Figures of Speech IV
Bill Long 3/26/08
13/14. I remember the first time I ran into homoioptoton and homoioteleuton I was in my first semseter of grad school. I was sitting on the lawn outside of University Hall at Brown University in Sept. 1977, reading some Greek text and a commentary on it. I recall the commentator introduced several terms like these, and they made me shudder. I not only had never heard of them, but I figured it would take me years to understand them, if I ever could understand them. Much of my graduate school existence was like that--learning, or being exposed to so many new things but not really understanding much at all. I am not sure I support that understanding of learning, but that was my experience. But when I grew up and began to calm down in my learning, and when I had realized that I had enough time to understand almost anything I wanted, I came to the conclusion that learning these words was really quite easy.
By the way, the first appears as homoeoptaton in the OED (it is absent from the Unabridged), and the second is homoeoteleuton in both. The classically-oriented Century has both. The reason that only homoeoteleuton is in all these dictionaries is that it, though a Greek/Latin word, is easy to see also as an English word. It is defined as "when several utterances (i.e., words) end in a similar fashion." The word, therefore, is larger than rhyme, but similar to it. An ancient example is when Cicero says against Cataline:
"abiit, abcessit, evasit, erupit,"
"he left, he walked off, he escaped, he burst forth." It sounds a lot better in Latin, don't you agree? Donatus' example doesn't require every word to end identically:
"eos reduci quam relinqui, devehi quam deseri malui,"
or, "I did not wish to bring them back as much as to give them up, to lead them as much as to desert them." Actually, this grammatical device, which sounds so wonderful in the hands/mouth of Cicero, is not as frequently used in English, though we do have the adverbial ending ("ly") which often fits the bill. From Peacham in the 16th century, we have:
"he is esteemed eloquent which can invent wittily, remember perfectly, dispose orderly, figure diversly, pronounce aptly, confirme strongly, and conclude directly."
Not a bad definition of eloquence, is it? But because it has a limited range of use in English rhetoric, it has been taken up by text critics to explain gaps in texts. If an earlier editor "committed" a homoeoteleuton, his eye unconsciously skipped from the place where he should have been and then gone to another word several words distant which ended in the same letters and continued his copying.
Homoeoptaton is a narrower form of homoeoteleuton, focusing on the same case endings for nouns. The example that Burton gives under homoioptoton is incorrect; he has provided us a good example of homoeoteleuton (though it looks like he knows what he is doing..) Donatus' example of homeoptaton is perfect:
"merentes flentes lacrimantes commiserantes,"
or "sorrowing, weeping, shedding tears, commiserating."
15. Polyptoton is the opposite of homoeoptaton; polyptoton refers to instances when a sentence is varied with different grammatical cases. Isidore's example is helpful:
"Ex nihilo nihilum, ad nihilum nil posse reverti,"
which can be rendered "Nothing from nothing, nothing can be returned to nothing." I have given another example on this page.
16. Hirmos is a word picked up, in its rhetorical sense, by none of our dictionaries. The word is Greek, and means "series" or "connection," and refers, at present day, to a "model stanza forming a pattern for the other stanzas" in the hymnology of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Since I don't want to explore that idea here, let's turn to rhetorical meaning. It consists of a series of words whose meaning isn't clear until the end of the series, principally because the linking concept is not revealed until then. Virgil uses it in Aen. 6.724 when he says:
"principio caelum ac terras camposque liquentes.."
which translates as "First, the watery heavens and the watery earth, and the watery plains.." though the word "watery" isn't until the end of the series (liquentes). I think this works much better in Latin than in English...
17. Polysyndeton (literally meaning "many ties") is a phrase joined by many conjuctions, as in Aen. 2.262,
"Acamasque Thoasque Pelidesque Neoptolmusque,"
or "Acamas and Thoas and Neoptolemus son of Peleus..." From a 1706 example: "Idleness and wine and women and wickedness destroy both the Body and the Soul." Now, I don't think that we would find unanimous agreement on that sentiment in 2008...
18. Asyndeton or, as it is first listed, dialyton is the opposite of polysyndeton. An example of dialyton would be:
"ite, ferte citi flammas, date tela, impellite remos," (Aeneid 4.593),
or "Go, bring flames quickly, give out spears, ply the oars," Caesar's famous lines, "veni, vidi, vici" are an example of asyndeton or dialyton. It compresses speech and provides a much more vivid opportunity to communicate your meaning than almost any other device.
19. Only Isidore has antithesis (19) and hypallage (20). We have met antithesis previously, but that was in the last essay on metaplasms, and the definition only pointed to the substitution of one letter for another. But the "figures of speech" definition of antithesis is much broader. It means "where opposites are placed next to each other and bring beauty to the sentence." The example of Ovid is as follows:
"Frigida pugnabant calidis, humentia siccis:
mollia cum duris, since pondere habentia pondus,"
which can be rendered, "Cold things battled wth hot ones, moist with dry, soft with hard, those having weight with the weightless." You get the picture. This is a robust definition of antithesis, where opposites are introduced to sharpen and make vivid whatever you say.
20. Finally, let's end with hypallage. Isidore defines it merely as when "words are taken in the opposite way." But, in fact, if you know that it literally means "exchange" or "interchange," and can be defined as "a figure which consists in inversion of syntactical relation between two words, each assuming the construction which in accordance with ordinary usage would have been assigned to the other," you have it. The classic example is Virgil's
"Dare classibus austros,"
"to give the winds to the fleets," whereas what you really mean is "to give the fleets to the winds." This essay deals with the subject at length.
By now we should have an additional 60 or so rhetorical and grammatical terms in our quiver. Who can't say that by learning how to identify these words, and come up with examples of them, we won't soon improve our own speech and writing? That is the hope, at least...
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long