Large-scale Figures of meaning

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This article is part of the Figures of Speech course. You may choose to follow it in a structured way, or read each item separately.

Some figures of meaning on the large scale are those that were traditionally used in Rhetoric to construct whole speeches – or indeed written texts. They include the idea that every speech should be arranged in seven parts: the exordium or Proem; the Narration (narratio); the Exposition, or explicatio; the Proposition, or partitio; the Confirmation (amplificatio) and Confutation (refutatio); and the Conclusion or peroratio. (Note that the traditional names here are in Latin. That is why they are italicised.) Many terms are also used in rhetoric to describe the kinds of logical figures of speech that are thought appropriate in making speeches: arguments a posteriori or a priori, for example, and the reductio ad absurdum. But you must look at a more detailed source than this if you want to know them.

The classifications (and sub-classifications) of these figures are mostly of interest now, I think, to historians of literature. They are not to be followed by modern speakers in unaltered form; and their use as terms of criticism is limited. Students of classical (Greek and Latin) authors, like Demosthenes (384-322 BCE) and Cicero (108-43 BCE), and those later writers who were thoroughly educated in their tradition, like Dante (Italy, 1265-1321) Milton (England 1608-74) and Chaucer (England, c.1340-c.1400) may find them helpful: in need, consult Lanham.