Thursday, July 30, 2015


Pedimental Composition

John L. Myres (1869-1954), Herodotus: The Father of History (1953; rpt. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1971), pp. 81-82:
In a Latin 'period' the subject stands first, conditions, accessions, even subordinate agents, are enunciated next, in order; the principal verb comes at the end, immediately preceded by the object and its attributes and qualifications. In unconstrained Greek, as in English, normal syntax places the verb between subject and object, but a more significant word may be substituted in the central position. In the motto of the Academy
μηδεὶς ἀγεωμέτρητος εἰσίτω
the significant word could be central without disturbance of normal syntax. In the English line
All hope abandon, ye who enter here
normal order is inverted to centralize the significant word abandon. But complete the iambic line
μηδεὶς ἀγεωμέτρητος εἰσίτω, Κλέον
and it becomes part of a larger composition—a comedian's snub to a rabble-rouser. presuming either a previous question, or a retort such as
ὁ Νικίας δ' ἄπειρὀς ἐστι μουσικῆς
which is the same 'pedimental' form, and balances it in the whole couplet around the significant words Κλέον and Νικίας.

Herodotus was not the inventor of this mode of composition. It is in the genius of the Greek language and of Greek art. In Greek verse the hexameter and the iambic line are balanced about their caesura; in the geometric art of the Early Iron Age, centre-piece and pendant side-panels are fundamental. The structure of the Iliad and Odyssey has similar culminations and counterparts.1 The same design is characteristic of the dithyramb, and fundamental in another archaic survival, the stichomythia of tragedy; not only in Aeschylus2 with whom it is invariable, but, with growing laxity, in Sophocles and Euripides. Aeschylus also employs this structure in his choral odes. It reappears, after Herodotus, throughout the formal prologue of Thucydides.3 In the graphic arts, rhythm and balance dominate vase-painting; their simplest expression, 'heraldic symmetry', goes back indeed into Minoan and into Oriental design; it is frequent on the 'Chest of Cypselus' at Olympia,4 on the engraved bowls known as 'Phoenician',5 and in the Hesiodic 'Shield of Heracles'.6 Its best-known expression is, of course, in the pedimental sculpture of Greek temples; at Aegina it is employed in commemorative designs of Greeks and Barbarians in combat about the central figure of Athena; this was evidently a war-memorial, like the Preface of Herodotus.

1 Myres, J.H.S. lxii (1942), 204 (Iliad); J.H.S. lxxii (Odyssey); lxxiii (Iliad),
2 Myres, Proc. Brit. Acad. xxxv (1949)
3 i.1-23. E. Täubler, Die Archäologia des Thukydides.
4 Myres, J.H.S. lxvi (1946), 122.
5 Myres, J.H.S. liii (1933), 25.
6 Myres, J.H.S. lxi (1941), 33.

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