Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory
Previous Chapter

Book 9 - Chapter 3

Next Chapter
Of verbal figures; are either grammatical or rhetorical, lying either in the words themselves or in the collocation of them, § 1, 2. Use and prevalence of figures, 3-5. Figures in gender of nouns, 6. In verbs, 7. In number, 8. One part of speech put for another, 9, 10. Change in tenses and other particulars, 11-13. Some figures sanctioned by antiquity, 14-16. Some derived from the Greek, 17. Some formed by addition or retrenchment, 18. Changes in degrees of comparison, 19. Other changes, 20, 21. Parenthesis and apostrophe, 22-26. Effect of figures on the hearer, 27. Emphatical repetition of words, 28-34. Epanodos or regression, 35, 36. Polyptoton and metabole, 37-40. Ploce; artful reiteration of words, 41-44. Employment of several words nearly in the same sense, 45. Pleonasm, 46, 47. Accumulation of different words and phrases, 48, 49. Asyndeton and polysyndeton, 50-54. Climax, 55-57. Of figures formed by retrenchment of words; words left to be understood from the context, 58-61. Synezeugmenon, 62-64. Paradiastole, 65. Paronomasia, various examples of it, 66-74. Parison, homoeoteleuton, homoeoptoton, isocolon, 75-80. Antitheton, 81-86. Some writers too much devoted to multiplying and distinguishing figures; examples, 87-99. An orator should employ figures moderately and judiciously, 100-102.

1. Verbal figures have been perpetually subject to change and continue to be changed as custom exerts its influence. Accordingly, when we compare the language of our forefathers with our own, we are led to regard almost every phrase that we use as figurative. For instance, we say, hac re invidere, "to grudge this thing," not as the ancients said, and Cicero in particular, hanc rem; incumbere illi, "to lean upon him," not in illum; plenum vino, "full of wine," not vini; huic adulari, "to flatter a person," not hunc; and a thousand other examples might be given. I wish that the worse may not have prevailed over the better.

2. However this may be, verbal figures are of two kinds: one, as they say, lies in the formation of phrases, while the other is to be sought chiefly in the collocation of them, and though both kinds equally concern the art of oratory, we may yet call the one rather grammatical and the other rhetorical.

The first sort arises from the same source as solecisms, for a figure of speech would be a solecism if it were not intentional, but accidental. 3. But figures are commonly supported by authority, antiquity, custom, and sometimes by some special reason. Hence a variation from plain and direct phraseology is a beauty, if it has something plausible on which it models itself. In one respect, figures are of great service by relieving the wearisomeness arising from ordinary and uniform language and by raising us above mere commonplace forms of expression. 4. If a speaker uses them moderately and as his subject requires, his style will be more agreeable, as with a certain seasoning sprinkled over it. But he who affects them too much will miss the very charm of variety at which he aims. There are, however, some figures so common that they have almost lost their name, and regardless of how often they are used, they consequently have little effect upon ears accustomed to them. 5. Those figures that are uncommon and remote from everyday language, and for that reason more elevated, can produce excitement by their novelty, but cause satiety if they are lavished in profusion and show that they did not present themselves to the speaker, but were sought by him and dragged forth and collected from every place where they were concealed.

6. Figures, then, may occur in the gender of nouns; for example, the phrases oculis capti talpae, "blind moles," and timidi damae, "timid deer," are used by Virgil, but not without reason, as both genders are signified under one, and it is certain that there are male talpae and damae as well as female. Figures may also affect verbs, as fabricatus est gladium, "he fabricated a sword," and punitus est inimicum, "he punished his enemy." 7. This is less surprising because it is not uncommon with us, when using verbs, to express what we do by a passive form, as arbitror, "I think," suspicor, "I suspect," and, on the other hand, to signify what we suffer by an active form, as vapulo, "I am beaten." Hence, there are frequent interchanges of the two, and many things are expressed in either form: as luxuriatur, luxuriat, "luxuriates," fluctuatur, fluctuat, "fluctuates," assentior, assentio, "I assent." 8. There may be also a figure in number, either when the plural is joined with the singular, as, Gladio pugnacissimi gens Romani, "The Romans are a nation that fight vigorously with the sword" (gens being a noun of multitude) or when a singular is attached to a plural, as,

Qui non risere parentes,
Nec deus hunc mensa, dea nec dignata cubili est,

Those who have not smiled on their parents,
neither has a god honored him with his table, nor a goddess with her couch,

that is, among those who have not smiled is he whom a god has not honored, etc. 9. In a satire of Persius we have,

Et nostrum istud vivere triste Aspexi,

And I saw that sad to live of ours,

where he has used an infinitive mood for a substantive, for he intends nostram vitam to be understood. We also sometimes use a verb for a participle, as,

Magnum dat ferre talentum,

He gives a great talent to carry,

using ferre for ferendum, and a participle for a verb, as Volo datum, "I wish given," for Volo dari, "I wish to be given." 10. Sometimes it may even be doubted on what solecism a figure borders, as in this expression,

Virtus est vitium fugere,

To flee vice is virtue,

for the author either interchanges parts of speech, for Virtus est fuga vitiorum, "Virtue is the avoidance of vices," or alters a case, for Virtutis est vitium fugere, "It is the part of virtue to avoid vice," but the form which he himself adopts is much more spirited than either of the others. Sometimes two or more figures are used together, as Sthenelus sciens pugnae, "Sthenelus skilful in fight," for Scitus Sthenelus pugnandi. 11. One tense, too, is sometimes put for another, as Timarchides negat esse ei periculum a securi, "Timarchides says that he is in no danger of being beheaded," the present being put for the preterperfect. And one mood for another, as,

