Friday, August 20, 2010

The Friday Figure

This week's Friday figure comes from the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 1-4 is one sentence in the Greek and displays several figures.  Here is the verse:

"Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs." (NRSV)

The first figure to notice here is the period.  A periodic sentence is a close-packed uninterrupted sentence that communicates a complete thought.  In this case, this long sentence (which the NRSV splits into three) communicates the superiority of God's son.  Also, it is periodic in its use of other figures.

The sentence begins with a comparison (syncrisis) in the form of an antithesis.  The comparison is between the revelation of the son in "these last days" to the revelation "of old" by the prophets.  The sentence ends with a comparison of the son to the angels, this time giving a value statement both that the son is greater and that the name he has inherited is more excellent.

Sandwiched in between these two comparisons is the figure notatio or character delineation, which the Rhetorica ad Herennium defines as "describing a persons character by the definite signs which, like distinctive marks, are attributes of that character."  The Greek actually uses the term Character (χαρακτὴρ), which the NRSV translates as "imprint."

Finally, in an ornamental flourish, the sentence begins with a nice alliteration that can only be recognized in the Greek:

Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι

Polumeros kai polutropos palai

This is indeed an impressive and rhetorical beginning to the book of Hebrews. 

No comments:

Post a Comment