The Impossibility of Metathesis:
Philodemus and Lucretius on Form and
Content in Poetry
All of us know well enough that the stars and the elements once had magical and divine qualities ascribed to them, and the sober sciences of "astronomy" and "chemistry" were difficult for any but the most determinedly scientific minds to separate from astrology and alchemy. That the mere elements of literacy, the letters of the alphabet themselves, were once equally involved with magic in the popular mind is not so familiar a thought. But, if we think of it, most of us have smiled at the derivation of the word "glamour" by which the medieval Scots expressed their awe at the magical science of grammata, and can remember, if we think of it, that "abracadabra" expresses the belief that the letters of the alphabet read in order cast a spell.
This belief is attested throughout the Greek, Roman, and medieval worlds. The occurrence of Greek alphabets inscribed on archaic shields from the sixth century B.C. onwards (just as the runic alphabet appears on the shields and swords of medieval warriors), and Latin alphabets inscribed round the walls of Pompeian houses, together with many similar phenomena, proves that the alphabet itself had from the beginning in popular belief a magical and apotropaic value.2 Every student of ancient____________________