Terms and Definitions: T
This page is under perpetual
construction! It was last updated September 1, 2017.
This list is meant to assist,
not intimidate. Use it as a touchstone for important concepts
and vocabulary that we will cover during the term. Vocabulary
terms are listed alphabetically.
spelled tabu): (1) In anthropology,
a taboo is a socially prohibited activity. For instance,
in classical Greek culture, it was forbidden for a murderer
or menstruating woman to enter the sacred space of a temple
or the central agora of a city beyond a temenos boundary
action spread contagious miasma. (2) A
linguistic taboo is a social prohibition that forbids mentioning
a word or subject. Commonly, various cultures might have
taboos against mentioning bodily fluids, defecation, certain
activities, or certain religious terms. These terms often
suffer linguistic pejoration
and become "curse-words." For instance, in Britain,
the adjective bloody is considered taboo or impolite
to speak aloud as a curse word because of its older religious
connotations as a medieval curse about the blood of Christ's
wounds. In American English, words describing specific
activities or bodily functions usually are taboo for polite
conversation, and so on.
TABULA (Latin, "tablet," plural tabulae): The Latin and medieval term for a wax tablet, i.e., a rectangle or square of wax poured into the hollow of a wooden board, or in some cases, two wooden boards with two hollows. The two could then be attached together by string through bored holes, with leather straps, or with bronze or brass hinges. A scribe could use a sharpened stylus (usually of wood, bone, or metal) to inscribe letters on the soft wax for temporary record-keeping. He could later "erase" the tablet through simple application of heat to melt the wax. In medieval schools, it was common for students to take their notes on such tabulae during lecture, study them at night and commit the notes to memory, then erase the tablets for re-use the next day. That sort of high-stakes mnemonics often startles modern students unused to such mass memorization, but does illustrate the powers of the conditioned mind. See also tabula rasa, below.
RASA (Latin, "erased tablet"): The term used in Enlightenment
philosophy for the idea that humanity is born completely innocent, without
predispositions, attitudes, or beliefs. Accordingly, no natural state
of humanity exists, but instead, humanity is infinitely malleable. The newborn
child is thus a "blank slate" on which experiences and education will write
his or her future personality and beliefs. The idea is influential in the
philosophical writings of Locke, Rousseau, and Wollstonecraft, but it also
fiction such as Frankenstein, in which the monster's account of
his experiences after his initial creation characterize him as an innocent
IMAGERY: Verbal description that evokes the sense of touch.
TAG: "Tags" are catch-phrases or character traits that a fiction writer uses repeatedly with a character. For instance, both the phrase, "Elementary my dear Watson," and the "smoking-pipe-with-deer-hunter-hat" ensemble of Sherlock Holmes, are two "tags" Sir Arthur Conan Doyle uses repeatedly as distinguishing marks for that character. In the old Doc Savage adventurer thrillers of the 1940s and 1950s, the phrase, "The Man of Bronze" was a verbal tag to describe the protagonist, while the author used a sword hidden in a cane as the object-tag for his dapper lawyer side-kick. Meanwhile, the author used ape-like visage as a descriptive tag for "Monk," the stunted chemist who was a part of his crime-busting team. Tags thus can be either phrases or words or they can be imagery and description or perhaps simple objects and wardrobe--overall, a very versital term.
(translated from French rime couée, or Latin
rhythmus caudatus, also called caudate rhyme):
A unit of verse in which a short line, followed by a longer
line or section of longer lines, rhymes with a preceding
short line. The number of possible variants following this
are too many to list here. Famous examples can be found in
Chaucer's "Sir Thopas" and Drayton's "Ballad
of Agincourt." The following example of tail-rhyme
comes from P. B. Shelley's "To Night":
walk o'er the western wave,
the misty eastern cave,
all the long and lone daylight,
Thou wovest dreams of joy and fear,
Which make thee terrible and dear,--
be thy flight!
A genre of Japanese poetry similar to the haiku. A
tanka consists of thirty-one syllables arranged in five lines.
The lines contain five / seven / five / seven / seven syllables.
Also known as the waka
it originated in the 600s CE, and it is regarded as the classic,
ancient Japanese poetic form. It has had little influence
on Western poetry, though Amy Lowell and Adelaide Crapsey
have imitated it. Contrast it with the much more influential
TAO, THE (Mandarin Chinese, "The Way"): For purposes of literary discussion, the Tao has two relevant definitions.
(1) Taoism (also spelled Daoism) in its Oriental sense is a philosophy of balance, the idea that harmony comes not from embracing either darkness or light, good or evil, pleasure or asceticism, but from trying to harmonize oneself to natural processes as they occur. The true Tao resists definition, as the Tao changes whenever conditions change. In the snows of winter, the correct Tao might be to seek fire to avoid freezing. In the heat of summer, the correct Tao might then be to find cooling shade. It is filling what is empty and empyting what is already full. If one has more food or wealth than one needs, the correct Tao might be generously giving to those in need. If one has nothing, the correct Tao might be stinginess or begging from those who have plenty. The Tao is all things and no things simultaneously, but in general one might recognize it by simplicity, flexibility, balance, and seeking to find harmony with the "Ten Thousand Things" (i.e., the phenomenological universe). The most famous encapsulation of it is the Chinese writing, the Tao-te-Ching. It influences a wide array of Chinese poetry.
(2) C. S. Lewis coopts the term "the Tao" in The Abolition of Man and in other writings to refer to values and virtues he saw as held universally in all cultures, and which he believed were based on nature as structured by a divine creator; i.e., he read "the Tao" as loosely similar to the idea of natural law in Greco-Roman philosophy (ius naturale) or in the medieval philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.
Lewis's use of the term is somewhat problematic for sinologists for several reasons. First, in classical China, Taoist philosophers saw themselves as antithetical to the philosophical school of Legalism, with its overtones of rules and laws for correct behavior. They resisted distilling the Tao into actual rules or axioms claiming, "The Tao that can be named is not the Tao." Classical Chinese Legalism, like Western ideas of natural law, was more concerned with naming, listing, defining, and punishing breaches of specific moral principles. Taoism expressly opposed intellectual "cleverness" and possibly by implication all attempts at systematic logic. Second, in the western tradition, Christian thinkers like Thomas Aquinas saw natural laws as universal and unchanging by definition. If natural law punished theft in 700 BC, it would still punish theft in 2017 AD. This contrasts with the fluid nature of the Tao in Chinese thought, which believed that harmony with nature required change and flexibility as circumstances changed. Third, Lewis seems to equate natural law with the laws of nature--i.e., the physical universe. The Tao in his use would be wisely conforming to innate limitations or requirements of the physical universe as designed by God, who stands outside (or beyond) nature. That does not match well with Taoist thought, in which the Tao not only is harmonious behavior with nature, it contains or includes nature itself, and even supernatural beings (like a God or gods) would be enclosed inside it, as the Tao is "all that is." In spite of those distinctions, Lewis chooses the Chinese term rather than the Western medieval term to describe natural or universal laws, though it is unclear (as Lewis spoke no Mandarin) whether Lewis is deliberately choosing a problematic term or whether he is unaware of the inconsistencies and presuming similarities between classical Greco-Roman thinking and classical Chinese thinking.
TAOISM: See Taoism discussion here.
TAUTOLOGY: An unartful redundancy, unneeded repetition, or or misused periphrasis in writing or speech. Contrast with tautotes (TBA). See discussion under periphrasis and repetition.
