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Accordingly the proper use of this figure is in dealing with some urgent
crisis which will not allow the writer to linger, but compels him to
make a rapid change from one person to another. So in Hecataeus: “Now
Ceyx took this in dudgeon, and straightway bade the children of Heracles
to depart. ‘Behold, I can give you no help; lest, therefore, ye perish
yourselves and bring hurt upon me also, get ye forth into some other

There is a different use of the change of persons in the speech of
Demosthenes against Aristogeiton, which places before us the quick turns
of violent emotion. “Is there none to be found among you,” he asks, “who
even feels indignation at the outrageous conduct of a loathsome and
shameless wretch who,--vilest of men, when you were debarred from
freedom of speech, not by barriers or by doors, which might indeed be
opened,”[2] etc. Thus in the midst of a half-expressed thought he makes
a quick change of front, and having almost in his anger torn one word
into two persons, “who, vilest of men,” etc., he then breaks off his
address to Aristogeiton, and seems to leave him, nevertheless, by the
passion of his utterance, rousing all the more the attention of the

[Footnote 2: _c. Aristog._ i. 27.]

The same feature may be observed in a speech of Penelope’s--

“Why com’st thou, Medon, from the wooers proud?
Com’st thou to bid the handmaids of my lord
To cease their tasks, and make for them good cheer?
Ill fare their wooing, and their gathering here!
Would God that here this hour they all might take
Their last, their latest meal! Who day by day
Make here your muster, to devour and waste
The substance of my son: have ye not heard
When children at your fathers’ knee the deeds
And prowess of your king?”[3]

[Footnote 3: _Od._ iv. 681.]


None, I suppose, would dispute the fact that periphrasis tends much to
sublimity. For, as in music the simple air is rendered more pleasing by
the addition of harmony, so in language periphrasis often sounds in
concord with a literal expression, adding much to the beauty of its
tone,--provided always that it is not inflated and harsh, but agreeably

To confirm this one passage from Plato will suffice--the opening words
of his Funeral Oration: “In deed these men have now received from us
their due, and that tribute paid they are now passing on their destined
journey, with the State speeding them all and his own friends speeding
each one of them on his way.”[1] Death, you see, he calls the “destined
journey”; to receive the rites of burial is to be publicly “sped on your
way” by the State. And these turns of language lend dignity in no common
measure to the thought. He takes the words in their naked simplicity and
handles them as a musician, investing them with melody,--harmonising
them, as it were,--by the use of periphrasis.

[Footnote 1: _Menex._ 236, D.]

So Xenophon: “Labour you regard as the guide to a pleasant life, and you
have laid up in your souls the fairest and most soldier-like of all
gifts: in praise is your delight, more than in anything else.”[2] By
saying, instead of “you are ready to labour,” “you regard labour as the
guide to a pleasant life,” and by similarly expanding the rest of that
passage, he gives to his eulogy a much wider and loftier range of
sentiment. Let us add that inimitable phrase in Herodotus: “Those
Scythians who pillaged the temple were smitten from heaven by a female

[Footnote 2: _Cyrop._ i. 5. 12.]


But this figure, more than any other, is very liable to abuse, and great
restraint is required in employing it. It soon begins to carry an
impression of feebleness, savours of vapid trifling, and arouses
disgust. Hence Plato, who is very bold and not always happy in his use
of figures, is much ridiculed for saying in his _Laws_ that “neither
gold nor silver wealth must be allowed to establish itself in our
State,”[1] suggesting, it is said, that if he had forbidden property in
oxen or sheep he would certainly have spoken of it as “bovine and ovine

[Footnote 1: _De Legg._ vii. 801, B.]

Here we must quit this part of our subject, hoping, my dear friend
Terentian, that your learned curiosity will be satisfied with this short
excursion on the use of figures in their relation to the Sublime. All
those which I have mentioned help to render a style more energetic and
impassioned; and passion contributes as largely to sublimity as the
delineation of character to amusement.


But since the thoughts conveyed by words and the expression of those
thoughts are for the most part interwoven with one another, we will now
add some considerations which have hitherto been overlooked on the
subject of expression. To say that the choice of appropriate and
striking words has a marvellous power and an enthralling charm for the
reader, that this is the main object of pursuit with all orators and
writers, that it is this, and this alone, which causes the works of
literature to exhibit the glowing perfections of the finest statues,
their grandeur, their beauty, their mellowness, their dignity, their
energy, their power, and all their other graces, and that it is this
which endows the facts with a vocal soul; to say all this would, I fear,
be, to the initiated, an impertinence. Indeed, we may say with strict
truth that beautiful words are the very light of thought.

