November 30, 2021

Swan song (in ancient Greek κύκνειον ᾆσμα / kúkneion âisma), an expression in use in France since the middle of the 18th century, refers to the most beautiful and last thing someone does before dying. In art, therefore, it is the last remarkable work of a poet or an artist.


This expression finds its origin in Antiquity, with a first attested mention in the Greek philosopher Plato, who puts these words in the mouth of Socrates, condemned to death by the city of Athens in 399 before our era, in the Phaedo, . “Hey! my dear Simmias, resumed Socrates, smiling softly, with great difficulty, would I persuade other men that I do not take the state in which I am a misfortune, since I could not persuade you yourselves and that? you think me more difficult to live with now than before. So you believe me, it seems, much inferior to swans, as regards presentiment and divination. The swans, when they feel they are going to die, sing even better that day than they ever did, in the joy they have of going to find the God they serve. But men, for fear of death themselves, slander the swans, saying that they mourn their death, and that they sing of sorrow. And they do not think so, that there is no bird that sings when it is hungry or cold, or that it suffers otherwise, not even the nightingale, the swallow or the hoopoe, which we says singing is just an effect of pain. But these birds do not sing of sadness, and still less, I believe, the swans, which, belonging to Apollo, are diviners; and as they foresee the good that one enjoys in the next life, they sing and rejoice more that day than they ever did. And I think that I serve Apollo as well as they do, that I am like them consecrated to this God, that I have received no less than them from our common master in the art of divination, and that I am not more sorry to leave this life ” - Plato, Phaedo, 84th The swan song is also mentioned in a fable attributed to Aesop: a mute swan, sensing his death coming, sang a melody for the first time in the most wonderful way possible. This legend is also known to Pliny the Elder, who contradicts it in his Natural History: “It is said that at the moment of death the swans make an admirable song heard; error, I think: at least this is what results for me from a few experiments. (Olorum morte narratur flebilis cantus, falso, ut arbitror, ​​aliquot experimentis.) " - Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book X, Chapter XXXII


An anonymous poet's madrigal The Silver Swan, set to music by Orlando Gibbons, takes up the legend: Der Schwanengesang (Swan Song) eleven motets by Heinrich Schütz (1585 - 1672) Schwanengesang (in French Le Chant du cygne) by Franz Schubert, posthumous collection of fourteen lieder on poems by Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine published in 1829 The Swan Killer, a tale by Villiers de L'Isle-Adam published in 1887 telling how a man kills swans to hear their song Swan Song, a one-act play by Chekhov, written in 1887 Swan Song, an American film directed by Frank Lloyd released in 1920; Swan Song, a detective story by Agatha Christie published in 1926 Swan song, episode 7 of season 3 of Columbo broadcast in 1974 Le chant du cygne, song by Gérard Manset in the 1991 album Revivre Swan Song, an American short film directed by Kenneth Branagh released in 1992 Joutsenlaulu (song of the sign in French), song by the Finnish group Yö written by Jussi Hakulisen and released in 1984 Swan song, episode 23 of season 8 of NCIS aired between 2011 and 2012.


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