Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory
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Book 8 - Chapter 6

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Of tropes; much disputation about them, § 1-3. Metaphor, 4, 5. Three motives for the use of metaphor, 6-8. Four modes in which it is applied, 9-13. Objections to its frequent use; faults committed in regard to it, 14-18. Of synecdoche, 19-22. Metonymy, 23-28. Antonomasia, 29, 30. Onomatopoeia, 31-33. Catachresis, 34-36. Metalepsis, 37-39. Ἐπίθετον (Epitheton), 40-43. Allegory, 44-53. Irony, 54-56. Applications of allegory, 57, 58. Derision; circumlocution, 59-61. Hyperbaton, 62-67. Hyperbole, its excellences and faults, 68-76.

1. A trope is the conversion of a word or phrase, from its proper signification to another, in order to increase its force. Concerning tropes grammarians have carried on interminable disputes among themselves and with the philosophers; disputes as to what genera there are of them, what species, what number, and which are subordinate to others. 2. For myself omitting all such subtilties as useless to form an orator, I shall speak only of those tropes which are most important and most in use; and in regard to these, too, I shall content myself with observing, that some are adopted for the purpose of adding to significance, others for the sake of ornament; that some take place in words used properly, and others in words used metaphorically; and that tropes occur, not only in single words, but also in thoughts, and in the structure of composition. 3. Those, therefore, appear to me to have been in error, who thought that there were no tropes but when one word is put for another; nor am I insensible, that in the tropes which are used with a view to significance, there is also embellishment; but the reverse is not the case, as, there are some that are intended for embellishment only.

4. Let us commence, however, with that species of trope, which is both the most common and by far the most beautiful, I mean that which consists in what we call translatio, and the Greeks μεταφορά (metaphora).

Metaphor is not only so natural to us, that the illiterate and others often use it unconsciously, but is so pleasing and ornamental, that, in any composition, however brilliant, it will always make itself apparent by its own luster. 5. If it be but rightly managed, it can never be either vulgar, mean, or disagreeable. It increases the copiousness of a language by allowing it to borrow what it does not naturally possess; and, what is its greatest achievement, it prevents an appellation from being wanting for anything whatever. A noun or a verb is accordingly transferred, as it were, from that place in the language to which it properly belongs, to one in which there is either no proper word, or in which the metaphorical word is preferable to the proper. 6. This change we make, either because it is necessary, or because it adds to significance, or, as I said, because it is more ornamental. Where the transference produces no one of these effects, it will be vicious.

From necessity the rustics speak of the gemma, "bud," of the vines (for how else could they express themselves?) and say that the corn thirsts and that the crops suffer. From necessity we say that a man is hard or rough because there is no proper term for us to give to these dispositions of the mind. 7. But we say that a man is inflamed with anger, burning with desire, and has fallen into error, with a view to significance or force of expression, for none of these phrases would be more significant in its own words than in those adopted metaphorically. The expressions, luminousness of language, illustrious birth, storms of public assemblies, thunderbolts of eloquence, are used merely for ornament; and it is thus that Cicero calls Clodius in one place a source, and in another a harvest and foundation, of glory to Milo. 8. Some things also, which are unfit to be expressed plainly, are intimated metaphorically, as,

Hoc faciunt, nimio ne luxu obtusior usus
Sit genitalis arvo, et sulcos oblimet inertes

This they do, lest by too much indulgence
the action of the genital field should grow
too unenergetic and obstruct the inert furrows.

On the whole, the metaphor is a short comparison, differing from the comparison in this respect, that, in the one, an object is compared with the thing which we wish to illustrate. In the other, the object is put instead of the thing itself. 9. It is a comparison, when I say that a man has done something like a lion; it is a metaphor, when I say of a man that he is a lion.

Of metaphors in general there seem to be four kinds: the first, when one sort of living thing is put for another, as, in speaking of a driver of horses,

Gubernator magnâ contorsit equum vi,

The steersman turn'd his horse with mighty force;

or as Livy says that Scipio used to be barked at by Cato. 10. The second, when one inanimate thing is put for another, as,

Classique inmittit habenas,

He gives his fleet the reins.