Hoc Ithacus velit,

This Ithacus would wish,

velit being for vult. Not to dwell upon the matter, a figure may appear in as many forms as a solecism. 12. One which I may particularly notice is that which the Greeks call ἑτέροίωσις (heteroiosis), which is not much different from what they term ἐξαλλαγή (exallage). There is an example in Sallust, Neque ea res falsum me habuit, "Nor have my anticipations deceived me," and another Duci probare. In such figures brevity, as well as novelty, is generally an object. Hence the same author has proceeded so far as to say non paeniturum, "not about to repent," for non acturum paenitentiam; and visuros, "about to see," for ad videndum missos. 13. These expressions he must have considered as figures. Whether they can now be called by that name may be a question, for once they are received into common use, and we are content with what is received, though it rest only on the authority of the vulgar. Thus rebus agentibus, which Asinius Pollio condemns in Labienus, has struggled into use, as well as contumeliam fecit, which is well known to have been censured by Cicero, for in his days they said affici contumelia. 14. Another recommendation of figures is that of antiquity, of which Virgil was an eminent lover:

Vel quum se pavidum contra mea jurgia jactat,

Or when he shows himself afraid to meet
My charge;


Progeniem sed enim Trojano à sanguine duci

But she had heard a race would be derived
From Trojan blood.

Similar phraseology is found in abundance in the old tragic and comic poets. One word of the kind has remained in use, enimvero, "for truly." 15. There is more of the same sort in the same author, as,

Nam quis te, juvenum confidentissime,

For who bade thee, thou boldest of you men,

for quis is usually set at the commencement of a phrase. And, speaking of the Chimaera on the crest of Turnus,

Tam magis illa tremens, et tristibus effera flammis,
Quàm magis effuso crudescunt sanguine pugnae,

The more the fields of strife with bloodshed rage,
The more it trembles, and the fiercer glows
With issuing fires.

which is an inversion of the usual order, Quam magis aerumna urget, tam margis ad malefaciendum viget, "The more affliction presses, the more influence it has in prompting evil deeds." 16. The ancients are full of such expressions, as Terence at the beginning of the Eunuch, says Quid igitur faciam? "What then shall I do?" Allusit tandem leno. And Catullus, in his Epithalamiun, has,

Dum innupta manet, dum cara suis est,

As long as she remains unwed, so long
She to her friends is dear,

the first dum signifying quoad, the second usque eo. 17. In Sallust are many phrases translated from the Greek, as Vulgus amat fieri, "[Things which] the crowd likes to be done"; also in Horace, who was a great lover of Hellenisms,

Nec ciceris, nec longae incidit avenae,

Nor grudged him vetches, nor the long-shaped oat;

and in Virgil

Tyrrhenum navigat aequor,

Sails the Tyrrhenian deep.

18. It is now a common expression, too, in the public acts, saucius pectus, "wounded in the breast." Under the same head of figures fall the addition and abstraction of words. To add a word more than is necessary may seem useless, but it is often not without grace, as,

Nam neque Parnassi vobis juga, nam neque Pindi,

For neither have Parnassus' heights, nor those
Of Pindus, ever detained you;

the second nam being superfluous. In Horace we have,

Hunc, et intonsis Curium capillis,

Fabricius, him, and Curius with his locks

As to suppressions of words, in the body of a sentence, they are either faulty or figurative, as,

Accede ad ignem, jam calesces plus satis,

Approach the fire, and you will soon be warmed
More than enough,

Plus satis being for plus quam satis, one word only being omitted. In other cases of suppression, a supply of many swords may be necessary. 19. We very often use comparatives for positives; thus a person will say that he is infirmior, "weaker," that is, weaker than ordinary. And we are also in the habit of opposing two comparatives to each other, instead of a positive and comparative; as,

Si te, Catilina, comprehendi, si interfici jussero, credo, erit verendum mihi, ne non hoc potius omnes boni serius a me, quam quisquam crudelius factum esse dicat.

If I should order you, Catiline, to be seized, if I should order you to be put to death, I should have to fear lest all good members of society should think that such a course was adopted too late by me, rather than that any one should consider it adopted with too much severity.

20. There are also such expressions as the following, which, though not indeed of the nature of solecisms, put one number for another, and are consequently to be in general reckoned among tropes. Thus we speak of a single person in the plural:

Sed nos immensum spatiis confecimus aequor,

But we have passed over plains immense in space;

Or of several persons in the singular:

Haud secus ac patriis acer Romanus in armis,

Like the fierce Roman in his country's arms.

21. Of a different species, though the same in kind, are the following instances:

Neve tibi ad solem vergant vineta cadentem,

Nor let your vineyards towards the setting sun
Be spread;

Ne mihi tum molles sub divo carpere somnos,
Neu dorso nemoris libeat jacuisse per herbas,

Let me not then incline to court soft sleep
Beneath the open sky, or on the grass
To stretch, beside the grove;

for Virgil does not admonish one person in the first passage or himself alone in the second, but intends his precepts for all. 22. We speak also of ourselves as if we were speaking of others— Dicit Servius, "Servius asserts" and Negat Tullius, "Cicero denies"—and we speak in our person instead of speaking in that of another and put one third person in place of another. There is an example of both figures in the speech for Caecina: Cicero, addressing Piso, the advocate of the opposite party, says, Restituisse te dixti? nego me ex edicto praetoris restitutum esse, "Do you say that you reinstated me? I deny that I was reinstated by an edict of the praetor," but it was aebutius that said restituisse, and Caecina that replied, nego me ex edicto praetoris restitutum esse, and there is a figure used in the word dixti from which a syllable is struck out.

23. Some other figures may be regarded as of the same nature. One is that which we call interpositio or interclusio, and the Greeks parenthesis, when some interposed remark breaks the course of a sentence, as, Ego quum te (mecum enim saepissime loquitur) patriae dedidissem, "when I had brought you back (for he very often talks with me) to your country," etc. With this some join the hyperbaton, which they do not choose to number among tropes. 24. Another is one which is similar to the figure of thought called apostrophe. It does not affect the sense, but only the form of expression, as,

Decios, Marios, magnosque Camillos,
Scipiadas duros bello, et te, maxime Caesar,

The Decii she Marii, and great Camilli bore, the sons
Of Scipio, stern in war, and thee of all
The greatest, Caesar.

