Aristotle on Sentence Types and Forms of Speech


  • Gábor Bolonyai
  • Matjaž Babič



sentence, old Greek literature, Greek literature, ancient philosophy, Aristotle, Homer


According to the Hermeneutics, Ch. 4, the analysis of non-assertoric sentences such as wishes, commands, etc. belongs to rhetoric or poetics. They are, however, examined neither in the Rhetoric nor in the Poetics, where (Ch. 20) their treatment. is explicitly excluded from the art of poetry and referred to that of delivery or performance. The paper gives an explanation for this discrepancy, based on an interpretation of Aristotle's rejection of Protagoras' criticism of Homer. The sophist found fault with the first line of the Iliad where Homer invokes the Muse by the imperative Menin aeide, thea thus uttering a command while believing that he is expressing a prayer. Aristotle's grounds for rejecting this criticism remain implicit, but it appears very likely that he thought that, if uttered or performed in the right manner, the sentence could he taken as a prayer. From this observation, which is certainly valid in this particular case, he drew the conclusion that performative or vocal features in themselves, i.e. rhythm, intonation and volume of sound, are always sufficient to identify particular „figures of speech“, as he calls non-assertoric sentence types in the Poetics. This conclusion is, however, not entirely justified. Performative features are not always enough to differentiate between two `figures of speech'; the possible range of verbal moods and sentence types is likewise determined by morphological marks (e.g. mood signs), syntactical features (word-order), and lexical items (certain adverbs or particles). Aristotle’s decision to dismiss figures of speech altogether from the field of lexis may also have contributed to the later development of keeping linguistics and theory of style apart as two separate branches of inquiry. 


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