Monday, January 08, 2007


The Law of the Increasing Members

Jasper Griffin on Homer, Iliad 9.150:
Homer constantly makes the third element, in a line which lists three, longer than the other two .... That is an ancient device of Indo-European rhetoric, and it helps to explain why nouns and names which come late in the line regularly have 'ornamental' epithets. Cf. Behaghel, 'Das Gesetz der wachsenden Glieder', IF 35 (1909) 111; M.L. West in JHS 108 (1988), 155.
IF stands for Indogermanische Forschungen, JHS for Journal of Hellenic Studies. West's article is 'The Rise of the Greek Epic', JHS 108 (1988) 151-172. I haven't seen these articles.

If we translate Behaghel's title Das Gesetz der wachsenden Glieder literally as "the law of the increasing members," it has a faintly risqué, priapic ring.

G.S. Kirk in his commentary on Homer's Iliad 1-4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985) uses the term "rising threefolder," but restricts it to a particular type of Homeric verse, "composed of three progressively-lengthening cola, through absence or weakness of a third-foot caesura and the presence of a strong fourth-foot one" (p. xxiii).

"Tricolon crescendo" seems to be the term most in favor with classical scholars. Eduard Fraenkel, Horace (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), p. 351, n. 1, discussing Horace, Epistles 1.13.3 (si validus, si laetus erit, si denique poscet) has an illuminating note on this rhetorical device:
Many Latin sentences built in accordance with the 'Gesetz der wachsenden Glieder' (Behaghel), i.e. so that B is longer than A, and C longer than B, are examined by E. Lindholm, Stilistiche Studien zur Erweiterung der Satzglieder im Lateinischen, Lund 1931. This device, very much favoured by, for example, Tacitus, Macaulay, and Sir Winston Churchill, is as old as European literature and probably much older. It is sometimes operative even in the arrangement of a triad of proper names, as, for instance, at Homer Α 145 ἢ Αἴας ἢ Ἰδομενεὺς ἢ δῖος Ὀδυσσεὺς, or Υ 232 Ἶλός τ᾽ Ἀσσάρακός τε καὶ ἀντίθεος Γανυμήδης. Si clauses arranged in this way are fairly common, e.g. (tricolon as in the Horatian line under examination) Cic. Fam. 5.2.10 si acerbe, si crudeliter, si sine causa sum a tuis oppugnatus; Caelius ap. Cic. Fam. 8.10.5 si tempus, si senatus coget, si honeste a nobis recusari non poterit; for a kindred, if somewhat different, arrangement see, for example, Ennius, Ann. 431 si luci, si nox, si mox, si iam data sit frux; Cic. Quinct. 82 si te nihil impediret, si voluntas eadem maneret, si valeres [cf. Horace's si validus], denique si [cf. Horace's si denique] viveres. A tricolon (not crescendo) with anaphora of ubi shows once more how stereotyped were the forms of these expressions of politeness, Ter. Eun. 484 f. verum ubi molestum non erit, ubi tu voles, ubi tempus tibi erit, sat habet si tum recipitur.
In English, a good example is Shakespeare's Friends, Romans, countrymen, with one, two, and three syllables in the three increasing members.

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