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1586 __ The Ear of Dionysius
Comment : The Ear of Dionysius (Italian: Orecchio di Dionisio) is an artificial limestone cave carved out of the Temenites hill in the city of Syracuse, on the island of Sicily in Italy. Its name comes from its similarity in shape to the human ear. The Ear of Dionysius was most likely formed out of an old limestone quarry. It is 23 metres high and extends 65 metres back into the cliff. Horizontally it bends in an approximate 's' shape; vertically it is tapered at the top like a teardrop. Because of its shape the Ear has extremely good acoustics, making even a small sound resonate throughout the cave. The name of the cave was coined in 1586 by the painter Caravaggio. It refers to the tyrant Dionysius I of Syracuse. According to legend (possibly one created by Caravaggio), Dionysius used the cave as a prison for political dissidents, and by means of the perfect acoustics eavesdropped on the plans and secrets of his captives. Another more gruesome legend claims that Dionysius carved the cave in its shape so that it would amplify the screams of prisoners being tortured in it. Because of its reputation for acoustic flawlessness, the Ear of Dionysius has also come to refer to a type of ear trumpet that has a flexible tube. The term 'Ear of Dionysius' can also refer to surveillance, specifically that for political gain. There is a strong possiblity that this feature is actually of natural origin. It lies on the down slope side of a substantial hill it could well be a 'slot' Canyon cut by rainwater run-off in prehistoric times. Comparing it to the many 'slot' canyons in The state of Utah (USA), and elsewhere, it shows many similar characteristics. These characteristics are; 1) the narrowness of the top openning 2)widening of the lower part is also common elsewhere, 3)the 'water' polished walls, and 4) its serpentine shape. Such a natural feature, especially given its acoustics, would have been valued, in the ancient world, for its supposed sacred properties and this would have led to its preservation! Points 3 and 4 above are particularly salient, because why should the 'quarriers' a) bother to polish its walls to such a high degree, or b) why would they remove stone in, what is, a very impractical fashion? Given that the building of the extensive Necropolis, that abuts it on the hillside above, involved removing a huge amount of the original overlaying rock, it is also possible that this 'canyon' extended even further before men began quarrying there.The smoothness of the walls, so tall and even, together with the maze-like intererior permanently swathed in shadow, make it difficult to imagine that this was once a quarry. In fact, its peculiar shape is explained by the way the limestone was quarried. A small crack was made in the surface at the top, this was then broadened into a narrow channel that gradually was excavated downwards (possibly with the aid of water) until the good stone was reached. The cave has amazing acoustics which the occasional guide or visitor will put to the test by suddenly bursting into song. Many stories concerning the cave once quarrying ceased are circulated by guides and guidebooks: the most likely hypothesis is that it was used as a prison (like all the other latomie); the rnost imaginative tells of how it came to be used as a hearing trumpet by Dionysius; others sustain that it was used by choirs performing at the nearby theatre. (Compiled from various sources)
French comment : “Comme le suggère James Joyce lui-même par sa fugitive allusion à Dyonisos, il y a une très vieille “grande oreille”, connue sous le nom d’Oreille de Denys (Il s’agit d’une sorte de caverne (une ancienne carrière située dans le Parco Archeologico de Syracuse) dont le surnom semble être dû à Caravaggio qui, lorsqu’il la visita en 1586, compara son entrée à une oreille humaine), que nombre de voyageurs passant à Syracuse ont décrite. Vers 1780, Swinburne, dans ses carnets rapportés de Sicile, parle ainsi d’une grotte dans laquelle un conduit semble avoir servi « à collecter les sons émanant des interlocuteurs siutés en deçà et à les acheminer vers un tuyau dans une petite cellule double placée en surplomb, où ils étaient très distinctement entendus » (Henry Swinburne, “Travels in the Two Sicilies, in the Years 1777, 1778, 1779”, Londres, T. Cadelle & P. Elmsly, 1790, p. 103). Ayant attentivement examiné cet espace, Swinburne n’a aucun doute sur sa destination : il a été conçu « intentionnellement comme une prison et un lieu d’écoute » (a prison and a listening place). Un siècle avant Swinburne, le père jésuite Athanasius Kircher, dans sa “Musurgia Universalis”, donne aussi cette mythique grotte de Denys le Tyran comme premier exemple de ce qu’il appelle une « échotectonique » (c’est-à-dire une architecture d’échos) utilisée à des fins de surveillance auditive. Il en décrit également des versions construites : non plus des anfractuosités naturelles, mais des palais, des édifices en tout genre. Dans ces monuments où s’échafaudent à la fois des discours et leurs captation en cachette, les salles ou chambres dédiées à l’overhearing mériteraient assurément, et conformément à l’étymologie française, le nom d’écoutes. Elles sont situées, notons-le, en hauteur, en surplomb; les oreilles espionnes logent dans les greniers ou dans les combles (eaves, en anglais, qui donne d’ailleurs eavesdropping, encore un autre terme pour la surveillance).”. (Peter Szendy)L'Oreille de Denys (en italien Orecchio di Dionisio) est une grotte artificielle sise à Syracuse, en Sicile, dans l'antique carrière de Latomia del Paradiso, à proximité du théâtre grec du parc archéologique de Néapolis. Son nom lui vient d'une part, de sa ressemblance, par la forme de son entrée, avec une oreille de faune et, d'autre part, du tyran Denys l'Ancien (-405,-367). Creusée dans le calcaire, la grotte à une hauteur d'environ 23 mètres, sa largeur varie de 5 à 11 mètres et son parcours sinueux dans la falaise, en forme de S, est de 65 mètres. Cette infractuosité dans la roche posséde une caractéristique acoustique étonnante, puisqu'elle amplifie le bruit intérieur de la carrière. (Compiled from various sources)
Source : Zbikowski, Dörte (2002), “The Listening Ear : Phenomena of Acoustic Surveillance“, In “CTRL[Space], Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother”, Edited by Thomas Levin, ZKM-MIT Press, p. 37.
Source : Szendy, Peter (2007), "Sur Écoute, Esthétique de l’Espionnage", Paris, Éditions de Minuit, pp. 32-33.
Urls : http://www.wien2004.ica.org/imagesUpload/pres_254_SUTTON_C-USA%20ILL%2001.pdf?PHPSESSID=4fd5aa626c09bcdc01c5e4bdb09429a6 (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5boD-jeDg1k (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkqwJPDRv9M (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ez1JbOmtCU (last visited )

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