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"The phrase "swan song" is a reference to an ancient belief that the Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) is completely mute during its lifetime until the moment just before it dies, when it sings one beautiful song.
Mute Swans are not actually mute during life ... they produce snorts, shrill noises, grunts, and hisses and they do not sing as they die. Peterson et al. note that Cygnus olor is not mute but lacks bugling call, merely honking, grunting, and hissing on occasion. This folktale has been contested ever since antiquity. In 77 A.D. Pliny the Elder refuted it in Natural History (book 10, chapter xxxii: olorum morte narratur flebilis cantus, falso, ut arbitror, aliquot experimentis), stating: "observation shows that the story that the dying swan sings is false."
Nevertheless, the folktale has remained so appealing that over the centuries it has continued to appear in various artistic works. Aesop's fable of "The Swan Mista...