Sunday, June 11, 2017


Against Drunkenness

Heinrich Lausberg, Handbook of Literary Rhetoric, Eng. tr. (Leiden: Brill, 1998), §§ 882-886 (pp. 393-394), discusses the rhetorical device known as praeteritio, defined as "the announcement of the intention to leave certain things out." The intention is ironic, because by alluding to and enumerating the things to be passed over, the speaker actually draws attention to them. I just noticed a good example of praeteritio in Petrarch (1304-1374), Rerum Familiarum Libri 3.9.1-3 (tr. Aldo S. Bernardo):
[1] I shall not mention what can be said at great length against drunkenness; how detestable, how dangerous, how sad an illness it is, and how much madness there is in skillfully drowning and killing off in a foaming glass one's reasoning powers with which nature has endowed man uniquely and specially. Through drink, one has no control over his feet, tongue, and mind; his head trembles as do his hands, his eyes tear, his body smells and the lingering traces of the previous day are offensive on the following day. [2] I will not mention the way in which the passions rule, the loss of control, the stories and laughter of the people, the hatred and contempt of good friends. I also pass over the sudden alteration in mood and the ignorance of even learned men and the childishness of the man of any age, a childishness exposed to the joking and deceit and mockery of everyone. [3] Nor shall I mention cracks in the mind crushed and weak because of a heavy burden, letting out secrets often harmful to one’s self or to others and the cause of actual death to many and of utmost misery. Furthermore there are the lamentations and the inane joy and struggles and quarrels and rifts and the heedless encounter of armed men with unarmed ones. All these things I pass over since they are known and common.

[1] Taceo que adversus ebrietatem copiosissime dici possunt; quam feda, quam periculosa, quam tristis egritudo est, quantusque furor scienter obruere atque enecare spumanti dolio rationem, quod singulare ac precipuum habet hominis natura; neque pedes, neque linguam, neque animum in potestate habere; tremulum caput, instabiles manus, stillantes oculos, gravem corporis odorem et pridiani meri reliquias crastino insultantes. [2] Taceo libidinis regnum, virtutis exilium, vulgi fabulam ac risum, bonorum odium atque contemptum; mutationem repentinam sileo et quamlibet doctorum inscitiam ac cuiuslibet etatis infantiam, omnium iocis ac fraudibus omniumque ludibrio expositam. [3] Rimulas quoque mentis oppresse ac futilis et gravi pondere fatiscentis, unde secreta effluunt sepe cum propria, sepe cum aliena pernicie, que multis mortis et extreme miserie causa fuit; luctum preterea et inane gaudium et contentiones et iurgia et precipitium et incautos congressus inermium cum armatis: hec ut nota, inquam, et vulgata pretereo.
Note the connection between the name of the rhetorical device (praeteritio = passing over) and the last word in the passage just quoted (pretereo = I pass over). I no longer have access to Lausberg's book, and I don't know if he cited this passage from Petrarch as an example. [Update: Ian Jackson sent me the relevant pages, in which Petrarch isn't cited.]

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