I do not mean to say that imposing language is appropriate to every
occasion. A trifling subject tricked out in grand and stately words
would have the same effect as a huge tragic mask placed on the head of a
little child. Only in poetry and ...


... There is a genuine ring in that line of Anacreon’s--

“The Thracian filly I no longer heed.”

The same merit belongs to that original phrase in Theophrastus; to me,
at least, from the closeness of its analogy, it seems to have a peculiar
expressiveness, though Caecilius censures it, without telling us why.
“Philip,” says the historian, “showed a marvellous alacrity in _taking
doses of trouble_.”[1] We see from this that the most homely language is
sometimes far more vivid than the most ornamental, being recognised at
once as the language of common life, and gaining immediate currency by
its familiarity. In speaking, then, of Philip as “taking doses of
trouble,” Theopompus has laid hold on a phrase which describes with
peculiar vividness one who for the sake of advantage endured what was
base and sordid with patience and cheerfulness.

[Footnote 1: See Note.]

The same may be observed of two passages in Herodotus: “Cleomenes having
lost his wits, cut his own flesh into pieces with a short sword, until
by gradually _mincing_ his whole body he destroyed himself”;[2] and
“Pythes continued fighting on his ship until he was entirely _hacked to
pieces_.”[3] Such terms come home at once to the vulgar reader, but
their own vulgarity is redeemed by their expressiveness.

[Footnote 2: vi. 75.]

[Footnote 3: vii. 181.]


Concerning the number of metaphors to be employed together Caecilius
seems to give his vote with those critics who make a law that not more
than two, or at the utmost three, should be combined in the same place.
The use, however, must be determined by the occasion. Those outbursts of
passion which drive onwards like a winter torrent draw with them as an
indispensable accessory whole masses of metaphor. It is thus in that
passage of Demosthenes (who here also is our safest guide):[1]

[Footnote 1: See Note.]

“Those vile fawning wretches, each one of whom has lopped from his
country her fairest members, who have toasted away their liberty, first
to Philip, now to Alexander, who measure happiness by their belly and
their vilest appetites, who have overthrown the old landmarks and
standards of felicity among Greeks,--to be freemen, and to have no one
for a master.”[2] Here the number of the metaphors is obscured by the
orator’s indignation against the betrayers of his country.

[Footnote 2: _De Cor._ 296.]

And to effect this Aristotle and Theophrastus recommend the softening of
harsh metaphors by the use of some such phrase as “So to say,” “As it
were,” “If I may be permitted the expression,” “If so bold a term is
allowable.” For thus to forestall criticism[3] mitigates, they assert,
the boldness of the metaphors.

[Footnote 3: Reading ὑποτίμησις.]

And I will not deny that these have their use. Nevertheless I must
repeat the remark which I made in the case of figures,[4] and maintain
that there are native antidotes to the number and boldness of metaphors,
in well-timed displays of strong feeling, and in unaffected sublimity,
because these have an innate power by the dash of their movement of
sweeping along and carrying all else before them. Or should we not
rather say that they absolutely demand as indispensable the use of
daring metaphors, and will not allow the hearer to pause and criticise
the number of them, because he shares the passion of the speaker?

[Footnote 4: Ch. xvii.]

In the treatment, again, of familiar topics and in descriptive passages
nothing gives such distinctness as a close and continuous series of
metaphors. It is by this means that Xenophon has so finely delineated
the anatomy of the human frame.[5] And there is a still more brilliant
and life-like picture in Plato.[6] The human head he calls a _citadel_;
the neck is an _isthmus_ set to divide it from the chest; to support it
beneath are the vertebrae, turning like _hinges_; pleasure he describes
as a _bait_ to tempt men to ill; the tongue is the _arbiter of tastes_.
The heart is at once the _knot_ of the veins and the _source_ of the
rapidly circulating blood, and is stationed in the _guard-room_ of the
body. The ramifying blood-vessels he calls _alleys_. “And casting
about,” he says, “for something to sustain the violent palpitation of
the heart when it is alarmed by the approach of danger or agitated by
passion, since at such times it is overheated, they (the gods) implanted
in us the lungs, which are so fashioned that being soft and bloodless,
and having cavities within, they act like a buffer, and when the heart
boils with inward passion by yielding to its throbbing save it from
injury.” He compares the seat of the desires to the _women’s quarters_,
the seat of the passions to the _men’s quarters_, in a house.

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