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‘Thirdly, to avoid ambiguous terms; but that, (viz. to avoid them,) only if the purpose be not the contrary’: the contrary, viz. to perspicuity, that is obscurity. If your object is to be obscure, you should then not avoid, but make use of, these equivocal terms, to hide your meaning and mystify your audience.

ἀμφιβόλοις] I 15. 10. ἀμφιβολία is one of the fallacies of language, παρὰ τὴν λέξιν, ‘ambiguity’ in words connected in a sentence, ‘in the proposition’; distinguished from ὁμωνυμία, ambiguity in single words, de Soph. El. c. 4. It is exemplified, l. c. 166 a 6 seq. See above, in preliminary observations to II 24. These two last precepts are most probably taken, like the preceding on σύνδεσμος, from Isocrates' τέχνη; and appear also in Rhet. ad Alex. 25 (26) 1, πρῶτον μὲν οὖν ὀνόμαζε τοῖς οἰκείοις ὀνόμασιν ὅτι ἂν λέγῃς, διαφεύγων τὸ ἀμφίβολον. See in the analysis of this treatise, ch. 25, Introd. p. 437. The qualification, ἂν μὴ τἀναντία προαιρῆται, seems to be Aristotle's own. On the various kinds of ἀμφιβολία, ambiguitas, in Rhetoric sunt innumerabiles (Quint. VII 9). They may be referred to two general heads; in singulis verbis (ὁμωνυμία), and coniunctis (Aristotle's ἀμφιβολία).

‘As is done (ambiguous terms employed, by speakers and writers) whenever, having in fact nothing to say, they make a pretence (affect) of saying something; for such (those who pretend to a meaning when there is none) express this no-meaning in verse (comp. III 1. 9, οἱ ποιηταὶ λέγοντες εὐήθη κ.τ.λ.), Empedocles, for instance: for this (roundabout, circuitous, phraseology) circumlocution cheats (deludes) by the multitude (accumulation) of words, and the listeners are affected (i.e. imposed upon) in the same way as the vulgar in the presence of diviners; that is, when (the latter) pronounce their ambiguous utterance, they express their approval by a nod of assent, “Croesus, if he pass the Halys, shall destroy a mighty realm”’.

The oracle leaves it doubtful whether the power or dominion to be destroyed is his own, or some other. Herod. I 53, 91. Oracles are proverbially ambiguous and enigmatical. [Macbeth, v 8. 19, Be these juggling fiends no more believed That palter with us in a double sense; That keep the word of promise to our ear; And break it to our hope. Cicero, de Divin. II 56. 116 (to Pyrrhus), Aio te Aaecida Romanos vincere posse.]

Perhaps the two following verses of Empedocles' collected fragments, Karsten, p. 100, lines 106—7, may in some degree illustrate Aristotle's allusion to this writer, and his sound without sense;

Νεῖκός τ᾽ οὐλόμενον δίχα τῶν, ἀτάλαντον ἁπάντη, καὶ Φιλότης μετὰ τοῖσιν ἴση μῆκός τε πλάτος τε.

Karsten's remarks on Empedocles' style, de Emp. vita et studiis p. 60, (prefixed to the Fragm. and Comment.) well illustrate this passage, to which he refers. He notices the obscurity of his diction, which appears especially in the symbolical terms, such as Νῆστις, by which he sometimes designates the elements—see for instance the four lines, Fragm. 211—214—and in the ambiguities ascribed to him here by Aristotle, “Nonnunquam vero ad oraculorum gravitatem adsurgit, quales sunt versus illi, ἔστιν Ἀνάγκης χρῆμα κ.τ.λ. Fragm. init. ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν πάντων νόμιμον κ.τ.λ. v. 404. Quamobrem minime miramur quod affirmat Theodoretus, seriores fatidicos ex Empedoclis potissimum versibus oracula sua compilasse.”

