδυρομένῳ, (…)
and found him sitting on the seashore, and his eyes were never
wiped dry of tears, and the sweet αἰών was draining out of him
as he wept for νόστος (…)
Homer Odyssey v 151–154; tr. slightly adapted from Lattimore
Life and death are intimately bound together at that particular point in Odysseus’ travels; they are almost indistinguishable. [6] And the motif of tears is curiously associated with the flowing down of αἰών. Therefore, the source of the flow of liquids indicates a core of deep vitality.
The vitality denoted by powerful watery substances is further disclosed in Homer, through the mentions of Okeanos as a primordial “generative—and fluid—power”. [7] But most of all it is reflected in the Pindaric allusions to the concept of the dew of glory. Dew was the second feature I alluded to earlier. Towards the end of Isthmian 6 the laudator asserts of the athletes being praised:
τὰν Ψαλυχιαδᾶν δὲ πάτραν Χαρίτων
ἄρδοντι καλλίστᾳ δρόσῳ,
They refresh the clan of the Psalychiadai
with the finest dew of the Graces
Pindar Isthmian VI 63–64; tr. Race
The Psalychiadai represent the predecessors of the laudandi. ἄρδειν literally means “watering.” The glory (that is, the κλέος) of the ancestors in question is revived by dew, which is metaphorically produced by the multiple victories carried off at the Isthmian and the Nemean games (cf. lines 60–62). [8] Analogously, in Hesiod the Muses assure the king of his glorious life and, potentially, his heroic afterlife by “pouring sweet dew” on him. [9]
Eternity is foreshadowed through the esthetics of fluidity also by the idea of movement which can be potentially perennial. This is a primary reason for the sacrality of fountains, as they represent inexhaustible sources of poetic inspiration. And here we come to a fundamental property of fluids suggested by Nagy for Hesiodic poetry (2009:192): “In fact, the idea of fluidity is the ultimate source of self-definition for this poetic composition [=the Theogony].” First of all, the flow of poetic compositions-in-performance allows for spotlighting the ongoing process and for indicating its source. In other words, it is a strong means of self-referentiality.
(…) τίς ἂν οὐ ῥέα Φοῖβον ἀείδοι;
Who would not fluently sing Phoebus?
Callimachus Hymn II to Apollo 31; tr. Nagy 2009:191
The singing about Apollo is characterized as something fluid; [10] the rhetorical question in this case implies that the “fluency” of such an activity is natural, common, and expected. As a counterpart to this implicit idea, I should like to quote a Pindaric statement that makes the same point all the more explicit.
(…) σκοτεινὸν ἀπέχων ψόγον,
ὕδατος ὥτε ῥοὰς φίλον ἐς ἄνδρ’ ἄγων
κλέος ἐτήτυμον αἰνέσω· (…)
(…) Keeping away dark blame,
like streams of water I shall bring genuine fame
with my praises to the man who is my friend
Pindar Nemean VII 61–63; tr. Race [11]
The first-person verb αἰνέσω denotes the professional performance of the singing “I,” whose essence is captured by the image of a dynamic transferral of water bringing fame.
Secondly, the water that so inspires poets is potentially perennial, by virtue of a fact of nature that is as simple as it is astounding, namely of the water endlessly welling up from an underground source or from upper mountain ranges. For this very reason water evokes the potential eternity of the flow of poetry. An early Greek simile comparing the tears of a hero to the water dripping from a rocky spring conceivably indexes [12] the perpetual force of the medium of performance as prevailing over blocks of fixed (unchangeable) poetry. Fluidity overcomes rigidity. The Homeric heroes whose tears are explicitly compared to rocky springs are Patroclus in book XVI and, with rather similar words, Agamemnon in book IX [13] . The former text recites:
Πάτροκλος δ’ Ἀχιλῆϊ παρίστατο ποιμένι λαῶν
δάκρυα θερμὰ χέων ὥς τε κρήνη μελάνυδρος,
ἥ τε κατ’ αἰγίλιπος πέτρης δνοφερὸν χέει ὕδωρ.
