Winged words

A fresco from the throne room of the Palace of Nestor at Pylos

Verba volant, scripta manent. Words fly away, but the writing remains.

The Latin proverb suggests that written text has a power which spoken words don’t, which is the power of permanence. Spoken words may be forgotten, or misremembered, while what is written stays written, grounded and binding.

In Homer, words fly because they have wings. Or feathers. The Odyssey introduces quotes or dialogue with the words ‘epea pteroenta’, from epos meaning story or song and pteron meaning wing or feather.

Songs soaring for everyone to hear, vibrating through the ancient air, flapping their wings, ruffling their feathers, instruments of sharing, creating culture and a common vocabulary, a common history, a common horizon, the space where everyone breathes, and lives, and soars.

When winged words land on receptive ears, as Homer has it, they nest and carry the story forward. Friendship is an exchange of words in flight, affection lifted up by feathered words.

To write is to force the words down, to bestow on them a kind of weight that whisks away their fleetability. Text doesn’t have wings, or feathers, or any aerodynamic features. Books don’t take off, they stay parked in libraries. But their words may escape, and that’s when they become something else, far away from their homebase, at risk of evaporation but also fertile reproduction. It depends on us readers, sharers, adventurers.

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