The first four books of The Odyssey are together
called the Telemachia because they focus on the problems
Telemachus faces while waiting for his father Odysseus to
TELESCOPED METAPHOR: Also called a complex metaphor, a telescoped metaphor appears when the vehicle of one metaphor becomes the tenor of another closely connected to it. Deutsche points out an example from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Here, Octavian speaks to Antony concerning Octavian's sister, Octavia, who is also Antony's wife. Octavia serves as a tie that binds the two men to each other politically. Octavian compares Octavia first to peace, then compares peace to cement, then makes a comparison to a battering ram:
Let not the peace of Virtue which is set
Betwixt us, as the cement of our love
To keep it builded, be the Ram to batter
The Fortune of it.
Here, Caesar's sister is the tenor, and "peace of Virtue" is the vehicle, initially. The "cement of love" is vehicle next, which has "peace of Virtue" as its tenor. That in turn is transformed into a battering ram as the metaphor continues to unfold and extend like a collapsible telescope. See further discussion of vehicle and tenor under metaphor.
A poem in which the last letters of successive lines form
a word, phrase, or consecutive letters of the alphabet. Compare
poem and acrostic.
A school of
French intellectuals associated with Philippe Seller's
review Tel Quel. Sample members include Julia
Kristeva, Jean-Joseph Goux, and Jacques Derrida.
Greek "to cut"): In Classical Greek culture, the temenos is
a sacred area marked off as holy ground. On this special
plot of land, we might find temples dedicated to a particular
god, sanctuaries, holy groves,
the race-course for Pythian or Olympic games, the agora in
the center of each city, and the Acropolis. Stones called
temenos markers would indicate the boundary,
and it would be taboo for any ritually unclean person to
this line lest they risk creating or spreading miasma.
The pace or speed of speech and also the degree to which individual
sounds are fully articulated or blurred together. The faster
the tempo, the more likely sounds will blur or elide.
In grammatical and linguistic discussion, something relating
to the element of time.
See further discussion under clause.
TEMPORAL NUMBERING: One of several possible numbering systems in a language's grammar. For a discussion of temporals, see multiplicatives.
MOTIF: A motif in which
one of the protagonist's primary struggles is the conflict
his or her sense of (1) personal honor and
ethics and (2) his or her personal desires,
ambitions, or wickedness. Biblical examples include the
of mankind in Genesis, David and Bathsheba, and Satan's three
temptations of Christ. This motif is central to a variety
of patristic, medieval and Renaissance works, including the
Confessions, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,
Paradise Lost, and The Tragical History of Doctor
Faustus. Stories that involve a temptation motif frequently
focus on internal conflict
or psychological drama in addition to any external plot lines.
In medieval theology, the temptation motif was often divided
into three categories: concupiscentia carnis
(physical temptations of the flesh such as gluttony, drunkenness,
and illicit sexuality), concupiscentia oculora
("temptation of the eyes" i.e., mental temptations
for imagined material possessions, power or wealth) and superbia
vitae (pride concerning life--the desire
humans have to be more than what God created humans to
be.) Perhaps the most dramatic example is the Faustian
bargain, a temptation motif in which an individual
sells his or her soul to the devil. Sometimes, the temptation motif is turned to satirical or humorous effect, such as in C.S. Lewis's Screwtape LettersIn this epistolary novel, our point-of-view is that of the tempter rather than the victim, as events unfold from the implied perspective of bureaucratic and incompetent devils who serve as antiheroes.
tendential refers to action that
has been attempted but remains incomplete--especially interrupted
action. This situation is only of minor concern in English
grammar, but it is important in Greek and other languages.
TENGWAR: In addition to creating a number of artificial languages, J.R.R. Tolkien also relentlessly invented alphabets for different fictional time periods and for different fictional races. As Arden Smith's entry on alphabets in The Tolkien Encyclopedia summarizies it, Tengwar was one of two writing systems he designed for the elves. Tolkien designed Tengwar to be used in calligraphic representation as opposed to Cirth, which was runic (i.e., consisting of straight lines and suitable for engraving or inscription). Fascinatingly, the Tengwar system was not a linear series of letters with arbitrary connections to phonemes, but rather each stroke would be part of a grid deliberately connecting with dentals, labials, velars, labiovelars. Thus a stroke in one direction might indicate a voiceless stop, and the same slash in a different location or direction might indicate a voiced stop, and so forth (see Smith in Drout 11-12). The intricacies are too lengthy to get into here, but in general it is a system of writing in which the phonetic significations are consistent from letter to letter and each mark or stroke of that letter deliberately makes a phonetic statement about the parts of the mouth used to make that sound.
In common usage, tenor refers to the course of thought,
meaning or emotion in anything written or spoken. Among rhetoricians,
however, the word tenor more specifically refers
to the subject of a vehicle in a metaphorical statement. For instance, if a writer claimed,
"Mrs. Higgins is a witch," the tenor of the term
witch is Mrs.
Higgins. When Shakespeare claims that "all
the world's a stage," the entire world is the tenor for
the metaphor of a stage.
See further discussion under metaphor.
VOWEL: Any vowel made with the tongue muscles relatively
more tense than in a lax vowel. These tense vowels tend to
be less central and pronounced higher in the oral cavity than
lax vowels. Examples include the vowels [i],
(1) In common usage, tension refers
to a sense of heightened involvement, uncertainty, and interest
an audience experiences as the climax of the action approaches.
(2) In the school of literary theory called
"New Criticism" in the
1930s and later, the word tension refers more specifically
to the quality of balanced opposites that can provide form
and unity to a literary work of diverse components. This sort
of tension exists between the literal and metaphorical meanings
of a work, between what is written and what the text implies,
between the serious and the ironic, between contradictions
in the text that the reader must resolve without authorial
discussion, or any equilibrium resulting from the harmony
of opposite tendencies.
TEST ACT: This protestant-sponsored British legislation from 1673 made it illegal for Catholics to hold political office within British domains, mirroring the anti-Catholicism of Anglicanism at that time. Jonathan Swift satirizes this policy in a number of writings, notably in Gulliver's Travels, in which the Liliputian community has similar strictures regarding "Big-Endians."
An agreement or covenant, especially in the sense of a will
being a "last will and testament" or in the sense
of the two major portions of the Bible being a covenant between
God and humanity. In literature, the term is often used in
the sense of "affirmation," such as Robert Bridges'
The Testament of Beauty, which affirms the wisdom
of the artistic spirit.
A three-line unit or stanza of poetry. It typically rhymes
in an AAA or ABA
pattern. If the tercet forms a stanza by itself, it is often
called a triplet.
SCREEN: Kenneth Burke's term for the way a word or
label alters the way we categorize, analyze, and perceive
the object about which we talk. Compare with Whorf's
In spite of the label, this phrase does not refer
poorly written sonnets. Gerard Manley Hopkins used the
term "terrible sonnets" to designate several of his later
religious poems, in which he feels isolated from God.
In this poems,
his sense of individuality
leads Hopkins to confront his solipsism--and react with
despair ("the dark night of the soul," as described by
St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order).
The terrible sonnets contrast starkly with Hopkins' earlier
religious poetry, which focus on the ecstatic joy of being
in God's presence or God's creation. Sample terrible
Hopkins' "Carrion Comfort," "No Worst, There Is None,"
"I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day," and "Thou
RIMA (Italian, "third rhyme"): A three-line
stanza form with interlocking rhymes that move from one stanza
to the next. The typical pattern is ABA,
DED, and so on. Dante
chose terza rima's tripartite structure as the basic
poetic unit of his trilogy, The Divine Comedy. An English
example is found in Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind."
