Nooter’s new book follows on from her previous work which examined the musicality and lyricism of heroes in the tragedies of Sophocles in When Heroes Sing: Sophocles and the Shifting Soundscape of Tragedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). Focusing now on the tragedies of Aeschylus, Nooter moves away from an analysis of song per se to excavate the role of voice, specifically „the materiality and mythologies of voice“ by which Nooter means that „its existence precedes and exceeds language and can appear to be (if not actually be) a solution to the challenges introduced by language“ (p. 6). Nooter’s central argument is that voice is „the prevailing configuration through which Aeschylus‘ dramas can be heard – a bottomless metaphor but also a performative agent of action“ (p. 2). This suggestion is highly original and is supported by detailed close readings of Aeschylean text. A welcome strength of Nooter’s book is its analysis throughout of metrical patterns and sequences of assonance, alliteration, and rhyme within the Greek text, with a view to demonstrating the impact of such voiced configurations of sound. It is rare to find an extended discussion of such aspects of Greek tragedy outside the commentary format which itself tends towards brevity rather than exposition. A further novelty is the attention paid to the vast range of inarticulate expressions of grief, pain, and surprise that we find in Greek tragedy, expressions which English translators must inevitably reduce to one or two unsatisfactory options such as „alas“ or „woe“. For the first time here, Nooter attempts to theorize the effects of the wide variety of untranslatable (and normally overlooked) sounds in Aeschylus’ works. The argumentation is often dense but this is offset by the fact that Nooter writes beautifully and manages to convey deep complexities with a clear lucidity.
The book is organized into five chapters, following a short Introduction (1–9). Chapter One, „Voice, Body, Stage“ (pp. 10–52) opens with a thought-provoking discussion of the connections between breath, song, and the music of the aulos (a wind instrument) that accompanied the performances of Greek tragedy and has the potential to mimic „the embodied voice expressing grief“ (p. 14). The differences between divine and mortal voices are also addressed. Divine voices are often terrifying but human sound, shouting, and song can generate disorder, as exemplified by the arrival of Alcibiades in Plato’s Symposium (pp. 29–30). Embodied voice, moreover, as animalized or broken language, is shown to signify a human’s fragility in the world (p. 34) and inarticulate cries are associated with the „alignment of body, voice, and truth [that] is completely lost later in life“ (p. 49).
Chapter Two, „Voice in Early Aeschylean Drama and Aristophanic Parody“ (pp. 53–122) „presents a reading of Aristophanes’ Aeschylus as a narrative of vocal evolution uncannily evoked in Rousseau’s myth of language: Aeschylus’ voice starts with grunts and silence, progresses through musical and metrical proficiency, and finally concludes with coherent argument“ (p. 54). Nooter’s lengthy analysis of the characterization of Aeschylus in the comedy Frogs by Aristophanes is interspersed with close readings of passages from various Aeschylean plays. This approach proves rewarding. The first part of the chapter (pp. 55–79), „Voice Described“ links the significance of Aristophanes’ Aeschylus as a blustery „typhoon“ (p. 58) back to the arguments about breath and wind in Chapter One. This is bolstered by examples of terror-inducing voices from Prometheus Bound (figures of power „baying“, Io’s bestial moanings), and from Seven against Thebes (choral shrieks, bleatings of infants). The polyphonic female lament in Persians which is not construed as dangerous forms a counterpoint. Sound in these plays is further shown to „affect the characters and cause even more profound effects in plot“ (p. 77). In the second part of this chapter „Voice Performed“ (pp. 79–102), Nooter uses the parody of Aeschylean lyrics from Frogs as a springboard to analyze Aeschylus’ actual exploitation of „refrains, verbal echoes, and nonverbal interjections“ (p. 84). Io’s „excited stutter of syllables“, for example, gives audibility to her desperation in Prometheus Bound (p. 86), while the cry of lamentation „io“ doubles as an evocation of Io’s sufferings in Suppliant Women (p. 87). Alliteration and consonance in Seven against Thebes mark destruction and vocal chaos (p. 94), and the „the chant-like repetitions and nonlinguistic syllables, always in pairs“ demonstrate the incantatory powers of voice in Persians (p. 100). The final part of Chapter Two, „Voice as Plot“ (pp. 102–121) takes its cue from the claims made in Frogs regarding nonverbal sounds in Aeschylus’ plays and the line „lost his little oil flask“ inserted into Aeschylus’ tragic verses as an insult. The pattern of Aeschylean tragic verse is shown to be crucial to the role of the chorus in the shield scene of Seven against Thebes where their repeated interventions drive the inevitable progression of the plot. In Persians, nonverbal syllables are shown to bring the plot to its conclusion. The arguments in this chapter are further supported by examples from selected fragments, Edonians, Proteus and others.
The final three chapters deal with the plays of the Oresteia trilogy, each in turn, and put forward many thought-provoking suggestions. Chapter Three, „Voice and Ventriloquism in Agamemnon“ (pp. 123–181) draws attention to the unique exploitation of „choral quoting and the depiction of offstage voices“ through the tragedy’s choral songs (p. 124). In essence, the chorus of Agamemnon are like the Watchman. They aim „to suppress disturbing voices but rather end up exposing the failure of such suppression“ (p. 127). Many of the most iconic passages from Agamemnon are given a fresh significance in terms of the sounds they produce and the voices they represent. The parodos receives detailed attention where the „question of distance as opposed to intimacy is where the materiality of voice makes its mark“ as „the chorus draw attention to the vocal instrument that is usually heard through, but not heard“ (p. 157). Agamemnon highlights the dangers of removing a voice from its original body. Chapter Four, „Voice and the Mother in Choephoroi“, (pp. 182–244) analyzes the association of voice with its physical corporeal origin, associated with maternal physicality and the terrifying „hold of females on corporeal inputs and outputs of orality“ (p. 193). Full of interesting details, this chapter also looks back to earlier discussions in its engagements with incantatory patterns and staged voices. The closing chapter (Five), „Voice and the Monstrous in Eumenides“ (pp. 245–289) charts the ultimate subjugation of voice to the controlling power of language in this play which begins with the moans and bestiality of the monstrous chorus and concludes with the legislative powers of Athena. Again, the chapter offers many insights linking back through the analysis of the previous plays of the Oresteia and of the Aeschylean corpus more broadly.
This book is remarkable in providing fresh perspectives on extremely well-studied works. Nooter is both theoretically perceptive and philologically erudite which enables her to lead the reader sure-footedly through what is at times a dizzyingly complex, but nevertheless highly convincing, series of arguments.