Bill Long 11/30/04
Fun with Examples
So far we have established some traction with the idea of hyperbaton as "overstepping" the "proper" word order in order to "fit" the words more euphoniously or arrestingly into a sentence. We have also seen that it can be used to describe the gap between two words that properly should follow each other. An example of this definition of hyperbaton comes from 1776: "We have here a considerable hyperbaton...there being no less than thirteen words interposed between the noun and the preposition." Before giving some examples of hyperbaton, we need to say a word on anastrophe.
Quintilian tries to distinguish hyperbaton from anastrophe by saying that the latter involves a sort of reversal using only two words (8.6.65) instead of a generic reversal or overstepping. Examples of this are "mecum" and "secum" ("with me" or "with you") for cum me or cum se; or "quibus de rebus" for "de quibus rebus" ("concerning which things"). Most modern scholars do not follow this rather hypertechnical distinction.
Examples of Hyperbaton/Anastrophe
Language is full of hyperbaton. When the Apostle Paul came into Ephesus and preached the Gospel, he was so successful at first that the makers of shrines for divinities suffered a loss in business. A silversmith therefore gathered the crowd and they shouted out, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians (Acts 19:28)." This is an example of hyperbaton. Instead of observing, "Artemis is great," the crowd shouted "Great is Artemis." The biblical authors use "great" as a hyperbaton in other instances. "Great is the mystery of our religion (I Tim. 3:16)," or, with thanks to GWF Handel, whose words from Messiah ring in my ears as I write this, "The Lord sent the word. Great was the company of the preachers (Ps. 68:11)." Hyperbaton is used to emphasize an idea, to fix it in the hearer's mind. It is the equivalent to a great energy burst, an expelling of air, at the beginning of a great project. It is a rhetorical "Whoosh!" of wind that suddenly blows into our lives.
Usually hyperbaton is confined to poetry. TS Eliot is a master of it. He speaks of time present and time past instead of their "proper" ordering of present time and past time. In one of my favorite Eliot poems, now in season, the "Journey of the Magi," he talks about the Wise Men contemplating the difficult journey they were about to commence. "Just the worst time of the year/ For a journey, and such a long journey:/ The ways deep and the weather sharp,/ The very dead of winter." Instead of "the hills echoed," we can have "echoed the hills." Virgil begins his Aeneid with "Arms and the man I sing," and Robert Frost says "I was in my life alone." Shakespeare, using a combination of hyperbaton and antanagoge, says, "Constant you are, but yet a woman." I H IV, 2.3.113.
Poetic examples could be multiplied: "Glistens the dew," "shines the sun," "She looked at the sky dark and menacing." "This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,/ Bearded with moss, and in garments green...". Though finding their origin in the poetic sphere, they can easily and effortlessly be transferred to ordinary speech. Simple hyperbaton as those cited will not be seen or received as pedantic or obscure. They will even be welcomed. Why not try to leaven our speech with examples of these? My theory of rhetorical devices is that once we know what to call something, we are freed up to use it. Now you have no excuse!
I am the Very Model
Shakespeare's use of "figures pedantical" (Love's Labors Lost 5.2.407) called to mind that most catchy of Gilbert & Sullivan ditties from Pirates of Penzance: "I am the Very Model of a Modern Major- General." Let's close this mini-essay by several examples of hyperbaton from that song. The hyperbatons help make it one of the most uproariously amusing in the G & S repertoire. I am singing it as I write: I hope you are too! (Examples of hyperbaton in bold)
"I am the very model of a a modern Major-General,/ I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,/ I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical/ From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical:/ I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical, I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,/ About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o'news,/ With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.
All and then General:
"I'm very good at integral and differential calculus;/ I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:/ In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral, I am the very model of a modern Major-General."
Once you depart from the strictly "proper" word order, you run into the danger of sounding or trying to sound elevated or removed from people. But if we start off with simple hyperbaton, which Quintilian calls anastrophe, we can see how it works. Notice it in the poetry you read or memorize and in the songs you hear. Try to gently bring it into your conversation. See if it works. If the simple examples work, try to develop more complicated examples. You might even explore hypallage, which is the subject of the next essay.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long