Here are two sample stanzas:
me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!
The four Hebrew consonant letters corresponding to yhwh (or
in German transliteration,
jhvh). The oldest Hebrew writers referred to God
in a variety of ways: El (God), Elohim (God,
but in a plural form as was common in other Ugaritic and
Semitic traditions), or by a personal name containing the
letters yhwh, usually rendered as Yahweh in
modern transcription. Over time, given certain Kabbalistic
and mystical leanings,
Hebrew scribes began to add extra semantic weight to this
combination of written letters. It is as if the holiness
of God spilled over into the inky strokes
the Divine on parchment. Scribes and priests treated
the tetragrammaton as spiritually charged by
use in prayers,
all, is triggered by invocation or calling
upon the name of a deity. The tetragrammaton often became
personified--almost like a separate entity from its referent.
Thus, the Deuteronomic
writers customarily referred to the Temple in Jerusalem
as the place where Yahweh's "name" dwelled rather than
(or in addition to) being the residence of Yahweh himself
(Gabel and Wheeler 269).
The original Hebrew writing
system did not have letters indicating vowel sounds. The
scribes only wrote down
consonant letters and relied upon memory and context to supply
the appropriate vowels. However, the tetragrammaton Yahweh was
different from other Hebrew terms because it underwent a
It could be written down, but it became forbidden to say
the name aloud. (Gabon and Wheeler note there is "no real
evidence that this originally had been the case," with only
anachronistic additions to the Leviticus text in Leviticus
24:10-16 being used to justify the taboo a posteriori.)
Shortly after the Babylonian Exile, however, the divine name
was considered too sacred to pronounce and strict rules prevented
its use, even though before this time the ordinary believer
used God's name as a matter of course. The convention then
became that, when reading the scriptures aloud, the reader
would substitute a neutral title, adonai ("my Lord")
wherever the tetragrammaton yhwh appeared. After
the custom of using diacritical markings to indicate
vowels appeared in Hebrew scribal practice, the scribe would
continue to use the consonant letters, but would instead
place the diacritical vowel markings for adonai above
the consonants, reminding the reader to substitute adonai for
the tetragrammaton. (This substitution sounds a bit confusing
in English, but the markings are distinctive and quickly
in written Hebrew). The Greek kurios and
Latin dominus appear
as translated equivalents to adonai, but many modern
English Bibles indicate the tetragrammaton by writing LORD in
all capital letters but with slightly smaller typefont, which
imitates the special status of the yhwh in the original
Hebrew. This distinction,
only applies to the Hebrew Bible, not the New Testament.
Note that Jehovah is an incorrect rendering of yhwh first
popularized in the Renaissance by King James translators
unfamiliar with this unique Hebrew convention.
(1) In a general sense, a collection of four
narratives that are contiguous and continuous in chronology.
Just as three books that tell a continuous story constitute
four books that tell a continuous narrative are a tetralogy.
(2) A set of four plays that constitute
a long historical cycle, written in approximately the same
of Shakespeare's career. Scholars refer to Shakespeare
as writing a "First Tetralogy" (containing Richard III
and Henry VI, part 1, part 2, and part
3) and a "Second Tetralogy" (containing Richard II,
Henry IV, part I., Henry IV, part 2, and Henry
V.) In opera, Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungs
serves as a tetralogy. Contrast with sequel
A line consisting of four metrical feet. See discussion under
A QUO: The earliest possible date that a literary
work could have been written, a potential starting point for
dating a manuscript or text. Latin for "boundary from
AD QUEM: The latest possible date that a literary
work could have been written, a potential ending point for
dating a manuscript or text. Latin for "boundary up to
ACT OF 1673: A law requiring all British officials
holding public office to receive the Sacrament of the Lord's
Supper in accordance with the rituals of the Established Church
of England (the Anglican Church). This law was designed to
exclude Catholics, Anabaptists, and Scottish Presbyterians
from holding positions of importance. Swift favored the Test
Act, and his political position brought about one of literature's
unique satires. When more tolerant times came to England,
it became politically desirable to reconcile with Scottish
and Irish minorities. At that point, the English government
proposed abolishing the Test Act. Swift responded by
writing his satirical essay, "Abolishing Christianity
in England," in which he equates the removal of the Test
Act with an attempt to remove completely the last vestiges
of Christianity in England.
In literary criticism, formalist critics use the term text to
refer to a single work of literary art (such as a specific
poem, essay, short story). In
formalist thinking, this text is an autonomous verbal object--i.e.,
it is self-enclosed and self-creating, and thus the critic
need not necessarily explicate it using the biography of
the author, or the historical background of its time-period,
or other "extra-textual" details.
TEXTUAL CRITICISM: The
collection, comparison, and collating of all textual
variants in order to reconstruct or recreate a single authoritative
text--especially one that reflects authorial intention.
VARIANT: A version of a text that has differences
in wording or structure compared with other texts,
especially one with missing
lines and passages or extra lines
and passage added. In some cases, textual variants reflect the difference
between an author's early version or rough draft of a work
and a later version or polished final product. Variance in
Shakespeare's plays might have come about in the difference
between the foul papers (handwritten rough drafts) and the
fair copy (the largely corrected versions sent to the printers).
Variations in Chaucer's manuscripts of The Canterbury
might reflect an earlier, alternative scheme for structuring
the work that Chaucer later abandoned in favor of a revised
order for the various tales. Other textual variants in literary
works are the product of error, scribal corruption, intentional
censorship, or errata.
See fair copy, errata, foul
papers, scribal corruption,
Additionally, the author might
deliberately make changes in later versions of a poem or
story. For instance, Dr. Karen
Karbiener notes significant textual variants appear in
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. In the first edition
of 1818, the teenage Shelley describes Elizabeth as having
a strong resemblence
to Shelley herself. Many of the novel's subplots had rather
incestuous overtones, and the text focuses more on Victor
Frankenstein's moral free will. Karbiener points out how
Shelley alters or changes these elements in her 1831
Colburn and Bentley's Standard Novels Series,
when Shelley is an older and less radical author.
In modern publications, textual variants can involve both publication error and actual piracy, as was the case with American editions of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. As Douglas Anderson notes, both the first British edition (published by George Allen and Unwin) and the first U.S. edition (from Houghton Mifflin) suffered from typical printers' errors and compositors' mistakes, especially well-meaning but inaccurate "corrections" of Tolkien's intentionally idiosyncratic spelling (Anderson xi). For example, Tolkien deliberately "misspelled" dwarfs as dwarves, nasturtiums as nasturtians, and elfin as elven in his texts, but over-eager editors altered these to match traditional usage. To capture the informal, lower-class aspects of Hobbit dialect, Tolkien intentionally used further instead of farther and substituted the phrase "try and say" for "try to say" in their speech (Anderson xi). Editors "corrected" such phrases against Tolkien's wishes without consulting him, Tolkien worked relentlessly to undo those alterations in later editions.
