Demetrius: On Style

    - CHAPTER 3

Translated by W. Rhys Roberts (1902).

See the key to translations for an explanation of the format.   Click on the G symbols to go to the Greek text for each section.

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[128] G   Elegance of expression includes grace and geniality. Some pleasantries - those of the poets - are loftier and more dignified, while others are more commonplace and jocular, resembling banter, as is the case with those of Aristotle and Sophron and Lysias. Such witticisms as 'whose teeth could sooner be counted than her fingers' (of an old woman) and 'as many blows as he deserved to win, so many drachmas has he won' (Lysias, Fragmm. 5, 275, Baiter-Sauppe), differ in no way from gibes, nor are they far removed from buffoonery.

[129] G   Again, take the lines:

While the daughters of him whose shield is the Aegis sport at her side,
The beautiful nymphs of the field, and Leto beholds her with pride,
And by face and by radiant head above the rest is she tall,
And, where lovely is every one, they are all by her outshone:
So did the maid unwed outshine her handmaids all.
          (Homer, Odyssey 6. 105)

The so-called dignified and noble graces are of this kind.

[130] G   Homer sometimes uses such means in order to make a scene more intense and telling. Even when he is jesting he is somewhat awe-inspiring, and he seems to have been the first to devise grim pleasantries, as in the passage describing that most repulsive personage the Cyclops: 'Noman will I eat last, but the rest before him,' - that guest-gift of the Cyclops (Homer, Odyssey 9. 369). No other circumstance reveals so clearly the grimness of the monster - not his supper made from two of the comrades of Odysseus, nor his crag-door, nor his club - as this single jest.

[131] G   Xenophon also is familiar with this department of style, and can (like Homer) turn a pleasantry into a sarcasm, as in the passage describing the armed dancing-girl. "A Greek was asked by the Paphlagonian, whether their women accompanied them to the wars. 'Yes,' he replied, 'for they routed the Great King'" (Anabasis 6. 1.13) This pleasantry clearly has a double point, implying in the first place that it was not mere women who accompanied them, but Amazons; and the other hit is at the Great King, who is taunted with being such a poor creature as to be worsted by women.

[132] G   Grace of style has, therefore, a certain number of forms and characteristics. The grace may reside in the subject-matter, if it is the gardens of the Nymphs, marriage-lays, love-stories, or the poetry of Sappho generally. Such themes, even in the mouth of a Hipponax, possess grace, the subject-matter having a winsomeness of its own. No one would think of singing a bridal song in an angry mood; no contortions of style can change Love into a Fury or a Giant, or transmute laughter into tears.

[133] G   While grace is sometimes inherent in the theme itself, at other times diction can lend an added charm, as in the lines:

As Pandareus' daughter, the wan-brown nightingale,
Trilleth her lovely song in the flush of the new-born Spring.
          (Homer, Odyssey 19. 518)

This passage refers to the nightingale which is a delightful songstress, and to the Spring which is a delightful season of the year. But the wording has greatly embellished the idea, and the picture is the more delightful because the epithets 'wan-brown' and 'daughter of Pandareus' are applied to the bird. Now these touches are the poet's own.

[134] G   It often happens that, unattractive and sombre as the subject-matter in itself may be, it sparkles in the writer's hands. This secret seems to have been first discovered by Xenophon. Having for his subject so grave and gloomy a personage as the Persian Aglaitadas, Xenophon makes at his expense the pleasant jest, 'One could sooner strike fire from your skull than laughter' (Cyropaedia 2. 2. 15).

[135] G   This is the most effective kind of charm, and that which most depends upon the writer. The subject-matter may in itself be sombre and hostile to charm, as with Aglaitadas. But the writer shows that, even with such material, one can jest; there is the possibility, so to speak, of being cooled even by what is hot, or warmed with things cold.

[136] G   Now that the varieties of graceful style, and its elements, have been indicated, we will next indicate its sources. As we have already said, it consists partly in expression and partly in subject. So we will present the sources severally, beginning with those of expression.