25. Of this there is a still more spirited example where the poet is speaking of Polydore:

Fas omne abrumpit, Polydorum obtruncat, et auro
Vi potitur. Quid non mortalia pectora cogis
Auri sacra fames.

He breaks all laws, kills Polydore, and grasps
The gold by force. To what dost thou not drive
The hearts of mortals, direful thirst of gold?

Those who have distinguished small differences with particular names, add the term μετάβασις (metabasis), which they consider as a different kind of apostrophe, as,

Quid loquor? aut ubi sum?

What am I saying? Or where am I?

26. Virgil unites the parenthesis and apostrophe in this passage:

Haud procul inde citae Metium in diversa quadrigae
Distulerant, (at tu dictis, Albane, maneres)
Raptabatque viri mendacis viscera Tullus.

Not far from thence swift steeds had Metius rent
In diverse parts, (thou, Alban, should have kept
Thy plighted faith.) and Tullus dragged abroad
The traitor's severed corpse.

27. Whether they arise from change, addition, abstraction, or transposition,these figures and others like them attract the attention of the auditor and do not suffer him to grow languid, as he is roused from time to time by some striking expression. They derive something of the pleasure which they give from their resemblance to faults, as a little acidity is sometimes grateful in cookery. This result will be produced, if they are not extravagantly numerous or if those of the same kind are not thrown together or introduced too frequently, for rarity and diversity in their use will prevent satiety.

28. Those sorts of figures that not only concern the form of expression, but communicate grace and energy to the thoughts have a more striking effect. Of these we may first notice that which consists in addition. There are several kinds, for words are sometimes repeated either for the sake of amplification as, "I have killed, I have killed, not Spurius Maelius," etc., where the first "I have killed" merely asserts the act, the second confirms the assertion. Or of expressing pity, as,

Ah Corydon, Corydon, etc.

29. This figure is sometimes also employed for the sake of extenuation and by way of irony. Something similar to this reiteration of a word is the repetition of one after a parenthesis, which adds, however, force at the same time: "I have seen the property, unhappy that I am! (for though my tears are spent, grief still dwells fixed in my heart), the property, I say, of Cneius Pompey, subjected to the cruel voice of the public crier. You live, and live not to lay aside, but to increase your audacity." 30. Sentences, again, are sometimes commenced with the same word to give them spirit and energy, as,

Nihilne te nocturnum praesidium palatii, nihil urbis vigiliae, nihil timor populi, nihil consensus bonorum omnium, nihil hic munitissimus habendi senatus locus, nihil horum ora vultusque moverunt?

Has not the nightly guard of the palatium, has not the watch kept in the city, has not the fear of the people, has not the unanimity of all men of honor, has not this fortified place for assembling the senate, have not the countenances and looks of those here present, produced any effect upon you?

31. Sometimes they are ended with the same word; as, "Who called for them? Appius. Who produced them? Appius." This last example, however, may be referred to another kind of figure in which the beginning and end of each phrase are alike: "who" and "who," "Appius" and "Appius." Of this figure the following is an apt example:

Who are they that have frequently broken treaties? The Carthaginians. Who are they that have waged war with the utmost cruelty? The Carthaginians. Who are they that have devastated Italy? The Carthaginians. Who are they that importune to be forgiven? The Carthaginians.

32. Also, in antitheses or comparisons, there is commonly an alternating repetition of the first words of each corresponding phrase, which, as I just said above, it is referable to this head more than any other:

You wake in the night, that you may give answers to your clients; he, that he may arrive early with his army at the place whither he is marching. You are aroused by the crowing of cocks, he, by the sound of trumpets. You conduct lawsuits, he draws up troops. You are on the watch lest your clients should be disappointed, he, lest his towns or his camp should be taken.

33. But discontented with having produced this beauty, the orator presents the same figure in a reverse order: "He knows and understands how the forces of the enemy are to be kept at a distance; you, how the rain may be prevented from annoying us. He exercises himself in extending boundaries, you, in settling them." 34. The middle may also be made to correspond with the beginning, as,

Te nemus Anguitiae, vitrea te Funcinus unda,

Thee Anguitia's grove deplored,
Thee, Funcinus, with crystal stream;

or with the end, as, Haec navis onusta praeda Sicilsensi, quum ipsa quoque esset ex praeda, "This ship laden with Sicilian spoil, being itself also a portion of the spoil." Nor will it be doubted that by the same figure, the middle of the phrase may be put both at the beginning and the end. The end may also be made to correspond with the beginning, as, "Many severe afflictions were found for parents, and for relatives many." 35. There is likewise another kind of repetition that refers to things or persons mentioned before and distinguishes them from one another:

Iphitus et Pelias mecum, quorum Iphitus aevo
Jam gravior, Pelias et vulnere tardus Ulixi,

Iphitus came, and Pelias came, with me;
Iphitus slow with age, and Pelias lame
As wounded by Ulysses.

This is what in Greek is called ἐπάνοδος (epanodos); our writers term it regressio. 36. Nor are the same words repeated only in the same sense, but often in a different one, and in opposition, as, "The dignity of the leaders was almost equal, but not equal, perhaps, was that of those who followed them." Sometimes this kind of repetition is varied as to cases and genders, as, Magnus est labor dicendi, magna res est, "Great is the labor of eloquence; great is its importance." In Rutilius there is an example of this in a longer period, but the commencements of the sentences are, Pater hic tuus? Patrem nunc appellas? Patri tu filius es? "Is this your father? Do you now call him father? Are you to him as a son to a father?" 37. By a change of cases, too, is sometimes formed the figure which they call πολύπτωτον (polyptoton). It is also formed in other ways, as in Cicero's speech for Cluentius:

Quod autem tempus veneni dandi? Illo die? In illa frequentia? Per quem porro datum? Unde sumptum? Quae porro interceptio poculi? cur non de integro autem datum?

