Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Andreas T. Zanker, Greek and Latin Expressions of Meaning: The Classical Origins of a Modern Metaphor. Zetemata, 151. München: Verlag C. H. Beck, 2016. Pp. 274. ISBN 9783406688454. €88.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Anna Novokhatko, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg (anna.novokhatko@altphil.uni-freiburg.de)

Version at BMCR home site

[A Table of Contents is included at the end of the review.]

This monograph considers the terms for "meaning", "signification", "to mean", and "to signify" in Greek and Latin texts, with the emphasis on the nature and the development of the vocabulary of meaning rather than on theoretical approaches to the concept of meaning. It covers an important gap in classical studies, given that only a small amount of work has been done in this area. 1

The book contains nine chapters. The first three (pp. 22-89) deal with the polysemy of expressions of meaning, which are classified in complex groups such as desiring and wanting (e.g. βούλεσθαι and velle), thinking (e.g. διανοεῖν and sentire), speaking (e.g. λέγειν and dicere), passive constructions (e.g. τὰ ὑποτεταγμένα and intellectus), equivalence (e.g. δύνασθαι and valere), and finally showing and sign-giving (e.g. σημαίνειν and significare). This classification reveals the broad spectrum of the semantic field of meaning. One might question, however, the category of passive constructions, since all of Zanker's other groups have a semantic basis whilst this one is built on a syntactic one, and the same lemmata treated elsewhere are considered here, but in their passive form. Thus the argument that the verbs for "signifying" occur in both the active and the passive voice is surely important, but the classification is not coherent and, at the very least, questionable when presented in this way.

Chapter four (pp. 90-103) turns to the second important argument developed in the work: that the polysemy of expressions of meaning originally issued from metaphorical and metonymical transference. Using various (ancient and modern) theories of metaphor Zanker argues that the terminology of meaning established itself in Greek and Latin (Latin being influenced by Greek) in three ways: through new coinages, borrowing from a foreign language, and metaphor and metonymy. Further, the usages of all semantic fields discussed above, with the exception of those of equivalence (εἶναι, δύνασθαι etc.), were transferred from animate to inanimate subjects.

Chapter five (pp. 104-122) goes back ad fontes and analyzes Archaic poetry. Zanker argues that the vocabulary of meaning is present neither in Homer nor in Hesiod, but the vocabulary of interpretation of signs and dreams is well developed. Thus the verb σημαίνειν is used in the sense of "making a sign", "commanding", "marking"; the verb ὑποκρίνεσθαι means "to interpret, to explain"; and emphatic affirmative expressions such as ἦ μάλα "surely" stand for "it means" (Il. 18, 6-15, Od. 19, 474-475 Eurycleia saying ἦ μάλ' Ὀδυσσεύς ἐσσι). Further the genitive absolute can stand in for A means B in such expressions as "A happening…B will happen" (Hes. Op. 383-384). Approaches to the concept of signifying are to be seen as well in epic allegorical interpretations: in order to make an allegorical interpretation it is necessary to separate the apparent meaning of the words from what the author really meant. Thus, according to Zanker, the historical period (specifically, the 7th – 5th c. BCE) provides a fitting context for the creation of the subsequently attested vocabulary of meaning, vocabulary being transferred in order to investigate a new set of questions. Writing and reading culture and the new technology of tablets find their reflection in the development of the Greek terminology of meaning (established by the beginnings of the 4th c. BCE), which facilitated a different type of interaction with language than had been possible before.

In chapter six (pp. 123-145) Zanker further develops his main argument on the transference from animate to inanimate subjects and regards the metaphor "text as person" in Greek and Latin texts from the earliest inscriptions through to late antiquity. He reveals that text is depicted as a human being from the Archaic period onwards, and books and poems were regularly treated in Greek and Roman culture as sentient entities. Here various kinds of texts are examined, examples being dedicatory epigrams on inscribed objects speaking for themselves "X set me up" (μ' ἀνέθεκε and med feced) both in the Greek and Italian Archaic periods, and Hellenistic and Roman epigrams. Further personifications of text are considered both in the metaphor "books as author's children" and in direct addresses to a written medium (such as Cat. Carm. 35, 2 velim Caecilio, papyre, dicas). This treatment of text as a human being led to the establishment of fixed terminology transferred from parts of human body standing in for parts of texts (e.g. κῶλα and membra, κεφαλή and caput) and registered in prose and technical writings.

If metaphor is a substitution (child for book), then the other cognitive phenomenon, metonymy, represents an association, and thus the next chapter (pp. 146-163) concerns the metonymy of author for text. Roman authors made great use of metonymy and it was common to refer to a piece of literature by the name of its author. Thus verbs of reading take both texts and authors as their direct objects, and the trope further enables an elision of the distinction between human beings and texts (such as legar in Horace and Ovid). Zanker argues that the metonymy was available in Greek from Plato onwards, and gives as an example Socrates noting that Phaedrus is carrying a speech by Lysias under his cloak (Pl. Phdr. 228d-e). At this point the objection that this metonymy is present in Greek thought during the course of 5th c. BCE seems appropriate, as there are a number of earlier parallels to this process in comedy. In mocking his contemporaries and explicitly naming them, is Aristophanes referring to their personalities or to their work? Whereas one might dispute whether Aeschylus and Euripides in the Frogs should be considered pre-metonymies for their plays, the tragic poet Theognis was charged of his 'frigid' style and thus called ψυχρός himself. (Ar. Th. 170, cf. Ach. 138-140, and on 'frigidity' of style Arist. Rhet. 1405b35-1406b14), and the dithyrambist Cinesias was mocked as a bird flying up to extract the preludes from the clouds for his poetry lacking substance (Ar. Av. 1375-1391). As far as the identification of texts with animate beings is concerned, the satyroi used for satyr drama in Greek (cf. Ar. Th. 157) constitutes a further example of metonymy from the 5th c. BCE.