The third, when inanimate things are put for things having life, as,

Ferro, non fato, maerus Argivum occidit,

By steel, not fate, the wall of Greece fell down;

and the fourth, when things having life are put for things inanimate,

Sedet insicius alto
Accipiens sonitum saxi de vertice pastor,

The shepherd sits amazed,
Listening the sound from the high mountain's head.

11. From the last kind of metaphor, when inanimate things are exalted by a bold and daring figure, and when we give energy and feeling as it were to objects that are without them, extraordinary sublimity is produced, as in Virgil,

Pontem indignatus Araxes,

Araxes that disdained a bridge;

12. in Cicero, "What was your drawn sword, Tubero, doing in the field of Pharsalia? At whose body did its point direct itself? What was the meaning of your arms?" Sometimes this beauty is doubled, as in Virgil,

Ferrumque armare veneno,

To arm the steel with poison,

for to arm with poison and to arm steel are both metaphors. 13. These four might be distinguished into more species, as a word may be taken from one sort of rational animal and applied metaphorically to another, and the same may be done with regard to irrational animals. In like manner, we may apply a metaphor from the rational to the irrational, or from the irrational to the rational, and from the whole of a thing to a part, or from the part to the whole. But I am not now giving directions to boys, or supposing that my readers, when they understand the genus, cannot master the species.

14. But as a moderate and judicious use of metaphors adorns language, so a too frequent introduction of them obscures it and renders the perusal of it fatiguing, while a continuous series of them runs into allegory and enigma. Some metaphors, too, are mean, as that which I recently mentioned, "There is a wart of stone, etc." 15. Some are repulsive, for though Cicero uses the expression sentina rei publicae, "sink of the commonwealth," with great happiness, to signify a herd of bad characters, yet I cannot for that reason approve of the saying of an old orator, Persecuists rei publicae vomicas, "You have lanced the ulcers of the commonwealth." Cicero himself excellently shows that we must take care that a metaphor be not offensive, as in his own examples that "the republic was castrated by the death of Africanus," or that "Glaucia was the excrement of the senate"; 16. that it be not too great, or, as more frequently happens, too little for the subject; and that it be not inapplicable. He who knows that they are faults will find numerous such examples. But an excess of even good metaphors is vicious, especially if they are of the same kind. 17. Some are harsh, that is, based on a resemblance not sufficiently close, as "The snows of the head," and,

Jupiter hibernas canâ nive conspuit Alpes,

Jove over the Alps spits forth the wintry snows.

But the greatest source of error in regard to this subject is that some speakers think whatever is allowed to poets (who make it their sole object to please and are obliged by the necessity of the meter to adopt many metaphorical expressions) is permissible also to those who express their thoughts in prose. 18. But I, in pleading, would never say the "shepherd of the people" on the authority of Homer, nor speak of "birds rowing with their wings," though Virgil, in writing of bees and of Daedalus, has used that phrase with great happiness. For a metaphor ought either to occupy a place that is vacant, or, if it takes possession of the place of something else, to appear to more advantage in it than that which it excludes.

19. What I say of metaphor may be applied, perhaps with more force, to synecdoche, for metaphor has been invented for the purpose of exciting the mind, giving a character to things, and setting them before the eye. Synecdoche is adapted to give variety to language by letting us understand the plural from the singular, the whole from a part, a genus from the species, something following from something preceding, and vice versa, but it is more freely allowed to poets than to orators. 20. For prose, though it may admit mucro, "a point" for a sword, and tectum, "a roof" for a house, will not let us say puppis, "a stern" for a ship, or quadrupes, "a quadruped" for a horse. But it is liberty with regard to number that is most admissible in prose. Thus Livy often says, Romanus praelio victor, "The Roman was victorious in the battle," when he means the Romans. Cicero, on the other hand, writes to Brutus, Populo imposuimus et oratores visi sumus, "We have imposed on the people and made ourselves be thought orators," when he speaks only of himself. 21. This mode of expression not only adorns oratorical speeches, but finds its place even in common conservation. Some say that synecdoche is also used when we understand something that is not actually expressed in the words employed, as one word is then discovered from another. But this is sometimes numbered among defects in style under the name of ellipsis, as,

Arcades ad portas ruere;

The Arcadians to the gates began to rush;

22. I consider it rather a figure, and among figures it shall be noticed. But from a thing actually expressed another may be understood, as,

Aspice aratra jugo referunt suspensa juvenci,

Behold the oxen homeward, bring their ploughs
Suspended from the yoke,

whence it appears that night is approaching. I do not know whether this mode of expression is allowable to an orator, unless in argumentation, when one thing is shown to indicate another. But this has nothing to do with elocution.

