A Place in the "Syn"
Bill Long 12/07/04
Symploce, Synalgia, Synchoresis
All of these words deserve a brief place in the "syn," either because they convey something about the nature of language and rhetorical appeals or because they recall mental pictures that I don't want to lose. Let's begin with some rhetoric.
The word is from the two Greek words meaning "with" (syn) and "interweaving" (ploce), and is a device that combines the two other devices of anaphora (or epanaphora) and antistrophe (or epistrophe). Briefly, anaphora is a device of repetition, where the first words of a line are repeated in subsequent lines.
"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name./ Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all his benefits.. (Ps. 103:1-2)."
Antistrophe or epistrophe is a repetition at the middle or end of the line, such as "for his mercy endureth forever," which is the refrain at the end of each line of Psalm 136. When reptition happens both places, it is called symploce. Symploce in Greek can mean any kind of interweaving (of cloth, of bodies in wrestling, of letters, of literary styles or, here, of at least two rhetorical devices), and is illustrated through (made up) lines like the following:
"When you were a baby, I fed you, because you were my child;/ when you were a youth, I nurtured you, because you were my child;/ when you grew into adulthood, I never ceased my care, because you were my child."
Then we could conclude with an anacephalaiosis (or summary): "I loved you then and I will love you forever." This figure is difficult to use with skill, but can be very powerful.
When my ex-wife was about ready to give birth to our second child, her mother came over to our house to look after our 4 year-old daughter while we were at the hospital. My mother-in-law sat on the couch and then began to complain of pains: pains in her arms, in her legs, in her stomach, all kinds of pains. While not wanting to appear to be an insensitive son-in-law (which, admittedly, I was), I attributed her complaints to synalgia or "sympathetic pain." She was in pain because my wife was about ready to deliver. Synalgia can also mean sympathetic pain in one part cause by injury in another, but I think the more vivid way to use synalgia is in our suffering pain for the sake of another.
It should be a great word for Christian theologians who want to describe Christ's synalgic act for humanity. Or, it could be vigorously appropriated by a theory counseliing psychology which wanted to teach a practice of sympathetic listening to its adherents. Why not try to inculcate synalgic listening in people? Why not endow a chair in "synalgic listening" at a graduate school of psychology? The world might become a better place.
I doubt if anyone's life has been poorer for not knowing this word, but it may be richer for learning it now. The Greek verb underlying the word (sygkoreo) means to come together or combine. The crashing rocks of Greek mythology, the Symplegades, come together (sygkoreo) and crush unwary sailors between them. The passive form of the verb means "to agree" or "concede" in an argument. Thus, the words "agreement" and "concession" stand behind various usages of the Greek term.
As it comes into Latin and becomes taken over by the rhetorical tradition, synchoresis becomes concessio, and is used in the Rhetorica ad Herennium to mean an admission of guilt accompanied by an excuse or plea for pardon (Rhet. Her. 1.24). In that treatise, a concessio is when "the matter cannot be defended, because it was done," but, nevertheless, someone asks that "it might be ignored." In rhetoric it is also the conceding of a point or admission of someone else's argument before advancing an even more potent argument of one's own. A wonderful example from II Henry IV, I.ii. follows.
"Falstaff: Boy, tell him I am deaf. Page: You must speak louder. My master is deaf. Justice: I am sure he is, to the hearing of anything good."
Or, a husband wanting to get into his wife's good graces might say, "I admit I arrived home late, but it took them a little longer than expected to polish the stone [then you proudly produce the diamond]." The diamond, rather than synchoresis, will save your ass in that situation, but it helps to put a name on your brilliance. This is also known as paromology--an agreement with the opponent's argument in order to expose its weakness.
Synchoresis also has a significance in legal-speak of Greek and Hellenistic antiquity, which I won't get into now. Suffice it to say that at the beginning of the Roman period (1st century CE) in Egypt, Alexandrian Jews would use the synchoresis or "judicial compromise" or "judicial agreement" in order to conclude a marriage. It is a piece of evidence that this central institution of Jewish life in the Hellensitic/early Roman period was influenced by Greek, rather than simply Biblical models.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long