Bill Long 3/23/08
According to Donatus and Isidore
A few years ago (on 10/4/04) I wrote three essays on metaplasm, in which I tried to illustrate Donatus' view on the subject. Those essays "stand," though I can take the issue a slight bit deeper here because I am also looking at Isidore's treatment of the subject. Donatus' treatment is the third section on grammatical devices in his Ars maior, which itself is the second section of his Ars grammatica. We already have considered "barbarisms" and "other faults," but now we turn to his list of 14 "metaplasms." Donatus seems to think that metaplasm can occur in any kind of word, while Isidore emphasizes that it is the lengthening/shorting, etc. of a word in metrical contexts. For example, Isidore says:
"Metaplasm (metaplasmus) in the Greek language is called "transformation" in Latin. It occurs in a single word due to the requirements of meter and to poetic license..." I.35.1.
Donatus' definition, is "squishier." "Metaplasm is the transformatin of a well-formed utterance into a different form by reason of metrics or for embellishment." Thus we see that a metaplasm is written in order to enhance the communication (or from metrical necessity), whereas barbarism and other faults inhibited communication or gave away that you were from a far-off land.
Metaplasms, therefore, have to do with the transformations attendant on individual words, rather than clauses or sentences. Donatus suggests there are 14 types of metaplasms, and Isidore copies him, though sometimes giving different examples. Let's go through each briefly.
Metaplasms Acc'd to Donatus and Isidore
1. Prothesis is the addition to the beginning of the word, such as gnato for nato; tetullit for tulit.
2. Epenthesis is the addition in the middle of the word, such as relliquias for reliquias, induperator for imperator. Isidore actually gives the citation from Virgil (Aeneid 3.409):
"Maneant in relligione nepotes,"
which means "May the descendants continue in the religious duties." A common English example is if someone were to say or write "realator" for "realtor."
3. Paragoge adds something at the end of a word, such as magis for mage, and potestur for potest.
After these three "additions," Donatus takes us on a tour of a few "subtractions."
4. The "subtraction" from the beginning of the word is called aphaeresis, as mitte for omitte, temno for contemno ("despise").
5. A "subtraction" from the middle of the word is called syncope, as audacter for audaciter or commorat for commoverat.
6. Then, a "subtraction" from the end of the word is known as apocope, as in Achilli for Achillis or pote for potest or sat for satis.
Six of our fourteen terms are laid out: we lengthen through prothesis, epenthesis, paragoge. We shorten through aphaeresis, syncope, apocope. They are six wonderful words which it might repay you to learn. Indeed, it costs nothing, and someday, I assure you, you will be glad you know at least one of the words.
The Eight Other Metaplasms
Rather than looking at the lengthening or shortening in various parts of the word, now we go inside the word to look at syllables. By the way, Prof. Burton's Silva Rhetoricae lists 14 kinds of metaplasm, but his list doesn't agree with the list of Donatus. I will get to that at the end of the next essay.
7. Ectasis is the stretching out of a syllable "contrary to the nature of the word." An example given by both is Italiam fato ("to Italy, by fate.."; Aeneid 1.2), where one of the "i's" in Italiam is lengthened, rather than keeping it as a short vowel, which it normally is. Ectasis isn't in Prof. Burton's list of metaplasms.
8. Systole is the opposite of ectasis, and is where a long vowel is shortened. Examples given are from Aeneid 6.773, urbemque Fidenam ("and the city of Fidena"), where the first syllable ought to be long (in the word Fidenam), but the requirements of meter shorten it.
9. Diaeresis is the splitting of one syllable into two (the Greek word means "division"), such as in Aeneid 9.26:
"dives pictai vestis"
which means "rich with embrodered clothes," and where the "ai" of pictai is pronounced with two syllables. Another example, given both by Donatus and Isidore, is Albai longai, where both final syllables become two syllables through diaeresis.
10. The opposite of diaeresis is episynaloephe, which is the "gathering of two syllables into one," such as Phaethon for Phaethon, with the umlaut over the "e" removed, or Nerei for Nerei, with the umlaut over the "e" also removed.
The next essay will consider Donatus'/Isidore's other four metaplasms, with my concluding comments.