But what was the time at which the poison was given? Was it on that day? Among such a number of people? By whose instrumentality, moreover, was it given? Whence was it taken? What was the means of intercepting the cup? Why was it not given a second time?

38. Such a combination of different particulars Caecilius calls μεταβολή (metabole), of which another passage from the speech for Cluentius may be given as an example; it is in reference to Oppianicus:

Illum tabulas publicas Larini censorias corrupisse, decuriones universi judicaverunt; cum illo nemo rationem, nemo rem ullam contrahebat; nemo illum ex tam multis cognatis et affinibus tutorem unquam liberis suis scripsit,

that he falsified the public registers at Larinum, the decuriones were unanimously of opinion; no man kept any account, no man made any bargain with him; no man, of all his numerous kinsmen and connexions, ever appointed him guardian to his children,

and much more to the same purpose.

39. As particulars are here thrown together, so, on the other hand, they may be distributed, or, as Cicero, I think, calls it, "dissipated," as,

Hic segetes, illic veniunt feliciùs uvae,
Arborei faetus alibi, etc.

Here corn, there grapes, more gladly spring; elsewhere
The stems of trees, etc.

40. In Cicero is seen an example of a remarkable mixture of figures, in a passage in which the last word, after a long interval, is repeated in correspondence to the first; the middle also is in accordance with the commencement, and the conclusion with the middle:

Vestrum jam hic factum deprehenditur, Patres Conscripti, non meum; ac pulcherrimum quidem factum; verum, ut dixi, non meum, sed vestrum;

Your work now appears here, Conscript Fathers, not mine; and a very honorable work, indeed, it is; but, as I said, it is not mine, but yours.

41. This frequent repetition the Greeks call πλοκή (plokē), which consists, as I said, of a mixture of figures; a letter to Brutus affords an example of it: "When I had returned into favor with Appius Claudius, and it was through Cneius Pompey that I did return, and, accordingly, when I had returned," etc. 42. It may be formed also by a repetition of the same words, in various forms, in the same sentence, as in Persius,

Usque adeone Scire tuum nihil est, nisi te scire hoc sciat alter?

Is, then, to know in thee Nothing, unless another know thou know'st?

and in Cicero, Neque enim poterat, indicio et his damnatis, qui indicabantur; "For neither could he, when those were found guilty on information against whom information was given." 43. But whole sentences, too, are sometimes ended with the phrases with which they are commenced: "He came from Asia. Of how much advantage was even this? But it was in the character of a tribune of the people that he came from Asia." When, however, the last word in a period is made to correspond with the first, another repetition of it may be given, as to the sentence just quoted is added, "However, he came from Asia." Sometimes a series of words may be repeated and in precisely the same order: "What could Cleomenes do? For I cannot accuse anyone falsely. What, to much purpose, could Cleomenes do?" 44. The last word of the former of two sentences, and the first of the latter, are often the same, a figure which poets, indeed, use more frequently than prose writers:

Pierides, vox haec facietis maxima Gallo,
Gallo, cuius amor tantum mihi crescit in horas, etc.

You, Muses, will
For Gallus give these verses dignity,
Gallus, for whom my love still grows each hour,
As much, etc.

But orators afford not in frequent examples of it: "Yet he lives. Lives? Nay, he even comes into the senate." 45. Sometimes (as I said in regard to the repetition of words), the beginnings and conclusions of phrases are made to correspond with each other by means of words which, though different, are yet of a similar signification. The beginnings for example, thus: Dediderim periculis omnibus, obtulerim insidiis, objecerim invidiae: "I would have thrown him into every kind of danger, I would have exposed him to treachery, I would have consigned him to public odium." The conclusions thus: Vos enim statuistis, vos sententiam dixistis, vos judicastis: "You determined, you gave your opinion, you pronounced judgment." This some call συνωνυμία (synonomia), others "disjunction," and both terms, though of different meaning, are used with propriety, for it is a separation of words having the same signification. Sometimes, again, words that have the same signification are congregated: "Such, being the case, Catiline, go whither you had intended to go; depart at length from the city; the gates are open; commence your journey." 46. And in another speech against Catiline, "He is gone, he has departed, he has sallied forth, he has escaped." In the opinion of Caecilius, this is pleonasm, that is, language copious beyond what is necessary, as in the words,

Vidi oculos ante ipse meos,

I saw, myself, before my eyes,

for in vidi "I saw," is included ipse, "myself." But such phraseology, as I have remarked in another place, is faulty when burdened with any useless addition, but a beauty when it adds strength to plain thought, as in this case, for the several words vidi, ipse, and ante oculos each produce an impression on the mind. 47. Why Caecilius, then, should have characterized it by such a term, I cannot tell, for every sort of reduplication, repetition, and addition might be called pleonasm with just as much propriety. Not only words of similar import, however, but also thoughts, are sometimes accumulated, as, Perturbatio istrum mentis, et quaedam, scelerum offusa caligo, et ardentes Furiarum faces excitarunt. "Perturbation of mind, darkness shed over him through his crimes, and the burning torches of the Furies excited him." 48. Words and phrases of different import are also thrown together, as, Mulier, tyranni saeva crudelitas, patris amor, ira praeceps, temeritas, dementia, etc. "The woman, the savage cruelty of the tyrant, his love for his father, violent anger, rashness, madness," etc. Another example is to be found in Ovid,

Sed grave Nereidum numen, sed corniger Ammon,
Sed quas visceribus veniebat bellua ponti,
Exsaturanda meis, etc.

But the dread Nereids' power, but Ammon horned,
But the dire monster from the deep that came,
To feed upon my vitals, etc.