23. From synecdoche, metonymy is not very different. It is the substitution of one word for another, and the Greek rhetoricians, as Cicero observes, call it ὑπαλλαγή (hypallage). It indicates an invention, by the inventor, or a thing possessed, by the possessor. Thus Virgil says,

Cererem, corruptam undis,

Ceres by water damaged,

and Horace,

Terra Neptunus classes Aquilonibus arcet,

Neptune, received
Within the land, from north winds shields the fleets.

The reverse would be offensive.

24. It is of great importance, however, to consider how far the use of the trope is permitted to the orator, for though we daily hear "Vulcan" used for fire, though it is elegant to say vario Marte pugnatum for "the fortune of the battle was various," and though it is more becoming to say "Venus" than coitus, yet to use "Bacchus" and "Ceres" for wine and bread would be more venturesome than the severity of the forum would allow. Thus, too, custom permits us to signify that which is contained from that which contains it, as "well-mannered cities," "a cup was drunk," "a happy age." But the opposite mode of expression scarcely any one would use but a poet, as Proximus ardet Ucalegon, "Ucalegon burns next." 25. It may perhaps be more allowable, however, to signify from the possessor that which is possessed, such as "a man is eaten up" when his estate is squandered. But there are numberless forms of metonymy of this sort. 26. We adopt it when we say that "sixty thousand were killed by Hannibal at Cannae"; when we say "Virgil" for Virgil's poetry; when we say that "provisions," which have been brought, "have come"; that a "sacrilege has been found out" instead of the person who committed it; and that "a soldier has a knowledge of arms" instead of a knowledge of the military art. 27. That kind of metonymy, too, by which we signify the cause from the effect is very common both among poets and orators. Thus the poets have,

Pallida mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas,

Pale death, with equal foot, knocks at the gate
Of poor man's cottage, etc.


Pallentesque habitant morbi, tristisque senectus,

And pale diseases dwell, and sad old age;

and an orator will speak of "rash anger," "cheerful youth," and "slothful inactivity."

28. The following kind of trope has also some affinity with the synecdoche. When I say vultus hominis, "the looks of a man," I express in the plural that which is singular. Yet I do not make it my object that one may be understood out of many (for my meaning is evident), but make an alteration only in the term. When I call, also, gilded ceilings "golden ceilings," I deviate a little from the truth, as the gilding is but a part. To notice all such expressions, however, would be too trifling an employment, even for those who are not forming an orator.

29. Antonomasia, which for a proper name substitutes something equivalent, is very common among the poets and is sometimes effected by an epithet, which, when the name to which it is applied is set aside, is a sufficient substitute for it, as "Tydides, Pelides," for Diomede and Achilles; sometimes by specifying some remarkable characteristic of a person, as,

Divûm pater atque hominum rex,

The father of the gods and king of men;

sometimes by mentioning some act by which a person is distinguished, as,

Thalamo quae fixa reliquit Impius,

The arms which in the chamber fixed
He, impious, left.

30. Though there is not much use of this phraseology among prose writers, there is some, for though they would not say "Tydides" and "Pelides," they would say impius, by itself, for an impious man, and they do not hesitate to say "the destroyer of Carthage and Numantia" for Scipio, and "the prince of Roman eloquence" for Cicero. He himself has certainly taken such liberty: "You do not commit many faults, said the old master to the hero," where the name of neither is expressed, but both are understood.

31. Onomatopaeia, that is, the "making of words," which was counted by the Greeks among the greatest merits, is scarcely permitted to us. Many words, indeed, were thus made by those who formed the language at first, with a view to adapt the sound to the impressions produced by the things signified; hence mugitus, "lowing," sibilus, "hissing," murmur, "murmur," had their origin. 32. But now, as if everything that was possible in that way had been accomplished, we do not dare to produce a new word, though many that were formed by the ancients are daily falling out of use. We scarcely allow ourselves to venture on what are called παραγόμενα (paragomena), words that are derived, in whatever way, from others in common use are regarded as of the same nature, such as Sullaturio, "to desire to act like Sulla," proscripturio, "to desire to proscribe," and laureati postes, for "posts decked with laurel." 33. The word evaluit was successfully introduced, but vio for eo, "to go," was an unfortunate experiment. In regard to the Greek words obelisco coludumo, and others, we are forbidden to make harsh junctions, but we appear to look with satisfaction on septentriones.

