Tropes in Ancient Grammarians IV
Bill Long 4/4/08
On Hyperbaton (Continued)
I finished the preceding essay by speaking of anastrope, one of the five species of hyperbaton according to the ancient grammarians (especially Donatus and Isidore). This essay will examine the other four expressions of changed word order: hysteron proteron, parenthesis, tmesis, and synthesis. Quintilian gives us the "theory" or reason behind the value of hyperbaton:
"For speech would often become rough and harsh, lax and nerveless, if words should be ranged exactly in their original order, and if, as each presents itself, it should be placed side by side of the preceding," Inst. Orat. 8.6.62.
He then tells an endearing little story about Plato. Plato had left behind in his tablets part of a "rough draft" of the "most noble of his works" (i.e., the Republic). On these tablets were the words, translated in English, "He had gone down to the Piraeus," written several ways in Greek. Quintilian comments:
"He was trying to make order contribute as much as possible to harmony," Ibid., 8.6.64.
Thus, knowing the trope of hyperbaton is essential in adorning both speech and writing.
The Other Four Species of Hyperbaton
I have already devoted an entire essay to hysteron proteron (called hysterologia by Donatus); I need add few things to it. As I said there, it is the literary equivalent of the theological principle that the "last shall be first." Hysteron proteron is "a sentence with the order changed," Isidore, Etymologies I.37.17. Again Virgil provides fodder to illustrate it:
"Then he touched the deep waves, and came to the water," Aeneid 3.662.
As Isidore says, "for he came to the water first, and thus touched the waves." But for some reason the device appeals to us. "Put on your shoes and socks," we say (as well as the opposite). These are examples of hysteron proteron. As also mentioned in another essay, when you put words out of order, by placing the latter first, you have done something preposterous. The original meaning of that term was to "place" (posterous) something "before" (pre). Thus, when someone puts the "cart before the horse," s/he is doing something preposterous. Use that term in the original sense, and see what the reactions are...
Parenthesis, Tmesis, Synthesis
1. We know what parentheses are; but a parenthesis in ancient grammar or rhetoric is an explanatory or qualifying clause, sentence, or paragraph inserted in another sentence, without being grammatically connected to it. We need not quote the example from Donatus (copied by Isidore) from the Aeneid; we all know what such an interruptive thought looks like. Puttenham, in his Arte of English Poesie, has this to say:
"Your first figure of tollerable disorder is [Parenthesis] or by an English name the [Insertour], and is when ye will seeme, for larger information or some other purpose, to peece or graffe in the middest of your tale an unnecessary parcell of speech," p. 140.
Parenthesis, which literally means "putting in beside," allows many opportunities for humor. From Dryden:
"Thou shalt be seen
(Though with some short parenthesis between)
High on the throne of wit."
Or, from OW Holmes, Sr. in his Autocrat of the Breakfast Table:
"One has to dismount from an idea, and get into the saddle again, at every parenthesis."
2. Tmesis, the Greek word for "cutting," is the division of one word by the interposition of other words, as in Virgil (Aeneid 1.412):
"Multum nebulae circum dea fudit amictum,"
where circumfudit is one word in Latin ("The goddess surrounded (them) with a thick mantle of mist"). We seemingly only have more archaic examples in English of this, such as "He shall be punished, what man soever offendeth" (example by Burton), but I think the prevalence in our culture of the swear word "fu..ing," makes tmesis (also known as diacope--three syllables) a very useful word to know. "Hey, man, that was unfu...ing believable." A great example of contemporary tmesis.
3. I will conclude this essay with synthesis. Interesting to me is that Donatus uses the word synchisis/synchysis to express a "hyperbaton confused in every part" while Isidore, who copied Donatus, uses the word synthesis to means "when words from every part of the thought are jumbled" (I.37.20). Thus, what is synchisis/synchysis for Donatus is the same thing as synthesis for Isidore. But confusion enters in when you consult the online rhetoric of Professor Burton, for example. He defines synthesis as "an apt arrangement of a composition," while he defines synchysis as "the confused arrangement of words in a sentence." Our English-language dictionaries don't seem to help us out of the pickle. While everyone defines synchysis as a confused arrangement, the definition of synthesis in the OED is an arrangement of words which "is constructed according to the sense, in violation of strict syntax," whatever that means. Isidore gives the following example (quoting only in English):
"Young men, in vain your stout hearts; if your dsire for daring the final battle is fixed on following me, you see what the outcome of the matter will be. They have all left the abandoned shrines and altars, the gods on whom this empire was established; you are helping a burning city; let us die and rush into the midst of the fray," Aeneid 2.348.
Note that the last words are an example of hysteron proteron. Isidore comments that the true order of thoughts is "Young men with stout hearts, in vain you would be helping a burning city, because the gods have left. So if you firmly wish to follow me as I attempt a final battle, let us rush into the midst of the fray and die," I.37.20.
Why should "jumbled words" or a "confused order of words" receive its own special grammatical or rhetorical designation? In any case, it must be a fault, don't you think?
I am out of space here. Let's now turn to what is said about allegory.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long