Meanwhile Patroklos came to the shepherd of the people, Achilleus,
and stood by him and wept warm tears, like a spring dark-running
that down the face of a rock impassable drips its dim water
Homer Iliad XVI 2–4; tr. Lattimore
Just as water drips from rocks timelessly—note the present χέει “pours,” whose time span is unspecified [14] —so Patroclus’ tears are shed and simultaneously projected to his afterlife. The same type of resonance underlies the elliptical sense of the lines concluding the embedded tale of Niobe (Iliad XXIV 601–620). Lines 614–617 recite: νῦν δέ που ἐν πέτρῃσιν ἐν οὔρεσιν οἰοπόλοισιν / ἐν Σιπύλῳ, (…) / ἔνθα λίθος περ ἐοῦσα θεῶν ἐκ κήδεα πέσσει, which literally means: “And now somewhere in the lonely mountains / in Sipylos (…) / there, even if she is stone thanks to the gods, she makes her sorrows mellow.” [15] The reader may note, once again, the omnitemporal present πέσσει, whose basic meaning, “making mellow,” can be applied to various objects, thus resulting in different smoothing effects. One of them is “to moisten, to wet,” which fits a traditional belief associated with the cliff of Sipylus. Quintus Smyrnaeus (I 293–306) provides the description of a natural phenomenon in Sipylus; that is, a stream falling from the heights of a rugged cliff, which visually suggests the shape of a woman shedding tears: “A great marvel is she to passers by, because she is like a sorrowful woman, who mourns some cruel grief, and weeps without stint. Such verily seems the figure, when thou gazest at it from afar; but when thou drawest near, lo, ‘tis but a sheer rock, a cliff of Sipylus.” [16] The association is famously alluded to also in Sophocles’ Antigone, where Antigone compares herself to Niobe. She gives the following account of Niobe-as-stone:
Ἤκουσα δὴ λυγροτάταν ὀλέσθαι
τὰν Φρυγίαν ξέναν
Ταντάλου Σιπύλῳ πρὸς ἄ-
κρῳ, τὰν κισσὸς ὡς ἀτενὴς
πετραία βλάστα δάμασεν,
καί νιν ὄμβρῳ τακομέναν,
ὡς φάτις ἀνδρῶν,
χιών τ’ οὐδαμὰ λείπει, τέγ-
γει θ’ ὑπ’ ὀφρύσι παγκλαύτοις
δειράδας (…)
I have heard with my own ears how our Phrygian guest, the daughter of Tantalus, perished [825] in so much suffering on steep Sipylus—how, like clinging ivy, the sprouting stone subdued her. And the rains, as men tell, do not leave her melting form, nor does the snow, [830] but beneath her weeping lids she dampens her collar.
Sophocles Antigone 822–830; tr. Jebb [17]
Nagy sets forth the paradoxical co-existence of a petrified figure that can perpetually produce fluidity:
The sorrows of Niobe are in fact so overwhelming that she continues to weep eternally even after the gods turn her into stone. A petrified figure should be drained of emotion, as we see from the logic of the narrative contained in the simile: when the population in the realm of Niobe is petrified, there can be no weeping, no mourning, and therefore no funeral, so that the gods themselves must conduct the funeral and bury the children of Niobe. But Niobe is like a human figure in that she continues to dissolve into tears. So overwhelming are her sorrows. Unlike the dissolving of a human figure in mourning, however, this petrified figure dissolves for eternity because her tears come from an inexhaustible source.
Nagy 2009:89 [18]
As much as the source of Niobe’s tears is inexhaustible, eternally unwilting is the transmission of indelible events, however sad they may be. The flow of tears can be the materialization of the flow of memory. Odysseus weeps as he listens to Demodocus’ songs (Odyssey viii 83–89 and 521–534). By doing so he endorses the unwilting kleos of the epic performance. His own memory starts flowing and ultimately merges with his own performance of further songs. [19] On the feminine side, the tears of wailing women before dead bodies have a very similar power; that is, they make the death and the deeds of heroes flow through the mind and down the body of whoever enacts the memory of them. [20] As Lynch (2005:72) reminds us, “the continuation of mourning discourse after stylized weeping assures the continuation of the deceased’s memory.” [21] Such peculiar kind of communication—ephemeral in its realization, but eternal in its effects—causes pleasure, even delight, as Andromache in Euripides’ Andromache reminds us: “I shall raise up to heaven the mourning and lamentation and tears in which I am enmeshed. For women naturally take delight (τέρψις) in present evils, forever keeping them on their lips and tongues” (lines 91–95). [22]
Teardrops flow down Andromache’s face as she is weaving a purple fabric (Iliad XXII 437–441), pictorially enacting—according to Nagy—the memory of epic events. [23] A pictorial medium can trigger one’s strongest emotions, even to tears; a gallery of episodes and experiences related to that is offered in Elkins 2001, a monograph entirely devoted to people “who have cried in front of paintings,” as the title announces. The author argues that the effects of gazing at a painting combine fixity and endlessness; time is condensed in the art product and expanded by the timeless reception of it. “(…) paintings show us a single moment, even though they remain fixed for centuries. The ephemeral instant and unending duration are forced very close together (…)” (Elkins 2001:140).
What Aeneas experiences as he looks at the pictures of the Trojan war in Juno’s temple in Carthage (Virgil Aeneid I 441–493) includes all of this, and also the haunting reenactment of memory and grief which I have mentioned above. Aeneas copiously weeps (cf. 453–4; 458; 465; 470). His tears appear to have many properties. They signal active memory; they connect mind and body; while flowing they nourish; finally, they dissolve something troublesome. All of this is shown in three crucial lines, 461–463, where Aeneas himself comments:
“(…) sunt hic etiam sua praemia laudi,
sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
solve metus; feret haec aliquam tibi fama salutem.”
“(…) things requiring praise have their own reward.
There are tears that connect with the real world, and things that happen to mortals touch the mind.
