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Sappho in On Style by Demetrius

Demetrius' On Style often calls on Sappho to illustrate figures and graces of language. Demetrius' references to Sappho are collected here. Red links are to Roberts' translation of On Style at Peithô's Web. Blue links are to the relevant fragment in Wharton's Sappho.

Epiphoneme (from On Style 106)

The so-called `epiphoneme' may be defined as `diction that adorns.' It produces elevation of style in the highest degree. Some parts of diction simply subserve the thought, while others embellish it. Of the former the following is an example:

Like the hyacinth-flower, that shepherd folk 'mid the mountains tread

The embellishment comes with the added clause:

and low on the earth her bloom dark-splendid is shed.
          (Sappho, Fragm. 94, Bergk)

The addition thus made to the preceding lines clearly adorns and beautifies.

On hyperbole (from On Style 127)
Also see comedy and hyperbole, below

Of the same character are the expressions 'balder than the cloudless blue' and 'lustier than a pumpkin' (Sophron, Fragmm. 108, 34, Kaibel C. G. F.). Sappho's words 'more golden than all gold' (Sappho, Fragm. 123, Bergk) are themselves hyperbolical and impossible, though from their very impossibility they derive charm, not frigidity. Indeed, one cannot sufficiently admire this in the divine Sappho, that by sheer genius she so handles a risky and seemingly unmanageable business as to invest it with charm. These observations on the subject of frigidity and hyperbole must suffice. We shall next consider the elegant style.

Grace in the subject matter (from On Style 132)

Grace of style has, therefore, a certain number of forms and characteristics. The grace may reside in the subject-matter, if it is the gardens of the Nymphs, marriage-lays, love-stories, or the poetry of Sappho generally. Such themes, even in the mouth of a Hipponax, possess grace, the subject-matter having a winsomeness of its own. No one would think of singing a bridal song in an angry mood; no contortions of style can change Love into a Fury or a Giant, or transmute laughter into tears.

Reduplication (from On Style 140)

The graces that spring from the employment of figures are manifest, and abound most of all in Sappho. An instance in point is the figure 'reduplication,' as when the bride addressing her Maidenhood says

Maidenhood, Maidenhood, whither away, Forsaking me?

And her Maidenhood makes reply to her in the same figure:

Not again unto thee shall I come for aye, Not again unto thee!
          (Sappho, Fragm. 109, Bergk)

The thought, thus presented, has more grace than if it had been expressed once only and without the figure. 'Reduplication' it is true, seems to have been devised more particularly with a view to giving energy to style. But in Sappho's hands even the most passionate energy is transfigured with grace.

Anaphora (from On Style 141)

Sometimes also Sappho makes graceful use of the figure 'anaphora,' as in the lines on the Evening Star:

O Evening Star, thou bringest all that's best:
The sheep, the goat, thou bringest home, to rest:
The child thou bringest to the mother's breast.
          (Sappho, Fragm. 95, Bergk)

Grace and imagery (from On Style 146)

Grace may also spring from the use of imagery. Thus Sappho says of the man that stands out among his fellows:

Pre-eminent, as mid alien men is Lesbos' bard.
          (Sappho, Fragm. 92, Bergk)

In this line charm rather than grandeur is the outcome of the comparison. It would have been possible, had the aim been different, to speak of a superiority such as the moon or the sun possesses in brightness over the other orbs, or to use some still more poetical image.

Recantation (from On Style 148)

There is a peculiarly Sapphic grace due to recantation. Sometimes Sappho will say a thing and then recant, as though she had a fit of repentance. For example:

High uprear the raftered hall,
Builders, of the bridal dwelling!
The bridegroom comes, as Ares tall -
A tall man's stature far excelling.
          (Sappho, Fragm. 91, Bergk)

She checks herself, as it were, feeling that she has used an impossible hyperbole, since no one is as tall as Ares.

Comedy and hyperbole (from On Style 161)

The charms of comedy arise specially from hyperboles, and every hyperbole is of an impossible character, as when Aristophanes says of the voracity of the Persians that

For loaves, they roasted oxen whole in pipkins;
          (Acharnians 86)

and of the Thracians another writer says `Medoces their king was bearing a bullock whole between his teeth' (Scr. Inc.).

Of the same kind are such expressions as `lustier than a pumpkin' and `balder than the cloudless blue'; and the lines of Sappho

Far sweeter-singing than a lute,
More golden than all gold.
          (Sappho, Fragmm. 122, 123, Bergk)

All these ornaments, different as they are from one another, have their source in hyperbole.

Appropriate style (from On Style 166-167)

When Sappho celebrates the charms of beauty, she does so in lines that are themselves beautiful and sweet. So too when she sings of love, and springtime, and the halcyon. Every lovely word is inwoven with the texture of her poetry. And some are of her own invention.

It is in a different key that she mocks the clumsy bridegroom, and the porter at the wedding. Her language is then most ordinary, and couched in terms of prose rather than of poetry. These poems of hers are, in consequence, better suited for use in conversation than for singing. They are by no means adapted for a chorus or a lyre, - unless indeed there is such a thing as a conversational chorus.

The passages on this page are from W. Rhys Roberts' translation of Demetrius On Style, in Demetrius On style: the Greek text of Demetrius De Elocutione edited after the Paris manuscript with introd., translation, facsimiles, etc. by W. Rhys Roberts (Cambridge, at the University Press: 1902), pp. 67-207. The complete translation is here at Peithô's Web. This page is presented for your enjoyment only, as is, with no warranty of any kind.

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