Word of Mouth

Gianni Guastella

Published in print January 2017 | ISBN: 9780198724292
Published online March 2017 | e-ISBN: 9780191792021 | DOI:
Word of Mouth

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The Roman term fama described a far-reaching communicative phenomenon founded on ‘speaking’ (fari): a way of representing ‘what is said’, as well as talk and its production. It indicates information’s journey by ‘word of mouth’ within communities of people who spread rumours and hearsay, express common hopes and anxieties, and share opinions about other members of the same community or about ‘famous’ contemporary or long-dead personages. Underlying this process is a mechanism of chain-like propagation of (mainly) word-of-mouth transmission of information across a complex transfer network of uncertain order and origin. The ancients often described fama’s rapid and elusive movement as the flight of a winged word. It is interesting to contrast descriptions from ancient writers with more recent theories that anthropologists and sociologists have produced about the same phenomenon. This book studies the personifications of fama from an interdisciplinary perspective. It begins with a discussion of the ancient concept and continues with an analysis of its representation in literature and the figurative arts over time, using examples that range from Virgil’s Fama in book 4 of the Aeneid via Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Boccaccio, and Petrarch to Chaucer’s House of Fame. The most important personifications of fama were originally created to represent the invisible but pervasive diffusion of talk, which circulates information about others, and then to give bodily shape to an abstract idea of the glory of illustrious men. By the end of the medieval period, these two different representations were variously combined to create the modern icon of Fame.

Keywords: Fama; personification; hearsay; glory; ancient; communication; medieval; representation; Virgil; Ovid; Boccaccio; Petrarch; Chaucer

Book.  464 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Classical Literature

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