Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chiasmus and Ring-Forms in Antiquity

My friend Charles Cameron just told me about an undated online book on chiasmus and and ring-composition: Chiasmus in Antiquity: Structures, Analyses, Exegesis (1998). From the Preface by David Noel Freedman:
The basic figure of chiasm simply involves the reversal of the order of words in balancing clauses or phrases. Since the cross-over effect is not required in any language, it is an optional and often deliberate practice which serves one or several different purposes. Questions are generally raised, at this level, not about the existence or identification of the device, but rather about its significance and force in the overall structure. Is it more than a trivial inversion, or does it have some arcane or aesthetic validity with palpable or subliminal meaning?

The more extended uses of chiasm raise further questions. As with much of literature, especially poetry, ambiguity and obscurity are inherent in the form and content: chiasm only adds to the uncertainty and mystery. Scholars now recognize chiasms beyond the simple type described above, chiasms which involve passages of verse or prose ranging in length from a few sentences to hundreds of thousands of words. This more complex form of chiasm is not merely grammatical but structural or intentional; it systematically serves to concentrate the reader's or hearer's interest on the central expression. The number of such chiastic constructions which satisfy both sets of criteria: inversion and balance on the one hand, and climactic centrality on the other, is substantially less than the simpler mechanical variety. But wherever they are present, these structures may add novel perspectives and unexpected dimension to the texts in which they appear.

There is yet a further extension of the term chiasm. Even more difficult and controversial issues arise when chiasm is defined in terms of thought and theme, rather than the more visible words and patterns. Inevitably a large subjective element enters into these discussions, and the presence or absence of chiasm on this level can become almost a voter's choice.
By John W. Welch

Chiasm in Sumero-Akkadian
By Robert F. Smith

Chiasm in Ugaritic
By John W. Welch

Chiasmus in Hebrew Biblical Narrative
By Yehuda T. Radday

Chiastic Patterns in Biblical Hebrew Poetry
By Wilfred G.E. Watson

Structure and Chiasm in Aramaic Contracts and Letters
By Bezalel Porten

Chiasmus in Talmudic-Aggadic Narrative
By Jonah Fraenkel

Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon
By John W. Welch

Chiasmus in the New Testament
By John W. Welch

Chiasmus in Ancient Greek and Latin Literatures
By John W. Welch

From Welch's chapter, a structural ring-form in Homer's Odyssey:
In Books XVII–XXIII, Myres suggests the following structure in the Vengeance of Odysseus:

A Penelope – Theoclymenus: prediction
   B Argus: Melanthius and Antinous
      C Penelope invites Odysseus
         D The defeat of Irus
             E Penelope receiving the Suitors' gifts
                 F Insult of Eurymachus
                    G Penelope receives Odysseus: bird omen
                        H Decision to abide by the Test of the Bow
                    G' Telemachus, Eurycleia, Philoetius: geese
                 F' Insult of Ctesippus
            E' Penelope proposes test of the bow
         D' Failure of the Suitors
      C' Penelope allows Odysseus' claim
    B' Massacre: Antinous and Melanthius
A' Penelope recognizes Odysseus: prediction fulfilled. 
Not only is the order of these events in the Vengeance of Odysseus, like other structures in the Odyssey, relatively clear, but one notices above that the centerpiece of this particular episode is not the massacre, as the modern mind would expect, nor Penelope's ultimate recognition of Odysseus, but rather Penelope's decision to abide by the Test of the Bow and the divine approvals which accompany that decision. Observing the chiastic character of this passage and the many other duplicative or parallel symmetries in the composition of the Odyssey is elementary to appreciating the literary achievements of this timeless epic.

No comments:

Post a Comment