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In the passage before us the words ὥσπερ
νέφος move first in a heavy measure, which is metrically equivalent to
four short syllables: but on removing one syllable, and reading ὡς
νέφος, the grandeur of movement is at once crippled by the abridgment.
So conversely if you lengthen into ὡσπερεὶ νέφος, the meaning is still
the same, but it does not strike the ear in the same manner, because by
lingering over the final syllables you at once dissipate and relax the
abrupt grandeur of the passage.

[Footnote 2: There is a break here in the text; but the context
indicates the sense of the words lost, which has accordingly been


There is another method very efficient in exalting a style. As the
different members of the body, none of which, if severed from its
connection, has any intrinsic excellence, unite by their mutual
combination to form a complete and perfect organism, so also the
elements of a fine passage, by whose separation from one another its
high quality is simultaneously dissipated and evaporates, when joined in
one organic whole, and still further compacted by the bond of harmony,
by the mere rounding of the period gain power of tone.

In fact, a clause may be said to derive its sublimity from the joint
contributions of a number of particulars. And further (as we have shown
at large elsewhere), many writers in prose and verse, though their
natural powers were not high, were perhaps even low, and though the
terms they employed were usually common and popular and conveying no
impression of refinement, by the mere harmony of their composition have
attained dignity and elevation, and avoided the appearance of meanness.
Such among many others are Philistus, Aristophanes occasionally,
Euripides almost always.

Thus when Heracles says, after the murder of his children,

“I’m full of woes, I have no room for more,”[1]

the words are quite common, but they are made sublime by being cast in a
fine mould. By changing their position you will see that the poetical
quality of Euripides depends more on his arrangement than on his

[Footnote 1: _H. F._ 1245.]

Compare his lines on Dirce dragged by the bull--

“Whatever crossed his path,
Caught in his victim’s form, he seized, and dragging
Oak, woman, rock, now here, now there, he flies.”[2]

The circumstance is noble in itself, but it gains in vigour because the
language is disposed so as not to hurry the movement, not running, as it
were, on wheels, because there is a distinct stress on each word, and
the time is delayed, advancing slowly to a pitch of stately sublimity.

[Footnote 2: _Antiope_ (Nauck, 222).]


Nothing so much degrades the tone of a style as an effeminate and
hurried movement in the language, such as is produced by pyrrhics and
trochees and dichorees falling in time together into a regular dance
measure. Such abuse of rhythm is sure to savour of coxcombry and petty
affectation, and grows tiresome in the highest degree by a monotonous
sameness of tone.

But its worst effect is that, as those who listen to a ballad have their
attention distracted from its subject and can think of nothing but the
tune, so an over-rhythmical passage does not affect the hearer by the
meaning of its words, but merely by their cadence, so that sometimes,
knowing where the pause must come, they beat time with the speaker,
striking the expected close like dancers before the stop is reached.
Equally undignified is the splitting up of a sentence into a number of
little words and short syllables crowded too closely together and forced
into cohesion,--hammered, as it were, successively together,--after the
manner of mortice and tenon.[1]

[Footnote 1: I must refer to Weiske’s Note, which I have followed,
for the probable interpretation of this extraordinary passage.]


Sublimity is further diminished by cramping the diction. Deformity
instead of grandeur ensues from over-compression. Here I am not
referring to a judicious compactness of phrase, but to a style which is
dwarfed, and its force frittered away. To cut your words too short is to
prune away their sense, but to be concise is to be direct. On the other
hand, we know that a style becomes lifeless by over-extension, I mean by
being relaxed to an unseasonable length.


The use of mean words has also a strong tendency to degrade a lofty
passage. Thus in that description of the storm in Herodotus the matter
is admirable, but some of the words admitted are beneath the dignity of
the subject; such, perhaps, as “the seas having _seethed_” because the
ill-sounding phrase “having seethed” detracts much from its
impressiveness: or when he says “the wind wore away,” and “those who
clung round the wreck met with an unwelcome end.”[1] “Wore away” is
ignoble and vulgar, and “unwelcome” inadequate to the extent of the

[Footnote 1: Hdt. vii. 188, 191, 13.]

Similarly Theopompus, after giving a fine picture of the Persian king’s
descent against Egypt, has exposed the whole to censure by certain
paltry expressions. “There was no city, no people of Asia, which did not
send an embassy to the king; no product of the earth, no work of art,
whether beautiful or precious, which was not among the gifts brought to
him. Many and costly were the hangings and robes, some purple, some
embroidered, some white; many the tents, of cloth of gold, furnished
with all things useful; many the tapestries and couches of great price.
Moreover, there was gold and silver plate richly wrought, goblets and
bowls, some of which might be seen studded with gems, and others besides
worked in relief with great skill and at vast expense. Besides these
there were suits of armour in number past computation, partly Greek,
partly foreign, endless trains of baggage animals and fat cattle for
slaughter, many bushels of spices, many panniers and sacks and sheets of
writing-paper; and all other necessaries in the same proportion. And
there was salt meat of all kinds of beasts in immense quantity, heaped
together to such a height as to show at a distance like mounds and hills
thrown up one against another.”

He runs off from the grander parts of his subject to the meaner, and
sinks where he ought to rise. Still worse, by his mixing up _panniers_
and _spices_ and _bags_ with his wonderful recital of that vast and busy
scene one would imagine that he was describing a kitchen. Let us suppose
that in that show of magnificence some one had taken a set of wretched
baskets and bags and placed them in the midst, among vessels of gold,
jewelled bowls, silver plate, and tents and goblets of gold; how
incongruous would have seemed the effect! Now just in the same way these
petty words, introduced out of season, stand out like deformities and
blots on the diction.

These details might have been given in one or two broad strokes, as when
he speaks of mounds being heaped together. So in dealing with the other
preparations he might have told us of “waggons and camels and a long
train of baggage animals loaded with all kinds of supplies for the
luxury and enjoyment of the table,” or have mentioned “piles of grain of
every species, and of all the choicest delicacies required by the art of
the cook or the taste of the epicure,” or (if he must needs be so very
precise) he might have spoken of “whatever dainties are supplied by
those who lay or those who dress the banquet.”

In our sublimer efforts we should never stoop to what is sordid and
despicable, unless very hard pressed by some urgent necessity. If we
would write becomingly, our utterance should be worthy of our theme. We
should take a lesson from nature, who when she planned the human frame
did not set our grosser parts, or the ducts for purging the body, in our
face, but as far as she could concealed them, “diverting,” as Xenophon
says, “those canals as far as possible from our senses,”[2] and thus
shunning in any part to mar the beauty of the whole creature.

[Footnote 2: _Mem._ i. 4. 6.]

However, it is not incumbent on us to specify and enumerate whatever
diminishes a style. We have now pointed out the various means of giving
it nobility and loftiness. It is clear, then, that whatever is contrary
to these will generally degrade and deform it.


There is still another point which remains to be cleared up, my dear
Terentian, and on which I shall not hesitate to add some remarks, to
gratify your inquiring spirit. It relates to a question which was
recently put to me by a certain philosopher. “To me,” he said, “in
common, I may say, with many others, it is a matter of wonder that in
the present age, which produces many highly skilled in the arts Of
popular persuasion, many of keen and active powers, many especially rich
in every pleasing gift of language, the growth of highly exalted and
wide-reaching genius has with a few rare exceptions almost entirely
ceased. So universal is the dearth of eloquence which prevails
throughout the world.

“Must we really,” he asked, “give credit to that oft-repeated assertion
that democracy is the kind nurse of genius, and that high literary
excellence has flourished with her prime and faded with her decay?
Liberty, it is said, is all-powerful to feed the aspirations of high
intellects, to hold out hope, and keep alive the flame of mutual rivalry
and ambitious struggle for the highest place.

“Moreover, the prizes which are offered in every free state keep the
spirits of her foremost orators whetted by perpetual exercise;[1] they
are, as it were, ignited by friction, and naturally blaze forth freely
because they are surrounded by freedom. But we of to-day,” he continued,
“seem to have learnt in our childhood the lessons of a benignant
despotism, to have been cradled in her habits and customs from the time
when our minds were still tender, and never to have tasted the fairest
and most fruitful fountain of eloquence, I mean liberty.

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