Piracy next compounded these errata in Tolkien's work. Anderson notes how, in 1965, possibly due to international copyright confusions, Ace Books began its own unauthorized American publication of The Lord of the Rings without paying royalties. Ace was a paperback publication firm that specialized in rapid, bulk production of fantasy and science fiction novels, and it published its pirated version as a trilogy rather than a single book, which American publishers thought would increase profits. Ace based its version on the older, already erroneous versions dating from 1954-1956, but it magnified those errors in the process of resetting the type, which introduced a large number of typographical errors. Ace soon found it had a runaway bestseller that was extremely popular with the U.S. counterculture and college students. Their version is the one Americans first encountered of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien and his agents decided not to challenge Ace in court (as their version was making Tolkien's previously obscure work famous in the United States), but instead they decided to release an updated version published as a second edition in England via Allen and Unwin and as an "authorized" American edition through Ballantine Books. For this release, Tolkien updated the forward, expanded the prologue and first chapters, and greatly revised the appendices (Anderson xii). Unfortunately, the publishers' haste to produce competing authorized versions (or possibly Tolkien's confusing notes on authorial changes) caused new problems. In some cases, these included inserting Tolkien's corrections in the wrong location or sequence, which Tolkien arranged to have revised variously in the third and fourth impressions, and most of the changes never made it all into the three-volume British hardcover edition a year later. Thus, we currently end up with both early and late British variants in the text, variations between the Ace and Ballantine versions of the text, variations between hardcover and softcover versions, and in the British text, we find differences between the first two impressions and the later impressions of the second edition--none of which match each other completely in dialogue, spelling, open chapters, prefaces, and consistency of genealogies, spelling, and appendices.
In the thought of John Crowe Ransom and the New Critics,
involves poetic details such as the modification of the metrical
pattern, associations attached to words, and the aural
of spoken sounds. These elements are separate from the structure
of the poem, and they are significantly of interest in
sense, but they cannot be captured in a paraphrase or summary
of the poem's argument or even in its literal content.
text of the Greek New Testament based on Erasmus' Greek
text. In spite of considerable errors and flaws, for four
hundred years it was accepted as the standard or commonly
received text, hence the name textus receptus. It served
as the primary text used in scholarly translations
in scholarly debate until historical and textual criticism
developed further in the 19th century.
(Greek, "death"): Freud's term for a subconscious
desire for self-destruction--a secret longing to die--a
death wish. See
IN THE ROUND: A performance taking place on an arena stage.
OF DIONYSUS: The outdoor theater in Athens where Greek
drama began as a part of religious rituals on the sloped side
of the Acropolis in Athens.
A warrior who has sworn his loyalty to a lord in Anglo-Saxon
society. In return for a gift of weaponry and provisions of
food and drink at the mead-hall, the thegn vows to
fight for his lord and die in his service. He also takes up
the task of avenging his lord's death if that lord (hlaford)
should die. Compare with Modern English thane. See
VOWEL: In linguistics, a vowel attached to the end
of an Indo-European
root word to form a stem.
A central idea or statement that unifies and controls an entire
literary work. The theme can take the form of a brief and
meaningful insight or a comprehensive vision of life; it may
be a single idea such as "progress" (in many Victorian works),
"order and duty" (in many early Roman works), "seize-the-day"
(in many late Roman works), or "jealousy" (in Shakespeare's
Othello). The theme may also be a more complicated
doctrine, such as Milton's theme in Paradise Lost,
"to justify the ways of God to men," or "Socialism is
the only sane reaction to the labor abuses in Chicago meat-packing
plants" (Upton Sinclair's The Jungle). A theme
is the author's way of communicating and sharing ideas, perceptions,
and feelings with readers, and it may be directly stated in
the book, or it may only be implied. Compare with motif
Not to be confused with theocracy, theocrasy
is the process by which aspects of two or more separate
gods in mythology comingle or blend in the form of one
deity. For example, the Greek goddess Hera combines features
from a pre-Classical cow-spirit (thus her lingering Homeric
epithet boopis, or "cow-eyed"), and a high crown
worn by various celestial queen figures, and aspects of
her as the panton genthla, or mother-goddess.
Through the slow process of theocrasy across the centuries,
these three originally disparate deities merged into one,
to produce the Hera known in Classical Greece. Much later,
by Roman times, qualities of the Egyptian goddess Ishtar
start to appear in Hera's iconography--another sign of
Greek theo "God" + dike "right"):
In theological writings, this term refers to a defense
of God's goodness
allowed to exist or innocent creatures being allowed to
suffer--i.e., explanations for why bad things can happen
to good people and to what degree a benevolent and omnipotent
being can be held accountable for such injustice. An early
work exploring this issue is the Hebrew book of Job.
Here, the narrator tells the audience four times either
that "in all this, Job did not sin" (Job 1:22),
"he is blameless and upright" (1:8) even as God
explicitly allows the
Accuser (Hebrew Shaitan or Satan)
to ruin Job's health, destroy his possessions, slaughter
his family, and kill his servants. In the
conclusion, when Job tries to repent for non-existent wrong-doings,
the character of God does not rebuke Job, but instead expresses
anger at Eliphaz, Bildad, Elihu, and Zophar,
who simplistically argue that God only causes suffering
the wicked and that he always protects the good. God's
response to Eliphaz is "I am angry with you and your
because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my
servant Job has" (Job 42:7). Though
witnesses the Shaitan's "bet" or "wager" with
God, Job never receives any
explanation for his sufferings because Job
never witnesses the celestial events the reader is privy
to. Since the question remains
open-ended, many later theologians have attempted to create
some theodicy to reconcile a benevolent deity and the
existence of suffering,
ranging from Saint Augustine (The Confessions)
to C. S. Lewis ("The Problem of Pain"). The character
of Doctor Pangloss (Dr. "Explain-it-all") in
Voltaire's Candide concerns
himself frequently with theodicy--though other characters
like Martin often demolish his theories over
the course of the satiric tale. The actual term
theodicy, however, comes from Gottfried Wilhelm
von Leibnitz's Théodicée,
a more serious philosophical exploration of the problem
than Voltaire's satirical tale.
an account of the gods' origins and their genealogy. Click
here for an example chart.
Strife or warfare among the gods, especially in the sense
activity as a subplot (overplot?) in the Homeric poems
such as The Iliad.
therios [beast] + anthros [man]; noun
This adjective refers to any mixture of human and animal traits
together in a single description. This leads to two general
(1) a poetic
device akin to personification, but one in which animal traits
are given to a human or to an inanimate object. This
contrasts with the usual personification,
in which human traits are given to an animal or an inanimate
object. For example, poet Carl Sandburg uses therianthroposis
when he writes of how "the fog comes / on little cat
feet," and T.S. Eliot makes a similar analogy between
cats and fog in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."
In the case of many world mythologies, therianthropic
figures are mixtures of animal and human features that
result in fantastic composite
monsters and composite
deities combining human and animal features. Examples
include the Egyptian crocodile-headed deity Sobek,
or the Hindu elephant-headed deity Ganesha, or angels
in the Christian tradition which combine avian wings
with human bodies. Also called zoomorphic (q.v.) and theriomorphic,
therios [beast] + morphos [shape]; noun
Another term for therianthropic,
(1) In an essay, a thesis is an argument, either overt or
implicit, that a writer develops and supports. (2) In classical
metrical analysis, Greeks referred to the stressed syllable
in a metrical foot as a thesis,
and the unstressed syllable in a metrical foot as an arsis.
Unfortunately, the Roman analysts used the exact opposite
terminology, with the thesis being their unstressed
foot and the arsis being the stressed foot. This
results in much confusion for modern students.
THYIAD: Another term for the female worshippers of Bacchus, i.e., a maenad or bacchante, specifically such a figure who dances while carrying a thyrsus wand--a long stalk of wrapped fennel topped with a pine-cone.