34. The more necessary, therefore, is κατάχρησις (catachresis), which we properly call abusio, and which adapts, to whatever has no proper term, the term which is nearest, as,

Equum divinâ Palladis arte

A horse they build by Pallas' art divine;

and, among the tragic poets, "Now a lion will bring forth," but a lion will be a father. 35. There are a thousand examples of the kind. Cruses are called acetabula, whatever they contain; boxes, pyxides, of whatever material they are made; and he who kills his mother or brother is called parricida. All these catachreses are to be considered distinct from the metaphor, for catachresis is used where a term is wanting, metaphor where another term is in use. The poets are accustomed, even in speaking of things that have their own proper names, to use, catachrestically, proximate terms in preference, a practice which is rarely adopted in prose. 36. Some also will say that there is a catachresis when we use virtus for "rash valor," or liberalitas for "luxury." But such misapplications are distinct from the catachresis, for in them it is not one word, but one thing that is put for another, since no one thinks that luxury and liberality mean the same thing. One calls the thing, whatever it is, "luxury" and another "liberality," though neither has any doubt about the distinctness of their signification.

37. Of tropes which modify signification, there remains to be noticed the μετάληψις (metalepsis), or transsumptio, which makes a way, as it were, for passing from one thing to another. It is very rarely used, and is extremely liable to objection, but is not uncommon among the Greeks, who call Chiron the Centaur and νήσοι ὀξεῖαι (nesoi oxeiai), "sharp-pointed islands," θοαί (thoai), "swift." Who would bear with us, if we should call Verres Sus "Hog" or Laelius Doctus "Learned"? 38. For the nature of metalepsis is that it is an intermediate step, as it were, to that which is metaphorically expressed, signifying nothing in itself, but affording a passage to something. It is a trope that we give the impression of being acquainted with rather than one that we actually ever need. The most common example of it is [cano "to sing" is equivalent to canto "to reiterate," and canto equivalent to dico "to say"; therefore, cano is equivalent to dico (explicated from Watson's footnote --LH)]. 39. I shall dwell no longer upon it, for I see but little use in it except, as I said, where one thing is to lead to another.

40. Other tropes are used, not for the sake of adding to significance, but for ornament, such as the ἐπίθετον (epitheton), which we rightly call appositum, but some call sequens. The poets use it with more frequency and freedom than writers of prose, for it is sufficient for them that it suits the word to which it is applied. Accordingly, we do not find fault with their albi dentes, "white teeth," and humida vina, "liquid wine." But in a writer of prose, if nothing is added to the meaning by an epithet, it is a redundancy. Something is added to the meaning, if that which said is less without it, as, "O abominable wickedness! O disgraceful licentiousness!" 41. But ornamental epithets are most effective when they are metaphorical, such as "unbridled desire" and "mad piles of building." 50 The epithet is usually made a trope by the addition of something else to it, as in Virgil, Turpis egestas, "base poverty,'" and Tristis senectus, "sad old age." But such is the nature of this ornament that style appears bare and graceless, as it were, without epithets, but is overburdened if there are too many. 42. For a passage then becomes heavy and embarrassed, so if used in pleadings, you would pronounce it like an army with as many sutlers as soldiers, doubling its size but not its strength. However not merely single epithets, but several together are often used, as,

Conugio Anchisa Veneris dignate superbo,
Cura deûm, bis Pergameis erepte ruinis,

Anchises, with the stately honor graced
Of Venus' nuptial couch, of gods the care,
Twice from Troy's ruins rescued!

43. But, in this way, two words applied to one would not have much grace even in verse. There are some, however, who think that the epithet is not a trope because it produces no change. Their reason is that an epithet, if it is separated from the word to which it belongs, must (if it is a trope) have some signification by itself and form an antonomasia. Thus if we say, by itself, "He who overthrew Numantia and Carthage," it is an antonomasia; if we add "Scipio," it is an epithet. Consequently, an epithet must always stand in conjunction with something else.

