Thursday, January 05, 2006
ABC and CBA
With ancient writers it was a fairly common practice to announce the sections of their subject in terms such as 'I propose to deal with A and B' and then, in the execution, to let B come first. The arrangement of the ode Quem virum is a case in point. The announcement in the proem runs Quem virum aut heroa...quem deum?: in the execution the gods come first (triad II), then the heroes (triad III), and finally the men (triad IV).An example in miniature is this exquisite epigram by Argentarius from the Greek Anthology (10.18, tr. A.S.F. Gow and D.L. Page):
Gobrys, may Dionysus and the amorous Cyprian and the sweet Muses with their books be your delight: pluck their wisdom, enter into her passions, swallow his friendly cups.We see in the first couplet the deities Dionysus, Aphrodite (the amorous Cyprian), and the Muses (ABC), then in the second couplet their gifts in reversed order -- learning, love, and wine (CBA).
Γῶβρυ, Διώνυσός σε καὶ ἡ φιλεράσττρια Κύπρις
τέρποι καὶ γλυκεραὶ γράμμασι Πιερίδες·
ὧν μὲν γὰρ σοφίην ἀποδρέπτεο, τῆς δ᾽ ἐς ἔρωτας
ἔρχεο, τοῦ δὲ φίλας λαβροπότει κύλικας.
For more on this literary device, see here.