In ancient Greece, a thiasos was an organized group
of women devoted to the worship of Aphrodite. Early scholars
have suggested that the poet Sappo may have been a member
of a thiasos on the isle of Lesbos (modern day Lesbia).
THING (probably from Old Norse thingvellir, "field of the assembly"):
While the althing
was the closest organization the Icelandic Vikings had to
America's federal or nationwide government, the thing
was the equivalent of the local or regional government (i.e.,
althings were huge gatherings dealing with matters
affecting all of Iceland, while things were smaller, scattered
gatherings dealing with matters affecting a town or community).
At a thing, representatives from the local area gathered
to vote on policy, hear complaints, settle disputes, and designate
incorrigible individuals as outlaws.
OF VIEW: See discussion under
WALL: Usually referred to as the "fourth wall,"
depending upon how a stagebuilder numbers the sides of the
stage, the third or fourth wall is an imaginary barrier that
separates the events on stage from the audience. The idea
is that the stage background is constructed with a cutaway
view of the house, so that the people sitting on the audience
can look through this invisible "fourth wall" and
look directly into the events inside. Such stages preclude
and they require a modified apron
with an expensive reproduction of an entire house or building,
often complete with stairs, wallpaper, furniture, and other
bits to add verisimilitude.
This type of stage became increasingly common within the last
two centuries, but the money involved in constructing such
stages often precludes their use in drama, leaving arena
stages most popular for the architectural design
of the stage.
A stanza rhyming ABABABABCDDDC.
The 1994 edition of the E.E.T.S. produced a version of the
Wakefield Master's Second Shepherd's Play printed
in thirteeners, as opposed to the more traditional printing
of nine lines in which the first four lines are extended in
length with the first half rhyming with the last half of each
A letter representing a th-
sound in the Anglo-Saxon alphabet and in Norse runes. The letter looks like a "P" in which the vertical line extends above the rest of the letter. Below is a visual example of the capital and lower-case thorn:
The letter thorn represented the interdental fricative sound found in words like thin, and it contrasts with the letter eth or edh, which represents the sound found in words like then. In modern English, we use the digraph <th> to represent both sounds. Click
here for more information.
ESTATES: See feudalism.
Or click here for expanded historical
discussion of feudalism.
THREE FOLD DEATH: See
THREE DRAMATIC UNITIES:
THREE LAWS OF
Three Laws of Robotics.
DEATH: According to Dan Wiley's entry
in Duffy's Medieval Ireland: An Encyclopedia,
threefold death is a motif of the early Irish aideda in
which a victim is killed
by three different means in rapid succession, often wounding,
drowning, and burning. Examples of this motif can also be found
in literature of folklore of Wales, France, and Estonia. The
widespread nature of the motif makes some scholars think it
began in a hypothetical Indo-European tri-functional sacrifice
in which human victims were offered to a triad of
divinities. Two of the best examples are found in Aided
Diarnmata meic Cerbaill (The Death of Diarmait mac
Muirchertaig meic Erca (The Death of Muirchertach
mac Erca). The tales are typically set in the early Christian
period between 500 and
699 CE. The narrative pattern typically is (a) a crime is committed
against the church, (b) it is prophesied the offender will
die a threefold death, (c) such a death does occur. See Duffy
Another term for a dirge.
STAGE: Another term for an apron
THYRSUS: The holy symbol of the god Dionysus or Bacchus, his priest would carry a Thyrsus--a wand fashioned from a long stalk of wrapped fennel topped with a pine-cone. The wand had overtones of both vegetational fertility and doubled as a phallic symbol during the dances in the god's honor.
A diacritic marking used in languages like Spanish and Portugeuse.
It looks like this: ~, and the tilde appears
over another letter.
An enclosed area in an Elizabethan theater where the actors
awaited their cue to go on stage, changed their costumes,
and stored stage props. The term is an abbreviation of "attiring
house" or "attiring room." This structure was
located at the back of the stage and opened out onto the stage
from two or more doors in the frons
Intentionally breaking a word into two parts for emphasis.
Goldwyn once wrote, "I have but two words to say to your
request: Im Possible." In the movie True Lies, one
character states, "I have two words to describe that
idea. In Sane." Milton writes, "Which way soever
man refer to it." The poet W. H. Auden makes emotionally
laden use of tmesis in "Two Songs for Hedli Anderson," where
he stretches out the word forever by writing: "I
thought that love would last For Ever. I was wrong." In
English, this rhetorical scheme is fairly rare, since only
the compounds of "ever" readily lend themselves
to it, but it is much more common in Greek and Latin. An
exception to this generalization is the American poet e.
e. cummings (the lack of capitalization in his name is a
rhetorical affectation). Critics note that cummings makes
particularly potent use of tmesis in poems like "she
being Brand / -new", in which words like "brand-new" and "O.
K" are artificially divided across separate lines of
text to create an unusual, broken reading experience. Particularly
clever poets may use a sort of infixation to insert other
words of phrases between the two parts that have been split
apart. For instance, a southerner might say, "I live
in West--by God--Virginia, thank you very much!" Shakespeare,
in Troilus and Cressida, writes the phrase, "how
dearly ever parted" (III.iii), when we would expect
to find the phrase written as "however dearly parted" in
normal grammatical usage. Tmesis is an example of
a rhetorical scheme.
A branch of the Indo-European family of languages--now extinct.
Unusually, Tocharian was geographically located in central
Asia, far away from most other Indo-European languages.
TODDAID: A Welsh syllabic poem written in quatrains with alternating nine- and ten-syllable lines, usually incorporating cross-rhyming in its rhyme structure.
(1) In literature, Nathaniel Hawthorne's term for a private
symbol. He also refers to private symbols as
emblems. Examples include the blasted trees
and brown-grass in "The Hollow of the Three Hills"
or the walking stick carried by the old man and the pink ribbon
belonging to Faith in "Young Goodman Brown." (2) In the Renaissance printing industry, a stack of 250 sheets of paper used as a unit for calculating a pressman's work. Ideally, all the sheets of paper come from the same lot, which will give the resulting book a uniform appearance. Even today, most book editions are printed in runs of 250 copies.
TONADA: A tonada was a Spanish ballad poem performed between acts of auto sacramentales--usually bawdy or obscene (Cuddon 977). These poems later developed into full operettas known as tonadillas.
TONADILLA: Originally, a tonada was a Spanish ballad poem performed between acts of auto sacramentales--usually bawdy or obscene (Cuddon 977). By the 1700s, the diminutive tonadilla ("little tonada") come to denote a short operetta with two to four characters, usually lasting only a few minutes; actors would present tonadillas between the acts of more serious plays (977).
The means of creating a relationship or
conveying an attitude or mood. By looking carefully at the
choices an author makes (in characters, incidents, setting;
in the work's stylistic choices and diction, etc.), careful
readers often can isolate the tone of a work and sometimes
infer from it the underlying attitudes that control and color
the story or poem as a whole. The tone might be formal or
informal, playful, ironic, optimistic, pessimistic, or sensual.
To illustrate the difference, two different novelists might
write stories about capitalism. Author #1 creates a tale in
which an impoverished but hard-working young lad pulls himself
out of the slums when he applies himself to his education,
and he becomes a wealthy, contented middle-class citizen who
leaves his past behind him, never looking back at that awful
human cesspool from which he rose. Author #2 creates a tale
in which a dirty street-rat skulks his way out of the slums
by abandoning his family and going off to college, and he
greedily hoards his money in a gated community and ignores
the suffering of his former "equals," whom he leaves
behind in his selfish desire to get ahead. Note that both
author #1 and author #2 basically present the same plotline.