Dissolve your fears: this fame will bring for you too a salvation of some kind.”
Virgil Aeneid I 461–463; tr. Nagy 2009: 163
The “organic” component of tears is what connects mental and sensorial activities. [24] The nourishing component comes both from the narration expressed by the pictorial medium, and from the tears of the reception. [25] Tears are vital liquid, which, as stated earlier, can supply life and afterlife, salvation and fame. Aeneas’ words seem to capture (and reflect) a potential for tears that is part of Greek ritual laments. As Alexiou 1974 has shown, a ritual lament encodes a dialogue in response to death; more than that, such a dialogue is a creative response and, projectively, an artistic one. Ritual tears “transform the suffering of the living into aesthetic creativity” (Lynch 2005:80). [26]
All in all, the esthetics of fluidity in classical poetry embraces drops of water, which are a source of the inspiration and of the flow of the performance, as well as teardrops—let us think of Niobe, “the ultimate mourner.” [27] The latter represent not only a physical and emotional reaction to certain events and to their narration, but also a sensorial enactment of their memory, a sign of the potentially endless vitality of narrating. Which cannot be but fluid. Curiously enough, a very similar esthetics of fluidity seems to underlie the most famous works of the greatest lutenist in Western history, namely John Dowland. The next section will illustrate how and why.

Tears in Dowland’s music

While the first years of his activity are basically unknown to us, the floruit of John Dowland (supposedly born in 1563 either in Ireland or in England) is documented quite extensively, partly because of the extraordinary fame he gained in Europe starting from the first years of the XVII century, partly thanks to the conspicuous correspondence he held with many friends and patrons. [28] Like many other artists and intellectuals of his time, Dowland was a considerable traveler, and lived not only in England—where he served as one of James I’s lutenists, from 1612—but also in France, Germany, Denmark and Italy. Although the personal relationship between him and Queen Elizabeth was mostly troublesome (due to religious issues, it would seem), the musician certainly profited from and contributed to the extraordinarily fertile environment endorsed by Elizabeth’s enthusiasm for the arts and culture. [29]
Dowland was an exceptionally skilled lute player, and also an ingenious and highly prolific composer, primarily of secular music. However, the handling of his collective works faces the instability of the written records: as Paul O’Dette remarks, “Dowland was born into an improvising tradition, and it is likely that when he played he did not have a piece of music in front of him—most of the surviving manuscripts were written down by or for amateurs, not for professionals.” [30] Later I will resume this point, as it is very relevant to my argument. The opera omnia recorded on 11 CDs by The Consort of Musicke under the direction of A. Rooley (a British lute player and musicologist) includes the following: three “Bookes of Songes” (published in 1597, 1600 and 1603 respectively, each including 20–21 pieces for voice or part-songs with lute accompaniment); 21 further songs collected under the title “A Pilgrimes Solace” (1621); a few sacred songs and psalms; 92 solo lute pieces; a collection of consort music published as “Lachrimae” (1604)—which we will make the focus of our attention; some more consort music in various arrangements from Dowland’s tunes; finally, “A Musical Banquet” (1610), that is, a series of works attributed to the composer and collected by his son, Robert Dowland. The love of sorrow and distress can be easily inferred from the tunes and texts of many of these works, which harmonizes with the Elizabethan ethos of melancholy. [31] In particular, the theme of tears occurs almost obsessively. Here are some representative song titles (which coincide with the incipit of verses): “Burst forth, my tears,” 1597; “Go, crystal tears,” 1597; “If flood of tears could cleanse my follies past,” 1600; “I saw my lady weep,” 1600; “Sorrow, stay, lend true repentant tears,” 1600; “Flow my tears,” 1600; “Flow not so fast, ye fountains,” 1603; “Weep you no more, sad fountains,” 1603. The most famous and emblematic piece of all of these starts as follows:
Flow my teares, fall from your springs,
exilde for euer: let mee morne
where nights black bird hir sad infamy sings
there let mee liue forlorne. [32]
The so-called tear-motif that music embodies in this work corresponds to a sequence of two lines of notes moving downward (on “Flow my teares” and “fall from your springs” respectively), as Fig. 1 shows. The melody masterfully suits the lyric:
QP Bonifazi Fig.1
Fig. 1: Opening of song n. 2 from Dowland’s Second Book of Songs (1600); Rooley 1983:6
The piece, defined by Rooley (1983: 14) as “the epigrammatic centre of Dowland's lachrymose art,” turned out to be of unprecedented popularity, especially in the solo lute version, whose composition is said to have preceded the song. It was recorded in all the manuscript collections of the time and copied for decades; it was used as a basis for others’ compositions; it was performed and varied upon over and over. [33]
The very same tune occurs as the leitmotif of a major composition of Dowland, perhaps his masterpiece, namely Lachrimae, or Seven Teares, published in London in 1604. [34]
QP Bonifazi Fig.2
Fig. 2: Title page of Lachrimae (1604).
