Secrecy (Verschiegenheit)

Verschwiegenheit © Marlen Wagner

… like a barely perceptible smile in the corners of closed eyes.

verschwigenheit is a relatively young word in the German language, only recorded in New High German. From the 17th century onwards, verschwigent is described as the skill of keeping something secret and not making it known through words. This distinguishes it from taciturnity, which merely describes a person’s silent manner.

Secrecy in the sense of taciturnitas is judged to be a virtue that is difficult to attain and also difficult to find in others, precisely because it does not reveal itself in deed and speech. As fidele silentium = faithful silence, Horace describes one of the virtues that he describes in the Roman Odes as needing to be revived.

However, concealment, another facet of this word, has a negative connotation; the conspirator (nhd. Verschweiger) is seen as a perjured person who hides something and keeps it secret. Often, to conceal is equated with to lie, for the truth (or whatever the claiming person thinks it is) is not revealed.

Silence, in the sense of ἀποσιώπησις aposiṓpēsis (Greek) / reticentia (Latin) = to break off, to fall silent, interrupts the flow of words, so that the speaker, overwhelmed by feelings, has to pause and is also used as a rhetorical figure. This silence is also known as the art of suggestion, used for example to divert the censor’s gaze.

Angels are in a peculiar position: as people’s confidants, secrets are entrusted to them under the seal of secrecy. As “ears with wings”, they are well aware of the explosive nature of this obligation – and therefore in a constant dichotomy with regard to the duty of disclosure to their supreme master. For some angels, the required balancing act is too much – and they fall into the gap between the two virtues. Having lost their wings, they walk unrecognised among us humans as muses, silent advisors. When people think aloud, talk to themselves – they listen. 

Marlen Wagner