44. Αλληγορία, "allegory,'" a word which our writers interpret by inversio, presents one thing in words and another in sense, or sometimes a sense quite contrary to the words. Of the first sort, the following is an example:

O navis, referent in mare te novi
Fluctus? O quid agis? Fortiter occupa

O ship, shall new waves bear thee back into the sea?
O what art thou doing? Make resolutely for the harbor,"

and all that ode of Horace, in which he puts the ship for the commonwealth, the tempests of the waves for civil wars, and the harbor for peace and concord. 46. Similar is the exclamation of Lucretius:

Avia Pieridum peragro loca,

I wander o'er Th' untrodden regions of the Muses;
and the lines of Virgil,
Sed nos immensum spatio confecimus aequor,
Et jam tempus equûm spumantia solvere colla,

But we have gone over a plain vast in extent,
and it is now time to unyoke the reeking necks of the horses.

40. But in the Bucolics he says without any metaphor,

Certè equidem audieram, quà se subducere colles
Incipiunt, mollique jugum demittere clivo,
Usque ad aquam, et veteris jam fracta cacumina fagi,
Omnia carminibus vestrum servâsse Menalcam;

I had indeed heard that your Menalcas had preserved
by his verses all those parts where the hills begin to recede,
and to bend down their summit with a gentle slope, as far as the water,
and the top of the old beech, now broken.

47. For in these verses all is expressed in unallegorical words except the name, by which is meant not the shepherd Menalcas, but Virgil. Prose frequently admits the use of such allegory, but rarely pure; it is generally mixed with plain phraseology. It is pure in the following passage of Cicero: "For I wonder, and am concerned, that any man should be so eager to destroy another by his words, as even to make a leak in the ship in which he himself is sailing." 48. Of the mixed, which is most frequent, this is an example: "I indeed always thought that other tempests and storms were to be borne by Milo only amid the waves of popular assemblies." If he had not added "only amid the waves of popular assemblies," it would have been pure allegory, but he has thus rendered it mixed. In this sort of language, the beauty proceeds from the metaphorical words, and the intimation of the sense from the natural ones.

49. But by far the most ornamental kind of language is that in which the graces of the three figures— comparison, allegory, and metaphor—are united, as in

What sea, what Euripus, do you suppose to be affected with so many motions, such great and such various agitations, changes, fluctuations, as the disturbances and tumults which the proceedings of the comitia present? The intermission of one day, or the interval of one night, often throws everything into confusion, and sometimes the lightest breath of rumour changes the opinion of the whole assembly.

50. Above all things, care is to be taken, as in this passage, that whatever kind of metaphor we begin with, we conclude with the same. But many speakers, after commencing with a tempest, end with a fire or the fall of a building, an incongruity which is most offensive.

51. Allegory is frequently used by the most common of minds and in daily conversation. Those expressions used in pleading causes—"to set foot to foot," "to aim at the throat," and "to draw blood"—are allegorical and, though now so trite, are not displeasing. Novelty and variety in style are indeed pleasing, and what is unexpected is, on that account, the more agreeable. But in our pursuit of novelty, we have lost all sight of moderation and have disfigured the beauties of style by excessive affectation.

52. There is allegory in examples, if they are not given with an explanation accompanying them. For example, "Dionysius is at Corinth" is a saying which all the Greeks use, and many similar might be mentioned. An allegory that is very obscure is called an enigma, which is, in my opinion, a fault in style, if to speak with perspicuity is a virtue. The poets however use it:

Dic quibus in terris, et eris mihi magnus
Apollo, Tres pateat c?li spatium non amplius ulnas.

Say in what lands, and thou shalt to me be a great
Apollo, the breadth of the sky extends not more than three ells."

53. Sometimes also orators, as when Caelius says, Quadrantariam Clytaemnestram, et in triclinio Coam, et in cubiculo Nolam, "A farthing Clytaemnestra, a Coan in the dining-room, and a Nolan in the chamber." Some such enigmas are now solved and were, when they were uttered, easier to be interpreted. But they are enigmas nevertheless and cannot be understood unless they are interpreted.