49. I have found some authors call the following form of sentence (plokē): Quaero ab inimicis, sintne haec investigata, comperta, patefacta, sublata, deleta, extincta per me? "I ask of my enemies whether it was not by my means that these plots were investigated, discovered, exposed, overthrown, destroyed, annihilated?" But I do not agree with these authors, as the words form but one figure, though they are of a mixed nature, partly of similar and partly of different signification, a union which they call διαλλαγή (diallage): for investigata, comperta, and patefacta state one thing, and sublata, deleta, and extincta state another, the latter being similar one to another, but dissimilar to the former. 50. We may observe, too, that the last quotation and the one before afford an example of another figure that, because it consists in the omission of conjunctions, is called dialysis. It is aptly used when we have to express anything with vehemence, as by its use particulars are severally impressed on the mind, and appear to be rendered, as it were, more numerous. Hence we use this figure not only in single words, but also in phrases, as Cicero says in his reply to the speech of Metellus, "Those about whom information was given, I ordered to be summoned, to be kept in custody, to be brought before the senate; it was in the senate that they were arraigned," and so on through the whole of that passage. This mode of expression the Greeks call βραχυλογία (brachylogia), which may be regarded as a conjunctive disjunction. 51. Opposed to this is the figure which consists in superfluity of conjunctions. One is called asyndeton, the other polysyndeton, which arises either from repetitions of the same conjunction, as,

Tectumque, laremque,
Armaque, Amyclaeumque canem, Cressamque pharetram,

Both house, and household gods, and arms,
And Amyclaean dog, and quiver formed
Of Cretan make;

52. or of different conjunctions, as

Arma virumque,
Multum ille et terris
Multa quoque

53. In like manner adverbs and pronouns are also varied:

Hic illum vidi juvenem,
Bis senos cui nostra dies

Hic mihi responsum primus dedit ille petenti.

But both the asyndeton and the polysyndeton are accumulation of words, the only difference being in the presence or absence of conjunctions. 54. Writers have given them their own names, which are various, as it suited the fancy of those who invented them. But the source of them is the same, as they render what we say more vivacious and energetic, exhibiting an appearance of vehemence and of passion bursting forth, as it were, time after time.

Gradation, which is called by the Greeks κλῖμαξ (climax), is produced by art less disguised, or more affected, and for that reason ought to be less frequently used. 55. It lies too, in repetition, for it recurs to what has been said and takes a rest, as it were, on something that precedes before it passes on to anything else. An example of it may be translated from a well-known Greek passage: "I not only did not say this, but did not even write it; I not only did not write it, but took no part in the embassy; I not only took no part in the embassy, but used no persuasion to the Thebans." 56. A Latin example or two, however, may also be added: "To Africanus, exertion gained merit, merit glory, and glory rivals," and from Calvus, "Trials for extortion have not, therefore, ceased more than those for treason; nor those for treason, more than those under the Plautian law; nor those under the Plautian law more than those for bribery; nor those for bribery more than those under any other law." 57. Examples are also to be found in the poets, as in Homer about the sceptre, which he brings down from Jupiter to Agamemnon, and in a tragic poet of our own,

Jove propagatus est, ut perhibent, Tantalus,
Ex Tantalo, ortus Pelops, ex Pelope autem satus
Atreus, qui nostrum porro propagat genus;

From Jove, as they relate, sprung Tantalus;
From Tantalus sprung Pelops, and from Pelops
Came Atreus, who is father of our race.

58. As to figures which consist in the omission of a word or words, they aim chiefly at the merit of brevity or novelty. One of them is that which I delayed to consider till I should enter upon figures, when I was speaking in the preceding book about synecdoche, a figure in which any word that is omitted is easily understood from the rest, as when Caelius says, in speaking against Antonius, Stupere gaudio Graecus, "the Greek began to be astonished with joy," for caepit, "began," is readily understood. So Cicero writes to Brutus,

Sermo nullus scilicet, nisi de te; quid enim potius? Tum Flavius, Cras inquit, tabellarii, et ego ibidem has inter caenam exaravi,

There is no talk, indeed, but of you; for what better can there be? Then Flavius says, Tomorrow the couriers [will set out,] and this letter I wrote there during supper.

59. Of a similar character, in my opinion, are passages in which a word or words are properly suppressed from regard to decency:

Novinus et qui te, transversa tuentibus hircis,
Et quo, sed faciles Nymphae riscre, sacello.

60. Some regard this as an aposiopesis, but erroneously, for what the aposiopesis suppresses is uncertain or requires some addition to that which has been expressed. But here only one word, which is well known, is wanting, and if this is aposiopesis, every omission of any word or phrase whatever may be called by that name. 61. For my part, I do not constantly call an aposiopesis that in which anything whatever is left to be understood, as in the following words which Cicero has in one of his letters—Data Lupercalibus, quo die Antonius Caesari—for he used no real suppression nor intended any jest, since nothing else could be understood but diadema imposuit: "Given on the Lupercalia, on the day on which Antony put the diadem on Caesar."

62. A second figure produced by omission is that of which I have already spoken and which consists in the elimination of conjunctions.

A third, which is called by the Greeks συνεζευγμένον (synezeugmenon), is that by which several phrases or thoughts are referred in combination to the same word, each of which, if set alone, would require that word for itself. This may be done either by putting the verb first, so that other portions of the sentence may look back to it, as, Vicit pudorem libido, timorem audacia, rationem amentia, "Licentiousness overcame modesty, audacity fear, madness reason," or by putting it last, so that several particulars may be brought, as it were, to a conclusion in it, as Neque enim is es, Catilina, ut te aut pudor unquam a turpitudine, aut metus à periculo, aut ratio a furore revocaverit, "For neither are you of such a character, Catiline, that either shame can restrain you from dishonor, or fear from danger, or reason from rage." 63. The verb may also be placed last, so that it may suffice both for what precedes and what follows. The same figure joins different sexes, too, as when we call a male and female child, filii, and put the singular for the plural, and the plural for the singular. 64. But expressions of this kind are so common that they can hardly claim for themselves the merit of figures. A figure is certainly used, however, when two different forms of phrase are united, as,

Sociis tunc arma capessant,
Edico, et dira bellum cum gente gerendum;

I order that my comrades seize their arms,
And war be waged with that dire progeny;

for though the part of the sentence that follows bellum ends with a participle, the verb edico has an equal effect on both parts. This sort of conjunction, which is not made for the purpose of suppressing any word, but which unites two different things, the Greeks call πυνοικείωσις (synoikeiosis). Another example of it is,

Tam deest avaro quod habet, quàm quod non habet,

To the miser is wanting as well what he has, as what he has not.