[137] G   The very first grace of style is that which results from compression, when a thought which would have been spoiled by dwelling on it is made graceful by a light and rapid touch. Xenophon will furnish an example: "'This man has really no part or lot in Greece, for he has (as I have myself seen) both his ears pierced like a Lydian'; and so it was" (Anabasis 3. 1. 31). The clinching stroke 'and so it was' has all the charm of brevity. If the thought had been developed at greater length, under some such form as 'what he said was true since the man had evidently had his ears pierced,' we should have had a bald narrative in place of a flash of grace.

[138] G   The conveyance of two ideas in one sentence often gives a graceful effect. A writer once said of a sleeping Amazon: 'Her bow lay strung, her quiver full, her buckler by her head; their girdles they never loose' (Scr. Inc.). At one and the same time the custom concerning the girdle is indicated and its observance in the present case, - the two facts by means of one expression. And from this conciseness a certain elegance results.

[139] G   Grace of style comes, in the second place, from arrangement. The very thought which, if placed at the beginning or middle of a sentence, would have no charm, is often full of grace when it comes at the end. This is the case with a passage of Xenophon relating to Cyrus: 'as presents he gives him a horse, a robe, a linked collar, and the assurance that his country should be no longer plundered ' (Anabasis 1. 2. 27) It is the last clause in this sentence (viz. 'the assurance that his country should be no longer plundered') which constitutes its charm, the gift being so strange and unique. And the charm is due to the position of the clause. Had it been placed first, the anticlimax would have spoiled it: as (for example) 'he gives him as presents the assurance that his country should be no longer plundered, and also a horse, robe, and linked collar.' As it is, he has put first the accustomed presents, and added in conclusion the novel and unusual gift. It is the total effect that constitutes the charm.

[140] G   The graces that spring from the employment of figures are manifest, and abound most of all in Sappho. An instance in point is the figure 'reduplication,' as when the bride addressing her Maidenhood says

Maidenhood, Maidenhood, whither away, Forsaking me?

And her Maidenhood makes reply to her in the same figure:

Not again unto thee shall I come for aye, Not again unto thee!
          (Sappho, Fragm. 109, Bergk)

The thought, thus presented, has more grace than if it had been expressed once only and without the figure. 'Reduplication' it is true, seems to have been devised more particularly with a view to giving energy to style. But in Sappho's hands even the most passionate energy is transfigured with grace.

[141] G   Sometimes also Sappho makes graceful use of the figure 'anaphora,' as in the lines on the Evening Star:

O Evening Star, thou bringest all that's best:
The sheep, the goat, thou bringest home, to rest:
The child thou bringest to the mother's breast.
          (Sappho, Fragm. 95, Bergk)

Here the charm lies in the repetition of the verb 'thou bringest,' which has the same reference throughout.

[142] G   Many other examples of graceful language might easily be cited. It is attained, for instance, by choice of words or by metaphor, as in the passage about the cicala:

From 'neath his wings he pours
A strain of piercing notes:
Far up that fiery vapour-veil it soars
Which o'er the landscape floats.
          (Alcaeus, Fragm, 39, Bergk.)

[143] G   Another source is dithyrambic compounds such as:

O Pluto, lord of sable-pinioned things,
This do thou- 'twere more dread than all their wings!
          (Lyric. Fragm. Adesp. 126, Bergk4)

Such freaks of language are best suited for comic and satyric poetry.

[144] G   Yet another source is unique expressions, as when Aristotle says 'the more self-centered I am, the more myth enamoured I become' (Aristot. Fragm. 618; ed. Berol. Cp. 97, supra.) Coined words, again, are another source, as in the same author and passage: 'the more solitary and self-centered I am, the more myth-enamoured I become.' The word 'self-centered' is of a more unique character than the word 'solitary' which is formed from 'sole.'

