From Peithô's Web

W. Rhys Roberts translation


Chapters 28-29


AS to whether or no Periphrasis contributes to the sublime, no one, I think, will hesitate. For just as in music the so-called accompaniments bring out the charm of the melody, so also periphrasis often harmonises with the normal expression and adds greatly to its beauty, especially if it has a quality which is not inflated and dissonant but pleasantly tempered. 2. Plato will furnish an instance in proof at the opening of his Funeral Oration. 'In truth they have gained from us their rightful tribute, in the enjoyment of which they proceed along their destined path, escorted by their country publicly, and privately each by his kinsmen (Menexenus 236d, at Perseus).' Death he calls 'their destined path,' and the tribute of accustomed rites he calls 'being escorted publicly by their fatherland.' Is it in a slight degree only that he has magnified the conception by the use of these words? Has he not rather, starting with unadorned diction, made it musical, and shed over it like a harmony the melodious rhythm which comes from periphrasis? 3. And Xenophon says, 'You regard toil as the guide to a joyous life. You have garnered in your souls the goodliest of all possessions and the fittest for warriors. For you rejoice more in praise than in all else (Cyropaideia 1.5.12, at Perseus).' In using, instead of 'you are willing to toil,' the words 'you deem toil the guide to a joyous life,' and in expanding the rest of the sentence in like manner, he has annexed to his eulogy a lofty idea. 4. And so with that inimitable phrase of Herodotus: 'The goddess afflicted those Scythians who had pillaged the temple with an unsexing malady (Histories 1. 105. 4, at Perseus).'



A hazardous business, however, eminently hazardous is periphrasis, unless it be handled with discrimination; otherwise it speedily falls flat, with its odour of empty talk and its swelling amplitude. This is the reason why Plato (who is always strong in figurative language, and at times unseasonably so) is taunted because in his Laws he says that 'neither gold nor silver treasure should be allowed to establish itself and abide in the city (Laws 801b, at Perseus).' The critic says that, if he had been forbidding the possession of cattle, he would obviously have spoken of ovine and bovine treasure. 2. But our parenthetical disquisition with regard to the use of figures as bearing upon the sublime has run to sufficient length, dear Terentianus; for all these things lend additional passion and animation to style, and passion is as intimately allied with sublimity as sketches of character with entertainment.

On the Sublime, tr. Roberts


Peithô's Web