54. In the other kind of allegory, where what is expressed is quite contrary to what is meant, there is irony, which our rhetoricians call illusio, and which is understood either from the mode of delivery, the character of the speaker, or the nature of the subject. If any of these are at variance with the words, it is apparent that the intention is different from the expression. 55. Indeed, as with most tropes, it is requisite to consider what is said and of whom, because it is doubtless allowable, as is observed elsewhere, to censure with pretended praise, and to praise under the appearance of censure. An example of the first is, "Caius Verres, the city praetor, that upright and careful man, had no entry in his register of this second choosing of judges." Of the second, "We pretended to be orators, and imposed upon the people." 56. Sometimes it is with derision that the contrary to what we wish to be understood is uttered, as Cicero, in speaking against Clodius, says, "Your integrity, believe me, has cleared you; your modesty has rescued you; your past life has saved you."

57. Another use of allegory allows us to speak of melancholy things in words of a more cheering nature or to signify our meaning, for some good purpose, in language at variance with it. [In a footnote, Watson says the lacuna here had "in the original the words aliud textu, which are without meaning." —LH] . . . these we have already specified. If anyone does not know by what names the Greeks call them, let him be informed that they are termed σαρκασμός (sarkasmos), ἀστεϊσμός (asteismos), ἀντίϕρασις (antiphrasis), and παροιμία (paroimia). 58. There are, however, some rhetoricians who say these are not species of allegory but tropes, and they support their opinion by a very forcible reason, namely, that allegory is obscure, but that in all these modes of speaking what we mean is clearly apparent. To this is added the consideration that a genus, when distinguished into species, has nothing peculiar to itself, as tree is distinguished into pine, olive, cypress, etc., without retaining any peculiarity to itself. But allegory has something peculiar, and how could this be the case if it were not itself a species? But whether it be a species or a genus is unimportant to the use of it.

59. To the four forms just enumerated is to be added μυκτηρισμός (myktērismos) , a kind of derision which is dissembled, but not altogether concealed.

When that is said in many words which might be said in one, or certainly in fewer, the Greeks call the figure περίϕρασις (periphrasis) "a circuitous mode of speaking," which is sometimes necessary, especially when it veils what cannot be plainly expressed without offense to decency, as in the phrase of Sallust, ad requisita naturae, "for the necessities of nature." 60. Sometimes its object is merely ornament, as is very common among the poets:

Tempus erat, quo prima quies mortalibus aegris
Incipit, et dono divûm gratissima serpit,

It was the time at which the first sleep commences to weary mortals,
and by the kindness of the gods spreads itself most gratefully."

61. It is also not uncommon among orators, but always of a more restricted nature. For whatever might be stated more briefly, but is for the sake of ornament expressed more fully, is περίϕρασις, to which the Latin name circumlocutio has been given, a term indeed not very proper for designating a beauty of style. But as this figure, when it gives embellishment to language, is called periphrasis, so when it has a contrary effect, it is termed περισσολογία (perissologia), "redundancy of words," for whatever is not of service, is hurtful.

62. Hyperbaton, also, that is, verbi transgressio, "transposition of words," as the harmony and beauty of composition often require it, we rank, not improperly, among the excellences of language. For speech would often become rough and harsh, lax and nerveless, if words should be ranged exactly in their original order, and if, as each presents itself, it should be placed side by side of the preceding, though it cannot be fairly attached to it. 63. Some words and phrases must, therefore, be kept back, others brought forward, and, as in structures of unhewn stones, each must be put in the place which it will fit. For we cannot hew or polish them, in order that they may close and unite better, but we must use them as they are and find suitable places for them. 64. Nor can anything render style harmonious, but judicious changes in the order of words. It was for no other reason that those four words in which Plato states, in the most noble of his works, that "he had gone down to the Piraeeus," were found written several ways on his tablets because he was trying to make order contribute as much as possible to harmony. 65. When hyperbaton takes place only in two words, it is called ἀναστροφή (anastrophē), or reversio, as mecum, secum, or as, among orators and historians, Quibus de rebus. But what properly takes the name of hyperbaton is the removal of a word to a distance from its natural place with a view to elegance, as, Animadverti, judices, omnem accusatoris orationem in duas divisam esse partes, for in duas partes divisam esse was the natural order, but would be harsh and inelegant. 66. The poets, indeed, besides transposing words, also divide them, as,

Hyperboreo septem subjecta trioni;

a liberty which prose does not tolerate. But the reason for which such a division of a word is called a trope is that the sense cannot be ascertained but by uniting the two separate parts. 67. Otherwise, when no alteration is made in the sense, and the structure only is varied, it may rather be called a verbal figure, and many writers diversify their language by long hyperbata of this kind. What inconveniences arise from confusion of figures, I have noticed in the proper place.