[145] G   Many words owe their charm to their application to a special object. For example: 'why, this bird is a flatterer and a rogue!' (Scr. Inc.). Here the charm is due to the fact that the bird is upbraided as though it were a person, and that the writer has called the bird by unusual names. Such graces as these are due to the language pure and simple.

[146] G   Grace may also spring from the use of imagery. Thus Sappho says of the man that stands out among his fellows:

Pre-eminent, as mid alien men is Lesbos' bard.
          (Sappho, Fragm. 92, Bergk)

In this line charm rather than grandeur is the outcome of the comparison. It would have been possible, had the aim been different, to speak of a superiority such as the moon or the sun possesses in brightness over the other orbs, or to use some still more poetical image.

[147] G   The same point is illustrated by Sophron, who writes:

See, dear, what rain of leaf and spray
        The boys upon the men are showering,
Thick as flew Trojan darts, they say,
        At Aias huge in battle towering.
                (Sophron, Fragm. 32, Kaibel C. G. F.)

Here again there is charm in the comparison, which makes game of the Trojans as though they were boys.

[148] G   There is a peculiarly Sapphic grace due to recantation. Sometimes Sappho will say a thing and then recant, as though she had a fit of repentance. For example:

High uprear the raftered hall,
Builders, of the bridal dwelling!
The bridegroom comes, as Ares tall -
A tall man's stature far excelling.
          (Sappho, Fragm. 91, Bergk)

She checks herself, as it were, feeling that she has used an impossible hyperbole, since no one is as tall as Ares.

[149] G   The same feature appears in the story of Telemachus: 'Two hounds were fastened in front of the court. I can tell you the very names of the hounds. But what use would it be for me to tell you their names?' (Scr. Inc.). The narrator, with this sudden turn, puts you off by means of a jest, and fails to disclose the names.

[150] G   Charm may also spring from a reference to the verses of another writer. Aristophanes somewhere, when mocking at Zeus because he does not smite sinners with his thunderbolt, says:

Nay, his own fane he smites, and his thunderbolt lights upon
    'Sunium, Attica's headland.'
          (Aristoph. Clouds 401; Homer, Odyssey 3. 278)

In the end it seems as though it were not Zeus that is burlesqued, but Homer and the Homeric line; and this fact increases the charm.

[151] G   Certain veiled meanings, too, have a kind of piquancy about them, as in the words: 'Delphians, that bitch of yours bears a child' (Lyric. Fragm. Adesp., Bergk4 iii. pp. 742, 743). Another example will be found in the words of Sophron with regard to the old men: 'Here I too in your midst, whose hair like mine is white as snow, Wait, ready to put out to sea, until the fair wind blow, Yea for the old the word is still, 'The anchor's weighed,' I trow' (Sophron, Fragm. 52, Kaibel C. G. F.). Similar allegories refer to women, as the following in which fish are in question: 'razor-fish, and oysters sweet, The widow-woman's dainty meat' (Sophron, Fragm. 24, Kaibel). Such jests are gross and suited only to the lower varieties of drama.

[152] G   There is also some charm in the unexpected, as in the Cyclops' words: 'Noman will I eat last' (Homer, Odyssey 9. 369). A guest-gift of this kind was as little expected by Odysseus as it is by the reader. So Aristophanes says of Socrates that he first melted some wax, and

A pair of compasses the sage then grabbed,
And from the wrestling-ground - a coat he nabbed.
          (Aristoph. Nub. 149, 179)

[153] G   The charm in these instances is derived from two sources. Such pleasantries are not only added unexpectedly, but they have no sort of connexion with what precedes them. Such want of sequence is called 'griphus'; and an example of it is furnished by Boulias in Sophron's mime, who delivers an utterly incoherent speech. Another instance is the prologue of Menander's 'Woman of Messenia.'