Chapter eight (pp. 164-190) deals with (meta-)metaphor and with the spatial metaphorical vocabulary of metaphor (μεταφορά and translatio). According to Zanker, metaphor itself makes a significant contribution to the creation of the classical vocabulary for meaning. Thus for example spatial metaphor contributed to the creation of a vocabulary for a number of grammatical notions. Examples include circumitio "circumlocution", compound names (in other words two elements placed together in order to make a new whole, τὸ σύνθετον "placed together"), and ὁρίζειν and finire "to bound, to enclose" (which served as verbs for defining a word). The ancient metaphors for metaphor exemplified three functions of the trope mentioned by the ancient theorists: a) its ability to provide a name for a hitherto unnamed thing, b) the way in which it made vivid otherwise abstract concepts, c) its role in adorning prose and poetry. In this context Zanker cites ancient and modern theories of metaphor. Among the ancients, Aristotle, Cicero and Horace reveal a consciousness of the metaphorical quality of the vocabulary for metaphor. Among the moderns, basic works on metaphor such as I.A. Richards (1936), Paul Ricoeur (1977), Max Black (1954-55), George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980), Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner (2003) are referred to. Zanker draws the conclusion that there is hardly any break between ancient and modern terminologies for metaphor.

The last chapter (pp. 191-204) demonstrates the importance of ancient approaches to metaphor for an analysis of modern criticism. Τhe Intentional Fallacy theorists (W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley (1946) with their position that the mental life and intentions of the author are of minor interest take us back to ancient personifications of the text and to the ancient penchant for detaching an author's work from the author (Plato's Phaedrus and Protagoras deal with this issue par excellence). In the mid 20th c. text and author become fused again with the result that it is difficult to determine to what the terms "text" and "author" refer. Critics (for example Hans-Georg Gadamer's Wahrheit und Methode (1960) and Roland Barthes' Le plaisir du texte (1973)) frequently transferred verbs and expressions of intentionality from the author to his text.

Finally, it is worth noting that the book contains an important appendix with a useful analysis of the terminology of "signifying" in Herodotus (pp. 212-224).

Though there is much to praise in this work, two crucial methodological problems should be mentioned. First, a monograph dealing with the study of the development of vocabulary should not simply trust the LSJ and the OLD. The reader expects the philological analysis of real text parallels. Quotation from the LSJ lemma (or reference to some secondary literature) is disappointing. Thus in a very important argument, the discussion on the verbs of reading in Greek, Zanker lists (only) six verbs, neither explaining his choice nor clarifying which of these occur earlier or later, which are more or less common, which are used in which contexts or registers (p. 146-148). The only reference point provided is the LSJ. Information presented in this way (with additional oversights such as the missed ἀνανέμειν attested in the early 5th c. BCE in Epich. fr. 232 PCG, SEG 35, 1009 and GVI 1210, 2) is not particularly useful, unless the reader is sufficiently interested in the issue to complete the philological work from the beginning by himself. Other examples for both Greek and Latin might be mentioned (e.g. pp. 63-64, 69, 88).

A second methodological problem concerns the work's ambitious task of charting the development of the ancient vocabulary of meaning from Homer to late antiquity. Zanker even attempts an analysis of the vocabulary of metaphor in a number of modern languages. The author posits 'one' coherent ancient (or even diachronically 'European'!) way of thinking and of dealing with language from Archaic through Hellenistic, Roman and modern times. On both chronological and content levels this approach is problematic. To give only one example, important evidence from Plutarch on the phenomenon of metonymy (Plut. Mor. 379a) may perhaps more valuably be quoted alongside Quintilian's discussion of metonymy (Quint. 8, 6, 26) rather than Plato's Phaedrus, as in this case contemporaries such as Plutarch and Quintilian probably reflected and contributed to the same grammatical and rhetorical discourses (p. 150-152).

Notwithstanding these criticisms, Zanker achieves his aims: his work surveys the archaeology of the vocabulary of meaning in Greek and Latin terminology and in its influence on modern languages, and, secondly, explores that vocabulary's metaphorical and metonymical origins. The work makes a substantial and invaluable contribution to our understanding of the cognitive processes by which metaphor and metonymy supplied Greek and Roman scholarly language with new terminologies.

Table of Contents

1. The polysemy of expressions of meaning...22
2. Greek and Latin expressions of meaning (I)...44
3. Greek and Latin expressions of meaning (II)...71
4. Metaphor, polysemy, and meaning extension...90
5. Evidence from early Greek poetry...104
6.The metaphor of TEXT = PERSON...123
7.The metonymy of AUTHOR for TEXT...146
8. The classical metaphors for metaphor...164
9.Expressions of meaning and modern literary criticism...191
I. Expressions of inanimate signification in Herodotus...212
II. Further nouns of meaning...225
III. Ancient theories of meaning...229
Abbreviations and Bibliography...237


1.   See, on Greek theories of meaning, Giovanni Manetti's Theories of the sign in classical antiquity (1993) and Knowledge through signs: ancient semiotic theories and practices (1996), Max Hecht's Die griechische Bedeutungslehre: eine Aufgabe der klassischen Philologie (1888), and George Kennedy's chapter "Language and meaning in archaic and classical Greece" in The Cambridge history of literary criticism, vol. 1, (1989), and the volume edited by Marc Baratin and Claude Moussy Conceptions latines du sens et de la signification (1999) for Latin concepts of meaning. In addition, there are a few works on individual ancient authors' approaches to meaning. Zanker's bibliography contains all the relevant items.

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