“austere composition”

DIONYSIUS OF HALICARNASSUS

ON LITERARY COMPOSITION, translation W. RHYS ROBERTS (Perseus)


AUSTERE COMPOSITION

The characteristic feature of the austere arrangement is this : — It requires that the words should be like columns firmly planted and placed in strong positions, so that each word should be seen on every side, and that the parts should be at appreciable distances from one another, being separated by perceptible intervals. It does not in the least shrink from using frequently harsh sound-clashings which jar on the ear ; like blocks of building stone that are laid together unworked, blocks that are not square and smooth, but preserve their natural roughness and irregularity.

It is prone for the most part to expansion by means of great spacious words. It objects to being confined to short syllables, except under occasional stress of necessity. In respect of the words, then, these are the aims which it strives to attain, and to these it adheres. In its clauses it pursues not only these objects but also impressive and stately rhythms, and tries to make its clauses not parallel in structure, or sound, nor slaves to a rigid sequence, but noble, brilliant, free. It wishes them to suggest nature rather than art, and to stir emotion rather than to reflect character. And as to periods, it does not, as a rule, even attempt to compose them in such a way that the sense of each is complete in itself : if it ever drifts into this accidentally, it seeks to emphasize its own un-studied and simple character, neither using any supplementary words which in no way aid the sense, merely in order that the period may be fully rounded off, nor being anxious that the periods should move smoothly or showily, nor nicely calculating them so as to be just sufficient (if you please) for the speaker’s breath, nor taking pains about any other such trifles. Further, the arrangement in question is marked by flexibility in its use of the cases, variety in the employment of figures, few connectives ; it lacks articles, it often disregards natural sequence ; it is anything rather than florid, it is aristocratic, plain-spoken, unvarnished ; an old-world mellowness constitutes its beauty.

*
(Dionysius goes on to say that exemplars of this style include Thucidydes and Pindar.)


%d bloggers like this: