Bill Long 3/23/08
The Last Four of Donatus' and Isidore's Metaplasms
11. If episynaloephe is the "slurring" of two syllables into one syllable in the same word, synaloephe is that same kind of slurring by combining vowels from adjacent words. Virgil again provides the example (Aeneid 9.1):
"Atque ea diversa penitus dum parte geruntur,"
which can be translated, "And while these things were happening far away." The synaloephe is the combining of the "que" and "ea" into two syllables rather than three. The word synaloephe can be spelled three ways in English, two of which are given in the OED and two in the Unabridged, with only synaloepha overlapping, and so the word can't be used in a spelling competition. Its (rather vivid) Greek meaning is "smearing" or "melting" together. The Unabridged tells us that this can happen in four ways--but I hesitate even to mention the words lest it take us down paths we don't wan to tread. Oh, what the heck. The four ways that synaloepha can occur are through crasis, elision, synizesis, and synaeresis. Neither Donatus nor Isidore makes reference to any of these terms; let's let them lie right here and not try to explain technical differences among them, if indeed, there are such differences.
12. Donatus defined synaloephe as the "soft" coming together of competing vowels, while ecthlipsis is the "difficult or hard coming together of consonants vying harshly with vowels." By the personification of the consonants and vowels, you can almost see them struggling for prominence, as if an "I" would say, "Please, make me long!" and another word would say, "Please contract me so that everything can sound so smooth..." The verb behind ecthlipsis is from the Greek and it means to "rub out," and it refers to the elimination of a consonantal sound, especially an "m" before succeeding vowels. We have already seen, in barbarisms, how mytacism (metacism) is to be avoided. How is it avoided in meter? By "rubbing out" the "m."
The examples given by Donatus and Isidore don't really illustrate the phenomenon that well. They both just quote the famous line from the Aeneid (1.3):
"multum ille et terris iactatus et alto,"
which means, "much tossed about on lands and sea." But it is a later grammarian, illustrated through Burton's page on ecthlipsis, that leads the way for us. Mosellanus, a medieval grammarian, shows us that:
"multum ille et terris iactatus et alto"
becomes, by ecthlipsis,
"mult'ill'et terris iactatus et alto..."
I suppose the first abbreviation would be an example of ecthlipsis and the second of synaloephe. We are really getting good now, aren't we? Actually, I just discoverd an error in the prestigious Cambridge UP publication/translation of Isidore's Etymologies (2006). In rendering Isidore's section on metaplasms, the translators have rendered echthlipsis (I.35.6) as ellipsis, with eclipsis in parenthesis. But this is wrong; indeed, ellipsis was treated in the section on "other vices" (I.34.10). Got to write to the editors, I suppose....
Finishing with the Final Two
The last two metaplasms defined by Donatus are antithesis, the substitution of letter for letter, as olli for alli, and metathesis, which is the "carrying of a letter into another place, but nothing removed from the word," such as Evandre for Evander, and Thymbre for Thymber. It is here that you wonder if antithesis is simply a metaplasm or ought to be considered under barbarisms. For, there doesn't seem to be any reason, does there, for substituting the "olli" for "alli" ("they"), unless meter requires it? This use of the word antithesis isn't known in English, I fear. For example, the first definition of antithesis in the OED is from rhetoric:
"An opposition or contrast of ideas, expressed by using as the corresponding members of two contiguous sentences or clauses, words which are the opposites of, or strongly contrasted with, each other; as 'he must increase, but I must decrease [said by John the Baptist of Jesus] or 'in newness of spirit, not in the oldness of the letter," [the thought is Pauline, though the precise words aren't his].
Thus, this grammatical use of antithesis hasn't been picked up in the grammatical worlds of our day. Then, finally, the word metathesis is taken up into English precisely as Donatus and Isidore use it. Indeed, even the example is the same, as Elyot's 1538 dictionary shows: "Metathesis, where one letter is transposed from one place in a worde into an nother as Tymber Tymbre."
Isidore's concluding words help put the subject of metaplasm into perspective:
"Between the barbarism and the figure, that is, a polished Latin utterance, is the metaplasm, which may occur as a falut in a single word," I.35.7.
I can hardly wait to get to "figure."
Dr. Gideon Burton, whose online Silva Rhetoricae is the envy of many in the rhetoric business, has listed fourteen types of metaplasm, but his list doesn't agree with that of Donatus/Isidore. Here is how he breaks it down:
By Subtraction or Omission:
I can understand how antisthecon substitutes, appropriately, for antithesis. His metathesis is the same as Isidore's and Donatus'. His five "additions" are reflected in prothesis, epenthesis, paragoge but neither Isidore nor Donatus have diastole. They both have diaresis, though.
His seven subtractions are reflected in Isidore's and Donatus' aphaeresis, syncope, apocope and his "syllable words" synaloepha and ecthlipsis are prominent terms in Isidore and Donatus. But his ellipsis isn't in them at this point (note the mistranslation of ecthlipsis as ellipsis in Isidore--noted above), and synaeresis is also absent from Donatus and Isidore. In contrast, they have three words that aren't present in Burton:
ectasis, systole and episynaloephe.
All this goes to show you that even though there are several terms that were "agreed upon" at several stages of the rhetorical/grammatical tradition, that there was no fixed vocabulary to define every verbal infelicity or virtue. The best we can do today, failing the attempt to comb through every work on grammar from antiquity through the Middle Ages, is to portray fully what various grammarians did, with their definitions, and then compare them to each other. If we never lose sight of our goal, which is to speak and write well, we will be enriched by knowing all the words.
We just can't give any one system the final "nod" as the authoritative system on "x" or "y." And, that probably is good. Most so-called authoritative systems are really helpful only in getting you started. They must be discarded along the way, when you learn to "walk" and then "run" on your own. There is no "Bible" of rhetorical and grammatical terminology. But then, when you really think hard about the matter and study the Bible quite closely, you begin to see that there really is no "Bible" in the "Bible." We are just trying to do the best we can, even if some of us claim to have divine inspiration or a divine "push" at some time in our work...