Aristotle on Metaphor

by John T. Kirby
Aristotle on Metaphor
John T. Kirby
The American Journal of Philology
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Much Madness is divinest Sense- To a discerning Eye- -Emily Dickinson

OURSIS AN AGE of metaphor. Wayne Booth, in his inimitable fashion, remarks,

There were no conferences on metaphor, ever, in any culture, until our own century was already middle-aged. As late as 1927, John Middleton Murry, complaining about the superficiality of most discussions of meta- phor, could say, "There are not many of them." . . . Explicit discussions of something called metaphor have multiplied astronomically in the past fifty years.. . . students of metaphor have positively pullulated.1

In the postmodern era philosophers of language, particularly those out- side the analytic tradition, tend to think more and more in terms of all language as being metaphorical. This trend, however, is not a new one; it seems to have its roots back as far as Heraclitus, and, in the modern world, was certainly espoused by Giambattista Vico in his Nuova Scienza (1725). What we may call the Viconian tradition was embraced on the continent by Nietzsche, and, in the Anglo-American world, by Ivor Richards.2 Nietzsche's thought had far-reaching consequences in terms of its influence on the work of Paul de Man and Jacques Derrida, who in the late 1960s and the 1970s found themselves in the center of a vortex of controversy over the notion of "deconstruction," and its inter- rogation not only of Western metaphysics but also of human language and thought generally. Now, it seemed, such simple formulae as "This X is Y" called into question the whole process of naming and predication. But even among those for whom this is an unconvincing position, the problem of metaphor continues to be a fascinating one. How to define

'Booth 1978a, 49 (a footnote in the text has been omitted).
2See Vico [I7251 1968, Nietzsche [I8731 1989, Rlchards 1936.

American Journal 01 Phllolog\ 118 (1997) 517 554 G 1997 hv The Johns Hopkln, TJntv~raltvPress


it? What are its uses? What is its relation to literal, or nonfigured, lan- guage? And what its relation to human ~ognition?~

Booth goes on to say, "there have been many more discussions of what people from the Greek philosophers on called metaphor than any bibliography could show."4 That being so, a sustained study of Aris- totle's concept of metaphor needs no further justification, since it is to him that we owe the terms in which the debate was framed for many hundreds of years. Indeed, here as often, even those who wish to pro- pose new or different parameters for the analysis of metaphor must do so against the grain of the Aristotelian tradition.5 This, if nothing else, is a measure of the tremendous influence Aristotle has had on the history of Western rhetoric and poetics.

As on many other topics, it is now fashionable to condescend to Aristotle for the limitations of his study of metaphor, or-more aggressively still-to find fault with its parameters. Certainly he did not pre- empt any further discussion on the issue; nor, I imagine, would he have wanted to. But I surmise that there is more to be learned from an ap- preciative study of his methods here than one might initially suppose. In this study, then, after a few remarks on recent studies of metaphor, I propose to examine the state of the question before Aristotle, and then

3The bibliography on metaphor is staggering, but with pluck and perseverance one can enter what Kenneth Burke would call the "scholarly conversation" on the topic. For treatment of the Aristotelian theory in particular, see Stanford 1936, McCall 1969, Derrida [1971a] 1982, [1971b] 1982, Ricoeur [I9751 1977, Tamba-Mecz and Veyne 1979, Swiggers 1985, Lloyd 1987, and Laks 1994. For a perceptive and innovative analysis of some ancient uses of metaphor see duBois 1988. Important reading for an understanding of twenti- eth-century scholarly thinking about metaphor in general are Nietzsche [I8731 1989, Bar- field 1928, Richards 1936, Foss 1949, Black 1955, Jakobson 1956 (with Lodge 1977), Lacan [I9571 1977, Brooke-Rose 1958, Knights and Cottle 1960, Turbayne 1962, Wheelwright 1962, Greimas [I9661 1983, Hester 1967, Goodman 1968, Dubois et al. [I9701 1981, Genette [I9701 1982, Greimas [1970-831 1987, Shibles 1971b and 1972, Mooij 1976, Levin 1977, Booth 1978a and 1978b, de Man 1978, Harries 1978a and 1978b, Ricoeur 1978, Ortony 1979 and 1993, Ruegg 1979, Sacks 1979, Lakoff and Johnson 1980, Johnson 1981, Miall 1982, Eco 1983, Haverkamp 1983, Gumpel 1984, Martinich 1984, Mac Cormac 1985, Pa- prottC 1985, Cooper 1986; Eco, Niklas, and Edeline [I9861 1994; Skulsky 1986, Kittay 1987, Lakoff 1987, Turner 1987, Haley 1988, Lakoff and Turner 1989, Quinn 1991, Lakoff 1993, Gibbs 1994-to list only a very few. One might begin to look for further bibliography in Shibles 1971a, Haverkamp 1983, and van Noppen 1985, and by keeping an eye on the jour- nal Metaphor and Symbolic Activity.

4Booth 1978a, 50 (emphasis in text).

SMost explicitly, but as only one among others, see Gumpel 1984.

to look at what he has to say about metaphor in the Poetics and Rhetoric.

In their attempts to cope with the notion of language generally, and specifically with the questions of literal versus figurative language, scholars over the last hundred years or so have themselves appropriated a number of metaphors purporting to describe the phenomenon. These include (above all) models based on comparison and interaction. The comparison model, it is typically said, conforms more to the classical approach to metaphor, whereas those based on interaction stem pri- marily from the work of Richards and Black.6 Indeed it is from this no- tion of interaction that the terms "tenor" and "vehicle" were born, the former referring to the underlying idea that is illustrated or illuminated by the latter, which is "applied" to it; and Richards is right both to point out [I]that the word "metaphor" is sometimes used to signify what he means by "vehicle," and sometimes to mean the symbiosis resulting from the conjunction of tenor and vehicle, and [2] that "metaphor," in the sense of this symbiosis, is impossible without just such an interaction of tenor and vehicle.'

Other approaches have been taken, such as that of speech-act the- ory, which posits an "incongruence between the meaning of a sentence and of a speaker's utteranceM;8 the imagination model, which highlights the complementary roles of the cognitive, imaginative, and emotional components of metaphor;g and the emotive model, which (unlike the imagination model) "denies metaphor any cognitive import," asserting instead that while the cognitive function of language controls the state- ment of facts, the emotive function expresses feelings and attitudes.10 An ambitious linguisticlrhetorica1 approach was undertaken by the Groupe p of Likge in their Rhttorique gCntrale. This work attempts, in the French style, to isolate a (nonfigurative) "degree zero" of discourse, from which all manifestations of "figurative" language-including such

6Richards 1936, Black 1955. See also Perelman [I9581 1969 (esp. 399 n. 177). Black speaks of the comparison model as a subset of the substitution model, in which what Rich- ards calls the vehicle is substituted for the tenor.

'So too for Aristotle, metaphora could mean both "a [particular] metaphor" and "metaphor" in general; see Stanford 1936,6-14. ~Eco, Niklas, and Edeline [I9861 1994, 544. For more on speech-act theory and

metaphor see Searle 1979 and 1980, and Mac Cormac 1985, ch. 6.

9Ricoeur [I9751 1977.

"Eco, Niklas, and Edeline [I9861 1994, 547.


seemingly innocent phenomena as repetitions or unexpected suppres- sions-are viewed as deviations, among which metaphor would of course be counted.11 One of the most important and influential recent treatments of metaphor is the vast survey by Paul Ricoeur, which (among other things) explores the notion of "metaphorical truth" and the possibility that metaphoric language need not be tied strictly to ref- erential meaning12

Some very stimulating and useful models-perhaps the most promising of those mentioned so far here-are based on various aspects of cognitive theory, such as that of Earl Mac Cormac and (especially) of George Lakoff and his collaborators. Mac Cormac's model incorporates the notion of words as defined by fuzzy sets,l3 and envisions metaphor "(1) as a cognitive process by which new concepts are expressed and suggested, and (2) as a cultural process by which language itself changes."14 The model proposed by the Lakoff school conceives of metaphor as a process of "mapping" from a source domain to some tar- get domain.15 While Lakoff is quite emphatic about distinguishing his cognitive model from what he calls the "classical theory," I think it is possible not only to show some important adumbrations of his model in Aristotle, but also to reconcile the two to a significant extent-of which, more anon.

With all these (and myriad other) studies of metaphor, it is a great irony that Umberto Eco can say, "of the thousands and thousands of pages written about the metaphor, few add anything of substance to the first two or three fundamental concepts stated by Aristotle."l6 If that is so-and I am inclined to say that it is-perhaps the journey to the fons

"Dubois et al. [I9701 1981. Indeed the y stands for "metaphor," as we are told in a "liminary note" (p. xix of the English version): "Roman Jakobson was one of the first to draw attention to the operative value of concepts already discussed in Aristotle. In hom- age to these two witnesses, it is quite natural that we have chosen as our symbol the first letter of the Greek word designating the most prestigious of metaboles."

12Ricoeur [I9751 1977.