While the first author's writing creates a tale of optimism
and hope, the second author shapes the same tale into a story
of bitterness and cynicism. The difference is in their respective
tones--the way they convey their attitudes about particular
characters and subject-matter. Note that in poetry, tone is
often called voice.
TONE COLOR: Critics of poetry borrowed the term "tone color" from muscians to refer to performantive language in which the sound qualities of words can relate to the meaning of the words' content or context. Often this involves assonance or onomatopoeia or synaesthesia. For instance, Milton's "Il Penseroso" might assonate using many long vowels to connote heavy, ponderous thoughts. A poem talking about a fist-fight might use onomatopoeic consonants to create an impression of bangs, thumps, and cracks. We speak of a "hard" and a "soft" tone, or say some words are "rough" and others "smooth"--thus J. A. Cuddon notes that mellifluous is "soft" in tone color but crag is ""hard" or "harsh" in tone color (Cuddo 978). Compare with sound symbolism.
A place-name, such as "Detroit" or "Transylvania,"
or "Rooster Rock." Toponyms are fascinating on a
linguistic level. Often their etymology reveals an etiological
narrative from local mythology
(such as Arthurian
legends for how some regions of Wales were named) or historical
evidence concerning linguistic migrations. For instance, in
the northern parts of England and the East Midlands, towns
with name-endings such as "-by"
are all places named by the Danish Vikings, who invaded and
settled in those parts around 800 CE. On the opposite shore,
in southeastern parts of England, towns with name-endings
such as "-chester"
were once Roman military bases (from Latin castrum,
a fort), and they were built before 410 CE. Toponyms tend
to be linguistically conservative, so the name may not change
even after new invaders or settlers take over the area. Hence,
in the U.S.A., Canada, and Mexico, aboriginal words and phrases
still survive in place names like Milwaukee, Alaska, Oklahoma,
the Willamette river, Saskatchewan, Ottawa, Acapulco, Tenochtitlan,
Oaxaca, and thousands more.
TORNADA: In Old Provençal poetry, a short concluding stanza similar to an envoi a poet tacks on to the conclusion of a poem in order to compliment a friend or a patron (Cuddon 979).
TORY (from Irish toraidhe, "outlaw,
fugitive"; plural: Tories):
As Marshall tells us, the name Tory was originally
an insulting nickname given to supporters of James, Duke of
York (James II) as heir to the throne in the 1680s. The original
idea was that his supporters were all tax-bandits who did
not fully support popular Protestant movements in England.
Eventually, during the time of Swift, Addison, Steele, and
Johnson in the 1700s, the terms Tory and Whig
became the names of the two major political factions in England.
Tories were associated with the Established Chuch of England
(the Anglican Church) and conservative country gentry, and
the Whigs were associated with religious dissenters (Quakers,
anabaptists, Puritans, etc.) and the rising bourgeois
class of industrialists wanting political change. In modern
British politics, the term Tory remains informally
attached to the Conservative party, but the word Whig
has fallen out of political use for the Liberal Party. See
A doctrine associated with John Calvin's doctrine of Infant
Damnation and Saint Augustine's and Saint
Tertullian's doctrine of Original
Sin. Total depravity argues
that, because of Adam's fall
from Grace, every person is born innately evil, and, in
fact, is incapable of truly doing anything moral or good
at all without the merciful, direct intervention of God.
Questions surrounding total depravity form a key part of
Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," in
which the protagonist, convinced that all humanity is inherently
depraved, falls into despair and suspicion of his society.
Total depravity contrasts with the Transcendental and Romantic notion
that children in nature are born innocent and only later
grow corrupt through exposure to "unnatural"
and artificial surroundings provided by decadent and hypocritical
In its most specific sense, the term applies to the religious
practices of the Native American Ojibiwa tribe, i.e.,
a religious belief in which a family or a clan would
totem-spirit. Emile Durkheim popularized the concept as
a focus of anthropological study in the early twentieth
century. Today, anthropologists and scholars of comparative
apply the term generally to
among Native American tribes and find analogues in Western
and Eastern Europe, Africa, Australia and the Arctic Circle.
totemism sees the spirit-world as being filled with
spirits that take the form of natural
phenomena (especially animals, astrological or meteorological
phenomena, or geographic features of the land). These
spirits are personified and
often treated as family members (i.e., "Brother
or "Grandfather Moon") or as ancient ancestral
founded the clan or tribe (for instance, one clan might
claim to be descended from the Great Sea Turtle, another
clan from the First Jaguar, etc.) Often the tribe has
a shaman responsible
for contact with the totem-spirit, and the tribe may
go through elaborate hunting ceremonies to apologize
for hunting their "mascot" or may develop
complex taboos regarding the animal. Some scholars
of mythology believe
long-forgotten totemism explains otherwise inexplicable
rituals and myths in classical religion. For
Athena's association with owls or the local Artemis ceremonies
young girls would dress up as bears and dance. These
may point to prehistoric times in which Athena was an owl
was the spirit of the great she-bear, long before these
goddesses were anthropomophosized. The connotations and
rituals linger even when the original meaning is forgotten.
Similar background may explain the association of the
Roman god Mars with wolves and woodpeckers, or the
Egyptian god Thoth with the ibis, and so on.
In literary criticism, Jacques Derrida uses the term trace to describe the remnant
of all non-present meanings, sounds, or written markings
on the page--especially in the sense that features are
identifiable only by the absence of other features.
(from Latin, tractare, "to handle, to treat,
to pull"): A brief pamphlet or leaflet dealing with a
political or religious argument.
The beliefs, attitudes, tendencies, and ways of representing
the world through art: traits widely shared by writers over
a span of time, including common subject-matter, conventions,
A serious play in which the chief character, by some peculiarity
of psychology, passes through a series of misfortunes leading
to a final, devastating catastrophe. According to Aristotle,
is the marking feature and ultimate end of any tragedy. He
writes in his Poetics
(c. 350 BCE): "Tragedy
is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and
of a certain magnitude; . . . through pity [eleos]
and fear [phobos] effecting the proper purgation [catharsis]
of these emotions" (Book 6.2). Traditionally,
a tragedy is divided into five acts. The first act introduces
the characters in a state of happiness, or at the height
of their power, influence, or fame. The second act typically
introduces a problem or dilemma, which reaches a point of
crisis in the third act, but which can still be successfully
averted. In the fourth act, the main characters fail to avert
or avoid the impending crisis or catastrophe,
and this disaster occurs. The fifth act traditionally reveals
the grim consequences of that failure. See also hamartia,
Senecan tragedy, and catharsis.
Click the following links to download a handout discussing
some general thoughts
about tragedy, or a comparison
of comedy and tragedy.
FLAW: Another term for the
tragic hero's hamartia. See discussion under hamartia
TRAGIC HERO: The main character in a Greek or Roman tragedy. In contrast with the epic hero (who embodies the values of his culture and appears in an epic poem), the tragic hero is typically an admirable character who appears as the focus in a tragic play, but one who is undone by a hamartia--a tragic mistake, misconception, or flaw. That hamartia leads to the downfall of the main character (and sometimes all he or she holds dear). In many cases, the tragic flaw results from the character's hubris, but for a tragedy to work, the audience must sympathize for the main character. Accordingly, in many of the best tragedies, the tragic flaw grows out of some trait we find admirable. Read here for general thoughts
about tragedy. See also hamartia, hubris, anagnorisis, peripeteia,
and catharsis. NB: do not confuse the epic hero with the tragic hero.
