"Peripherein ton daimona": la voce del ventriloquo

Tommaso Braccini


In the modern imagination, ventriloquists are inextricably connected to their dummies. This use of puppets, however, originated only in the 18th century. In the previous centuries and in antiquity, ventriloquism was seen not so much as a means of entertainment, but rather as a form of lawful or unlawful divination. We have much evidence about engastrimythoi, pythones and eurykleis, as ventriloquists were called, ranging from the Hippocratic corpus and Aristophanes to the Septuagint and the Church Fathers. In the vast majority of cases, these sources do not insist on the appearance of ventriloquism that is most important for us, that is, talking with one's mouth closed. The voice of the engastrimythos, in fact, is not perceived as the ventriloquist's voice expressed in an unconventional way, but as the voice of another sentient being (often a demon) that has entered into the body of a ventriloquist. It does not seem accidental, therefore, that ventriloquism could be associated with a form of prophetic speech that came from inside the body but that implied, at the same time, the physical presence of a speaker different from the engastrimythos: that of the fetus speaking or prophesying from the womb.

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