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Aristotle: Poetics—Chapter XXI

The Butcher translation retains the traditional chapter numbering. Some modern translations break the chapters somewhat differently.


Words are of two kinds, simple and double. By simple I mean those composed of non-significant elements, such as {γη}. By double or compound, those composed either of a significant and non-significant element (though within the whole word no element is significant), or of elements that are both significant. A word may likewise be triple, quadruple, or multiple in form, like so many Massilian expressions, (e.g. Hermo-caico-xanthus 'who prayed to Father Zeus.')

Every word is either current, or strange, or metaphorical, or ornamental, or newly-coined, or lengthened, or contracted, or altered.

By a current or proper word I mean one which is in general use among a people; by a strange word, one which is in use in another country. Plainly, therefore, the same word may be at once strange and current, but not in relation to the same people. The word sigunon {σιγυνον}, 'lance,' is to the Cyprians a current term but to us a strange one.

Metaphor is the application of an alien name by transference either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from species to species, or by analogy, that is, proportion. Thus from genus to species, as: 'There lies my ship'; for lying at anchor is a species of lying. From species to genus, as: 'Verily ten thousand noble deeds hath Odysseus wrought'; for ten thousand is a species of large number, and is here used for a large number generally. From species to species, as: 'With blade of bronze drew away the life,' and 'Cleft the water with the vessel of unyielding bronze.' Here arurai αρυραι}, 'to draw away,' is used for tamein {ταμειν}, 'to cleave,' and tamein {ταμειν} again for arurai {αρυαι},—each being a species of taking away. Analogy or proportion is when the second term is to the first as the fourth to the third. We may then use the fourth for the second, or the second for the fourth. Sometimes too we qualify the metaphor by adding the term to which the proper word is relative. Thus the cup is to Dionysus as the shield to Ares. The cup may, therefore, be called 'the shield of Dionysus,' and the shield 'the cup of Ares.' Or, again, as old age is to life, so is evening to day. Evening may therefore be called 'the old age of the day,' and old age, 'the evening of life,' or, in the phrase of Empedocles, 'life's setting sun.' For some of the terms of the proportion there is at times no word in existence; still the metaphor may be used. For instance, to scatter seed is called sowing: but the action of the sun in scattering his rays is nameless. Still this process bears to the sun the same relation as sowing to the seed. Hence the expression of the poet 'sowing the god-created light.' There is another way in which this kind of metaphor may be employed. We may apply an alien term, and then deny of that term one of its proper attributes; as if we were to call the shield, not 'the cup of Ares,' but 'the wineless cup.'

<An ornamental word . . .>1

A newly-coined word is one which has never been even in local use, but is adopted by the poet himself. Some such words there appear to be: as ernuges {ερνυγεσ}, 'sprouters,' for kerata {κερατα}, 'horns,' and arêtêr {αρητηρ}, 'supplicator,' for hiereus {ιερευσ}, 'priest.'

A word is lengthened when its own vowel is exchanged for a longer one, or when a syllable is inserted. A word is contracted when some part of it is removed. Instances of lengthening are,--polêos {ποληοσ} for poleos {πολεωσ}, and peleiadeo {πηληιαδεω} for peleidou {πηλει δου}: of contraction,—kri {κρι}, do {δω}, and ops {οψ}, as in mia ginetai amphoteron ops{μια   γινεται   αμφοτερων   οψ}.

An altered word is one in which part of the ordinary form is left, and part is re-cast; as in dexi-teron kata mazon {δεξι-τερον   κατα   μαζον}, dexiteron {δεξιτερον} is for dexion {δεξιον}.

Nouns in themselves are either masculine, feminine, or neuter. Masculine are such as end in Nu {ν}, Rho {ρ}, Sigma {σ}, or in some letter compounded with Sigma {σ},—these being two, and Xi {ξ}. Feminine, such as end in vowels that are always long, namely Eta {η} and Omega {ω}, and—of vowels that admit of lengthening—those in Alpha {α}. Thus the number of letters in which nouns masculine and feminine end is the same; for Psi {ψ} and Xi {ξ} are equivalent to endings in Sigma {σ}. No noun ends in a mute or a vowel short by nature. Three only end in Iota {ι},—meli {μηλι}, kommi{κομμι}, peperi {πεπερι}: five end in Upsilon {υ}. Neuter nouns end in these two latter vowels; also in Nu {ν} and Sigma {σ}.]

1 It is assumed that an explanation of "ornament," or kosmos has been dropped from the available texts here.