A experimental literary work--either a play or prose piece
of fiction--containing elements common to both comedies and
tragedies. The genre
is marked by characters of both high and low degree, even
though classical drama required upper-class characters for
tragedy and lower-class characters for comedy. Tragicomedies
were of some interest in the Renaissance, but some modern
dramas might be considered examples as well. Typically, the
early stages of the play resembled those of a tragedy, but
an abrupt reversal of circumstance prevent the tragedy.
(Latin trans + ascendere, "to climb beyond"):
Transcendentalism is an American philosophical, religious,
and literary movement roughly equivalent to the Romantic
movement in England (see Romanticism).
The transcendentalist philosophy is not systematic or sharply
defined, but it generally stresses individual intuition and
conscience, and it holds that nature reveals the whole of
law. It suggests that ultimate truth can be discovered by
a human's inmost feelings. It argues for morality guided
personal conscience rather than religious dogma or the laws
of a society. Human nature in this philosophy is basically
good if humans are allowed to pursue their normal desires
in a natural and wholesome environment, an idea that contrasts
sharply with Calvinist doctrines like total
also suggests the presence of an "Over-Soul," the
Emersonian sense that humanity collectively has a defining
The American transcendental
movement begins around 1836 and continues up until the late
1850s, starting shortly after the Romantic period ends in
England. The Civil War in the 1860s caused such cultural disjuncture
that the event ended the transcendental movement in America.
Much of the movement's ideas grow out of the German Immanuel
Kant's philosophy (1724-1804) and Goethe in Germany, or the
writings of Carlyle and Coleridge in England. Later writers
advanced transcendental thinking further. In New England,
Emerson and Thoreau were the two most famous transcendentalists.
Emerson's Nature and Thoreau's Walden best express
the ideas. These two believed in living close to nature, accepted
the value of manual labor, and favored self-reliance. Other
transcendentalist writers include Bronson Alcott and Nathaniel
Hawthorne. Hawthorne, however, later grew disillusioned with
transcendentalism, and wrote a skeptical work (The Blithedale
Romance of 1852) in which he critiques his experiences
while living at a communal farm operated according to transcendentalist
has had a profound effect on the American psyche, including
the idea of independent, do-it-yourself self-reliance, the
rejection of conformity, and a deep love of nature, much
as the Romantic
influenced England. Traces of its voice--albeit somewhat
muted--appear in the counter-cultural rhetoric of the
1960s and in ecological
writings of the late twentieth-century. In the Christian
religious tradition, the transcendentalist philosophy
was a powerful
influence on the growth of the modern Unitarian Church. To
see how transcendentalism fits in with other literary
and time-periods, click here
a PDF handout that places the literary periods in chronological
OF MEANING: A change in meaning--often poetic in
origin--in which a word's referent alters by a figure of speech
such as a synecdoche, a metaphor, or a metonym. For instance,
consider the phrase, "all hands on deck." Here,
the normal referent for "hands" would be a body
part located on the end of the human arm. However, by synecdoche,
the referent for "hands" becomes "sailors"
GRAMMAR: An influential theory of grammar associated
with the linguist Noam Chomsky. This theory, also known as
generative grammar, or transformational-generative
grammar (and abbreviated T-G), tries
to explain the ability of a speaker to create and understand
the sentences in a native language--especially the ability
to recognize and create sentences that the listener or speaker
could never have heard before. It attempts to answer the question
of how an apparently infinite variety in meaning and communication
can be generated from finite vocabulary and finite grammatical
This term refers to a verb or a verbal phrase that contains
or can take a direct object, which contrasts with an intransitive
verb, i.e., one that cannot take a direct object. For example,
hit is a transitive verb: Joey
hit the wall. In this
example, hit can
take a direct object like wall or
target or even brother if
Joey hit his brother. Some transitive verbs are so strongly
transitive they do not make sense without a direct object.
"Joey repaired the sink."
Here, the verb repaired sounds
strange if we leave out the object and write, "Joey
This example contrasts with intransitive verbs, i.e.,
verbs which need not (or in many cases cannot) take an
example, Joey chuckled.
Here, chuckled needs
no direct object. In English, transitive verbs belong to
active voice verbs, but in some languages
(like Greek) they can belong to any voice--active, passive,
middle, or aorist.
MUNDI: The theme
of life's ephemeral or transient nature, especially when that
thematic exploration ends by suggesting humanity should reject
the world or turn its attention away from mundane life and
retreat to spiritual contemplation of the next life. The term
comes from the Latin phrase, Sic transit gloria mundi.
["Thus the glory of the world passes away"]. Note
that if the theme of life's ephemeral or transient nature
leads to a suggestion that one should embrace life more fiercely
and take advantage of its pleasures before death ends the
opportunity, the theme is usually referred to as a carpe
diem theme instead. See also ubi
(Latin, derived from the verb translatere,
"to carry across"): The medieval idea of what modern
individuals might mistakenly call "translation."
Translatio is the act of taking an older text in a
different language and creating a new work that embodies the
same ideas in a new language. Unlike modern translation, in
which a translator often tries to convey each sentence, word,
and phrase as literally and accurately as possible, the medieval
idea of translatio was to take the gist of the original
work's ideas and to convey them loosely in a new form. Examples
include King Alfred's early and Chaucer's later "translations"
of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, Chaucer's loose
"translations" (i.e., new versions) of the Troy
myth in Troilus and Criseyde, which in turn was adapted
from earlier medieval Italian authors, or his abbreviated
version of the French poem, Roman de la Rose. Medieval
translators felt little compunction about keeping the same
sequence of events, settings, or characters in their translations.
The important element to be conveyed was the feeling and philosophy
behind the original work.
The act of conveying the meaning of words in one language
by attempting to say the same thing in another language, as
opposed to paraphrasing, summarizing, and transliteration.
The representation of the symbols appearing in one language's
writing system by those of another language's writing system.
For instance, Anglo-Saxon had a letter called eth
which does not exist in Modern English. To transliterate
letter, we use the digraph <th>
when we write out Anglo-Saxon words. For instance,
might become thaes.
For extended examples of transliteration
in Mandarin Chinese,
LITERATURE: Writings that describe either the author's
journey to a distant and alien place, or writings which discuss
the customs, habits, and wildlife of a distant place. The
oldest surviving travel literature is an account from 1300
BCE, an anonymous record of Egyptian naval voyages called
The Journeying of the Master of the Captains of Egypt.
Herodotus' Histories recount his travels in Egypt,
Africa, and elsewhere in the late 400s BCE. In China, we find
accounts of travels to India by a certain Fa-Hian (c. 400
CE) and Shuman Hwui-Li's travels to the farthest Eastern reaches
of the Chinese Empire. Roman travel literature includes writings
by Gaius Solinus (c. 250 CE).
Medieval travel writers
include Marco Polo (c. 1254-1324 CE), who traveled from Italy
to China, and the Arabian traveler, Ibn Battutah (1304-78
CE), who spent twenty-eight years traveling through Spain,
South Russia, India, Africa, Egypt, and other locations. In
roughly the same time period, Friar Jordanus of Sérac
traveled to Armenia and India and recounted the stories he
heard there of the Far East.
