Wednesday, December 04, 2013


Verse-Filling Asyndeton

Ernst Robert Curtius (1886-1956), European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, tr. Willard E. Trask (1953; rpt. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), pp. 285-286 (ellipses in original):
Another manneristic deformation of the line consists in getting as many words into it as possible. To attain this end the superfluous "and" must be omitted. Hence this piling up of words was also called "verse-filling asyndeton."39 Examples from Lucretius (I, 685 and 744):
Concursus motus ordo positura figurae.
Aera solem ignem terras animalia fruges.
Horace uses this type of asyndeton when he wants to dispose scornfully of an entire class of things—objects of value, for example (Epi., II, 2, 180 f.):
Gemmas, marmor, ebur, Tyrrhena sigilla, tabellas,
Argentum, vestis Gaetulo murice tinctas ...
or forms of superstition (Epi., II, 2, 208 f.):
Somnia, terrores magicos, miracula, sagas,
Nocturnos lemures portentaque Thessala ...
The practice becomes more frequent in Statius, and in Dracontius is carried to excess.40 In the Middle Ages it is a well-known stylistic device, recommended by the rhetoricians.41 I give but one medieval Latin example, from Alan (SP, II, 473):
Furta doli metus ira furor fraus impetus error
  Tristities hujus hospita regna tenent.
The seventeenth-century German poets are fond of using the device, especially Gryphius. It still occurs in Brockes:
Blitz, Donner, Krachen, Prasseln, Knallen,
Erschüttern, stossweis abwerts fallen,
Gepresst, betäubt von Schlag zu Strahl,
Kam, ward, war alles auf einmal
Gesehn, gehört, gefühlt, geschehn.

(Flash, thunder, crashing, rustling, booming,
Shudd’ring, a sudden falling back,
Oppressed, benumbed from stroke to streak,
Came, was, then suddenly had been
Seen, heard, felt, done.)
I take this example from a dissertation on "The Accumulation of Words in Baroque." The author comments: "Such an exhaustion of all the possibilities of accumulation in a single sentence belongs only to Baroque."42 So people say, but I am on another track ...

39 Carl Weyman, Beiträge zur Geschichte der christlichlateinischen Poesie (1926), 126; ibid., 51 f., and 154, n. 1.
40 Statius, Thebais I, 431; VI, 116; X, 768.—Dracontius, De laudibus Dei I, 5 ff.; I, 13 ff.; etc.
41 Bede in Keil, Grammatici Latini, VII, 244.—Albericus Casinensis, Flores rhetorici, ed. Inguanez and Willard (1938), p. 44, § 4.
42 Hans Pliester, Die Worthäufung im Barock (Bonn, 1930), 3.
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