Lachrimae is a collection of 7 pavans and 14 galliards for lute and 5 viols. [35] Each of the 7 pavans represents a variation on the tune of “Flow my tears,” and, interestingly enough, each title constitutes a semantic variation on the tears-theme: “Lachrimae Antiquae,” “Lachrimae Antiquae Novae,” “Lachrimae Gementes,” “Lachrimae Tristes,” “Lachrimae Coactae,” “Lachrimae Amantis,” “Lachrimae Verae.” What is innovative in this work is not the idea of a leading tear-motif per se, [36] but, rather, the music itself, as well as some seemingly counterintuitive details associated with it. [37] I am about to show that the latter are a key to Dowland’s supreme love of tears, which is of paramount importance because it points to the pleasure of performing music rather than to the sorrows of life.
Rooley assumes that “Dowland consciously adopted an artistic persona of inspired melancholy” (1983:15), and connects his concern for tears, blackness and grief with the Hermetic philosophy made available to Renaissance thinkers by Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499). Put briefly, Hermetic philosophy holds that the human soul has a divine origin, but must experience a deep sleep of darkness and torment on earth; only by remembering its origin and by dedicated spiritual efforts is the soul able to awake and it then longs to merge again with the Divine. In the light of this, the titles of the seven pavans of Lachrimae suggest—Rooley argues—a “Hermetic cycle describing the fall and rise of the journeying soul” (Rooley 1983:19). [38]
Within the different esoteric metonymies of Renaissance poetics (including, for example, birds and night) tears may leave space for multiple interpretations. I should like to contribute one of them. The variety of types of tears evoked in the titles of the pavans indicates that the concept of ‘tear’ has in fact no specific dark or bright connotations in itself. Indeed, the subtitle “or Seven Teares” implies that each pavan is meant to correspond to one tear. This leads me to infer that a teardrop is not what music conveys but music itself.
Let us consider first which properties of tears we hear about through the texts of Dowland’s songs. Tears flow from their own springs, but the springs are those of the singing “I” (“Flow my tears from your springs”). This amounts to admitting—self-referentially—that the flow is the flow of song. But that is not all. In another text, once again starting with an imperative form and a vocative, [39] “Go, crystal tears,” the singing “I” wishes that his tears may touch his lady and move her to love and compassion towards himself. The actual words are particularly dense with imagery; here is the first verse:
Go crystal tears, like to the morning show'rs

And sweetly weep into thy lady's breast.

And as the dews revive the drooping flow'rs,

So let your drops of pity be address'd,

To quicken up the thoughts of my desert,

Which sleeps too sound whilst I from her depart.
Tears are in motion and can reach others; they can touch and change others; they are evoked together with morning showers and with dew that revive flowers, that is, they restore to life and consciousness; they may animate the desert of one’s mind. In the second verse the singing “I” pleads that his sighs might “dissolve her indurate heart,” the latter revealing “frozen rigour like forgetful Death.” These metaphors resonate with the communicative powers of flowing water I recalled at the beginning of the paper. Drops of tears dissolve the ice of forgetfulness. Fluidity overrides rigor mortis. The hoped-for transformation by tears is simultaneously operated by music, by weeping music.
The final property I would like to mention is the pleasure produced by water flowing and trickling down, which shares with tears the notion of a “spring.” The flow of music is so pleasant that it should last for a long time. This is what arguably underlies another significant incipit, namely “Flow not so fast, ye fountains; / What needeth all this haste?” The text of the three verses deals with “the true grief” that “still remains,” [40] but the refrain (“Gentle springs, freshly your salt tears
/ must still fall dropping from their spheres”) and, most of all, the incipit (“Flow not so fast, ye fountains”) seem to spotlight some powerful self-referentiality at the performative level, in my view. The natural pace of the flowing water is urged to slow down, and while the words ask for this, the music straightforwardly accomplishes it: the opening melody is very calm and serene, with notes of relatively long duration. The music of the refrain (“gentle springs…”) is even more evidently reassuring, in a quasi-cheerful tone. [41]
Teardrops merge with drops of music insofar as they bring about the same effects. This is confirmed at the level of performance. The brief comment by the rock star Sting on “Flow my tears,” which he recorded in his collection of Dowland’s songs titled “Songs from the Labyrinth” (2006) is illuminating in this respect: “(…) A song about hopelessness, it is strangely uplifting.” [42] Melancholic music actually generates an uplifting sense of liberation from concerns and tribulations, as Burton explains: “Many men are melancholy by hearing Musicke, but it is a pleasing melancholy that it causeth, and therefore to such as are discontent, in woe, feare, sorrow, or dejected, it is a most present remedy, it expells cares, alters their grieved minds, and easeth in an instant.” [43] I submit that by playing and singing, the source of the medium expresses an analogous (cathartic) sense of pleasure. It is the pure medium of performance, actually, which allows the sender to thoroughly express himself and accomplish the desired effects.