[154] G   Again, a similarity in the members of a sentence often produces a graceful effect, as when Aristotle says: 'I went from Athens to Stageira because of the great king, and from Stageira to Athens because of the great storm' (Aristot. Fragm. 669: cp. 29 supra). It is through ending both members with the same word (megan) that he produces this pleasant effect. If from either member you strike out the word 'great,' the charm thereupon vanishes.

[155] G   Persiflage can sometimes be made to resemble urbanity. In Xenophon, for example, Heracleides who is with Seuthes approaches each of the guests at table and urges him to give whatever he can to Seuthes (Anabasis 7. 3. 15 ff.). There is a certain urbanity in this, and persiflage at the same time.

[156] G   Such are the graces which appertain to style, and such the sources from which they are derived. Among the graces which relate to subject-matter we must reckon those which spring from the use of proverbs. By its very nature there is a certain piquancy in a proverb. Sophron, for instance, speaks of 'Epioles who throttled his sire' (Fragm. 68, Kaibel.). And elsewhere: 'He has painted the lion from the claw; he has polished a ladle; he has skinned a flint'(Sophron, Fragm. 110, Kaibel). Sophron employs two or three proverbs in succession, so as to load his style with elegances. Almost all the proverbs in existence might be collected out of his plays.

[157] G   A fable also, when neatly introduced, is very piquant. The fable may be a long-established one, as when Aristotle says of the eagle: 'It perishes of hunger, when its beak grows more and more bent. This fate it suffers because once when it was human it broke the laws of hospitality' (Aristot. Hist. Anim. Book ix. (vol. 1. p. 619 ed. Berol.). He thus makes use of a familiar fable which is common property.

[158] G   We can often invent fables of our own apposite to the matter in hand. A writer once referred to the belief that cats thrive or pine according as the moon waxes or wanes, and then added of his own invention `whence the fable that the moon gave birth to the cat' (Scr. Inc.). The charm does not simply depend on the actual trick of invention, but the fable itself sparkles with a certain charm, making the cat the child of the moon.

[159] G   Charm is often the result of a revulsion from fear, as when a man groundlessly fears a strap mistaking it for a snake, or a pan mistaking it for an opening in the ground. Such mistakes are rather comic in themselves.

[160] G   Comparisons, also, are full of charm - if (for instance) you compare a cock to a Persian because of its stiff-upstanding crest, or to the Persian king because of its brilliant plumage or because when the cock crows we start with fear as though we heard the loud call of the monarch.

[161] G   The charms of comedy arise specially from hyperboles, and every hyperbole is of an impossible character, as when Aristophanes says of the voracity of the Persians that

For loaves, they roasted oxen whole in pipkins;
          (Acharnians 86)

and of the Thracians another writer says `Medoces their king was bearing a bullock whole between his teeth' (Scr. Inc.).

[162] G   Of the same kind are such expressions as `lustier than a pumpkin' and `balder than the cloudless blue'; and the lines of Sappho

Far sweeter-singing than a lute,
More golden than all gold.
          (Sappho, Fragmm. 122, 123, Bergk)

All these ornaments, different as they are from one another, have their source in hyperbole.

[163] G   The humorous and the charming must not be confused. They differ, first of all, in their material. The materials of charm are the Gardens of the Nymphs, Loves, things not meant for laughter; while laughter is provoked by Irus or Thersites. They will differ, therefore, as much as Thersites differs from the God of Love.

[164] G   They differ, further, in actual expression. The idea of charm is evolved as an accompaniment to ornament and by means of beautiful words, which conduce most of all to charm. For instance: `Earth myriad-garlanded is rainbow-hued,' and `the Paley-olive nightingale' (Cp. 133 supra.). Humour, on the other hand, employs common and ordinary words, as in the sentence: `the more solitary and self-centered I am, the more myth-enamoured I become' (Cp. 144 supra.).

[165] G   Moreover, a pleasantry loses its character and becomes incongruous when adorned by style. Graces of style must be employed with discretion. To utter a mere jest ornately is like beautifying an ape.

