Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.02.32

Miriam Taverniers, Metaphor and Metaphorology. A selective genealogy of philosophical and linguistic conceptions of metaphor from Aristotle to the 1990s.   Ghent:  Academia Press, 2002.  Pp. xi, 207.  ISBN 90-382-0284-9.  €15.00.  

Reviewed by Boris Dunsch, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt Universität Greifswald (
Word count: 1538 words

(My apologies are due to all readers and the publishers of BMCR for the late submission of this review.)

In the title of this monograph, a slightly revised version of Taverniers' (henceforth: T.) licentiate's dissertation submitted to the University of Ghent in 1996, it is claimed that it provides a history of the development of ideas about metaphor from a genealogical point of view and with special attention to the disciplines of philosophy and linguistics. It needs to be pointed out right at the beginning of this review that potential readers would be wise to take the word selective in the title seriously.

The book does indeed exhibit notable gaps in the territory covered by T. As a matter of fact, calling this study "selective" amounts almost to a euphemism, as the work proves to be rather sketchy, at least as far as the early stages of the history of metaphor theory are concerned. T. is brief on the contribution of antiquity,1 apart from Aristotle (pp. 2-9) and what she calls (somewhat misleadingly) "Roman rhetoric" (pp. 9-11); she is far too telegraphic, actually just quoting from a single paper by Umberto Eco (p. 11), on the Middle Ages;2 and she skips the Renaissance, and only briefly touches on the seventeenth and eighteenth century, with a focus on a handful of writers, namely the Italian Jesuit Emanuele (not "Emanuelle", as T. has it!) Tesauro and Giambattista Vico, and on the Organicism of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Romantic Platonism of Percy Bysshe Shelley (pp. 11-20). It is not always clear why T. has chosen these people to represent a whole period in the history of metaphorology. Anyway, to learn more about these stages in the development of thought about metaphor, readers will be well-advised to turn to one of the excellent articles on metaphor that are already available in a number of standard handbooks.3 So classicists will certainly be somewhat disappointed in finding that they are not told anything new about Aristotle, Greek and Roman rhetoric, etc.4 This book illustrates well what a wide gulf can sometimes exist between Classical Studies and the study of more recent literatures and cultures on the other.

Yet, this is definitely not the final word about this study. Actually, the book improves massively after the rather disheartening first two chapters. The undoubted strength of this book lies in its probing analysis and helpful presentation of twentieth-century theory of metaphor, for which by far the largest portion of the monograph is reserved (pp. 20-169), especially for the periods of 1965 to 1980 (pp. 29-101) and of 1980 to the mid-nineties (pp. 101-169), both parts being equally strong, showing that a huge number of relevant texts has been digested -- an enormous achievement that should certainly not be underrated in a field where so much has been and is being published that it would take more than one person's lifetime to give due attention to everything. Here classicists can familiarize themselves in great detail with a number of relevant theories on metaphor that were developed in the course of the last century, starting with well-known theorists like Ivor Richards and Max Black, and being rounded off by a detailed appraisal of the Lakoff-Johnsonian approach to metaphor. A general overview and conclusion closes this book (pp. 169-177), followed by a bibliography (pp. 179-197) and a well-made index (pp. 199-207).

A special feature deserves separate mention: T. has produced a helpful and informative genealogical diagram that provides a general historical survey of the various developments in philosophy, anthropology, psychology, linguistics, and metaphorology and shows with great clarity how various strands have influenced each other. This diligently compiled diagram alone could make the purchase of this book worthwhile for those interested in metaphorology. Like the text, the diagram is at its best (and most detailed) for the period since the 1930s and is of limited use to those interested in the earlier history of metaphor theory. It is, for example, rather unhappy that in T.'s diagram Aristotle is only linked with "rhetoric", leading from Cicero and Quintilian to the "panmetaphorical attitude" (using T.'s words) of the Middle Ages, Tesauro, and the Romantic poets. In my opinion, there is good reason to link Aristotle also with twentieth-century philosophy and psychology. In other words, the influence of ancient thought on modern theorists could possibly be underrated by those who use T.'s diagram without caution (or background knowledge).5

