Thursday, October 07, 2004


Diction Appropriate for Character Type

K.J. Dover, in his paper on "Language and Character in Aristophanes," in Greek and the Greeks. Collected Papers, Volume I: Language, Poetry, Drama (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), pp. 236-248, cites passages from the Athenian playwright where the language is especially appropriate or fitting for the character who utters it. Some of the examples involve dialect or bad Greek spoken by foreigners, and others suit the age or social standing of the speakers in one way or another. Dover doesn't cite the scholia to Aristophanes, but some of them mention the same phenomenon (tr. W.G. Rutherford):These comments in the scholia to Aristophanes are all the more interesting in the light of Plutarch's criticism of Aristophanes for failing to make distinctions of this sort (Comparison of Aristophanes and Menander 853d, tr. H.N. Fowler):
Moreover, in his diction there are tragic, comic, pompous, and prosaic elements, obscurity, vagueness, dignity, and elevation, loquacity and sickening nonsense. And with all these differences and dissimilarities his use of words does not give to each kind its fitting and appropriate use; I mean, to a king his dignity, to an orator his eloquence, to a woman her artlessness, to an ordinary man his prosaic speech, to a market-lounger his vulgarity; but he assigns to his characters as if by lot such words as happen to turn up, and you could not tell whether the speaker is son or father, a rustic or a god, or an old woman or a hero.

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