""Fuzzy logic" is the topic of much current research and debate; for a cursory in- troduction see Zadeh 1965 and 1975, Kosko 1991 and 1993, McNeill and Freiberger 1993. 14Mac Cormac 1985 (this citation is from pp. 5-6). 15Lakoff and Johnson 1980, Lakoff 1987, Turner 1987, Lakoff and Turner 1989.

Lakoff 1993 offers what is essentially a state-of-the-art overview of the cognitive ap- proach to metaphor. 16Eco [I9831 1984, 88.

et origo is worth the effort after all. Let us begin, then, by reaching back further still: before the beginning, as it were.


There is a huge body of Greek literature before Aristotle, of course, and space does not permit an exhaustive analysis of it here. For their particular significance, however-and what that is, in each case, will become clear-I have singled out three authors from that earlier period for individual consideration: Homer, Isocrates, and Plato.


Greek metaphor is as old as Greek literature-which is to say, as old as Homer. The astute reader will instantly say, "Ah, but Homer is most famous for his similes." Just so: but as Aristotle classified the sim- ile as a species of the genus metaphor,l7 he himself would have consid- ered the Homeric similes to be metaphors.18 In fact there is no doubt that, by this definition, the similes in the Iliad and Odyssey constitute the best-known group of metaphors in Greek literature up to Aris- totle's time. These range from a few words to several lines in length; of the latter G. S. Kirk says, "The expanded simile, in which the details of the image are developed far beyond the point of comparison, and for their own sake, is one of the chief glories of the Iliad. The simile is a de- liberate and highly wrought stylistic device, as careful in its language- which is often untraditional in appearance, because the subject matter is often untraditional too-as in its variety and its placing in the nar- rative." l9

Sometimes in Homer we find what we would call metaphor side

"Rhetoric 3.4.1, 1406b20. (My "Bekker" citations of the Poetics and Rhetoric in this essay are keyed to the lineation of the superb editions by Rudolf Kassel-Kassel 1965 and 1976.)

l80n the Homeric simile see esp. Frankel 1921, Shipp 1953, Lee 1964, Hogan 1966, Scott 1974, Moulton 1977, Nimis 1987, Janko 1992 passim. The summary in Edwards 1991, 24-41, is dense with information. On the Homeric metaphor (as distinguished from the simile) see Keith 1914, Parry 1933, and Stanford 1936, ch. 7.

'9Kirk 1962, 346.


by side with simile. In this example the metaphor is characteristically brief, while the simile (describing the same phenomenon) is elaborated at leisure:

These [the Aiantes] were armed, and about them went a cloud of

foot-soldiers. As from his watching place a goatherd watches a cloud move on its way over the sea before the drive of the west wind; far away though he be he watches it, blacker than pitch is, moving across the sea and piling the storm before it, and as he sees it he shivers and drives his flocks to a cavern; so about the two Aiantes moved the battalions, close-compacted of strong and god-supported young fighters, black, and jagged with spear and shield, to the terror of battle.2"

(11. 4.274-82)

Here the metaphor, "a cloud of foot-soldiers," occupies one line, while the elaborating simile takes up the following eight. This disparity of length between metaphor and simile is what Aristotle has in mind at Rhetoric 3.10.3, 1410b18. In other places, such as Iliad 2.455-83, Homer proliferates his similes with prodigal richness, in order to signal the sig- nificance of the event that is about to occur.21 Moreover, in direct dis- course the simile may be an important key to characterization: it is Achilles who utters the greatest number of similes in the Iliad.22 An- cient as well as modern scholars have pronounced on the function of the simile in Homer:

The scholia consider the similes contribute auxCsis (fullness), enargeia (vividness), saphzneia (clarity), poikilia (variety) and kosmos (decoration). . . . M. Coffey, AJP 78 (1957) 118, has categorized their functions as illustrating the movement of an individual, a group, or a thing; the ap- pearance of a hero, group, or thing; noise; measurement of time, space, and numbers; a situation; and psychological characteristics, including

201 have cited the translation of Lattimore 1951. Richardson (1993, 100) cites Il.

14.16-20 as another example of the neat juxtaposition of a simile and a metaphor. 21So too Richardson 1993, 123. 22Moulton 1977, 100, cited also in Janko 1992,316; Richardson 1993,133. Janko here

points specifically to Aristotle: "Homer gives him [Achilles] the acute perceptions of a bard-imagery is the proof of poetic genius (Aristotle, Poet. [22,] 1459a7)." For Achilles as a maker of similes see also Martin 1989, 193, 204-5.

decision-making. W. A. Camps, An Introd~~ction

to Homer (Oxford 1980) 56, sums up the uses: to suggest inward feelings and states of mind; to il- lustrate the distinctive qualities of things, actions, or processes; and to render effects of multitude and mass. More specifically, M. Mueller, The Iliad (London 1984) 108-24, notes that a simile marks a passage as worthy of special attention, slowing down the narrative as expansions and digres- sions do. . . .it adds colour and a new dimension to whatever is the focus of attention. Besides this, because of its characteristically everyday con- tent the Homeric simile for a moment unites narrator and audience in their world, not that of the heroes, as together they marvel at the mighty deeds of the past.23


So much for Homer. Subsequent writers, both of poetry and of prose, make equally abundant use of metaphor and simile: one could produce innumerable examples from Pindar, the Presocratics, Attic tragedy and comedy, and the historians and orators.24 But the simple use of metaphor, of course, is different from the naming-or the schol- arly consideration-of it. Aristotle did not invent the word metaphora, though (as a noun) there is no extant use of it earlier than Isocrates, who (writing ca. 374 B.c.E.) himself frames the discourse in terms of the proselverse distinction. For him, there is an everyday Greek that is used in ordinary discursive situations, and that is typically barren of orna- ment; and, in distinction to this, a more ornamental diction that is avail- able to poets. (A semiotician would say that ordinary Athenian dis- course was semiotically unmarked, while verse was marked, not only by the use of meter, but by the use of this ornamental diction). Prominent among such kosmoi, in Isocrates' view, was something he called metaphora:

To the poets are granted numerous ornaments (kosmoi) [of language], for. . . they can express themselves (ddldsai) not only in ordinary lan- guage (tois tetagmenois onomasin), but also by the use of foreign words (xenois),neologisms (kainois),and metaphors (metaphorais). . . but to writers of prose (tois de peri tous logous) none of such [resources] are per- mitted; they must strictly (apotombs) use both words (onomatdn) and

23Edwards 1991, 38.
24Fora book-length treatment of metaphor in Pindar see Steiner 1986.

ideas (enthum2matbn)[of a certain category:] [I] of words, only those that are in the [ordinary] language of the polis (tbn onomatbn tois politikois);

[2] of ideas, only those that are closely relevant to the matter at hand (ton enthum2matbn tois peri autas tas pra~eis).~' (Euag. 8-10)

This passage raises a number of issues that are worth considering. First of all, its list of word categories shows some similarity to (and some dif- ferences from) the lists in Aristotle's Rhetoric and Poetics-as well as that in the Rhetorica ad Alexandrum (23.1, 1434b33-34), which has sim- ple (haplous), compound (sunthetos), metaphorical (metapherdn). In the Poetics (21, 1457bl-3)-evidently the earlier of the two Aristotelian lists-we find (in addition to the simple/double/triple/compounddistinction, i.e., haploun/diploun/triploun/pollaploun) a list of eight:

[I] the ordinary word (kurion)

[2] the "strange" or "foreign" word (gldtta)

[3] metaphor (metaphora)

[4] the ornamental word (kosmos)

[5] the made-up word or neologism (pepoi2menon)

[6] the lengthened word (epektetamenon)

[7] the shortened form: (huphCir2menon)

[8] the altered form (ex2llagmenon).

In the Rhetoric (3.2.5-6, 1404b28-32), which (so to speak) footnotes this passage from the Poetics, Aristotle refers especially to gl6ttai) dipla, pepoicmena, kuria, and metaphors.

Significantly, he also singles out these last two as the most suitable to prose:26 "The ordinary and native [term] (kurion kai oikeion) and metaphor are alone useful in the style (lexis) of prose; for everyone con- verses (pantes dialegontai) using metaphors and native and ordinary

2sThe translation of this important passage (as elsewhere in this essay, unless oth- erwise specified) is my own. I would apologize for its complexity, were Isocrates' own prose not equally convoluted. (N.B.: tois de peri tous logous may mean, not prose writers in general, but specifically orators andlor logographers.)