Aristotle says of him, Poet. I 11, οὐδὲν δὲ κοινόν ἐστιν Ὁμήρῳ καὶ Ἐμπεδοκλεῖ πλὴν τὸ μέτρον: διὸ τὸν μὲν ποιητὴν δίκαιον καλεῖν, τὸν δὲ φυσιολόγον μᾶλλον ποιητήν. It is curious to contrast this contemptuous judgment of his poetry and the general character and value of his writings, as it may be gathered from the two passages of the Rhet. and Poet., with the glowing eulogium of Lucretius, de rerum nat. I 716—733. After describing the wonders and good things of Sicily, his birthplace, he concludes, Nil tamen hoc habuisse viro praeclarius in se, nec sanctum magis et mirum carumque videtur. Carmina quin etiam divini pectoris eius vociferantur et exponunt praeclara reperta, ut vix humana videatur stirpe creatus. And still more remarkable is Aristotle's contradiction of himself, if Diogenes Laertius' quotation, VIII 57, is to be depended upon, ἐν δὲ τῷ περὶ ποιητῶν φησιν ὅτι καὶ Ὁμηρικὸς Ἐμπεδοκλῆς καὶ δεινὸς περὶ τὴν φράσιν, κ.τ.λ.—comp. the passage of the Poetics:—the possible explanation, that what he said in the one refers to the style, and in the other to the contents, of Empedocles' poem, is excluded by the contemptuous remark upon his style in the Rhetoric. On the passage of Lucretius, see Munro's note, I 733.

Of the vagabond impostors who hawked about spurious oracles and predictions under the names of μάντεις and χρησμολόγοι, prophets or diviners and soothsayers, Aristophanes has given us specimens, Hierocles in the ‘Peace,’ 1252, foll., and the nameless χρησμολόγος in the ‘Birds,’ 959, foll.

‘And by reason of the less liability to mistake in general (by following this course) diviners are accustomed to deliver their predictions in (through the channel, or medium of) general terms of the fact (which is prophesied), fraus latet in generalibus; for a man is much more likely to make a hit in playing “odd and even” by saying “even” or “odd”, than any particular number that he has in his hand; or “that (the event predicted) will be” than “when” (it will be); and this is why the soothsayers never add (to their prediction) the precise time (lit. the definition of the ‘when’). All these then (circumlocutions, ambiguities, and the like) are alike (in being faults) and therefore, unless for some such (reason as was before suggested), to be avoided’.

Of ἀρτιασμός “odd and even”, (a child's game, played with ἀστράγαλοι, or knuckle-bones, Plato, Lysis 206 E, ἠρτίαζον ἀστραγάλοις παμπόλλοις,) an account is given in Becker's Charicles, on ‘the games’, p. 354; and of the corresponding Latin game par impar in Gallus, p. 504. Ludere par impar, Hor. Sat. II 3. 248 (Heindorf's note), Ovid, Nux Eleg. line 79, est etiam, par sit numerus, qui dicat, an impar. The game might be played with any kind of counters, beans, acorns, coins—in Carion's house, after he had grown rich, Arist. Plut. 816, “the servants played at odd and even with golden staters.” It is usually described as played by two persons, one of whom held in his closed hand a number of counters, and the other had to guess whether it was odd or even. This was no doubt one way of playing it, but there was also another not quite so simple, as appears from this passage of the Rhetoric, and also from the Schol. on Plut. 1057, in which the guess was made at the number, πόσα. In the Plutus, l. c., the game is played with ‘walnuts’, κάρυα, and the Scholiast's comment is, “one grasps a handful of walnuts, and with his hand stretched out asks, how many? and if the other guesses right, he receives all the contents of his hand; if wrong, he pays the number found in the other's hand when opened.”

οἱ χρησμολόγοι οὐ προσορίζονται τὸ πότε] On this intentional indefiniteness and obscurity of would-be prophets, Victorius refers to Aeschines c. Ctes. § 99, who contrasts Demosthenes with other ἀλάζονες, who ὅταν τι ψεύδωνται, ἀόριστα καὶ ἀσαφῆ πειρῶνται λέγειν, φοβούμενοι τὸν ἔλεγχον: and, to the same effect, of a supposed citation from the Sibylline verses, Cic. de Divin. II 54. 110, Callide enim qui illa composuit perfecit ut, quodcumque accidisset, praedictum videretur, hominum et temporum definitione sublata.

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