Poetic Diction - Greece and Rome

Greece and Rome

In some languages, "poetic diction" is quite a literal dialect use. In Classical Greek literature, for example, certain linguistic dialects were seen as appropriate for certain types of poetry. Thus, tragedy and history would employ different Greek dialects. In Latin, poetic diction involved not only a vocabulary somewhat uncommon in everyday speech, but syntax and inflections rarely seen elsewhere. Thus, the diction employed by Horace and Ovid will differ from that used by Julius Caesar, both in terms of word choice and in terms of word form.

The first writer to discuss poetic diction in the Western tradition was Aristotle (384 BC—322 BC). In his Poetics, he stated that the perfect style for writing poetry was one that was clear without meanness. He went on to define meanness of style as the deliberate avoidance of unusual words. He also warned against over-reliance on strange words:

"The perfection of Diction is for it to be at once clear and not mean. The clearest indeed is that made up of the ordinary words for things, but it is mean... A certain admixture, accordingly, of unfamiliar terms is necessary. These, the strange word, the metaphor, the ornamental equivalent, etc., will save the language from seeming mean and prosaic, while the ordinary words in it will secure the requisite clearness. What helps most, however, to render the Diction at once clear and non-prosaic is the use of the lengthened, curtailed, and altered forms of words." 1

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