26His term is "bare words," psiloi logoi. Psilos is the word one would use, e.g., to describe a tree branch stripped of its bark, or deforested land; applied to language, it im- plies that stylistic ornament is something added to a plain substrate of discourse-an idea central to the project of Dubois et al. [I9701 1981. In the Poetics (6, 1449b28-31) Aristotle speaks of htdusmenos logos, language "sweetened" by the addition of metrical regularity and (sometimes) melody-again, two notable forms of semiotic marking.

terms" (Rhet. 3.2.6, 1404b34-36).27 In this regard he is so diametrically opposed to the Isocratean doctrine that it is difficult not to believe that he is specifically and consciously addressing it.28 Some of his other items-namely kuria, gldttai, and pepoiemena-also correspond to items in the Isocratean list (politika, xena, and kaina respectively).29

Why did Isocrates want to ban metaphor from nonpoetic dis- course? The question becomes the more intriguing when we observe that his own language here contains words that are, in our terms at least, demonstrably metaphoric: not only the term metaphora but also the adverb apotomds, which I have translated "strictly" but which most exactly means "in a cut-off fashion" (from apotemnein, "to cut off"). It is possible that these were "dead metaphors" by the time Isocrates was writing, but even if that is the case, one need not look far in his own prose to find clear examples of what we would call metaphor:

On account of those who lightly advocate war, we have already fallen into (periepesomen [the word may also mean "be dashed against"]) many great misfortunes. (On the Peace 12)

Many treatments of all sorts have been found by the physicians for the diseases of the body, but for minds that are ignorant and full of wicked desires there is no other medication (pharmakon)than discourse (logos) that dares to strike out at (epipl~ttein)their transgressions . ..

(On the Peace 39)

27Translations from the Rhetoric are taken, or adapted, from Kennedy 1991; trans- lations from the Poetics, from Janko 1987.

2XSimilarly O'Sullivan (1992, 51), who however also points out that Aristotle praises Isocrates' prose style with the word hedeia, "sweet" (Rhet. 3.9.8, 1410a19-20). Is this partly motivated by Isocrates' use of metaphor, despite his own strictures against it? After all, Aristotle says sweetness (to hedu) is one of the great virtues of metaphor (Rhet. 3.2.8, 1405a8-9).

291 take oikeion to be synonymous with, if not exactly identical to, kurion. If there is a distinction between them, it may be that the oikeion is the one "native" to a region or dialect (from oikos, "home"), while the kurion is the one in commonest use (from kuros, "authority"). Typically these ought to be congruent sets, although sometimes the kurion is not (or was not originally) the oikeion: for example, "cheese-and-tomato pie" is a desig- nation made up entirely of oikeia, but the kurion onoma (even in English) is now surely "pizza"; I imagine that, in ordinary conversation, English-speakers do not think of the latter as a gldtta.

30Kennedy (1991,222 n. 25) points out that metaphora is itself a metaphor (the idea of carrying).

[Our forebears thought that] those who make copious laws do so as barri- ers [or bulwarks, emphragmata] against [rampant] crimes. (Areopagiticus 40)

Thus I am led to believe rather that metaphora (like enthumCma)meant something different to Aristotle than to Isocrates. Even setting aside the famous dictum ascribed to Aristotle by Diogenes Laertius, "It is shameful to be silent and let Isocrates speak,"31 there is the possibility that Aristotle was for a time the pupil of Isocrates.32 In any case Isocrates' school was at that time the principal rival of Plato's Academy in Athens,33 so it would have been easy for Aristotle to hear of his teachings on language, and to read whichever of his works had been published. Is it possible that by metaphor Isocrates meant elaborate for- mal analogies in the style of the Homeric simile, and only that? We shall perhaps never know the sure answer, but if that were so, it would ex- plain why he restricts metaphora to verse while at the same time using, in his own prose, what modern thinkers would call metaphor.34 These differ only in degree, and not in kind, from the (sometimes arresting) metaphors one finds in the lyric and dramatic poets of the great age of Athens, such as Pindar Pythian 10.47-48, where Perseus, carrying the head of Medusa, is said to be "bringing stony death" to the people of Seriphos; Aeschylus Agamemnon 36-37, "A great ox stands upon my tongue" (i.e., I will say nothing); Sophocles Oedipus the King 153, "I am stretched out [on the torture-rack]" (i.e., in mental/emotional distress).

It may also be worthwhile to call attention to Isocrates' mention of enthumemata here, because of the massive semantic shift this word underwent at the hands of Aristotle. I have translated enthumZmata not as "enthymemes" but as "ideas," that is, something the rhetor has in mind (en thumbi). Isocrates uses the word also in an important passage in the Panathenaicus that may shed light on its meaning:

31"Aiskhron siopan, Xenokratzn d'ean legein." Lives of the Philosophers 5.3; cited also by Philodemus On Rhetoric (I1 50 Sudhaus). Virtually all editors emend Xenokratzn to Isokratzn; the latter was the version known to Quintilian (3.1.14).

32A theory advanced by Chroust 1973,97. Isocrates, in turn, thought of himself as a follower of Socrates; see testimonia in Kennedy 1963,179-80 and n. 85.

33See, e.g., Dion. Hal. Isoc. 1.

34For more on what Aristotle would call the simile see below, and Tamba-Mecz and Vey 1979.

Leaving aside all these [other types of discourse], I focused instead on those [kinds] that gave advice about what would benefit both the Atheni- ans and the other Greeks, and those that were full of many enthumemata, and with not a few instances of antithesis and parisdsis, and of the other devices that shine in orations and induce the audience to marvel and approve. (5 2)

George Kennedy, referring to this locus, opines that "in Isocrates it [enthum?mata]appears to refer to elaborately developed sentences (Panathenaicus 2)."35 In this passage, however, enthumemata occurs in con- junction with antithesis and parisosis, both specific and even technical terms denoting devices of style; so for Isocrates the enthumema may have been a certain identifiable pattern of structure or syntax. Isocrates is said to have studied with the sophist Gorgias in his youth,36 and both antithesis and parisosis are closely identified with the Gorgianic style; might then enthumema as Isocrates uses it here also refer to some as- pect of Gorgias' hallmark style, or of his rhetorical teaching?

For Aristotle, by contrast, the enthum2ma is not a stylistic or (merely) syntactic phenomenon, but rather an inventional vehicle, the very mechanism by which ratiocination is articulated rhetorically. In- deed it was one of the greatest achievements of Aristotle to discover the syllogism, and to identify its valid forms; he was proud of this discovery, as he shows at the end of the Sophistical Refutations, and understand- ably so. He defined the enthumema as the use of syllogistic demonstra- tion in a rhetorical context,37 and identified the material used for its premises as semeia, signs, and eikota, probabilities38 This shift from the

35Kennedy 1963,99.

36Cic. Or. 176; see further testimonia in Too 1995, 235-39.

37Rhet. 1.1.11, 1355a3-14; 1.2.8-9, 1356a34-b17; Top. 8.14, 164a6. We must constantly remind ourselves of how little we really know about ancient semantics. For Sopho- cles (born perhaps sixty years before Isocrates, and a decade or more before Gorgias) it seems that enthumf?ma already meant "argument" or "reason" (OC 292, 1199, cited in Kennedy 1963, 99); thus it is possible that even before Aristotle [I] identified the valid forms of the syllogism and [2] identified the enthymeme as a species of syllogism, enthumfma may have been a technical term used in certain quarters to refer to a recogniz- able syntacticlstylistic structure composed of a main-clause assertion backed up by an ex- planatory gar clause. Kamerbeek (1984,61-62,169) says that these Sophoclean loci are the first occurrences of the word in Greek and compares enthumion, "scruple" (Hdt. 8.54), with Soph. OT 739 and Eur. Herac. 722.

3RRhet. 1.2.14-18, 1357a32-b25; cf. Pr. Anal. 2.27, 70a3-b38.


Isocratean conception of enthumema may well be all of a piece with Aristotle's similarly momentous transmogrification of Isocrates' notion of metaphora, from the realm of the sheerly ornamental and superficial to that of the substantive-that of the semiotic. as we shall see.


Whether or not Aristotle ever studied with Isocrates, no such un- certainty attends his long apprenticeship to Plato.39 Much of Aristotle's work on rhetoric and poetics responds to, and subverts, the work of Plato on those subjects; one would like to know what Plato would make of the term "metaphor." He does use the verbal form metapherein, in the sense of "transfer"; at Critias 113a he speaks of transferring words (onomata), in the sense of "translation" from one language to another, and at Timaeus 26c, of transferring ideas from fiction to reality (met- enegkontes epi talethes). As W. B. Stanford points out,40 the closest Plato comes to an actual discussion of verbal metaphor is in Theaetetus, where he says (of the Heracliteans): "If you should ask one of them something, they draw out (anaspontes) some riddling little words (rhematiska ainig- matdde) as if from a quiver, and shoot them off, and if you should seek to make sense of what has been said, you will be stricken anew by some other verbal distortion (heter6i. . . metonomasmen6i)."41 He is quite right about Heraclitus and his ilk, of course, but what fairly jumps off the page at us is the metaphor depicting language as bows and arrows. I take it that this passage is a reference to Aristophanes' Clouds 942-44: "And then, out of the things he says, I shall shoot at (katatoxeuso) him with new [little] words (rhematioisin) and thoughtsx-but there it is the Hefton Logos (the personified Weaker Argument, or False Logic) that

39Guthrie (1981,22) points out that this spanned a period of twenty years. Speaking of apprenticeships, it should be remembered that Plato, the faithful student of Socrates, has Socrates give lavish praise to the work of Isocrates at the end of Phaedrus, in what ap- pear to me to be exceedingly sardonic terms. The implication here (it seems) is that whereas Plato purported to carry out the quest for the philosophical rhetoric desiderated by Socrates in this dialogue, Isocrates did not fulfill the great potential he exhibited in his youth. (See similarly Kennedy 1963, 79.)