I submit that Dowland himself set these specific ideas not only to music but also to words. The dedication of Lachrymae or Seaven Teares figured in Seaven Passionate Pavans to Queen Anne. Wife of James I and sister of Dowland’s Danish patron King Christian IV, closes with the following words:
And though the title doth promise teares, unfit guests in these joyful times, yet no doubt pleasant are the teares which Musicke weepes, neither are teares shed alwayes in sorrowe, but sometime in joy and gladnesse. Vouchsafe then (worthy Goddesse) your Gracious protection to these showers of Harmonie, least if you frowne on them, they bee Meta- morphosed into true teares. [44]
The composer could not be more explicit: the tears that music weeps are undeniably pleasant. Such tears sometimes cause grief, sometime joy. I am convinced that the “showers of Harmony” are so central to Dowland’s production that he even sealed this by way of renaming (or “surnaming”) himself. One of his pavans for lute is titled “Semper Dowland semper dolens.” [45] The suffering that seems to accompany, even to qualify, the composer’s persona in this motto almost enigmatically encodes a special sense of dolere, namely expressing sorrow through tears. The most famous signature of the lutenist is, not by chance, “Jo dolandi de Lachrimae”:
QP Bonifazi Fig.3
Fig. 3: see: http://www.doc.gold.ac.uk/~mas01tc/web/ECOLMtest/IMSweb/Dow2wd95REV.htm

Conclusion: Performing as weeping

The most famous lutenist in history can be said to have theorized tears as the core symbol of his own output. Tears are in movement; they flow from their own springs; they revive, they dissolve, they cause pleasure. I see a link between this conceptualization and the values associated with the flow of water and the flow of tears in Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, Callimachus and Virgil. This link, however, does not concern the contents of the metaphors and metonymies per se. The retrieval of a similar inventory of images across so many centuries can hardly be proven as based on “hypertextual” references more or less consciously deployed. Rather, there is a deep connection concerning the communicative tools, that is, the ways in which poetry, songs, and instrumental pieces are realized in order to be effective. This concerns performance. It is music itself that weeps. Through its source, that is, the one who performs it. What is common to archaic poetry and Renaissance lute songs is that pieces become tears once they are performed from the spring of a playing/composing “I,” and become sensorially salient because they are sensorially produced. Performing and shedding tears are equally powerful primarily because the medium is fluid rather than rigid. The fluid component of Dowland’s works coincides with the conception of his, and his fellow contemporaries’, music, as of something that fully exists only in performance.
Written scores of songs in Dowland’s time usually include just tunes and lute tablatures (the latter being a sequence of coded reproductions of digit-positions to indicate the harmonies). This means that what is on paper is just the harmonic and melodic material, rather than “the song” as a whole. The remarkable presuppositions underlying such a practice are two: first, players and singers (both by profession and amateurs) knew how to decode and perform such material; [46] second, the written material works as a base allowing more unwritten realizations of the same musical “text.” The range of possibilities regarding performance of scores was much wider than we would expect for an age in which writing and printing were definitely consolidated procedures. The very same tune, for example, could be performed in very different versions, such as by a singer with lute accompaniment, or a cappella (4 voices, usually), or by solo lute (performing the tune and the accompanying harmonies), or by lute and one or more viols, depending on the occasion and available resources. [47] Still, nobody would dispute that all of them were indeed performances of Dowland’s music. My point is that the flexibility just described matches the fluidity of archaic Greek poetry in Nagy’s sense of changeability. Ultimately, as every musician and composer knows well, it is (only) the fluid practice of performance that makes songs and instrumental pieces come into being. It’s only then that drops look crystal, that tears become pearls. Any esthetics of fluidity, therefore, exalts this power, against which any written script serves only as an aid. The fact that this holds true for music even nowadays in our Western culture, regardless of an education that is in general heavily written-oriented, may shed light on still ongoing questions regarding the modalities of performance as well as the written transmissions of early Greek lyric. The topic would exceed the scope of this paper; here I would simply like to signpost that in music the existence and helpfulness of scores does not prove anything about the conception and realization of songs. Still in Dowland’s time, writing, reading and performing music was a practice strongly oriented to the output (i.e., to the performance itself), and much less attached to what was on paper.
The performance-based esthetics of fluidity allows me to conclude with the following remark. I have already observed that Dowland’s songs sometime reveal straightforwardly in music what words can only wish. The predominant power, therefore, seems to be the sensorial, ongoing, flowing power of performance. There is a later piece of music, by Haendel, which perhaps echoes the same feature—that is, the fact that the ongoing music self-referentially and self-appreciatively accomplishes what the song’s text hopes for. The opera Rinaldo (1711), whose setting is Jerusalem during the First Crusade, includes a very famous Aria sung by Rinaldo’s beloved Almirena. At that point of the story she has been imprisoned in the palace of Armida, Queen of Damascus, and receives the advances of the Saracen king Argante. The Aria expresses her lament over the unfortunate situation.
Lascia ch’io pianga / mia cruda sorte
e che sospiri / la libertá.
Il duolo infranga / queste ritorte
de’ miei martiri / sol per pietà.