65. To this figure they oppose distinctio, which they call παραδιαστολή (paradiastolē) and by which things that have some similitude are distinguished, as, "When you call yourself wise instead of cunning, brave instead of presumptuous, frugal instead of miserly." Such designations, however, depend wholly on definition, and therefore, I doubt whether a sentence of that kind can properly be called figurative. Of an opposite sort is the figure which makes a short transition from one thing to another of a different nature, as though they were similar:

Brevis esse laboro, Obscurus fio.

I labor to be brief, I grow obscure.

66. There remains to be noticed a third kind of figures, which attracts and excites the attention of the hearer by some resemblance, equality, or opposition of words. Of these is the παρονομασία (paronomasia), which is called by the Latins annominatio. It is produced in more ways than one, but always on some resemblance in a word that follows to a word that has gone before. These words may be in different cases, as in what Domitius Afer says in his speech for Cloantilla: Mulier omnium rerun imperita, in omnibus rebus infelix, "A woman unskilled in everything, unhappy in everything." 67. Or the same word may be rendered more significant by being joined to another, Quando homo, hostis homo, "Since he is a man, he is an enemy." These examples I have used for another purpose. Such reduplication of a word, however, is easy. But to this species of paronomasia is opposed that by which a word is proved to be false, as it were, by a repetition of the same word; as Quae lex privatis hominibus esse lex non videbatur, "Which law did not seem to be a law to private persons." 68. Similar to this is the antanaclasis, the use of the same word in a contrary sense. When Proculeius complained of his son that he was waiting for his death, and the son said that he was not waiting for it, "Nay," rejoined Proculeius, "I desire that you may wait for it." Sometimes resemblance is sought, not in different senses of the same word, but in two different words, as when we say that a person whom we deem dignus supplicatione, "worthy of supplication on his behalf," should be treated as dignus supplicio, "worthy of punishment." 69. Sometimes, again, the same word is used in a different signification or varied only by the lengthening or shortening of a syllable, a practice which is contemptible, however, even in jests, and I am surprised that it should be noticed among rules. 70. I give the following examples of it so they may be avoided rather than imitated: Amari jucundum est, si curetur ne quid insit amari: "It is pleasant to be loved, if we take care that there be no bitter in the love." Avium dulcedo ad avium ducit: "The sweet song of birds attracts us to sequestered spots," and we find in Ovid, in a humorous passage,

Our ego non dicam, Furia, te furiam?

Why should not I thee, Furia, fury call?

71. Cornificius calls this traduction, that is, the transition from one signification to another, but it has greatest elegance when it is employed in making exact distinctions, such as, "This pest of the commonwealth might be repressed for a time, but not suppressed forever," and in the use of verbs which are altered in sense by a change in the prepositions with which they are compounded, such as non emissus ex urbe, sed immissus in urbem esse videatur: "He may seem not to have been sent out of the city, but to have been sent into the city?" The effect is better and more spirited when what is said is both figurative in expression and strong in sense, as, emit morte immortalitatem, "He purchased immortality by death." 72. Such as the following are frivolous: Non Pisonum, sed pistorum, "Not of the Pisos, but of the bakers," and Ex oratore arator, "From an orator become a ploughman." But the most contemptible plays on words are such as these: Ne patres conscripti videantur circumscripti; Raro evenit, sed vehementer venit. It is possible, however, that a bold and spirited thought may receive some not unsuitable grace from the contrast of two words not quite the same. 73. Why should modesty prevent me from using an example from my own family? My father, in reply to a man that had said se immoriturum legationi, that he would die on his embassy rather than not effect the object of it, but then returned after only a few days without having succeeded, said, non exigo ut immoriaris legationi, immorare, "I do not ask that you should die on an embassy, but at least dwell on it." For the sense is good, and the sounds of the two words, so different in meaning, have a pleasing correspondence, especially as they were not sought, but, as it were, presented themselves, the speaker using but one of his own and receiving the other from the person whom he addressed. 74. To add grace to style by balanced antitheses was a great object with the ancients; Gorgias studied it immoderately, and Isocrates was extremely devoted to it, at least in the early part of his life. Cicero had great delight in the practice, but he set bounds to his indulgence in it (though it is not indeed unpleasing unless it offend by excess) and gave weight to what would otherwise have been trifling by the importance of his matter. Indeed, affectation, which would in itself be dry and empty, seems to be not forced, but natural when it is united with vigorous thoughts.

75. Of producing correspondences in words there are about four modes. The first is when a word is chosen by the speaker that is similar in sound, or not very dissimilar, to another word, as,

Puppesque tuae, pubesque tuorum;

and, Sic in hac calamitosa fama, guasi in aliqua perniciossissima flamma, and non enim tam spes laudanda, quam res est. Or they have at least a resemblance in termination, as non verbis, sed armis. 76. This artifice also, whenever it is combined with vigorous thought, is pleasing, as, Quantum possis, in eo semper experire, ut prosis. This is what is called πάρισον (parison), as most authors have it, but Cleosteleus thinks that the parison consists in similarity in the members of sentences. 77. The second is when two or more clauses terminate alike, the same syllables corresponding at the end of each, constituting the ὁμοιοτέλευτον (homoeoteleuton), that is, the similar ending of two or more phrases, as, Non modo ad salutem ejus extinguendam, sed etiam gloriam per tales viros infringendam. Of this kind are what they call τρίκωλα (tricola), though these do not always exactly correspond in termination, as, Vicit pudorem libido, timorem audacia, rationem amentia. But such resemblance may be extended to four members or even more. Each member may also consist of a single word; as,

Hecuba, hoc dolet, pudet, piget;


Abiit, excessit, erupit, evasit.