4OStanford 1936,4.

41Theaet. 180a. Some philological notes: the verb "shoot" (apotoxeusousi) specifi- cally means "shoot from a bow" (toxon). The suffix of rh2matiska is diminutive and has here a pejorative sense.

is speaking, the representative of the new sophistic education. But it could be that Plato is slyly taking aim here, with an Aristophanic arrow, at Heraclitus himself, who famously said, "They do not grasp how being at variance it agrees with itself [lit. how being brought apart it is brought together with itself]: there is a back-stretched connexion, as in the bow and the lyre."42

In our quest for the use of metaphor in Plato's prose, however, we have even less distance to go than in the case of Isocrates. The truth of Aristotle's remark about the ubiquitous use of metaphor in conversa- tion is abundantly borne out in the Platonic dialogues:

SOCRATES. Whoops! Have we gotten here too late, and at the end of a
feast, as the saying goes?

Yes indeed, and a very elegant feast too, for just a little while ago Gorgias gave us an abundant and beautiful display. (Gorg. 447a)

. . . you are exactly like the flat stingray of the sea. Whenever anyone ap- proaches and touches it, it numbs him, and you seem to have done some- thing like that to me just now. (Meno 80a)

. . . I was afraid that when Agathon finished up, he would send the head of Gorgias, fearsome in discourse (Gorgiou kephalen deinou legein en toi logoi), against my own speech, and make me stone in muteness (me lithon tei aphoniai poieseien). (Symp. 198~14~

I say that he [Socrates] is exactly like (homoiotaton) those statues of Sile- nus that sit in the statue-carvers' shops, which the craftsmen carve play- ing the syrinx or the aulos, but which being opened up in the middle, ap- pear to have images of the gods inside. And moreover I say that he is like (eoikenai) the satyr Marsyas.44 (Symp. 215a-b)

4ZHeraclitus fr. 22 B.51 DK; the translation is from Kirk [I9571 1983, 192. Curiously, we have yet another fragment of Heraclitus on the bow (22 B48 DK): "The name of the bow (scil. bibs) is life (bios), but its function is death." In this paronomastic aphorism, the connection between the bow and language is made, by virtue of the pun, as obvious as possible.

43The mention of Gorgias here is not only a reference to the Gorgianic effusion of Agathon's speech but also a pun on Gorgon: it was said that if one looked at the head of Medusa, one would turn to stone (again see, e.g., Pind. Pyth. 10.46-48).

44Silenus was a satyr-like creature, half-equine and physically unattractive; like satyrs, he was associated with debauchery and lust. Marsyas was a satyr whose musical ability had legendary powers; he even presumed to compete against Apollo (see, e.g., Apollod. Bibl. 1.4.2, Hyg. Fab. 165, Plin. HN 16.89, Ov. Met. 6.382-400). The point of these comparisons is to portray Socrates as outwardly ugly, even grotesque, but inwardly beau- tiful.

One could go on at tremendous length; suffice it to say that metaphoric language completely pervades Plato's writings45

On occasion he moves into the use of what we might call extended metaphor, for example when he compares the psyche to a charioteer and two horses, one white, one black (Phaedr. 246a-57a). This is not vastly different from his use of parables or myths, such as that of Er in the Republic, or of Theuth in Phaedrus itself.

Although it is true that Plato does not use the term metaphors, he does use the term eikdn, "likeness," not only of physical/visual resem- blances but also of verbal comparisons that we would call similes.46 Marsh McCall estimates that, of the more than sixty occurrences of the word eikdn in Plato, about a third are in a rhetorical context.47 Besides the one already cited from Symposium 215a-b, which uses the verbal form eoikenai, one might adduce the following:

Well then, I will tell you another image (eikona) from the same school as this one just now. .. (Gorg. 493d)

SOCRATES.I see why you made a simile (Fikasas) about me. MENO.Why do you suppose that was? SOCRATES.To get me to make one about you in return (hina se antei- kasd). And I know this about all beautiful people: they enjoy being com- pared to something. It works out well for them, I suppose, since the im- ages (eikones) of the beautiful are also beautiful. But I will not make a simile about you in return (ouk anteikasomai se). (Meno 80c)48

Consider this, whether there is something to what I am saying: for it seems that, just like Simmias, I have need of a simile (eikonos). (Phaed. 87b)

In addition to these loci, we find that Plato uses eikdn in the more gen- eral sense of imagery or illustration.

451ndeed Plato was actually criticized for his use of metaphor, by such ancient liter- ary critics as Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Dem. 5) and Caecilius of Calacte (see Ps.-Lon- ginus On the Sublime 32.8).

46Thoroughly documented by McCall (1969, 11-18), though he strictly opposes the translation of eikdn as "metaphor."

47McCall 1969, 12.

4XSocratesseems to be referring to an Athenian party game here: "In conversation at a party or elsewhere, to provide amusement, one man would compare another to some- thing funny, and his victim would then compare him to something in return" (MacDowell 1971, 304).

What is important about all these instances is that in each case eikon signifies the representation of something-material or concep- tual-by something else; and that fact will have important reverbera- tions later on, as we shall see.

Plato, then, makes plentiful use of metaphor, both brief and ex- tended, in his own writing; he has a name for such verbal analogies; and on at least one occasion, he has a character refer to the phenomenon itself. He does not, however, provide a theory of metaphor as such, not even cloaked in the narrative guise of elenchus. This is perhaps the more curious in view of the representational nature of metaphor. It would not overstate the case to say that Plato's whole ontology, at least as laid out by Socrates in the Republic, is rooted in semiotics: the rela- tionship to the Forms of objects in the phenomenal world is spoken of, not only in terms of "participation" (methexis,e.g., Phaed. 100~3-6), but also in terms of mimesis (cf., e.g., Rep. 510b4, mimetheisin).49 This fact problematizes for us not only Plato's deep absorption in the topic of mimesis but also the fact that he does not really address the relationship between mimesis and metaphor.50 As usual, he has less to say about the compositional aspects of language and rhetoric than about their meta- physical and ethical ramifications; thus a fully systematic investigation of the phenomenon had to await the attention of Plato's most brilliant pupil.


In what follows I discuss this investigation, as it is conducted first in the Poetics and then in the Rhetoric, and above all drawing attention to the guiding principle of the Aristotelian model.

The Poetics: A Semiotic Model for Metaphor

What is a metaphor, in Aristotle's view? He offers a more or less formal definition at Poetics 21, 1457b6-7: "Metaphora is the epiphora of the name (onoma) of something [to something else]." Because of the

49For more on the Forms see (among many others) Ross 1951, Vlastos 1954 and 1965, and Fine 1993. 50For more on mimesis see, e.g., Kirby 1991b; to the references there (esp. in n. 2) add Asmis 1992 and Golden 1992, 41-62.

limitations of the Greek language at this point, Aristotle risks tautology, as both metaphora and epiphora stem from the same root pher-/phor-, "carry." A similar strain occurs in his famous definition of the syllogism at Prior Analytics 1.1, 24b18-20, "a sullogismos [.\/ leg-/log-] is a logos [.\/ leg-/log-] in which, certain things having been asserted, something other than what has been asserted necessarily follows from their being so" (cf. Top. 1,100a25-27). In both instances Aristotle's best recourse is to depend on the addition, or alteration, of a prefix. Meta-as a prefix often indicates a change of some sort; it may mean "across," so that metaphora is literally a "carrying across" or transference from one point to another. Indeed the Latin transferre (supine translatum),from which our English transfer and translation are derived, seems an exact render- ing of metapherein. In the rhetorical context, the transfer seems to be that of a name from one item-the ordinary item for which that name is the "literal" term-to a new (and unaccustomed) one, where its appli- cability may be highly figurative. Conversely, though this is not the Aris- totelian schema, we might envision a transfer of meaning or significance from one term to another.

With epiphora we are on slightly different ground.51 Epi-as a pre- fix may designate movement over or beyond boundaries. Too, it may have a sense of addition, or (as per LSJ S.V.epi G.I.4) "accumulation of one thing over or besides another." Thus epipherein may mean to put, or pile, something on top of something else (so Ar. Peace 167; Xen. Anab. 3.5.10; Hdt. passim). The noun epiphora may mean an additional pay- ment (so Thuc. 6.31, IG I2 205) or (in later Greek) the second clause in a sentence (so Dion. Hal. Dem. 20) or even the conclusion of a syllogism (so, e.g., Chrysippus in SVF I1 80). In Aristotle's usage it probably has the older sense of "piling up": the new or additional designation of a(n) (unusual or unaccustomed) name to something that already has a(n) (ordinary) name. Hence with cumbrous exactitude we might translate it "additional assignment"; of the various renditions offered in pub- lished translations of the Poetics-"giving" (Bywater), "movement" (Kennedy), "transfer(ence)" (Golden, Telford), "application" (Butcher,

511t is worth noting that Wheelwright (1962) uses the term "epiphor" to designate "metaphor in the conventional sense" (73)-i.e., metaphor that expresses something rela- tively well-known-and the term "diaphor" (from diaphora, "difference") to designate a metaphor that suggests a possible new meaning by emphasizing differences rather than similarities. Cf. Mac Cormac 1985, 38-42.