Let me weep my cruel fate,
and let me sigh for liberty.
May sorrow break these chains
of my sufferings just for the sake of pity.
Almirena; Scene IV, Act II
While Almirena ardently desires to weep over her fate, she does weep an exquisite melody; while she hopes that sorrow will break her chains, the soothing Aria that she performs liberates from any distress all those who hear it. [48] Most certainly the beauty of melancholy may reside in the act of retrieving the beauty of something one has loved and then lost. [49] To this I would add: the beauty contained in songs of tears and weeping may indeed reside in performing the beauty of tears. Dowland’s works were quite conceivably infused with this very idea. They are undeniably infused with such beauty, which—I will now venture to say--is the same profound perception that Nagy discerns in Andromache as, for the last time, she looks at Hector (2009: 186): “It is a world of tears, and there is a world of beauty in these tears.” [50]

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Footnotes

[ back ] 1. Grove 2001, sv. Dowland.
[ back ] 2. Hesiod Theogony 96–97: (…) ὁ δ’ ὄλβιος, ὅντινα Μοῦσαι / φίλωνται; γλυκερή οἱ ἀπὸ στόματος ῥέει αὐδή. “(…) Blessed is he whom the Muses / love. And a sweet voice flows from his mouth.” (tr. Nagy 2009:158); 39–40 (…) τῶν δ’ ἀκάματος ῥέει αὐδὴ / ἐκ στομάτων ἡδεῖα· (…) “inexhaustible is the sweet voice that flows from their (= the Muses’) mouth” (tr. Nagy 2009:157). Cf. Homer Iliad I 249 τοῦ καὶ ἀπὸ γλώσσης μέλιτος γλυκίων ῥέεν αὐδή (“from whose lips the streams of words ran sweeter than honey,” said about Nestor; tr. Lattimore).
[ back ] 3. ‘Word-in-performance’ is meant to capture the primary denotation of ἔπος as “word being uttered, being performed.”
[ back ] 4. Nagy 2009:189 and 196 respectively; the latter observation is made about Callimachus’ “fluent singing” (Hymn II to Apollo 31).
[ back ] 5. Onians 1954:200–228; 205 for the quotation.
[ back ] 6. The contiguity (across different lines) of αἰὼν and νόστος is in my view noticeable. Both concepts are deeply involved with life. As for the latter, see Frame 1978 and Bonifazi 2009c.
[ back ] 7. Nagy 2009:253; see also 251–276 about “the sacred dimension of cosmic fluidity,” along with its orphic component.
[ back ] 8. On wine and water metaphorizing the song throughout Isthmian VI, see Bonifazi 2001:162–172.
[ back ] 9. Pouring liquids, offering libations at the tombs or graves of dead heroes restores the essence of their life. As for the links between αἰών, the spinal marrow, ψυχή, and snakes, see Onians 1954:206–208.
[ back ] 10. “’fluency’ is the mark of the humnos, especially in the Hymn to Apollo and in the hymn that precedes it, the Hymn to Zeus” (Nagy 2009:191).
[ back ] 11. Pindaric poetry is intended as “the Muses’ streams” in Nemean VII 10–11 – εἰ δὲ τύχῃ τις ἔρδων, μελίφˈρον’ αἰτίαν / ῥοαῖσι Μοισᾶν ἐνέβαλε (…) “If a man succeed in an exploit, he casts a honey-minded cause into the Muses’ streams” (tr. Race); Isthmian VII 19 mentions “the glorious streams of ἔπεα” (κλυταῖς ἐπέων ῥοαῖσιν).
[ back ] 12. I am using “indexing” with a sociolinguistic connotation, in accordance with Silverstein’s view (1979); tokens of language point to (index) contextual and cultural features.
[ back ] 13. I thank Natasha Bershadsky for reminding me of Agamemnon at Iliad IX 13–15.
[ back ] 14. On “omnitemporal” presents as involving iteration in Hesiod, see Rijksbaron 2009:243–244, who quotes Lyons’s definition of “omnitemporal” situations as “time-bound but temporally unrestricted” (1977:680).
[ back ] 15. The remembrance of weeping Niobe is cast in the weeping of Achilles and Priam (cf. γόοιο, κλαῖ’, κλαῖεν at 509, 510 and 511), the consequences of which are by no means less mellowing.
[ back ] 16. This is Sir Jebb’s translation (1900:153). Petrified Niobe perpetually shedding tears is mentioned also in Apollodorus’ Library (III 5.6).
[ back ] 17. Once again, the verb expressing ‘moistening’ is the omnitemporal present τέγγει. About τακομέναν (827) Dué (2006:161) connects the use of verb τέκεσθαι ‘dissolving’ with the words uttered by Andromache in Euripides (Euripides, Andromache 116 τάκομαι ὡς πετρίνα πιδακόεσσα λιβάς “I melt like a spring that gushes forth from the rocks”).