[166] G   When Sappho celebrates the charms of beauty, she does so in lines that are themselves beautiful and sweet. So too when she sings of love, and springtime, and the halcyon. Every lovely word is inwoven with the texture of her poetry. And some are of her own invention.

[167] G   It is in a different key that she mocks the clumsy bridegroom, and the porter at the wedding. Her language is then most ordinary, and couched in terms of prose rather than of poetry. These poems of hers are, in consequence, better suited for use in conversation than for singing. They are by no means adapted for a chorus or a lyre, - unless indeed there is such a thing as a conversational chorus.

[168] G   The two kinds of style under consideration differ most of all in their purpose, the aims of the wit and the buffoon being different. The one desires to give pleasure, the other to be laughed at. The results, likewise, are different, mirth in the one case, commendation in the other.

[169] G   Again, the provinces of the two kinds do not coincide. There is, indeed, one place in which the arts of mirth and of charm are found together, in the satyric drama and in comedy. It is different, however, with tragedy, which everywhere welcomes elegances, but finds in mirth a sworn foe. A man could hardly conceive the idea of composing a sportive tragedy; if he did so, he would be writing a satyric play rather than a tragedy.

[170] G   Even sensible persons will indulge in jests on such occasions as feasts and carousals, or when they are addressing a word of warning to men inclined to good living. A reference to `the far-gleaming meal-bag' may then be found salutary. The same may be said of the poetry of Crates; and it would be well if you were to read the `Praise of the Lentil' in a party of free-livers. The Cynic humour is, for the most part, of this character. Such jests, in fact, play the part of maxims and admonitions.

[171] G   There is some indication of a man's character in his jokes- in their playfulness, for instance, or their extravagance. Somebody once dammed the flow of wine which had been spilt on the ground and muttered words about ` Oeneus (oinos) turned into Peleus (pêlos).' The play on the proper names, and the laboured thought, betray a want of taste and breeding.

[172] G   In nicknames a sort of comparison is implied, there being wit in a play on words. Writers may use such comparisons as `Egyptian clematis' of a tall and swarthy man, or `sea-wether' of a fool on the water. They may, I say, indulge in harmless jokes such as these, but if we cannot stop there, we had better avoid nicknames as we would scurrility.

[173] G   The so-called `beautiful words' also conduce to grace of diction. According to the definition given by Theophrastus, beauty in a word is that which appeals to the ear or the eye, or has noble associations of its own (Theophrastus Peri Lexeôs.).

[174] G   Among expressions which call up pleasing images may be mentioned `roseate-glowing' and `of blossom-laden hue.' Everything that is seen with pleasure is also beautiful when uttered. Pleasing in sound are such names as `Callistratus' and `Annoon,' in which the double 'l,' and the double 'n,' have a sort of resonance.

[175] G   In general, it is out of regard for euphony that the Attic writers append an `n,' and speak of Dêmosthenên and Sôkratên (instead of Dêmosthenê and Sôkratê). Among words with noble associations is archaioi (`men of the olden time'), which is superior to palaioi (`ancients'), since it implies greater respect.

[176] G   Musicians are accustomed to speak of words as `smooth,' `rough,' `well-proportioned,' `weighty.' A smooth word is one which consists exclusively, or mainly, of vowels: e.g. Aias. Bebrôke is an instance of a rough word; and the very roughness of its formation is designed to imitate the action it describes. A well-proportioned word is one which partakes of both characters and shows a happy blending of various letters.

[177] G   Weight consists in three things: breadth, length, formation. Bronta (the Doric equivalent of brontê) may serve as an example. This word derives roughness from the first syllable; and from the second it derives length owing to the long vowel, and breadth owing to the Doric form, the Dorians being accustomed to broaden all their words. This is the reason why comedies were not written in Doric, but in the pungent Attic. The Attic dialect has about it something terse and popular, and so lends itself naturally to the pleasantries of the stage.

[178] G   But this is a mere digression in our treatise. Of all the words indicated, the smooth alone must be employed as possessing any elegance.