Else, Grube, Hutton, Janko), probably the latter is the most successful. "Transference" would be a fine translation of metaphors itself. But I suggest that if we limit ourselves to looking at this brief definition in our quest for a category to accommodate Aristotle's concept of metaphor, we risk eclipsing other useful information.

With respect to the word onoma, I should point out that while Aristotle seems primarily to be thinking of nouns, this word does not completely restrict metaphor to nouns; onomata may include adjectives, which in practice are of course often metaphorical in value, and even verbs.52

After this proposition of a genus, Aristotle (as is his wont) inven- tories its various species. In so doing, he himself uses the language of scientific taxonomy: [I] a noun designating a genus may be transferred to a species, or [2] that of a species transferred to a genus; [3] one species-name may be transferred to another; or [4] we may find meta- phor by proportional analogy, where, if (to use modern notation)

B may be used to represent D or vice versa.53 Examples of each of these species of metaphor are given:

[I] E.g., "Here stands my ship": for [the species] lying at anchor is [a part of the genus] standing.

[2] E.g., "Truly has Odysseus done ten thousand deeds of worth": for [the species] "ten thousand" is part of the genus "many," and [Homer] uses it here instead of "a lot."

[3] E.g., [Killing a man by] "draining out his life with bronze" [i.e., a weapon], and [drawing water by] "cutting it with long-edged bronze" [i.e., a bowl]: for here [the poet] calls cutting "draining" and draining "cutting." Both are [species of the genus] "taking away."

[4] E.g., The wine bowl stands to Dionysus as the shield does to Ares: so [the poet] will call a wine bowl "shield of Dionysus" and a shield "wine-bowl of Ares." Again, as old age stands to life, so the evening

520n the onoma cf. Poet. 20, 1457a10-14; De Interp. 2, 16a19-b5.

S30n the cognitive mechanism at work in proportionality cf. Post. An. 1.5, 74a17-25 (with the note ad loc. in Ross 1949, 525). The concept of analogy itself is redolent of the semiosis of metaphor, although Aristotle does not pursue it as such; see his remarks on analogy in Post. An. 1.10, 76a37-76b2; 2.14, 98a20-23; 2.17, 99a8-16.

stands to the day: so [the poet] will call evening "old age of the day," as Empedocles does, and old age "the evening of life" or "the sun- set of life."54

In chapter 22 of the Poetics (1458a21-23) we are told that meta- phor, like foreign terms (gldttai) and unusual word forms, is a kind of "alien" term-used to achieve "impressiveness" (semnot8) and the avoidance of familiar language. This ensures that the language will not be commonplace or low. If an entire composition is made of metaphors, it will be a riddle-the latter being defined as talking of real things while making impossible combinations of them (e.g., "I saw one man glue bronze on another with fire" to mean "I saw a physician apply a heated bronze cupping glass to another [in order to draw blood]"). A lesser degree or concentration of metaphor will be more cognitively ac- cessible to the audience, but will still import the desired impressiveness to the style.

At the end of Poetics 22, where Aristotle concludes his discussion of metaphor, we learn two extremely important things on the topic. I take them up in reverse order: [I] Metaphor, like the "regular" word (to kurion) and the ornamental term (kosmos), is especially suited to iambic verse, because the iambus (the meter used, e.g., for spoken dia- logue in Attic tragedy and comedy) is metrically the closest to the pro- sodic patterns of ordinary speech, and expressions like metaphor are those best suited to ordinary speech.55 [2] Metaphor is the most impor- tant device to be skilled in, and one cannot learn that skill from another: one must have the innate gift.56 711is gift, moreover, depends on seeing likenesses in things (to to homoion thedresai, 1459a7-8). And here, I submit, is where we begin to find a new avenue of approach to the question of how to categorize the Aristotelian approach to metaphor. I now draw the reader's attention to the opening portion of De Interpretatione, which is one of the first systematic formulations of semiotic theory in Western literature:

s4Janko (1987, 129) maintains that only type [4] is equivalent to the modern notion of "metaphor." Many would, I think, disagree with him; but certainly it receives the fullest treatment from Aristotle and is said to be the best-liked (Rhet. 3.10.7, 1411al). The four types are well treated in Bywater 1909, 282-84, and Eco, Niklas, and Edeline [I9861 1994.

j5That metaphor may be used both to impart sernnotts (Poet. 22, 1458a21) and as an aspect of ordinary discourse (22, 1459a10-14; cf. Rhet. 3.2.6, 1404b31-37) is a measure of its broad applicability.

S6On euphuih see Poet. 17, 1455a31-34; 22, 1459a6-7.

Spoken sounds (ta en tbi phonbi) are tokens (sumbola) of experiences in

the psyche (ton en tbi psukh?i patht?mata), and written marks (ta grapho-

menu) [are tokens] of spoken sounds. And just as written marks (gram-

mata) are not the same for everyone, neither are spoken sounds (phonai).

But what these are signs (semeia) of in the first place-pathemata in the

psyche-are the same for all; and what these pathemata are likenesses

(homoiomata) of-actual things (pragmata)-are also the same.5'

(De Interp. 1, 16a3-8)

Charles Sanders Peirce, the first great American semiotician, spoke of "semiosis" as the operation of signs of all kinds-the interaction of a triad of semiotic elements. These elements are [I] the object, the thing being represented; [2] the "representamen" or sign-whatever thing it is that stands for or signifies the object to someone-and [3] the inter- pretant, the all-important vehicle whereby the human brain makes the connection between sign and object-the concept whereby one grasps this connection, so that (for example) a red octagonal traffic sign is accepted as signifying that an automobile must come to a halt at that point. In the passage from De Znterpretatione cited here, we have all the elements of the Peircean triad of semiosis: the sign (sumbolon or se- meion), the object it represents (pragma), and the interpretant (en tci psukhei pathcmata).58 Indeed this text must have influenced Peirce's formulation profoundly.

Of particular interest in this passage is the word homoidmata, "likenesses" or "representations," which puts us in mind of representa- men, Peirce's technical designation of the sign. Now a sumbolon and a semeion are also representations, but these need not have any visual similarity to, or organic connection with, the thing represented; indeed in writing-systems the latter will only be so in the case of pictograms, such as hieroglyphics. (In sound-systems, perhaps onomatopoeic words come the closest to such constitutional similarity.) Other forms of rep- resentation, however-those that we may term homoiomata-depend

s70n this passage see Eco 1984,27-29.

58The Peircean semiotic system is dense and at first forbidding, but the reader may be promised that any effort invested in its understanding will be recompensed a hundred- fold. Some preliminary bibliography may be suggested: Peirce [1893-19101 1940, Parmen- tier 1987, Merrell 1992, 1995a, 1995b.


precisely upon such similarities or connections.59 In painting, for exam- ple, a portrait depends for its success first and foremost upon its effec- tiveness as a homoidma or likeness of the subject. Thus, when in re- sponse to the opening of T. S. Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,"

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table,

C. S. Lewis wrote,

I am so coarse, the things poets see
Are obstinately invisible to me.
For twenty years I've stared my level best
To see if evening-any evening-would suggest
A patient etherised upon a table;
In vain. I simply wasn't able,60

he was objecting to the metaphor on the grounds that it was an insuffi- cient homoidma of the thing described.

Aristotle's assertion that to craft good metaphors (to.. . eu metapherein) depends upon being able to perceive likenesses-presumably likenesses in things that seem dissimilar, or at least likenesses that might not initially suggest themselves-is a key point. Of this latter ability he says, in a different context,

The observation of likeness (hc. . . tou homoiou theoria) is useful with a view both to inductive arguments (epaktikous logous) and to hypothetical deductions (ex hupotheseds sullogismous), and also with a view to the production of definitions (tEn apodosin tdn horismon). It is useful for in- ductive arguments, because it is by means of an induction of particulars in cases that are similar (kath' hekasta epi tdn homoion) that we claim to in- duce the universal (to katholou); for it is not easy to do this if we do not know the points of likeness (ta homoia). It is useful for hypothetical de-

Sy0n representation and similarity see Belfiore 1992, 48-53, 63-65. She also (63

n. 46) draws attention to Sorabji 1972,2-7.

60Excerpt from "A Confession" in Poems by C. S. Lewis O1964 by the Executors of the Estate of C. S. Lewis; renewed 1992 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace & Company and Curtis Brown Ltd.

ductions because it is a reputable opinion (endoxon) that among similars (ton homoion) what is true of one is true also of the rest.61 (Top. 1.18, 108b7-14)

In other words, the observation of likeness is a crucial cognitive step in the process of reasoning about the world-and also in the practice of articulating one's perceptions. Aristotle is talking here primarily about dialectical discourse, but the principles would seem to hold true for dis- course of any kind, including the interior monologue.

