Hendiadys

For years (well, on and off) I’ve wondered what the point of hendiadys is. It’s an obscure term (which, btw, my iPad wants to correct to ‘he daddy’s’) meaning ‘one through two’, i.e. saying one complex idea as if it were two separate ones. This usually amounts to putting and between two nouns, instead of linking them in more complex ways, such as using of. So, a passionate rage might become passion and rage, or England’s glory England and glory. I’d been taught this at school, and teach it at school, but could never get my head round why writers wrote like this. What did it add? George T. Wright tells us that the word was invented by Servius, the commentator on Virgil, and it’s certainly true that Virgil is full of them. Wright suggests that the effect is to focus our minds more clearly on our perceptions of both elements: in “pateris libamus et auro” (“we drink from cups and from gold”) the goldness of the cups is sharper than if “we drink from golden cups”.

It was typing fast emails which gave me the clue. I’d be writing, say, about an upcoming meeting on school reporting, and would catch myself typing “see you tomorrow to discuss meetings and reports” rather than “the meeting about reports”. It was haste which made me do it, a reluctance to slow down and express myself more thoughtfully. Outside emails, a common example in Modern English is the widespread replacing of try to… with try and…: try and… makes no sense – the trying must be linked to whatever one’s trying to do.

So, at least in English today, hendiadys reflects the speaker’s haste, her impatience with more complex subordination, falling back on just getting out the main ideas, leaving the subtleties of their relationship for the listener to intuit. Is this also part of what Virgil’s doing? Are there examples of hendiadys in (hasty) colloquial Latin?

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