[179] G   Elegance may also be produced by composition, though it is to be sure not easy to describe the process. Yet, although no previous writer has treated of elegant composition, I must endeavour to do so to the best of my ability.

[180] G   Well, a certain charm and grace will perhaps be attained if we frame the composition by measures-in whole measures or half-measures. The actual measures must not, however, force themselves on the attention, if the words be read connectedly, but if the sentence is divided and analyzed part by part, then and only then ought the presence of measures to be detected by us.

[181] G   Even a general metrical character will produce the same effect. The charm of this pleasing device steals on us before we are aware. The trait is a favourite one with the Peripatetics as well as with Plato, Xenophon and Herodotus; and it is found in many passages of Demosthenes. Thucydides, on the other hand, shuns it.

[182] G   An illustration of such writing may be quoted from Dicaearchus, who says: `At Elia in Italy sojourning, an old man now, and stricken in years' (Dicaearchus, Fragm. 33, Müller F. H. G. 11. p. 245.). The close of each member has something of a metrical cadence, but the fact is disguised through the linking of the words in one series; and great charm results.

[183] G   Now Plato in many passages owes his elegance directly to the rhythm, which is, so to speak, long drawn out, and without basement or amplitude, of which the former suits the plain and forcible, the latter the elevated style. His members seem to glide along and to be neither altogether metrical nor unmetrical, as in the passage about music, beginning `as we were saying a moment ago' (Rep. 411a).

[184] G   And again: `in warbling and revelling in song he passes his life wholly' (Ibid.). And once more: `should he see any symptom of passion, like steel would he temper it' (Rep. 411b). Thus framed, the sentences are manifestly elegant and harmonious. But if you invert the order and say `he would temper it like steel' or `he passes all his life,' you will rob the language of its charm, which resides simply in the rhythm. Certainly it is not to be found in the thought, nor in the choice of words.

[185] G   Plato employs a delightful cadence, again, when saying with regard to musical instruments: `the lyre for you is left, then, in the town' (Republic 399d). Invert the order and say `in the town is left for you,' and you will be doing what is tantamount to changing the melody. He adds: `yea, and in the fields for the shepherds some manner of pipe shall be' (Ibid.). By this long unbroken clause he has, in a manner, quite charmingly imitated the sound of the pipe. This will be clear to anyone who changes the arrangement of this sentence also.

[186] G   With regard to elegance as depending on the arrangement of words these observations must suffice, the subject being difficult. We have also treated of the essential features of the elegant style, and have shown where and how it originates. We have seen that the frigid style is nearly allied to the elevated. In the same way there is a defective style perilously near to the elegant; and to this I give the current name of `affected.' This, like all the rest, falls under three heads.

[187] G   The affectation may reside in the thought, as when a writer speaks of `a Centaur riding himself' (Scr. Inc.), or as when somebody exclaimed on hearing that Alexander meant to enter for the races at Olympia, `Alexander, race along your own mother's name!' (Scr. Inc.).

[188] G   It may also be found in the words, as `smiled the dulcet-coloured rose' (Scr. Inc.). The metaphor `smiled' is sadly out of place, and not even in poetry could the compound `dulcet-coloured' be employed by any man of correct judgment. This is true also of the words: `the pine was piping low to the gentle gales.' (Scr. Inc.) Thus much with respect to expression.

[189] G   The structure of clauses is affected, when it is anapaestic and resembles most nearly such broken and undignified measures, as are particularly the Sotadean, with their effeminate gait, e.g. `having dried in the sun, cover up' (Sotad. Fragm.); and

Upswinging the ash-beam Pelian his rightward shoulder above

in place of

Swinging the Pelian ash-beam over his rightward shoulder.
          (Homer, Iliad 22. 133)

The line seems transmuted as it were, like those who (so the fables tell us) are changed from males to females.-- So much for the subject of affectation.

Chapter 4

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