[ back ] 18. Dué (2006:158) explains the associations between weeping heroes and rocky springs as comparisons that “maximize the magnitude” of sorrows. Perhaps a reminiscence of such a powerful metaphor is underlying one of Dante’s vivid descriptions, that is, il Veglio di Creta (a huge statue of an old man on Mount Ida in Crete; Inferno XIV 94–120). Made of gold, silver, copper and iron, the statue shows a spectacular feature; that is, each part constantly drips with tears, which perforate the rock and eventually form the infernal rivers (Ciascuna parte, fuor che l'oro, è rotta / d'una fessura che lagrime goccia, / le quali, accolte, fóran quella grotta, 112–114).
[ back ] 19. On tears constituting “the authentic narrative telos” of epic, see Greene 1999; the satisfaction in expressing sorrow and grief is shared by epic characters and the audience, and creates communion and reconciliation. Marino 1999 investigates the interrelation between the τέρψις of telling tales and the necessity of grieving during special banquets (namely in Odyssey iv and in Iliad XXIV). The author accounts for the epic telling at those meals as a way to alleviate and overcome mourning. Rather, I would say that performing epic is the way to go through and to fully accomplish the mourning, to bring it to its telos. Ritual laments may well occur in combination with banquets to the extent that their performance nourishes the heart, as Aeschylus reminds us through the chorus’ voice: δι’ αἰῶνος δ’ ἰυγμοῖσι βόσκεται κέαρ “And yet through all my life my heart is fed with lamentation” (Libation Bearers 26; tr. Smyth); the verb used is the medio-passive form βόσκομαι, “feed on,” literally “graze.”
[ back ] 20. The human embodiment of such an ability is perhaps best illustrated by the continuum given by Patroclus shedding tears near Achilles before his death (Iliad XVI 2–4), and Achilles shedding tears over Patroclus’ corpse (Iliad XXIII 12–18); whose grief, whose tears? The two characters are inherently bound also in this respect.
[ back ] 21. Alexiou (1974:202) quotes the content of a funerary inscription dating back to the IV cent. BC, according to which the dead are expected to find a spring near Hades, and another spring at the Lake of Memory, with cool water; he/she can ask for that cool water in order not to perish. Watering equals bestowing memory upon the dead. Also in modern laments the mourner is supposed to weep enough to make a lake or spring to quench the thirst of the dead (203). Lincoln 1982 traces the references to (and the meanings of) “waters of memory” and “waters of forgetfulness” in connection with the Otherworld across different Indo-European cultures.
[ back ] 22. The translation is by Konstan (2009:318). Contextually, Konstan recalls the pleasure taken by Menelaus as he performs his laments over the Achaean heroes who lost life in Troy (γόῳ φρένα τέρπομαι, Odyssey iv 102; note the verb used, which specifically conveys the enjoyment of epic reenactment). The article offers a noteworthy survey of the theme of “sweet tears” in Greek and Latin literature, paradigmatically encapsulated in Eros γλυκύδακρυς (by the epigrammatist Meleager; see Palatine Anthology XII 167; VII 419, and also V 136, 166 and 212; XII 68 and 80).
[ back ] 23. The fabric can be seen as “a metaphor for the burden of the epic past.” See Nagy 2009: 172–186 (183 for the quotation).
[ back ] 24. About tangunt and the importance of touching, see Nagy 2009:168–171. Note the omnitemporal present of tangunt, once again.
[ back ] 25. I like to mention that the final chapter of an anthology devoted to different readings of Virgil (Spence 2001:184–193), which deals with the reception, the use, and the influence of Virgil in later poets and scholars, is titled “Lacrimae rerum.”
[ back ] 26. Greene (1999:194) interestingly notes that in Poem 41 of the Finnish oral tradition Kalevala, a poet-seer weeps and makes his listeners weep “at the wonderful sound he produced”; he therefore summons a bird to collect the tears for him; when it returns, he sees the tears have turned into pearls. Greene comments that “this aestheticization of the tears” is “not produced by experience but by song.”
[ back ] 27. Dué 2006:160.
[ back ] 28. The most comprehensive source of information about Dowland’s life and works is (still) Poulton 1982 (2nd ed.).
[ back ] 29. Elizabeth “played an energetic part in that simultaneous forward movement which at its culmination produced in England between 1590 and 1615 both the plays of Shakespeare and the best European music of that quarter century” (Boyd 1962:12).
[ back ] 30. So in the preliminary notes of a CD by Harmonia Mundi FRANCE #907161 John Dowland Complete Lute Works, vol. 2, played by the American lutenist Paul O’Dette.
[ back ] 31. Rooley 1983 and Wells 1985 treat extensively (and come to divergent conclusions about) the connections between Dowland’s songs and the Elizabethan cult of melancholy. Whether Dowland implicitly conveyed specific philosophical beliefs or simply adherence to some mundane fashion of his contemporaries, the fact remains that he did not invent the esthetics and the poetic motifs of darkness, sorrow and melancholy. The latter had been theorized by Burton in a voluminous treatise titled Anatomy of Melancholy (London, 1621), which is divided into three major sections, that is, 1. Causes, symptoms of common melancholies; 2. Cures for melancholy; 3. Complex melancholy, such as love melancholy (the longest subsection; see Burton 1971:495–705) and religious melancholy. Songs dealing with tears and grief were widespread as well—even among Church songs, albeit providing a very different nuance, namely, the sense of guilty tears; for example, “Drop, drop slow tears” by Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625) expresses a wish for tears to wash sins away.
