29.9.16

Gorgias - Epitaphios ("Funeral Oration," fr. 6)

Gorgias | Gorgias Texts Ancient Greek Bibliography

The following preserves nearly all that remains of what doubtless was a much longer whole. It will be our second epitaphios, or "speech by the grave"; the first was Thucydides' "Periclean Funeral Oration" (2.35-46). I include Gorgias' fragmentary epitaphios (which may have been intended for the purpose of epideixis, "demonstration," rather than a specific funeral) partly to illustrate rhetorical figures, in Greek, skhēmata. (More than one ancient commentator refers to these as gorgieia skhēmata, "Gorgianic figures," after the rhetorician best known for them.) In reading, see if you can detect where I try (struggle?) to map Gorgias' use of them.

First, an important stylistic concept:

Colon, (plural, cola), a word-grouping understood not as a grammatical but rhetorical unit. The point of cola is how they relate to — echo, reinforce, contrast with — each other. A colon can be as short as a single word, as in the following tricolon (= three cola in a row): "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" (Shakespeare). Cola can be phrase-length units, as in the following (also a tricolon): "of the people, by the people, for the people" (Lincoln). Or it can consist of clauses: "we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow" (Lincoln).

Next, a catalogue of figures:

Anastrophe, when a colon begins with the same (or more or less the same) word or phrase the previous ended with: "The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors," Lincoln First Inaugural.

Antistrophe, the same word or words at the ends of successive cola ("to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together," King I Have a Dream).

Antithesis, phrases and / or sentiments whose contrast is set in high relief: "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country" (Kennedy Inaugural Address)

Epanaphora, the use of the same word or words at the beginnings of successive cola: "Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana" (King I Have a Dream).

Homoioteleuton, rhetorical (as opposed to poetic) use of end-rhyme, especially in combination with antithesis, isocolon, or parisosis ("we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate," Lincoln Gettysburg Address).

Isocolon, the balancing of successive cola with precisely equal numbers of syllables ("we can not de-di-cate, we can not con-sec-rate" [6 and 6]).

Parisosis, the balancing of successive cola with nearly equal numbers of syllables ("we can not consecrate, we can not hallow").

Paronomasia, "(etymological) wordplay," i.e., the artful or witty use together of words sounding alike and (typically) of similar derivation, e.g., "Stars grinding, crumb by crumb, / Our own grist down to its bony face" (Sylvia Plath, All the Dead Dears — note "grinding" and "grist").

Rhetorical question, a statement posing as a question: "Who then will speak for the common good?" Barbara Jordan, 1976 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address. (ANSWER: We will, for we all must.)

Other likely figures of rhetoric, even if not mentioned above? (Click here for the "Glossary of Rhetorical Terms" page at the University of Kentucky Dept of Classics.)

Finally, a question. I have described this as an epideixis, a "show"-speech. But for all its showing, still, I wonder about the telling, what, in other words, the message might be. . . .

TEXT (trans. A. Scholtz)

For what did these men lack that men should have? What did they have that men should lack? May I find the power to say what I wish! May I find the wish to say what I must! — no target for the gods' penalty, no victim of human jealousy. For god breathed bravery into them, though death exacted a human fee from them. And often did they choose mild fairness over inflexible justice, often, fitting expression (logos) over strict legislation (nomos), deeming it an ordinance celestial, a law universal, to speak or to hold their tongue, to do or to leave undone, whatever was needed, whenever it was needful. Two virtues especially did they cultivate: brainpower and man-power, the former, intending, the latter, expending, serving those injustice afflicted, thwarting those injustice uplifted, proponents of the practical, exponents of the honorable, through judgment of right foiling madness of might, disciplined toward the disciplined, fearless against the fearless, terrifying amid the terrifying. To bear witness to this, behold: their trophy of triumph, their gift to the god — the sacrifice of themselves. No strangers were they to the spirit of war, to legitimate lust (eros), to the clash of arms, to the blessings of peace, justly devout toward the gods, attentively dutiful to parents, righteously fair toward comrades, firmly faithful to friends. Therefore, though they have died, the loss we feel has not. No, we who shall die still feel the undying absence of those no longer living.

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