Monika Weiss--Sustenazo: Part II

Antiphonal Structures

Language is a sovereign system that signifies and coincides with denotation. It 
maintains itself in relation to what it describes but at the same time 
withdraws from it into “pure” language. In my work  lament questions language. 
An expression that arises from speech, lament represents the moment of breaking 
of the speech and of facing the loss of meaning. 

A recording of phenomenological experience, the archive appears in my work not 
as an evolution in time or as a depository of gradual accession and accretion, 
but rather as a flat, non-linear, layered surface, composed of multiple 
narratives, which offer the potential to overcome the structures of power. 
Fragmentary and non-hierarchical, the database of the archive is traversed in 
search for meaning. 

Lament assumes a form of expression, which is excluded or expelled from 
language—the latter understood as a system or design of meaning in relation to 
event. As a loss of language (leros,) lament traverses the flat surface of the 

In the oldest examples of Lament, the intercourse between the world of living 
and the world of the dead is performed as a dialogue either between two beings, 
one present here and one absent, on the other side, or between two antiphonal 
groups of mourners. The "mirror" structure of the Hebrew psalms makes it 
probable that the antiphonal method was also employed among others by ancient 
Israelites. The surviving copies of the thirteen century B.C.E. texts from 
Hittite civilization, describe taptara-women who are specialized wailers, 
forming a chorus that sustains a kind of performance of wailing for possibly 
long periods of time, as a response to the initial lament/address (kalkalinai). 

In modern moirologia there are still traces of the ancient tradition of this 
dialogue, where laments are considered to be uttered either by the dead person 
or by their tomb.  The imagined dialogue between a traveller and a tomb was 
full of austere brevity characteristic of the archaic style, which later 
developed into a refrain, the choral ephymnia, incantation, repetition, and 

In the traditions of Lament, the address (an opening) would be followed by an 
appeal (intervening narrative/recollection of past events) and finally the 
reiteration of the initial address. This three-part form was cultivated in 
threnos, but was also shared by the hymnos, enkomion, and epitaphios. The 
origins of this ternary form, in which the prayer is first stated, then enacted 
as thought fulfilled, and finally repeated, are to be sought in primitive 
ritual and “the form was developed in all kinds of ritual poetry”.[i] In 
contrast to hymnos, enkomion and epitaphos, the development of three-part form 
did not in threnos lead to the disappearance of the refrain. The lament was 
always in some sense collective, and never exclusively a solo performance.  

There seems to be no example in Greek antiquity of a lament, which has lost all 
traces of refrain. The word epode means “after-song” but also “after-someone,” 
a magic incantation, designed to bring that someone back, if only in 
imagination, if only in the moment of incantation, the moment of enunciation.

The strong tendency for women to be agents of lamentation is seen by the 
anthropologist Maurice Bloch as part of a more general association of women 
with death by early tribal societies, who tended to perceive death as analogous 
to birth, both fundamental biological processes, and both seemingly controlled 
by women, who by the act of giving birth, were already “contaminated” or 
anointed by the “other side” while men, whose position in society was to be 
more public, “were thus left comparatively free of death pollution”.[ii]

[i] Ian Rutherford When You Go to the Meadow…The Lament of the Taptara-Women in 
the Hittite Sallis Wastais Ritual in “Lament: Studies in the Ancient 
Mediterranean and Beyond”, ed. Ann Suter, Oxford University Press, 2008

[ii] Margaret Alexiou, The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition, Rowman & 
Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, Boulder, New York, Oxford, 2002

 antiphon (Greek ἀντίφωνον, ἀντί "opposite" + φωνή "voice"

Sustenazo (Greek), “lament with, groan together.”


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