Now the articulation of a likeness is a kind of representation, and representation is itself quintessentially semiotic insofar as one thing signifies another. But the world is full of semiosis, and we should not forget that the entire Poetics itself is built on another semiotic infrastructure: that of mimesis." Like verbal metaphor, the whole process of artistic mimesis-be it in painting, music, or the composition of a tragedy-de- pends upon the artist's ability to perceive likenesses and to represent them (mimeisthai). Thus, for example, it is desiderated that the charac- ters of a tragedy be good likenesses (to homoion, Poet. 15, 1454a24).63 Thus it is too that the pleasure we take in artistic mimesis depends upon recognition of likenesses:

. . . everyone delights in representations. An indication of this is what hap- pens in practice: we delight in looking at the most proficient images of things that in themselves we see with pain, e.g., the shapes of the most de- spised wild animals and of corpses. The cause of this is that learning is very pleasant, not only for philosophers, but for others likewise, although the latter share in it to a small extent. For this reason they delight in see- ing images, because it comes about that they learn as they observe (sum- bainei thedrountas manthanein), and infer what each thing is, e.g., that this person [in the picture] [represents] that one (houtos ekeinos). For if one has not seen the thing [that is represented] before, [its image] will not produce pleasure qua representation (hci mimCma), but because of its [artistic] accomplishment, color, or some other such cause.

(Poet. 4, 1448b8-19)

61This translation is adapted from that of Pickard-Cambridge in Barnes 1984, I 180.

For more on similarity and difference cf. Post. An. 2.13, 97b7-8. 6ZOn this topic see Kirby 1991b. 63Admittedly this term is not entirely clear: does it mean "like [the mythic exem-

plar]"? "[life]liken? "like [us, the spectators]"? See Kirby 1991a, 201 and n. 12.


In view of this, I propose that in our assessment of metaphor in Aristotle we focus on a semiotic mode1.64 Such a model, based on the triadic relationship of sign, object, and interpretant, will in fact make it possible to incorporate the features and strengths of other models, such as those based on comparison, substitution, or interaction, and will be suitable for the assessment of verbal texts in either prose or verse, as well as of visual and other nonverbal texts. I should like to think that a Peircean semiotic model would appeal to Tamba-Mecz and Veyne (1979), who, despite their rejection of the Saussurean m0de1,6~ nonethe- less seem to insist on an interpretation that is in fact compatible with Peircean semiotics.66 Such a system ought to resonate favorably with the work of the semiotician A. J. Greimas, of Michael Haley, and possi- bly even, when some allowances have been made, with that of Liselotte Gumpe1.67 Certainly it would accord with the work of Umberto Eco, who has written that "when closely studied in connection with verbal language, the metaphor becomes a source of scandal in a merely lin- guistic framework, because it is in fact a semiotic phenomenon permit- ted by almost all semiotic systems."68 And, with some careful attention to semantic distinctions, I think that a semiotic presentation of the Aris- totelian model can be made congenial to Lakoff's cognitive approach. One of his major objections to the "classical theory" is that it sets off a

64See, e.g., Haley 1988 (esp. chs. 1-2) for a Peircean approach to poetic metaphor. I want it to be clear that the distinction between semiotics and semantics made by Ben- veniste (1967) and adopted by Ricoeur-where "the sign is the unit of semiotics while the sentence is the unit of semantics" ([I9751 1977, 69)-has no impact on my formulation here: as far as I am concerned, an entire sentence, or a paragraph, or indeed a whole book, may be a sign, or set of signs.

65E.g., "Ce ne sont pas des signes linguistiques dont le signifiant renvoie 2 un si- gnifit" (89); "sa [Aristotle's] linguistique ignore la notion stoi'cienne ou saussurienne de signifit" (93).

66E.g., "La metaphora n'est donc pas une figure de rhttorique, au sens oh nous l'entendons aujourd'hui, qui ressortit a l'analyse formelle et stmantique du seul langage. Elle met en oeuvre toute une thtorie sur les rapports entre les choses, la penste, les mots. A travers la parole, Aristote voit les mtcanismes d'intellection; derritre les mots, il vise les choses. Ou plut6t il essaie de faire les deux a la fois, se livrant ii un constant va-et-vient entre les 'intellections' et les noms, la penste et le langage" (81); "le mot ne signifie rien: il renvoie a une intellection, a un notma, et, par la, a une chose" (89).

67Greimas [I9661 1983, [1970-831 1987; Haley 1988, Gumpel 1984. 68E~o[I9831 1984, 88. See too the treatment in Eco, Niklas, and Edeline [I9861 1994.

putative "figurative" or "poetic" language in contradistinction to every- day usage; and, while it is true that Aristotle has a notion of kuria or ordinary terms, he by no means restricted metaphor to poetic or ex- traordinary contexts. On the contrary, as we have seen, he explicitly contradicts Isocrates on this count; and his remark that "everyone con- verses using metaphors" may be seen as actually prescient of the cogni- tive approach.69

Another of Lakoff's objections to the so-called classical theory is that it locates the phenomenon of metaphor in the realm of language, not (like the cognitive theory) in the realm of thought.70 Here again, the Aristotelian semiotic approach actually anticipates the new cognitive model-which is itself manifestly semiotic in nature: the notion of "cross-domain mapping in the conceptual system"71 is not a bad de- scription at all, in fact, of the phenomenon of semiosis, in which in- formation from a source-domain (the object) is conceptually (i.e., by interpretants) mapped onto a target-domain, which mapping is repre- sented by a sign; and, because of what Peirce calls "unlimited semiosis," the pertinent interpretants may themselves be represented by new signs, being connected to the latter by new interpretants, and so on ad infinitum.

6yLakoff would probably point (disapprovingly) to Aristotle's distinction between the kurion kai oikeion and metaphora, as evidence of a literallfigurative dichotomy; but we must be wary of mapping Lakoff's "classical theory" precipitously onto what Aristotle has actually said. "kurion kai oikeion" is by no means the same as "literal"; rather, the Aristotelian phrase refers to familiarity and typicality of usage. Aristotle valorizes kuria, not because they are more "literal" or come closer to unmediated truth, but because-un- like, e.g., gl8ttai-they are semiotically the most immediately productive of interpretants (Rhet. 3.10.2, 1410b12-13) and thus conduce especially to learning. But so. he asseverates. does metaphor (ibid.).

70For an egregious example of the shift, in non-Aristotelian paradigms, from the conceptual to the purely linguistic. consider the case of homonymy. For the modern reader the words "isle" and "aisle" are homonyms; for Aristotle the homonyms in this situation would be the actual things themselves-the piece of land surrounded by water, and the walkway. (See Categ. 1, lal-5, and the note ad loc. in Ackrill 1963. 71: "it is im- portant to recognize from the start that the Categories is not primarily or explicitly about names, but about the things that names signify.") The instances in the Rhetoric of the term homdnumia(i) are typically translated "homonym(s)." but most accurately they should be "situation(s) where there is homonymy": see Rhet. 2.24.2, 1401a13; 3.11.8, 1412bll. 12: and even. I would say, 3.2.7, 1404b38.

71Lakoff 1993, 203.

A semiotic model of metaphor, in which signs are connected to objects by interpretants, would have the following virtues. [I] It would steer clear of arguments over comparison (or substitution) versus inter- action, because it incorporates the crucial assertions and the strengths of all of these models. [2] It would highlight the quintessentially cogni- tive nature of the Aristotelian formulation. And [3] with very little ad- justment for the context in question, it would make Aristotle's theory of metaphor applicable even to nonverbal situations-for, as students of Peirce know, the linguistic sign is but one of myriad kinds of sign, and semiosis is all around us, in what Merrell calls "our perfusive, pervasive universe."72 Aristotle was well aware of this, as the opening chapters of the Poetics sho~.~3

Metaphor in the Rhetoric

With this background from the Poetics we are now equipped to look carefully at Aristotle's treatment of metaphor in the Rhetoric. By the time he comes to write the third book of the Rhetoric, he finds it convenient to refer us to the earlier discussion: "Now what each kind of word is and how many species of metaphor there are and that metaphor has very great effect both in poetry and speeches has been said, as noted above, in the Poetics" (Rhet. 3.2.7, 1405a3-6).74 The text that con- cerns us begins at 3.2.1 (1404bl), where the virtue of style (lexeds arete) is defined as "being clear" (saphe einai), on the grounds that logos75 is a kind of sign (sFmeion), and that, to do its work, it must make (things) clear (ean me deloi ou poiesei to heautou ergon). The word "work" here, ergon, is closely tied up with Aristotle's notion of afinal cause or pur-

7?Merrell 1991. Here too one ought to have a look at Goodman 1968 and Hausman 1989.

7'0n this see Kirby 1991b. 119-22.

74The topic of the relative dates of the Rhetoric and Poetics is hopelessly problem- atic: he may well have revised both after the composition of both. See Kirby 1991a, 198 and n. 4.

