Teaching Hyperbaton


How to Recognize
What Hyperbaton is Not

Maura K. Lafferty (University of Tennessee)

The longer I teach Latin, the more important I think it to emphasize Latin word order from the very beginning. We must combat the widespread belief among our students that Latin word order does not exist, or if it does, that it does not matter. Some issues, such as deviation from the standard order subject-direct object-verb, are relatively easy to teach. If the direct object comes before the subject, even those students most tied to English word order can see that something unusual is going on. Hyperbaton, however, is another matter. Fortunately, Wikipedia, increasingly the source of student knowledge, defines hyperbaton as “figure of speech in which words that naturally belong together are separated from each other for emphasis or effect”.[1] This definition is essentially the same as that found in classical grammars.[2] The problem lies in the fact that students are often uncertain of the normal conventions of Latin word order. They find it difficult to recognize when it is unusual and so to distinguish it from what one of my colleagues calls “bookending”, the “natural” ordering of words in such a way as to define phrases more clearly.

If we return to classical illustrations of hyperbaton, the issue becomes clearer. Quintilian’s definitions of hyperbaton are very close to modern ones: at Inst. 8.6.62, it is the transgressio verbi. His definition of hyperbaton “proper” is not much different from the modern definitions, At cum decoris gratia traicitur longius verbum, proprie hyperbati tenet nomen (When, for the sake of grace, a word is further removed [from its normal position], this is called hyperbaton, 8.6.65). His illustrative example, however, taken from Cicero, Pro Cluentio 1, shows that his understanding of “normal position” is fairly complex:

"animadverti, iudices, omnem accusatoris orationem in duas divisam esse partis." Nam "in duas partis divisam esse" rectum erat, sed durum et incomptum.

“Note, judges, that the entire speech of the accuser has been divided into two parts.” For “in duas partis divisam esse” was correct, but harsh and unrefined.

Here, Quintilian draws attention to the phrase in duas divisam esse partis in which the participial phrase is interrupted by the infinitive, which is placed “unnaturally” between the adjective and the noun it modifies. Note, however, he does not call omnem accusatoris orationem hyperbaton, apparently judging this phrase “normal” Again, we have a word “intruding” between the adjective and the noun it modifies. This, however, is not hyperbaton because accusatoris is part of the noun phrase. Rather than interrupting “natural Latin word order”, then, Cicero uses the word order to define the phrase, “bookending” its beginning and end with two words in agreement. This paper will use these and other examples to explore hyperbaton as it was understood by Latin authors.

[1] “Hyperbaton”, Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperbaton (page last modifed 9/15/2007).

[2] See H.W. Smyth, Greek Grammar (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1984)“the separation of words naturally belonging together”; Charles Bennett, New Latin Grammar (Wauconda: Bolchazy-Carducci, 1999; repr. of 1908 edition), “the separation of words that regularly stand together”;

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