Sunday, August 10, 2008


A Climax in Epicharmus

[Cicero], Rhetorica ad Herennium 4.25.34, defines the rhetorical device known as gradatio (Greek κλῖμαξ = climax, English ladder) as follows:
Gradatio is the figure of speech whereby you don't go down to the next word before climbing back up to the previous one, in this manner:

"As for the other things that a hope of freedom entails, if something pleases these men, it is lawful for them; what is lawful, is possible; what is possible, they dare; what they dare, they do; and what they do, is it not troublesome to you?"

Gradatio est, in qua non ante ad consequens verbum descenditur, quam ad superius ascensum est, hoc modo:

"Nam quae reliqua spes manet libertatis, si illis et quod libet, licet; et quod licet, possunt; et quod possunt, audent; et quod audent, faciunt; et quod faciunt, vobis molestum non est?"
There is a good example of this rhetorical device in Epicharmus, fragment 146, quoted by Athenaeus 2.36 c-d (tr. S. Douglas Olson):
                                    (A.) † A sacrifice leads to a feast,
and a feast leads to drinking. (B.) Sounds good to me, at least!
(A.) But drinking leads to wandering the streets drunk, and wandering the streets drunk leads to acting like a pig,
and acting like a pig leads to a lawsuit, <and a lawsuit leads to being found guilty>,
and being found guilty leads to shackles, stocks, and a fine.

                                    (A.) † ἐκ μὲν θυσίας θοίνα <. . .>,
ἐκ δὲ θοίνας πόσις ἐγένετο.
(B.) χαρίεν, ὥς γ' ἐμοὶ <δοκεῖ>.
(A.) ἐκ δὲ πόσιος κῶμος, ἐκ κώμου δ' ἐγένεθ' ὑανία,
ἐκ δ' ὑανίας δίκα, <'κ δίκας δ' ἐγένετο καταδίκα>,
ἐκ δὲ καταδίκας πέδαι τε καὶ σφαλὸς καὶ ζαμία.
What Olson translates as "wandering the streets drunk" is in Greek κῶμος (kōmos). Milton, Paradise Lost 1.500-502, describes a kōmos:
                                                When night
Darkens the streets, then wander forth the sons
Of Belial, flown with insolence and wine.
Related posts:

Update: Thanks to Jacqueline Haney for this example from Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act V, Scene 2, all the more interesting because of the stair-climbing, which recalls the name given to the rhetorical device:
O, I know where you are: nay, 'tis true: there was never any thing so sudden but the fight of two rams and Caesar's thrasonical brag of 'I came, saw, and overcame:' for your brother and my sister no sooner met but they looked, no sooner looked but they loved, no sooner loved but they sighed, no sooner sighed but they asked one another the reason, no sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy; and in these degrees have they made a pair of stairs to marriage which they will climb incontinent, or else be incontinent before marriage: they are in the very wrath of love and they will together; clubs cannot part them.

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