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.
IntroductionBy John W. WelchChiasm in Sumero-AkkadianBy Robert F. SmithChiasm in UgariticBy John W. WelchChiasmus in Hebrew Biblical NarrativeBy Yehuda T. RaddayChiastic Patterns in Biblical Hebrew PoetryBy Wilfred G.E. WatsonStructure and Chiasm in Aramaic Contracts and LettersBy Bezalel PortenChiasmus in Talmudic-Aggadic NarrativeBy Jonah FraenkelChiasmus in the Book of MormonBy John W. WelchChiasmus in the New TestamentBy John W. WelchChiasmus in Ancient Greek and Latin LiteraturesBy John W. WelchBibliography
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: predictionB Argus: Melanthius and AntinousC Penelope invites OdysseusD The defeat of IrusE Penelope receiving the Suitors' giftsF Insult of EurymachusG Penelope receives Odysseus: bird omenH Decision to abide by the Test of the BowG' Telemachus, Eurycleia, Philoetius: geeseF' Insult of CtesippusE' Penelope proposes test of the bowD' Failure of the SuitorsC' Penelope allows Odysseus' claimB' Massacre: Antinous and MelanthiusA' 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.