To give a detailed critical appraisal of T.'s discussion of Aristotle is impossible without re-writing most of it. T. relies heavily on P. Ricoeur's reading of Aristotle, supplementing it with second-hand quotations taken from Bywater's translation in R. McKeon's collection of The Basic Works of Aristotle, New York 1941. This procedure leads (perhaps inevitably) to a number of terminological infelicities and misrepresentations. One of the most remarkable points in Aristotle's theory of metaphor is the claim that the successful application of a metaphor requires an innate cognitive ability on the part of the poet, viz. to recognize likenesses (cf. Poet. 1459a 7-8, Rhet. 1405a 9-10). This aspect is briefly touched upon by T. (on p. 5), but it would actually deserve much more attention and should, in turn, be linked with Aristotle's concept of mimesis -- a term mentioned by T., but infelicitously translated as "imitation" (p. 6), a misapprehension of the Greek term going back at least to Martin Opitz' Buch von der Deutschen Poeterey (published in 1624).6 Moreover, when T. talks about Greek rhetoric (p. 7), she misleadingly uses the Latin terms inventio (for heuresis), elocutio (for lexis or hermeneia) and compositio, the latter being infelicitous anyway, at least when translated as "theory of composition".

On the other hand, the present reviewer sympathizes fully with T. for not actually stepping into the mire of the innumerable categories and subdivisions of tropes that were developed by rhetoricians in the course of antiquity -- a plethora of words that brought no less a scholar than Quintilian to despair and made him state that there was an inexplicabilis pugna among grammaticians and philosophers about the classes, kinds, number and subdivision of the tropes (cf. Inst. or. 8, 6, 1).

The absence of at least one single representative of Renaissance thought is notable. An interesting candidate for closer inspection would certainly have been the third book of the Poetices libri septem of Iulius Caesar Scaliger (first published in 1561), which treats metaphor (translatio) in the context of imago, exemplum, collatio and comparatio, all of which are subsumed under the heading of assimilatio -- an attempt at systematization that is something of a novelty.

Vico's truly peculiar etymologizing of the Greek word mythos, linking it with Latin mutus ("mute") should not simply be quoted by T. (via other secondary literature). Rather, it merits a short critical discussion locating it in Vico's general outlook on the world. It should be stressed that his philosophy of language was developed at least partly in reaction to Descartes (who is absent from T.'s book), and that Vico is more inclined to be guided by his personal intuition than eager to provide factual proof of many of his claims (especially with respect to his pre-scientific etymologies).7

Then again, and especially in view of the numerous omissions mentioned above, the inclusion of the Romantic poets Coleridge and Shelley in a study that professes to be primarily concerned with discussions of metaphor in philosophy and linguistics (cf. p. 1 n.1) seems gratuitous, despite the fact that Coleridge's Lectures on Shakespeare (published in 1836) and Shelley's Defence of Poetry have been quite influential in more recent times, especially as far as the Romantic opposition between poetry and science is concerned (T. is perhaps on the right track when she states that "they [i.e., the Romantic poets] have been influential [...] as a general, implicit, 'synthetic' undercurrent", p. 18).

One last quibble: It would have been helpful to include a more comprehensive bibliography of primary and secondary literature on metaphor. There are so many crucial books missing in T.'s bibliography that compiling a list would be inappropriate. Although she finished her work in 1996 (the absence of post-1996 items from the bibliography is notable), she could have used (or at least mentioned) A. Haverkamp's collection of essays Theorie der Metapher which assembles important texts from all walks of metaphor theory, including important theorists like J. Lacan, G. Genette, H. Blumenberg, H. Weinrich, and P. de Man.8

But all these criticisms should not detract from the undoubted merits of this book nor prevent scholars of various disciplines from appreciating this handy book for what it is: a convenient survey of modern trends in metaphorology (only a mention of the works of H. Blumenberg is really sorely missed here). What is achieved in that respect is well achieved: This monograph is a handy companion to the majority of more recent theories of metaphor. Still, there remains a pressing need for a comprehensive monograph covering the complex history of the development of theories about metaphor throughout the ages, ranging from Greek and Roman antiquity to the present day -- a study that would show how influential the concepts that were developed then have actually been through the ages.9 T.'s book is yet another stimulus to fill that gap.10