[ back ] 32. These are the words that appear in the song-book (see Poulton 1982:255). Poulton argues that Dowland himself composed the text (1982:256). A recording of the entire piece (with the lute played by A. Rooley and the tune sung by E. Kirkby) is available on You Tube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1RS1i5wy2Q.
[ back ] 33. See Poulton 1982:124; Maynard 1986:116; Grove 2001, vol. 7:534.
[ back ] 34. Holman 1999 is a monograph entirely devoted just to this work. It includes a section on the reception and the resonance of the composition from 1604 on, as well as, of course, a detailed account of the pieces and of the evidence associated with them. However, little space seems to be given to the significance of “Lachrimae” at the metaphoric (or metonymic) level. Holman cautiously just affirms: “One of the functions of his seven pavans, presumably, was to cure the melancholy they so powerfully evoke” (Holman 1999:52).
[ back ] 35. Pavans and galliards originally were danced; they were commonly performed as instrumental pieces throughout the XVI and XVII centuries in all-over Europe.
[ back ] 36. He might have taken the idea from a motet by Lassus or from a madrigal by Marenzio (Grove 2001, VII:536).
[ back ] 37. “The cycle of seven ‘Lachrimae’ pavans was something new in European music. The principle of linking dances thematically was a common technique at the time, but only Dowland thought of writing a variation sequence using a single type of dance, and he was the first composer to use dance forms and variation techniques to explore the elevated areas of feeling hitherto exclusively associated with contrapuntal genres such as the motet and the fantasia. (…) the pavans (…) mark an important stage in the development of autonomous, abstract instrumental music” (Grove 2001, VII:536).
[ back ] 38. Another exclusively religious interpretation of the meaning of “Lachrimae” is offered by Pinto (see Holman 1999:49-50). Rooley 2010 further explores the enigmatic links between the symbolism of darkness influencing the works of Elizabethan poets, composers, artists as well as their patrons, and the esoteric “School of Night,” stemming from Neoplatonism.
[ back ] 39. I compare this way of encoding a self-referential address to a similar feature in Pindaric songs; cf. the vocatives (ὦ) Μοῖσα with reference to the ongoing song at Olympian III 4; Pythian I 58; XI 41; Nemean VI 28; Isthmian VI 57; fr. 6a.
[ back ] 40. In a cognate text the same type of sorrow is explicitly related to sadness. The initial plea sounds: “Weep you no more, sad fountains; / what need you flow so fast?”; then the song ends by soothing the speaking “I”: “rest you then, rest, sad eyes, / melt not in weeping, / while she lies sleeping.”
[ back ] 41. E. Kirkby singing “Flow not so fast, ye fountains” can be heard at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mro4clT_wns.
[ back ] 42. See http://www.sting.com/discog/?v=so&a=1&id=529. Concerning the same song, Rooley, the greatest interpreter and player of Dowland’s music, comments: “…we listen to its reiteration in performance, but feel not dejected as the superficial reading of the words might suggest, but rather uplifted, relieved, and pleasured! The experience is cathartic. In truth what the vibrant attentive listener hears creates catharsis. ‘Flow my tears’ is medicinal, as indeed it was intended to be” (Rooley 2010; italics in the text).
[ back ] 43. Quotation after Holman 1999:52, from Burton 1971.
[ back ] 44. The entire dedication, followed by some notes by Dowland “To the reader” can be found in Poulton 1982:343–344.
[ back ] 45. Incidentally, the alliteration in the paronomasia ‘retroactively’ reveals the pronunciation of the syllable “Dow-” at that time.
[ back ] 46. It must be stressed that in earlier stages the decodification of a music score required much more specific knowledge about actual performance practice than in later stages; to put it differently, dependency of the realization-in-performance on written signs has become much greater in relatively recent periods of Western music (essentially, from the XIX century onward).
[ back ] 47. See Holman 1999:7–8; Spring 2001:156; Caldwell 1991:460–461.
[ back ] 48. A video-recording of counter-tenor P. Jaroussky performing “Lascia ch’io pianga” is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRHJXDxQJL4&feature=related.
[ back ] 49. This is what Schön (2002:86) suggests in relation to the efforts that someone in a melancholic status makes: “(…) lo sforzo di ritrovare la bellezza già goduta, con la consapevolezza che la si perderà, ma il gioco è bello e creativo.”
[ back ] 50. I wish to warmly thank Adrian Bailey and Natasha Bershadsky for reading an earlier version of this paper, and Anthony Rooley, who shared with me not only the text of his recent article “Dwelling in Darkness,” but also his enthusiastic agreement on what I submit about Dowland.