7iI hesitate to translate this infinitely slippery term here. It seems to be susceptible of at least the same polysemy as English "speech" and French "discours"-i.e.. to admit both the notion of "verbal communication" and of "oration." I am inclined to the former of these translations here, as one would more naturally think of a complete oration as a collection of sgrneia:but we should keep in mind that Aristotle is first and foremost ad- dressing the topic of stylistic excellence in the specific context of oratory.

pose.76 By the same token, Aristotle is aware of the rhetorical value of deviating from prevailing usage (exallaxai), especially by the use of "strange language" (poiein xensn tcn di~lekton).~~

The particular goal here, besides the achievement of semnotss or elevated style, seems to be the sheer pleasure of the audience; as we learn from a pair of linked syl- logisms (one partially implicit): "One should make one's language un- familiar (xensn). For listeners marvel at (thaumastai. . . eisin) things that are distant (ton apont6n [here a synonym of xensn]), and what is marvelous is pleasant (hcdu [lit. 'sweet'])." This is acknowledged as a common goal in both prose and verse, but (we are told) prose has fewer resources in this regard than verse-namely, kuria and metaphor (3.2.6, 1404b31-33; cf. also above on 1404b34-36).

In 3.2.8 (1405a6-10) Aristotle begins to focus carefully on the na- ture of metaphor: it excels particularly in the aspects he has been dis- cussing-clarity (to saphes), sweetness (to hcdu), and unfamiliarity (to xenikon). Moreover, in an unusual aside reminiscent of his remark in the Poetics (22, 1459a6-7), he informs us that one cannot learn its use from another.

He has already (Rhet. 3.2.3-6, 1404b) touched on the need to make language appropriate, in order to seem natural; here (3.2.9, 1405a10-14) he advises that metaphors too should be appropriate. This natural quality is seen, metaphorically enough, in terms of "theft"; by this he seems to mean, generally, the use of unfamiliar language in a way that does not seem unnatural (3.2.5, 1404b24) and, specifically, the use of metaphor in a way that, because appropriate to its context, does not call attention to itself (3.2.10, 1405a31).78

%ee Phys. 2.3,194b32-195a3; Metaphys. A 2. 1013a3243; Kirby 1991a. 210-13. 77Xeno~~s

("strangers," perhaps "foreigners") is here explicitly contrasted with politas ("citizens." i.e.. probably "Athenians"), and one might reasonably think that Aristotle is speaking of the use of gldttai;but that term appears a few lines later (3.2.5. 1404b28). in a list that is (as we have said) not dissimilar to the one in Poetics 21. It looks rather as if poiein xenzn may itself be a metaphor for "strangenessn-hence Kennedy's translation "make the language unfamiliar" (1991, 221) and footnote ad loc. on the Russian Formalist doctrine of defamiliarization (ostraneniye). Yet again I would draw attention to the fact that Aristotle is talking about what might be called semiotic marking.

'Wleptein carries a specific connotation of "stealing" but. more generally. of "stealth." For forms of kleptein meaning "conceal" see. e.g., Pind. 01. 6.36: Soph. Aj. 1137, El. 37: Plato Laws 10,910B1; and Rhet. ad Alex. 35.4, 1440b21. It is possible that Aristotle's concept of artistic concealment here ought to be connected with Gorgias' doctrine of apat?, the "deception" wrought by Attic tragedy (fr. 82 B23 DK). On upat? see, e.g., Rosenmeyer 1955 and Segal 1962.


In 3.2.12 (1405a35-b6) a curious and important use of metaphor is delineated: the naming of things that do not have proper names of their own (metapherein (epi) ta anonuma dnomasmends). As Kennedy points

this is related to the figure known in Greek as katakhrkis and in Latin as abusio; of key importance for our study, however, is how Aris- totle explicitly recognizes that there will be cases when our only semi- otic recourse will be to metaphor-another way in which he foreshad- ows the modern cognitive approach. In the same context (1405b5; cf. 3.11.6, 1412a23-24), metaphor is said to be like the ainigma or riddle (metaphorai. . . ainittontai, lit. "metaphors speak in riddles"). In keep- ing with our semiotic approach to metaphor, we are well equipped to understand this, because in either case, the cognitive connection that enables the readerllistener to understand the meaning is an interpretant. Take the most famous ainigma of antiquity, the riddle posed by the Sphinx: "There walks upon the earth a creature two-footed and four- footed and three-footed, that has but one voice; and alone of all crea- tures that move on land and in the air and in the sea, it is able to change its nature. Indeed when it goes supported on the most feet, then is the speed of its limbs the feeblest."*0 The riddle perpends a series of signs: the four-footed, two-footed, and three-footed creatures that are one creature. On solving the riddle, the readerllistener comes to see that these represent three related objects: the baby, the grown man, and the elderly man, respectively. By the same token, it is easy to see that these signs represent their objects by virtue of metaphors; moreover, that the process of semiosis is not complete without the interpretant that arises in the reader's or listener's mind, to make sense of the connection between sign and object. When that connection is made, several things happen: first of all, the readerllistener says houtos ekeinos-"This is a represen- tation of thatM-and takes, presumably, some pleasure, both in the recognition and in the poet's craft (Poet. 4, 1448b8-19). Also as a result of this process, the readerllistener learns something new about what, following Shakespeare, we may call the Ages of Man; and Aristotle says that learning is a source of pleasure (Rhet. 3.10.2, 1410b10-12). More-

"Kennedy 1991,224n. 32.

"1 have cited the version attributed to Asclepiades. as given in Athen. Deipn. 456B. It is found also in two manuscripts of Sophocles and in the scholia on Eur. Phoen.

50. The original Greek consists of five verses of dactylic hexameter. It is possible that this version dates from Aristotle's own lifetime. A later version, apparently abbreviated from this one, is preserved by Apollodorus (Bibl. 3.5.8).

over, because the interpretants connecting the signs in the riddle and their objects are not immediately obvious, there will be something quasi-philosophical about pursuing the interpretation of these meta- phors (Rhet. 3.11.5, 1412a9-12).

The next thesis is that the source of the metaphor should be some- thing beautiful (3.2.13, 1405b6-21). This value, like all our most basic ideological underpinnings, is one that has come under severe scrutiny in the postmodern era: why should the beautiful be valorized over the ugly? But Aristotle seems to have an explicitly utilitarian answer for the aspiring rhetor: beauty is here connected both with appropriateness and with the vivid evocation of interpretants in the audience (3.2.13, 1405b11-13).81 What is certain, in view of his heavily semiotic approach to metaphor overall, is that he is not here espousing a merely orna- mental (Isocratean) model for metaphor. The rest of Rhetoric 3.2 is devoted to exploring appropriateness and beauty in epithets and di- minutives.

Chapter 3.3 deals with psukhra, vices (lit. "chills") of style. These arise from four sources: "double words" (dipla onomata); foreign terms (glottai); epithets, when these are too large, untimely, or too numerous; and metaphor. Again it is important to note that Aristotle's guidelines are context-sensitive, for (assuming that the epithet is what he means by kosmos at Poetics 21, 1457b2)82 each of these four items appears in the list in Poetics 21. The point here in Rhetoric 3.3 is that what is ap- propriate to verse may not be so in prose oratory. Hence he criticizes certain dipla because they seem "poetic" (3.3.1, 1406a6); the injudicious use of epithets will make a prose discourse seem (too much) like poetry (3.3.3, 1406a14).

So it is with metaphor: what might be appropriate in comic or tragic drama is not, as a rule, fitting for oratory (3.3.4, 1406b6-8). Too, if the orator has to "reach too far," the metaphors will be unclear

811n this connection I think back to what Aristotle said (Poet. 4. 1448b8-12) about the pleasure that can be taken even from the images of disgusting things such as corpses. Perhaps there he was referring specifically to our ability to admire technical prowess even when the subject matter is repulsive. (I surmise. for example, that this was part of the proj- ect of Robert Mapplethorpe.) That would be a rather different matter. then, than the ver- bal (oral) evocation of interpretants in oratory. On the passage in Poetics 4 see Belfiore 1992. 61-63.

82So (rightly, I think) Dupont-Roc and Lallot 1980, 342, and Janko 1987, 130-31: but see Bywater 1909. 280-81. and Stanford 1936,7.


(asapheis, 3.3.4, 1406b8)83 and too poetic (poietikos.. . agan, 3.3.4, 1406b10-11).