Because hyperbole is a bolder sort of ornamen, I have assigned it the last place. It is an elegant surpassing of the truth and is used equally for exaggerating and extenuating. 68. It may be employed in various ways, for we may either say what is more than the truth, as, "Vomiting, he filled his lap and the whole tribunal with fragments of undigested food" and,

Geminique minantur
In caelum scopuli;

Two rocks rise threateningly towards the sky;

or we exaggerate one thing by reference to another, as,

Credas innare revulsas

You would have thought the Cyclades uptorn
Were floating on the deep;

69. or by comparison, as,

Fulminis ocior alis,

Swifter than the wings
Of lightning;

or by something of a characteristic nature:

Illa vel intactae segetis per summa volaret
Gramina, nec cursu teneras laesisset aristas,

She o'er the rising tops of untouch'd corn
Would fly, nor in her course the tender ears
Would hurt;

or by a metaphor, as in the word volaret, "would fly." 70. Sometimes, too, one hyperbole is increased by the addition of another, as Cicero, in speaking against Antony, says, "What Charybdis was ever so voracious? what Charybdis, do I say? If such a monster ever existed, it was but one animal, but the whole ocean, by Hercules, would scarcely have been able, as it seems to me, to have swallowed up so many things, so widely dispersed, and lying in places so distant, in so short a space of time!" 71. But I have noticed, as I think, an exquisite figure of this kind in Pindar, the prince of lyric poets, in the book which he has called Υμνοι, Hymns for he says, that the impetuosity of Hercules in attacking the Meropes, who are said to have dwelt in the island of Cos, was comparable neither to fire, nor wind, nor the sea, but to lightning, as if other objects were insufficient, and lightning only suitable to give a notion of his rapidity. 72. This Cicero may be thought to have imitated, when he said of Verres, "There arose in Sicily, after a long interval of time, not a Dionysius, nor a Phalaris (for that island, in days of old, produced many cruel tyrants), but a monster of a new kind, though endued with that ferocity which is said to have prevailed in those parts, since I believe that no Charybdis or Scylla was ever so destructive to ships in those seas as he was." 73. There are also as many modes of extenuating as of magnifying: Virgil says of a flock of lean sheep,

-- Vix ossibus haerent,

They scarcely hang together by their bones.

Or, as Cicero says, in a book of jests,

Fundum Varro Vocat, quem possim mittere fundâ,
Ni tamen exciderit quà cava funda patet.

But even in the use of the hyperbole, some moderation must be observed, for though every hyperbole is beyond belief, it ought not to be extravagant, since in no other way do writers more readily fall into κακοζηλία (kakozelia), "exorbitant affectation." 74. I should be sorry to produce the vast number of absurdities that have sprung from this source, especially as they are by no means unknown or concealed. It is sufficient to remark that the hyperbole lies, but not so as to intend to deceive by lying, and we thereforre ought to consider more carefully how far it becomes us to exaggerate that which is not believed. It very often raises a laugh, and if the laugh be on the side of the speaker, the hyperbole gains the praise of wit, but if otherwise, the stigma of folly. 75. It is in common use, as much among the unlearned as among the learned, because there is in all men a natural propensity to magnify or extenuate what comes before them, and no one is contented with the exact truth. But such departure from the truth is pardoned because we do not affirm what is false. 76. In a word, the hyperbole is a beauty when the thing of which we speak is extraordinary in nature. For we are then allowed to say a little more than the truth, because the exact truth cannot be said, and language is more efficient when it goes beyond reality than when it stops short of it. But on this head, I have here said enough, because I have spoken on it more fully in the book in which I have set forth the Causes of the Corruption of Eloquence.

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Lee Honeycutt (honeycuttlee@gmail.com) Last modified:1/15/07
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