The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

CHARLES CALDER


39. Enargeia in The Cherrie and the Slae

‘The speech of man is a magnificent and impressive thing when it surges along like a golden river, with thoughts and words pouring out in rich abundance.’ So writes Erasmus in the arresting opening of De Copia1 The twin preoccupations evident here – with the art of discourse in general and with the quality of copia in particular – find expression not only in this work but in others: letters, prefaces, handbooks. Copia has two aspects: richness of expression and richness of subjectmatter. The first is attained by the evolving of synonyms, metaphor, enallage (substitution of one part of speech for another), hyperbole, periphrasis and other methods of diversifying diction. The second involves the use of exempla, comparisons, similarities, opposites. This is a familiar theme in Erasmus, who exerts himself tirelessly to demonstrate the rhetorical applications of similia, exempla, and sententiae.

In his general reflections on copiousness in De Copia, Book I (1–10), Erasmus asserts that the orator who knows how to compress his speech will also be skilled in enriching it with ornament of every kind. Attaining such skill is in accord with the precepts of Nature; for Nature delights in variety, and the craftsman in words rightly follows her example. Book II describes the eleven methods of enriching material. Method 1 is the unwrapping of the constituent parts of a statement. Method 2 records in detail the events which preceded an action. Method 3 enumerates the causes underlying the bare fact. Of course there is overlapping between the Books; the seventh method of enriching material is in fact the same as Erasmus’ third method of diversifying expression (antonomasia).

Our concern is with enargeia or evidentia, the fifth method of achieving abundance of subject-matter. Erasmus writes that we employ this when, instead of setting out our subject in bare simplicity, we

fill in the colours and set it up like a picture to look at, so that we seem to have
painted the scene rather than described it, and the reader seems to have seen
rather than read. We shall be able to do this satisfactorily if we first mentally
review the whole nature of the subject and everything connected with it, its
very appearance in fact. Then we should give it substance with appropriate
words and figures of speech, to make it as vivid and clear to the reader as
possible.2

1 Translated by Betty I. Knott as volume 24 of The Collected Works of Erasmus (Toronto: 1978). The quotation appears on p. 296.

2 Ibid., p. 579.

-445-

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