Aristotle's Rhetoric
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Book III - Chapter 9

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The language of prose must be either free-running, with its parts united by nothing except the connecting words, like the preludes in dithyrambs; or compact and antithetical, like the strophes of the old poets. The free-running style is the ancient one, e.g. "Herein is set forth the inquiry of Herodotus the Thurian." Every one used this method formerly; not many do so now. By "free-running" style I mean the kind that has no natural stopping-places, and comes to a stop only because there is no more to say of that subject. This style is unsatisfying just because it goes on indefinitely -- one always likes to sight a stopping-place in front of one: it is only at the goal that men in a race faint and collapse; while they see the end of the course before them, they can keep on going. Such, then, is the free-running kind of style; the compact is that which is in periods. By a period I mean a portion of speech that has in itself a beginning and an end, being at the same time not too big to be taken in at a glance. [1409b] Language of this kind is satisfying and easy to follow. It is satisfying, because it is just the reverse of indefinite; and moreover, the hearer always feels that he is grasping something and has reached some definite conclusion; whereas it is unsatisfactory to see nothing in front of you and get nowhere. It is easy to follow, because it can easily be remembered; and this because language when in periodic form can be numbered, and number is the easiest of all things to remember. That is why verse, which is measured, is always more easily remembered than prose, which is not: the measures of verse can be numbered. The period must, further, not be completed until the sense is complete: it must not be capable of breaking off abruptly, as may happen with the following iambic lines of Sophocles --

Calydon's soil is this; of Pelops' land
(The smiling plains face us across the strait.)

By a wrong division of the words the hearer may take the meaning to be the reverse of what it is: for instance, in the passage quoted, one might imagine that Calydon is in the Peloponnesus.

A Period may be either divided into several members or simple. The period of several members is a portion of speech (1) complete in itself, (2) divided into parts, and (3) easily delivered at a single breath -- as a whole, that is; not by fresh breath being taken at the division. A member is one of the two parts of such a period. By a "simple" period, I mean that which has only one member. The members, and the whole periods, should be neither curt nor long. A member which is too short often makes the listener stumble; he is still expecting the rhythm to go on to the limit his mind has fixed for it; and if meanwhile he is pulled back by the speaker's stopping, the shock is bound to make him, so to speak, stumble. If, on the other hand, you go on too long, you make him feel left behind, just as people who when walking pass beyond the boundary before turning back leave their companions behind So too if a period is too long you turn it into a speech, or something like a dithyrambic prelude. The result is much like the preludes that Democritus of Chios jeered at Melanippides for writing instead of antistrophic stanzas --

He that sets traps for another man's feet
Is like to fall into them first;
And long-winded preludes do harm to us all,
But the preluder catches it worst.

Which applies likewise to long-membered orators. Periods whose members are altogether too short are not periods at all; and the result is to bring the hearer down with a crash.

The periodic style which is divided into members is of two kinds. It is either simply divided, as in "I have often wondered at the conveners of national gatherings and the founders of athletic contests"; or it is antithetical, where, in each of the two members, one of one pair of opposites is put along with one of another pair, or the same word is used to bracket two opposites, [1410a] as "They aided both parties -- not only those who stayed behind but those who accompanied them: for the latter they acquired new territory larger than that at home, and to the former they left territory at home that was large enough." Here the contrasted words are "staying behind" and "accompanying," "enough" and "larger." So in the example, "Both to those who want to get property and to those who desire to enjoy it" where "enjoyment" is contrasted with "getting." Again, "it often happens in such enterprises that the wise men fail and the fools succeed"; "they were awarded the prize of valour immediately, and won the command of the sea not long afterwards"; "to sail through the mainland and march through the sea, by bridging the Hellespont and cutting through Athos"; "nature gave them their country and law took it away again"; "of them perished in misery, others were saved in disgrace"; "Athenian citizens keep foreigners in their houses as servants, while the city of Athens allows her allies by thousands to live as the foreigner's slaves"; and "to possess in life or to bequeath at death." There is also what some one said about Peitholaus and Lycophron in a law-court, "These men used to sell you when they were at home, and now they have come to you here and bought you." All these passages have the structure described above. Such a form of speech is satisfying, because the significance of contrasted ideas is easily felt, especially when they are thus put side by side, and also because it has the effect of a logical argument; it is by putting two opposing conclusions side by side that you prove one of them false.

Such, then, is the nature of antithesis. Parisosis is making the two members of a period equal in length. Paromoeosis is making the extreme words of both members like each other. This must happen either at the beginning or at the end of each member. If at the beginning, the resemblance must always be between whole words; at the end, between final syllables or inflexions of the same word or the same word repeated. Thus, at the beginning

agron gar elaben arlon par' autou
(A field he took from him, a fallow field)


dorhetoi t epelonto pararretoi t epeessin
(Yet might they be presents be won, and by pleadings be pacified)

At the end

ouk wethesan auton paidion tetokenai,
all autou aitlon lelonenai,

(they didn't imagine that he had borne the child, but that
he was the cause of its having been borne)


en pleiotals de opontisi kai en elachistais elpisin
(In the midst of plenteous cares and exiguous hopes)

An example of inflexions of the same word is

axios de staoenai chalkous ouk axios on chalkou;
(Is he worthy to have a copper statue, when he is not worth a copper?)

Of the same word repeated,

su d' auton kai zonta eleges kakos kai nun grafeis kakos.
(When he was alive you spoke evil of him, and now you write evil of him)

Of one syllable,

ti d' an epaoes deinon, ei andrh' eides arhgon;
(Would it have been very shocking to you if you had seen a man idling?)

It is possible for the same sentence to have all these features together [1410b] -- antithesis, parison, and homoeoteleuton. (The possible beginnings of periods have been pretty fully enumerated in the Theodectea.) There are also spurious antitheses, like that of Epicharmus --

There one time I as their guest did stay,
And they were my hosts on another day.

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Lee Honeycutt ( Last modified:3/15/04
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