78. The third is that which consists in a repetition of the same case and is called ὁμοιόπτωτον (homoeoptoton), but it has not that name because it presents similar endings, for that which lies in similar endings is termed homoeoteleuton. The homoeoptoton is only a resemblance in cases, while the declensions of the words may be different, and it is not seen only at the ends of phrases, but may exhibit a correspondence either in beginnings with beginnings, middles with middles, or terminations with terminations. Or there may even be an interchange, so that the middle of one phrase may answer to the beginning of another, or the conclusion of one to the middle of another, and indeed the resemblance may be maintained in any way whatever. 79. Nor do the correspondent phrases always consist of an equal number of syllables. Thus we see in Domitius Afer, Amisso nuper infelicis aulae, si non praesidio inter pericula, tamen solatio inter adversa. The best species of this figure appears to be that in which the beginnings and ends of the phrases correspond, as here, praesidio, solatio, and in which there is a similitude in the words, so that they afford like cadences and like terminations. 80. The fourth kind is that in which there is a perfect equality in the clauses, which is called by the Greeks ἰσόκωλον (isocolon), such as:

  • Si, quantum in agro locisque desertis audacia potest, tantum in foro atque judiciis impudentia valeret. "If impudence had as much power in the forum and in courts of justice as boldness has in wilds and desert places" (where there is both the isocolon and the homoeoptoton), and
  • Non minus nunc in causa cederet Aulus Caecina Sexti aebutii impudentiae, quam tum in vi facienda cessit audaciae, "Aulus Caecina, in the present cause, would give way to the impudence of Sextus aebutius, not less than he then yielded to his audacity in his audacity in the commission of violence," where there is isocolon, homoeoptoton, and homoeoteleuton.

To this figure is attached, also, that beauty which arises from the figure in which I said that words are repeated with a change of case or tense, as, Non minus cederet, quam cessit, "He would yield no less than he has yielded." The homoeoteleuton and the paronomasia may also be united, as Neminem alteri posse dare in matrimonium, nisi penes quam sit patrimonium, "No one could give to another in matrimony, except him in whose hands is the patrimony."

81. Contraposition, or, as some call it, contention—it is termed by the Greeks ἀντίθετον (antitheton)—is effected in several ways, for it occurs when single words are opposed one to another, as in the example which I used a little above, Vicit pudorem libido, timorem audacia, or when two are opposed to two, as, Non nostri ingenii, vestri auxilii est, "It depends not on our ability, but your aid," or when sentences are opposed to sentences, as, Dominetur in concionibus, jaceat in judiciis. 82. This species of antithesis is very properly joined with that we have termed distinction: Odit Populus Romanus privatam luxuriam, pulicam magnificentiam diligit, "The Roman people detest private luxury, but love public magnificence," and that in which words of similar termination, but of dissimilar meaning, are placed at the end of different clauses, as, Quod in tempore mali fuit, nihil obsit, quin, quod in causa boni fuit, prosit, "So that what was unfortunate in the time may not prevent what was good in the cause from being of advantage." 83. Nor is the second term always immediately subjoined to that to which it corresponds, as in this passage, Est igitur, judices, non scripta, sed nata lex, "It is a law, therefore, judges, not written for us, but inherent in us by nature." But as Cicero says, there may be a correspondence between several preceding and subsequent particulars, as in the sequel of the passage to which I have just referred, Quam non didicimus, accepimus, legimus, verum ex natura ipsa accepimus, hausimus, expressimus, "A law which we have not learned, or acquired, or read, but which we have imbibed, and derived, and received from nature herself." 84. Nor is that which is opposed to what precedes always presented in the antithetic form, as in these words, cited by Rutilius Lupus, Nobis primum dii immortales fruges dederunt; nos, quod soli accepimus, in omnes terras distribuimus: "To us the immortal gods first gave corn; that which we alone received, we have distributed through every region of the earth." 85. An antithesis is also produced with the aid of that figure in which words are repeated with variations in case or tense, and which is called by the Greeks ἀντιμεταβολή (antimetabole): as, Non, ut edam, vivo; sed, ut vivam, edo; "I do not live that I may eat, but eat that I may live." There is an example of this in Cicero, which is so managed that, though it exhibits a change in cases, the two members have a similar ending: Ut et sine invidia culpa plectatur, et sine culpa invidia ponatur, "That both guilt may be punished without odium, and odium may be laid aside without guilt." 86. The members may also terminate with the very same word, as in what Cicero says of Roscius, Etenim, quum artifex ejusmodi sit, ut solus dignus videatur esse qui scenam introeat, tum vir ejusmodi sit, ut solus videatur dignus qui eo non accedat, "For, while he is an actor of such powers that he alone seems worthy to enter on the stage, he is a man of such a character that he alone seems worthy to be exempted from entering on it." There is also a peculiar grace in the antithetic opposition of names, as, Si consul Antonius, Brutus hostis; si conservator reipublicae Brutus, hostis Antonius, "If Antony is a consul, Brutus is an enemy; if Brutus is a preserver of his country, Antony is an enemy."

87. I have now said more concerning figures than was perhaps necessary, yet there are some who will maintain that such a phrase as, "What I say is incredible, but true," is a figure and call it ἀνθυποϕορά (anthypophora); that, "Somebody has borne this once, I have borne it twice, I have borne it three times," is also a figure, to be termed διέξοδος (diexodos); and that, "I have digressed too far and return to my subject," is another, to be called ἄϕοδος (aphodos).

