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5. Such then are the elements of speech. But purity,
which is the foundation of style, depends upon five rules. [2] First, connecting particles should be introduced in their natural order, before or after, as they require; thus, μέν and ἐγὼ μέν require to be followed by δέ and δέ. Further, they should be made to correspond whilst the hearer still recollects; they should not be put too far apart, nor should a clause be introduced before the necessary connection1; for this is rarely appropriate. For instance, “As for me, I, after he had told me—for Cleon came begging and praying—set out, taking them with me.” For in this phrase several connecting words have been foisted in before the one which is to furnish the apodosis; and if the interval between “I” and “set out” is too great, the result is obscurity. [3] The first rule therefore is to make a proper use of connecting particles; the second, to employ special, not generic terms. [4] The third consists in avoiding ambiguous terms, unless you deliberately intend the opposite, like those who, having nothing to say, yet pretend to say something; such people accomplish this by the use of verse, after the manner of Empedocles.2 For the long circumlocution takes in the hearers, who find themselves affected like the majority of those who listen to the soothsayers. For when the latter utter their ambiguities, they also assent; for example, “ Croesus, by crossing the Halys, shall ruin a mighty dominion.3

And as there is less chance of making a mistake when speaking generally, diviners express themselves in general terms on the question of fact; for, in playing odd or even, one is more likely to be right if he says “even” or “odd” than if he gives a definite number, and similarly one who says “it will be” than if he states “when.” This is why soothsayers do not further define the exact time. All such ambiguities are alike, wherefore they should be avoided, except for some such reason.4 [5] The fourth rule consists in keeping the genders distinct—masculine, feminine, and neuter,5 as laid down by Protagoras; these also must be properly introduced: [6] “She, having come (fem.) and having conversed (fem.) with me, went away.” The fifth rule consists in observing number, according as many, few, or one are referred to: “They, having come (pl.), began to beat (pl.) me.”

Generally speaking, that which is written should be easy to read or easy to utter, which is the same thing. Now, this is not the case when there is a number of connecting particles, or when the punctuation is hard, as in the writings of Heraclitus.6 For it is hard, since it is uncertain to which word another belongs, whether to that which follows or that which precedes; for instance, at the beginning of his composition he says: “Of this reason which exists7 always men are ignorant,” where it is uncertain whether “always” should go with “which exists” or with “are ignorant.” [7] Further, a solecism results from not appropriately connecting or joining two words with a word which is equally suitable to both.
For instance, in speaking of “sound” and “color”, the word “seeing” should not be used, for it is not suitable to both, whereas “perceiving” is. It also causes obscurity, if you do not say at the outset what you mean, when you intend to insert a number of details in the middle; for instance, if you say: “I intended after having spoken to him thus and thus and in this way to set out” instead of “I intended to set out after having spoken to him,” and then this or that happened, in this or that manner.

1 The apodosis. ἀποδιδόναι is used in the sense of introducing a clause answering to the πρότασις, and ἀπόδοσις for this answering clause.

2 Of Agrigentum (c. 490-430), poet, philosopher, and physician. Among other legends connected with him, he is said to have thrown himself into the crater of Etna, so that by suddenly disappearing he might be thought to be a god. His chief work was a poem called Nature, praised by Lucretius. The principles of things are the four elements, fire, air, water, and earth, which are unalterable and indestructible. Love and hate, alternately prevailing, regulate the periods of the formation of the world. The existing fragments corroborate Aristotle's statement.

3 Hdt. 1.53, Hdt. 1.91. Croesus consulted the Delphian oracle whether he should attack Cyrus the Persian or not. Encouraged by the ambiguous oracle, he did so, but was utterly defeated.

4 The deliberate intention to mislead.

5 σκεύη, “inanimate things,” the classification probably being male, female, and inanimate, not the grammatical one of masculine, feminine, and neuter.

6 Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 535-475). His chief work was on Nature. From the harshness of his language and the carelessness of his style he was called σκοτεινός (the obscure). According to him, fire was the origin of all things; all things become fire, and then fire becomes all other things. All things are in a constant state of flux; all is the same and yet not the same. Knowledge is founded upon sensual perception, but only the gods possess knowledge in perfection.

7 Or, “although this reason exists for ever men are born . . . without understanding” (Welldon).

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  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, 1.53
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    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.91
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