Friday, July 4, 2008


This gusty spirit of melos.
—Hallie Flanagan, Arena (1965)
Aristotle used the word melos to identify the spellbinding power of incantations, just as Ezra Pound used the similar expression melopoeia to characterize words that “are charged, over and above their plain meaning, with some musical property, which directs the bearing or trend of that meaning.”* In short, melos is a charm whose rhythms have the power to compel an involuntary physical response.*

Of Greek origin, melos means “music,” the “space-time of poetry.”† As a magic word, the name Melos appears in the amulet parchments of Abyssinian Christianity and other Ethiopian magic texts.‡ The name refers to “the fearful sword of fire” that descends from “the gate of light,” a coded reference to Christ in Abyssinian liturgical texts.‡

King Solomon, who figured highly in Ethiopian mythology, is said to have considered Melos to be a magic word.‡ Note that Melos is a form of the name Solomon. Solomon spelled backwards is Nomolos, which shortens to Molos and hence Melos. (Another common variation is Nemlos.||) Some scholars suggest that Melos is a coded reference to King Solomon in the Abyssinian liturgical texts.¶

* Adalaide Kirby Morris, How to Live/What to Do (2003)
† Elliott Anderson, The Little Magazine in America (1978)
‡ Phillip Tovey, Inculturation of Christian Worship (2004)
|| Alois Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition (1975)
¶ Georg Gerster, Churches in Rock (1970)

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