Tropes or Figures of Speech I
Bill Long 4/3/08
From Donatus, Isidore, Quintilian
When we move to the figures of speech, we encounter some of the most sophisticated ways that speech can be made beautiful and powerful. Whereas solecism or barbarism focused on the misuse of words, and metaplasm concerned only the way that a word could be lengthened or abbreviated by adding/subtracting letters, tropes, which Quintilian defines as "the conversion of a word or phrase from its proper signification to another in order to increase its force," (Inst. Orat. 8.6.1), are meant to adorn the language. Even so, some of them, which will be discussed in the next few essays, can be misused or are extremely difficult to use well. Though Quintilian tells us that there were interminable debates among grammarians regarding the genera, species and number of tropes, both Donatus and Isidore give us 13 (though not strictly identical), while Quintilian gives us about the same number, also. However, many of the tropes are broken down into subcategories. Let's illustrate this with a table or two.
Tropes in Donatus
Tropes in Isidore
Some of these can be broken into many parts. For example, Isidore breaks down hyperbaton into five sub-categories: (a) anastrophe; (b) hysteron proteron; (c) parenthesis; (d) tmesis; and (e) synthesis. Donatus also breaks this category down into five, which he calls: (a) hysterologia; (b) anastrophe; (c) parenthesis; (d) tmesis; and (e) synchisis. Hysterologia is synonymous with hysteron proteron and synchisis is identical to synthesis.
Both likewise divide allegoria/allegory into seven sub-categories: (a) irony; (b) antiphrasis; (c) riddle/enigma; (d) charientismos, (e) paroemia; (f) sarcasm; and (g) astysmos.
Finally, homoeosis is divided by both into the following three categories: (a) icon; (b) parabola; and (c) paradigm or "image, comparison, and model," in Isidore's language (I.36.31).
Quintilian's categorization in Book 8.6.1-76 of his Institutes of Oratory, on which the other two ultimately based their accounts (though Isidore seemed to copy from Donatus), is as follows:
applications of irony
10. derision and circumlocution
Further Description of Tropes
secs 1-3 tropes in general
secs 4-5 metaphor in general
secs 6-8 motives for use
secs 9-13 four modes
secs 14-19 objections to use
secs 19-22 in general
secs 68-76, its excellences and faults
Thus, even though there isn't complete agreement among the authors as to the reach of these terms, there is enough agreement for us to dig deeply into each one of them in order to understand what was meant by them. By way of introduction it is interesting to note that Quintilian separates metaphor and catachresis/metalepsis, while the later tradition tries to put them closer together. This may be attributed to the later tradition's definition of catechresis as a use of the closest possible substitute word where no word for a phenomenon exists while metaphor is the use of a substitute word when a perfectly good word for the phenomenon exists--thus the words are conceptual neighbors. But that is my speculation.
A Mode of Study
The next essay will look at four of these terms, using examples from these three authors to make them alive. I propose that we start with easy things--which is the way that learning words best for me. Join me?
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long