Invigilant et al.
Property Terms I
Property Terms II
Property Terms III
Shining Words I
Shining Words II
Rhetorical Devices I
Rhetorical Devices II
Rhetorical Devices III
Rhetorical Devices IV
Maxims of Equity I
Maxims of Equity II
Maxims of Equity III
Rhetorical Devices III
Bill Long 11/24/04
Antistrophe and Antistrophon
Any attempt to achieve clarity on what is meant by antistrophe and antistrophon will be difficult. Lanham's last words after trying to define it are "Caveat scriptor"--let the writer beware. Why the writer should beware is seen in the basic meaning of the term. When the basic meaning itself invites metaphor, we know we are in for trouble!
Antistrophe may be translated as "turning about" or "turning in the opposite direction." Its most familiar usage is probably in the context of classical tragedy, where it is a part of a choral ode corresponding to the strophe, which immediately procedes and is identical to it in meter. But it also had a meaning in rhetoric, in philosophy and in logic. In rhetoric, possibly picking up on the 'repetition' part of the choral definition, it can be defined as "the repetition of closing words in successive numbers." In logic it suggests the conversion of terms in a proposition. This definition has perhaps led the Century Dictionary slightly astray when it defines its rhetorical usage as "the reciprocal conversion of the same words in consecutive clauses or sentences; as 'the master of the servant, the servant of the master.'* The OED also has the maddening habit of frequently
[*The philosophical meaning is beyond the scope of this mini-essay.]
copying the Century Dictionary and so it lists a "rhetorical and grammatical" definition as "the repetition of words in inverse order." It may be so, but I do not see how this helps enlarge our rhetorical world.
Creating Rhteorical Space for Antistrophe
I am more interested in it as a literary or rhetorical device to intensify speech or help persuade. When we then turn to Lanham's helpful discussion, he defines it as "repetition of a closing word or words at the end of several (usually successive clauses, sentences, or verses (p.16)." Henry Peacham, a contemporary of George Puttenham, gave an attractive biblical usage in his Garden of Eloquence (1577; 2nd ed. 1593). Quoting Paul's famous "love" chapter, he gives this example of antistrophe:
"When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child (I Cor. 13:11)."
The ringing cadence of the word "child" is not only a "turning about" from one line to the next, but serves to root our mind or set our mind on the idea. The rhetorical device of antistrophe, which other scholars have used interchangeably with epistrophe (a "turning upon" something), recognizes something very crucial about the nature of the human mind. Simply put, our minds tend to wander off in their own directions, even when we hear a convincing or attractively-put argument. Thus, our minds always need to be corraled, brought back to a center, re-focused. It is not a mental deficiency more than a simple fact of our human nature. Minds wander. By realizing this elementary fact, which most academicians never do, the speaker is able to lead the audience easily in the direction s/he desires. No one, who once hears I Cor. 13 will ever forget the fourfold use of "child" in verse 11.
An Example from Puttenham
Puttenham introduces antistrophe in his treatment of modes of repetition. In contrast to the earlier illustrations, where the repetition is at the beginning of the line (called by most rhetoricians anaphora), "Ye have another sort of repetition quite contrary to the former when ye make one word finish many verses in sute, and that which is harder, to finish many clauses in the middest of your verses or dittie (p. 165)." One of the "ditties" he provides gives repetition in the middle of the verse (which he calls "harder"):
"Her lowly lookes, that gave life to my love,/ With spitefull speach, curtnesse and crueltie:/ She kild my love, let her rigour remove,/ Her cherefull lights and speaches of pitie/ Revive my love: anone with great disdaine,/ She shinnes my love, and after by a traine/ She seekes my love, and saith she loves me most,/ But seeing her love, so lightly wonne and lost:/ I longd not for her love, for well I thought,/ Firme is the love, if it be as it ought."
We can agree with Puttenham in two particulars: first, that antistrophe is difficult when the repetition is in the middle of the line and, second, that he has indeed given us a rather insignificant "dittie!" Puttenham concludes the section with these words: "The Greeks call this figure Antistrophe, the Latines, conversio, I following the originall call him the counterturne, because he turnes counter in the middest of every meetre (p.166)."
A Final Thought
This discussion does leave one idea hanging, however. It is not the notion of inversion, which I consider a grammatical more than rhetorical point (though don't ask me the difference, now that I think about it!). It is also not the vocabulary of repetition, for we now know that we can call it antistrophe, epistrophe, conversio or counterturne. What remains is a word which is one of the definitions in the Century Dictionary and appears as a separate word, antistrophon, in the OED. Lanham calls it antistrephon.
It, too, means a "turning to the opposite side," but is defined in these sources as "an argument that turns one's opponent's arguments or proofs to one's own purpose (Lanham, p.16)." Thus, it seems to be the counterturne in argument, rather than just a turning back, so to speak, of words to a word used in the previous line. The 1913 Webster's Unabridged cites John Milton for its definition as "an argument retorted on an opponent," but the OED, which has the quotation from Milton that Webster's picked up is much more ambiguous. "I turne his Antistrophon upon his own head." It could suggest an already advanced oppositional statement; it could, alternatively just suggest an argument. In any case I think it would be adequate to say, "The professor commended her for great use of antistrophon when she employed the very words of her opponent to skewer him."
Enough for one day.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long