1.   At least a classic like M. S. Silk, Interaction in Poetic Imagery with Special Reference to Early Greek Poetry, Cambridge 1974, could have been consulted by T., not to mention numerous other works like W. B. Stanford, Greek Metaphor. Studies in Theory and Practice, Oxford 1936 (repr. New York -- London 1972).
2.   There is a comprehensive (and to my knowledge still unsurpassed) study of the theory of metaphor in the Middle Ages which T. should have consulted at any rate: U. Krewitt, Metapher und topische Rede in der Auffassung des Mittelalters, Ratingen -- Kastellaun -- Wuppertal 1971 (Beihefte zum Mittellateinischen Jahrbuch; 7). In addition to this, anyone interested in medieval theory of metaphor should also give close attention to E. R. Curtius, Europäische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter, Berne -- Munich 1965, especially pp. 138-154 -- and F. Ohly, Schriften zur mittelalterlichen Bedeutungsforschung, Darmstadt 1977.
3.   The reader might consult, for example, the admirably concise and yet full overview provided by E. Eggs in: Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik, ed. by G. Ueding, vol. 5 (L-Musi), Tübingen 2001, coll. 1099-1183, or the much more condensed yet helpful article by V. Sage in The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, ed. by R. E. Asher/J.M. Y. Simpson, vol. 5, Oxford 1994, pp. 2452-2461.
4.   For those requiring in-depth information there is now a handy edition (with Italian translation and extensive commentary) of most of the relevant passages on metaphor in Greek and Roman literature: G. Guidorizzi/S. Beta (eds.), La metafora: Testi greci e latini, Pisa 2000 (Testimonianze sulla cultura greca; 3).
5.   To take just one example: a collection of conference papers on ancient semiotics has demonstrated the innovative potential of Greek, Roman, and medieval theory and practice for today's researchers in that field, G. Manetti (ed.), Knowledge Through Signs: Ancient Semiotic Theories and Practices, Brepols 1996.
6.   In a majority of contexts the term could probably be translated as "representation", cf. S. Halliwell, The Poetics of Aristotle, London 1987, p. 192. For the background of the problem cf. H. Koller, Die Mimesis in der Antike, Berne 1954 (Dissertationes Bernenses, Ser. I; 5), S. Halliwell, Aristotle's Poetics, London 1998, pp. 109-137, and most recently J. H. Petersen, Mimesis -- Imitatio -- Nachahmung, Munich 2000.
7.   Cf. E. Coseriu, Geschichte der Sprachphilosophie, Tübingen -- Basle 2003, p. 290f.
8.   Anselm Haverkamp (ed.), Theorie der Metapher: Studienausgabe, 2nd edn. Darmstadt 1996 (first edn. 1983).
9.   Some highly interesting articles are assembled in the recent book Metaphor, Allegory, and the Classical Tradition, ed. by G. R. Boys-Stones, Oxford 2003 (reviewed by L. Emmett, BMCR 2004.03.39).
10.   Some typos: p. 6 "melopoíia", not "mélopoia"; p. 7 "hermeneia", not "hermeneua", "heuresis", not "euresis"; p. 9 n. 6 "Panta rhei", not "Panta rei"; p. 10 "Oratoria", not "Oratia"; p. 11 "ornatus", not "ornati" (as plural of the Latin word ornatus), similarly on pp. 16 and 19 (unless T. is thinking of the Italian word ornato); p. 20 n. 14 "Nietzsche's", not "Nietsche's", "aussermoralischen", not "aussernormalischen", "Beziehung", not "Besiehung"; p. 41 "were developed ... in 1969", not "are developed ... in 1969"; p. 134 n. 76 "It was Gottlob Frege", not "It has been Gottlob Frege"; "these currents of European thought", not "these aspects of European thinking"; p. 143 "Reactions to", not "Reactions upon"; p. 172 "a bringing together of two concepts", not "a bringing together two concepts"; p. 175 "memory is constituted by", not "the memory is constructed of"; p. 179 "Nietzsche", not "Nietsche"; on p. 183 (of the bibliography) the article in Acta Linguistica Hungarica 38 by L. Goossens is listed twice, once under "1988" and once under "1993b". Some items in the bibliography do not appear to have been used in the text, while "Mooij (1941)" (quoted on p. 16) is not listed.

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