88. Some figures of word differ only a little from figures of thought, as dubitatio, "doubt." When this regards the matter, it is to be numbered among figures of thought, and when it concerns only words, among the other sort of figures, as Sive me malitiam, sive stultitiam dicere oportet, "Whether I ought to call this wickedness or folly." The same is the case with respect to correction, for as doubt may refer to either language or thought, so likewise may emendation. 89. Some think that this twofold nature of figures has a place also in personification and that the figure in the following words is verbal, "Avarice is the mother of cruelty," as well as in the exclamation of Sallust against Cicero, "O Romulus of Arpinum," and in the expression in Menander, "Thriasian Oedipus." All these points have been treated with great fulness by those writers who have not merely touched on them as portions of treatises, but have dedicated whole books to this particular subject, as Caecilius, Dionysius, Rutilitis, Cornificius, Visellius, and many others, but the glory of some living writers will not be inferior to theirs. 90. However, though I admit that more figures of speech may have been invented by certain of our rhetoricians, I do not allow that they are better than those which have been specified by eminent writers on the subject. Cicero, especially, has mentioned many figures in his third book De Oratore, which he appears himself to have condemned by omitting them in his subsequent work Orator. Some of them, indeed, are figures of thought rather than of words, such as diminution; the introduction of something unexpected; image; answering our own questions; digression; permission; and antithesis (for I suppose this to be the same as what is called ἐναντιότης (enantiotes), proof derived from the statements of the opposite party). 91. Some, again, are not figures at all, such as order, enumeration, and circumscription (whether he means by this last term a thought concisely expressed, or definition, which Cornificius and Rutilius, however, consider a figure of speech). As to elegant transposition of words, that is hyperbaton, which Caecilius also thinks a figure, but I have placed among tropes. 92. Of immutation, though it is what Rutilius calls ἀλλοίωσις (alloiosis), the object is to show the difference between men, things, and actions. If it is understood in an extended sense, it is certainly not a figure; if in a confined sense, it will be mere antithesis. But if the term is intended to signify hypallage, enough has already been said of it. 93. What sort of a figure, again, is reasoning subservient to your proposition? Is it what Rutilius calls αίτιολογία (aitiologia)? It may also be doubted whether reasoning suited to the order of distribution, which is put by Rutilius in the first place, is a figure. 94. Rutilius calls it προσαπόδοσις (prosapodosis), which even if the propriety of the term is fully admitted, must certainly relate to several propositions, because reasoning is either (1) immediately subjoined to each, as in Caius Antonius: "But neither do I dread him as an accuser, in as much as I am innocent; nor do I fear him as a competitor, since I am innocent; nor do I expect anything from him as consul, since he is Cicero, 95. or (2) after two or three points are laid down, the reasoning applicable to each is given in the same order, as in these words of Brutus respecting the dictatorship of Pompey: "For it is better to command no one than to be a slave to any one, for we may live honorably without command, but in slavery there is no endurance of life." 96. But many reasons are often subjoined to one observation, as in this passage of Virgil,

Sive inde occultas vires, et pabula terrae
Pinguia concipiunt, sive illis omne per ignem
Excoquitur vitium, atque exudat inutilis homor;
Seu plures calor ille vias, et caeca relaxat
Spiramenta, novas veniat quà succus in herbas;
Seu durat magis, et venas astringit hiantes.

Whether from thence the lands a secret power
And fattening nurture gain; or from their soil
Its whole corruption is by fire expelled,
And useless damp exudes; or whether pores
More numerous, and more passages unseen
The heat expands, by which the sap may pass
Up to the tender herb; or whether more
It hardens and constricts the opening veins.

97. In what sense Cicero means relation to be taken, I cannot say. If he means hypallage, epanodos, or antimetabole, I have spoken of them all before. But whatever is signified, he makes no mention of it, or of the preceding figures, in the Orator. The only figure put in that book among figures of words is exclamation, which I rather consider as a figure of thought, for it is an expression of feeling, and in this respect, I agree with all other rhetoricians. 98. To these, Cornelius adds periphrasis, of which I have spoken; Cornificius adds:

  • Interrogation
  • Ratiocination
  • Subjection
  • Transition
  • Occultation
  • Besides sentence
  • Member
  • Article
  • Interpretation, and
  • Conclusion.

The first five of these are figures of thought, and the other five are not figures at all. 99. Rutilius, again, in addition to the figures which are given in other authors, specifies:

  • παρομολόγία (paromologia)
  • ἀναγκαῖον (anankaion)
  • ήθοποῖϊα (ethopoeia)
  • δικαιολογία (dikaiologia)
  • πρόληψις (prolepsis)
  • χαρακτηρισμός (characterismos)
  • βραχυλογία (brachylogia)
  • παρασιώπησις (parasiopesis)
  • παῤῥησία (parrhesia)

of which I say also that they are not figures. I shall pay them no attention to those authors who have made scarcely any end of seeking for names and who have inserted among figures that which belongs to arguments.

100. Concerning what are really figures, too, I would briefly remark, in addition, that though they are ornaments to language when they are judiciously employed, they are extremely ridiculous when introduced in immoderate profusion. Some speakers, regardless of weight of matter or force of thought, think that if they can but distort empty words into the guise of figures, they have attained the perfection of art. Therefore, they never cease to string them together, though it is as ridiculous to aim at the form of eloquence without the substance as it would be to study dress and gesture for what is not a living body. 101. Even such figures as are happily applied ought not to be too much crowded. Changes of countenance and expressive glances of the eye add great effect to pleading, but if a speaker should be perpetually molding, his features into studied configurations or should keep up a perpetual agitation in his forehead and his eyes, he would only make himself a laughing-stock. Language has, as it were, a certain natural appearance, and though it ought not to appear torpid in immoveable rigidity, it should yet generally be kept in that form which nature has assigned it. 102. But what we ought chiefly to understand in regard to pleading is what is required by particular places, persons, and occasions. The greater part of figures are intended to please, but when a speaker has to labor to excite emotions of indignation, hatred, or compassion, who would endure to hear him raging, lamenting, or supplicating in studied antitheses, balanced clauses, and similar cadences? In such cases, affected attention to words destroys all trust in his expression of feeling, and wherever art shows itself, truth is thought to be absent.

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