Human beings rely, first and foremost, on their eyes to navigate the world. I know I do — I cherish my ability to see all the beauty that’s out there. And of course we talk about seeing as believing. The powerful influence of what we see cannot be denied.
And yet, strangely, the Book Princess pointed out to me that in both Shakespeare and the Bible, seeing is not considered believing. Hearing is.
Shakespeare has great fun with this. His women disguised as men will often still telegraph the truth with words, and even their voices. In Twelfth Night, Viola, when disguised as the boy Cesario, says, “I am not what I am.” The other characters, blinded by appearance, yet do hear the truth in her voice. Orsino tells her: “Thy small pipe is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound.”
The Bible is even more replete with stories of the primacy of voice as a source of truth. When Jacob tries to deceive his blind father, Isaac, into thinking he’s his brother Esau, he puts goat skin on his arms to make him as hairy as his brother. And yet, when he talks, Isaac wonders:
“The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”
Much later, in the book of Kings, Elijah’s encounter with God makes a similar point. God sends a wind and an earthquake and a fire, but He’s not in any of them, only in the “still, small voice.”
So what is it about voice that brings us closer to the truth than other things? I can’t say I know, really. Helen Keller famously said that she would rather walk with a friend in the dark than alone in the light, presumably because the sense of hearing connects people to each other. And maybe that’s it — from sound comes language, and from language our humanity first grew. If I had to guess, I’d say it had something to do with that.