Chapter 4 launches directly into a discussion of the eikon or sim- ile. As we saw earlier, Plato not only uses similes himself in his writing but also speaks of eikon in several contexts, sometimes to mean what we would ourselves term similes. Thus it is not surprising to find that Aristotle coopts the term here (or that three of his examples in 3.4.3, 1406b32-1407a1, are from the Republic). For him, a simile is a species of the genus metaphor,84 and the one differs only slightly from the other (3.4.1, 1406b20). The nature of that difference has been minutely and perceptively studied by Tamba-Mecz and Veyne,85 and has to do with the presence (in the simile) of an explicit comparative phrase, the pro- thesis or "setting-forth" of the comparison: "that is to say, the poet cre- ates an expectation in the listener or reader that demands fulfilment."86 Like the virtually untranslatable particles men and de, like the protasis and apodosis of a condition, the prothesis of a simile and the phrase that answers it draw two (or more) ideas into parallel. In the case of a simile the parallelism, brought to completion in what we may call sunthesis,87 allows the transference that makes metaphor.88

In 3.10 Aristotle returns to the topic of metaphor, under the head- ing of ta asteia ("urbanities" is Kennedy's felicitous rendering).89 In keeping with the theoretical/investigative goal of the Rhetoric,YO Aris- totle seeks to offer an analysis of the essential nature of ta asteia, and as in all such endeavors, he recognizes here the need for what he calls an

X'This again harks back to the virtue of clarity; cf. Rhet. 3.2.1. 1404b2-3; 3.2.8. 1405a8. (N.B.: Kennedy [1991.228] translates not "unclear" but "inappropriate" as if read- ing aprepeis here. This does not seem to be an attested variant reading but is a plausible conjectural emendation.)

K4Students of later classical rhetoric will be interested to note that for Quintilian

(8.6.8) the converse is true: the metaphor is a kind of simile. 85Tamba-Mecz and Veyne 1979, esp. 95-97. K6Tamba-Mecz and Veyne 1979. 95 (my translation). K7Cf. Tamba-Mecz and Veyne 1979, 97. 8KThough they might well have done, Tamba-Mecz and Veyne do not draw atten-

tion to Aristotle's analysis of the period (Rhet. 3.9, 1409a24-1410b5) in connection with this. 8qThe word. derived from astu, "city." means "cityish." It is typically understood to connote elegance and wit-perhaps "sophistication" would be another useful translation.

'OI am thinking of such statements as "[rhetoric's] function is not to persuade (pei- sai). but to see (idein) the available means of persuasion in each case" (Rhet. 1.1.14, 1355b10-11).

arkhe or "first principle." In this case, that is as follows: "To learn easily (to gar manthanein rhaidids) is naturally pleasant to all people, and words signify something, so whatever words create learning (mathbin) in us are the most pleasant" (3.10.2, 1410b10-12).Y1 That this is indeed an arkhe for understanding the nature and function of metaphor in rhet- oric is immediately clear from the next ~entence:'~

"metaphor especially brings this [learning] about; for [e.g.] when he [Homer] calls old age 'stubble,' he creates understanding (mathesin) and knowledge (gnosin) through [reference to] the genus, since both old age and stubble are [species of the genus of] things that have lost their bloom" (3.10.2, 1410b13-15). In other words, Aristotle has in mind at least two things about how metaphor works: [I] the cognitive exercise of decoding, or (so to speak) "unraveling" the metaphor, is an occasion of enlighten- ment, and [2] this exercise is also pleasurable for the audience.

In 3.10.3 he again designates the simile a species of metaphor, but he devalues it for reasons of verbal economy: the simile is less "sweet" because it takes longer to express (hstton hedu, hoti makroteros, 1410b18). Moreover, the simile does not say that X is Y (1410b19). What Aristotle means here, and in the next clause-by "thus the psyche also does not seek thisn-is a bit opaque. Kennedy translates the latter phrase "nor does [the listener's] mind seek to understand this" and says that "Aristotle, unlike later classical rhetoricians, thus implies that metaphor is a form of predication."Y3 In that case, "the psyche also does not seek this" would mean, presumably, that with a simile, the mind does not seek to make the predicative connections that it does-for syntactical reasons-in the case of metaphor.

In 3.10.5-6 metaphor is yoked with "shaped" or "figured" language-by which Aristotle means such syntactic strategies as antithe- sis-as a source of urbanity." Only, it is stipulated, the metaphor should

"Kennedy (1991. 244 n. 112) is quite right to draw attention to the opening of the Metaphysics here: "All humans by nature seek to know." Lear (1988) emphasizes that "know" in that context means "understand."

y2And corroborated in 3.10.4. 1410b20-21, where things that conduce to quick learning are said by necessity (anagkd)to be asteia. The word anagk? is Aristotle's signal for the force of syllogistic inference. Taking this as the major premise, then. and his asser- tion in 3.10.2. 1410b10-15, that metaphor especially promotes learning as the minor. we may infer that metaphor is to be classed under the heading of asteia.

9'Kennedy 1991.245 n. 114, also citing Ricoeur [I9751 1977.

y4Again I draw the reader's attention to Isocrates' list of enthurn?ma, antithesis, and parisdsis in Panathenaicus 2.


be neither "strange" (allotrian) nor "superficial" (epipolaion). The for- mer is difficult to understand (sunidein), and the latter makes the lis- tener experience nothing-by which I take him to mean that there is none of the sort of cognitive decoding that he refers to in 3.10.2 (1410b13-15) .95

At the end of 3.10.6 (1410b35-36) metaphor is listed, along with antithesis and energeia, "actualization," as a major source of urbanity. From the passage of which this is a final summary, it would appear that energeia is a synonym of what Aristotle calls pro ommaton poiein, "bringing-before-the-eyes," of which he says, "things should be seen as being done rather than as in the future" (1410b34-35). And indeed this is made explicit in 3.11.1 (1411b25-26), where pro ommaton poiein is said to signify whatever is in activity (energounta). In certain cases (e.g., 3.10.7, 1411a25-bl; 3.11.2-3.11.4, 1411b28-1412a9) but not in all (e.g., 3.11.2, 1411b26-28), metaphor and energeia overlap.

At 3.11.5 we come to an important elaboration of the semiotic the- ory of metaphor: here Aristotle compares the understanding of meta- phor to the practice of philosophy, saying that "metaphors should be transferred from things that are related but not obviously so (apo oi- keion kai me phanerdn), as in philosophy too, it is characteristic of a well-directed (eustokhou) mind to observe the likeness even in things very different" (1412a9-12). Both pursuits, then, depend upon the cogni- tive decoding or unraveling we have already mentioned; and both de- pend upon the formation of interpretants in the mind. Connected to this is the point made in the next section, where Aristotle maintains that "in most cases, ta asteia come via metaphor plus an added surprise (ek tou prosexapatan), for it becomes clearer [to the listener] that he learned something different from what he believed, and his mind seems to say, 'How true, and I was wrong' " (3.11.6, 1412a17-21).96

In 3.11.11-13 Aristotle once again examines the topic of similes. Here we are told that, as with the metaphor from analogy, there will al- ways be two terms involved. In 3.11.14-15 he mentions proverbial ex-

'SKennedy (1991. 245 n. 117) is right to point out that in Poetics 21. 1457b7, metaphor is defined as the epiphora of an onoma allotrion. It may be that in the Rhetoric here. allotrian has a different sense, or that Aristotle originally wrote allotri(dter)an, "too alien": cf. Nic. Eth. 8.12.4, 1162a3. for the opposed forms allotrioteroi and oikeioteroi.

96For the narrative efficacy of events that happen contrary to expectation cf. Poet.

9. 1452a1-4.

pressions and hyperboles as types of metaphor as well, associating hyperbole with the exaggeration of youth. While he does not say so ex- plicitly here, he probably intends to set these two-the use of proverbs and the use of hyperbole-in polar opposition, for, just as he remarks here that it is inappropriate for an old man to speak in hyperbole (3.11.15, 1413b1-2), he has also told us earlier (2.21.9, 1395a2-5) that the use of proverbial expressions is appropriate to old age but not to youth.

Over and over, in both the Poetics and the Rhetoric, we find a nexus of ideas in Aristotle's metaphor theory: that the phenomenon is a semiotic one; that it involves a cognitive process of decoding on the part of the audience; that it should add sophistication to the discourse, re- sulting in pleasure on the part of the audience; and that its use should be suited or appropriate to its context. Far from being a dispensable, extra- neous trope, metaphor finds itself, in a number of ways, at the heart of Aristotelian rhetoric and poetics, precisely because it is fundamentally linked to Aristotelian semiotics. Because of this, moreover, metaphor is also a central element in Aristotle's cognitive system. It is to metaphor, he says, that we resort when a thing can be named in no other way; to craft a felicitous metaphor is to give evidence of genius, and is a skill that cannot be learned from another.

To make metaphors is, quintessentially, to be able to perceive like- ness-and thus, almost by definition, difference. In this respect, meta- phor epitomizes or recapitulates in itself all of language-that mysterious, miraculous means by which we mirror the whole world around us. It is perhaps small wonder, then, that he who searched so deeply into other aspects of semiotics should also have been the first to give us a critical vocabulary for this sign of signs, the sign that signifies signification.Y7


971 owe heartfelt thanks to Elizabeth Belfiore. Thomas Broden, Patricia Kenig Curd, Keith Dickson, David Engel. Eugene Garver. Richard Janko. George Kennedy. Howard Mancing, Floyd Merrell. Neil O'Sullivan. Carol Poster, and Anthony Tamburri for their encouragement and their assistance in various ways.



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