European travel writings
reached their peak in the Renaissance, when the discovery
of the Western hemisphere and increasingly accurate maps and
navigational tools led explorers to ever-more-distant discoveries.
Many, like the Spanish explorer Francisco de Alvarez (c. 1465-1541),
set out in search of the fantastic places described in medieval
legend, such as the fabled Kingdom of Prester John in the
east; others searched for the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola
in the west. In these cases, medieval travel writing served
as a spur toward European expansion and colonization. Shakespeare's
The Tempest shows signs of influence from this genre,
as does Othello's description of his adventures abroad in
Othello. Other examples of travel literature are of
historical significance for the U.S.A., such as The Journals
of Lewis and Clark, recounting their early expedition
(Latin trans + vestis, "switched clothing"):
Debasement of a serious subject or serious literary work either
accidentally or through intentional satire--especially through
treating a dignified topic in a silly or inappropriate manner.
For instance, Boileau describes one travesty of Virgil's Aeneid
by stating, "Dido and Aeneas are made to speak like fishwives
and ruffians." In many cases, the author of intentional
travesties uses a mock-serious tone
and is deliberately heavy-handed in his treatment.
TRAWS FANTACH (Welsh, "toothless"): A derogatory adjective in Welsh poetic criticism for a poetic line that contains only a single scheme, trope, or poetic correspondence with another line. Welsh poets consider such simplicity a sign of inferior poetry.
TRIA NOMINA (Lat., "three names"): The simpler three-part formation of names among Romans of the Patrician class consisting of a praenomen (given name), nomen gentile (familial name), and cognomen (nickname), in contrast with the more complex filiation, a formal recitation of lineage for voting purposes. For fuller discussion and explanation of Roman naming practices, see here.
OF WEDMORE: The agreement signed by King Alfred the
Great and the Viking leader Guthrum in 878. This divided England
into spheres of influence, with Alfred's kingdom of Essex
safe from further Viking attacks, and it established an area
of Viking control (the Danelaw)
north of London and east of Chester. As part of the agreement,
the invading Danes agreed to convert to Christianity.
POETRY: Poetry and songs
written by both common soldiers and professional poets focusing
on the disillusionment, suffering, and ethical dismay these
individuals felt at their involvement in World War I. Some seventy British poets wrote poems about World War I, and of those seventy, some fifty actively fought in it. The
poetry is often bitter in tone.
Often the poetic voice of the speaker mimics the voice, style,
and speech of an ordinary soldier. Sometimes the poet presents
the poem's speaker in the persona
of a soldier, even if the poet himself was not one. Much of
this "trench poetry" was published in trench newsletters.
The well-known trench poets of the period include Siegmund Sassoon
and Wilfred Owens. Owens' "Dulce Et Decorum Est" is one
famous example of trench poetry.
TRIAD: A collection of
three ideas, concepts, or deities loosely connected--as
to a pure trinity in which the three concepts
are much more closely linked or equivalent to each other.
The oldest known triad comes from the Sumerian scholastic
period (circa 2400-2200 BCE). Here, the gods of heaven,
and water (Anu, Enlil, and Enki) would form a common group
of three linked together in religious poetry and ritual
6), as was the case with the Babylonian triad of air
deities, Sin, Shamash, and Raman who ruled the moon, sun,
and storms (Hopper 20). The former Babylonian triad later
altered to focus on Anu, Baal, and Ea in following centuries--a
formula reminiscent of the three divine brothers Zeus, Hades,
and Poseidon in Greek mythology (Hopper 7). The three
Greek fates (Klotho the spinner, Lachesis the measurer,
Atropos the cutter) are a triad matched by the three
Germanic Norns (Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld). Shiva, Vishnu,
are the Hindu triad representing destruction, preservation,
and creation. Often triads revolve around the idea of the
"celestial family"--such as the Egyptian Osiris,
Isis, and Horus or it may consist consist of three brothers--such
as the cyclopean smiths who assist Hephaestus: Brontos, Sterope,
Note that the idea of
a triad is distinct from the idea of a trinity,
in which three divine persons are thought to be in some
equivalent or identical to each other--as is the case in
the Christian trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) or
solar trinity (Horus, Ra, and Atun--the sun gods associated
with the morning, noonday, and setting sun). The first
missionaries to Ireland were greatly aided by the fact that
Irish mythology already contained an idea of trinity
form of three-headed or three-personed gods, as MacCulloch
notes in The Religion of the Ancient Celts (34,
qtd. in Hopper 203).
In a looser sense, any
grouping of three is a triad--including groupings such as
heaven, earth, hell
(or heaven, hell, and purgatory)
and old age
the world, the flesh,
the three steps of
Vishnu in Hindu mythology.
faith, hope, and love
In Irish literature, triads are often comical when they appear in verse. They often involve bathos, with an amusing or anticlimactic item listed in the third slot.
In Welsh literature, the
work known as the Welsh Triads consists of many delightful
and humorous sets of three--such as the "three costly
pillages," the "three frivolous bards," the
"three inventors," the "three ill resolutions,"
even the "three well-endowed warriors."
BY COMBAT: A means of resolving disputes between knights
in which both agree to meet at an agreed-upon time and place
and fight with agreed-upon weapons. The knight who was in
the right and honest in his words would be the one to win
the day, since in popular medieval theology, it was thought
that God would favor the just. In actual point of fact, the
late medieval church condemned trial by combat as barbaric,
though records of it persist through the early 1300s. The
habit of gentlemanly duels, which continued through the Renaissance,
the Enlightenment, and the Early Romantic period, along with
the Western American practice of the gun-fight, are vague
remnants of this earlier practice among knights. Shakespeare
uses this ritual in the opening scenes of Richard II.
by ordeal, and feudalism.
Contrast with trial by
BY ORDEAL: Click here
for more information.
In Greek poetry, a three-syllable foot in which each foot
is unstressed or short--rarely used in English poetry.
ENDING: Another term
for an O.
The repetition of a parallel grammatical construction three
times for rhetorical effect. See discussion under parallelism.
A combination of three symbols or letters to indicate a single
sound phonetically. For instance, the <tch>
in witch represents
a single sound phonetically, but English speakers use three
letters together to represent that sound. See also
A group of three literary works that together compose a larger
narrative. Early types of trilogy resulted from the common
practice of Athenian playwrights, who would submit tragedies
as groups of three plays for performance in the Dionysia.
Examples include the Oresteia of Aeschylus and Sophocles'
trilogy of Oedipus Rex, Antigonê,
and Oedipus at Colona. Contrast with tetralogy
A line consisting of three metrical feet. This short line
is most common in English nursery rhymes, lullabies, and children's
songs. We do find examples of it in poems like the opening
lines of William Blake's "The Lamb":
Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
A grouping or relationship of three divine persons thought
in some way
to be equivalent or identical to each other--as is the case
in the Christian trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) or
the Egyptian solar trinity (Horus, Ra, and Atun--the sun-gods
associated with the morning, noonday, and setting sun).
first Christian missionaries to Ireland were greatly aided
by the fact that Irish mythology already contained an idea
of trinity in the form of three-headed or three-personed
gods, as MacCulloch notes in The Religion of the Ancient
(34, referenced. in Hopper 203). Contrast with a triad,
a group of three loosely connected with each other in mythology,
philosophy, or poetry.
In patristic and medieval
literature, a number of theological treatises survive
to the trinity--the most influential probably being Saint
Augustine's De Trinitate. Many heretical groups
originated in disputes concerning the nature of the trinity
more information). The concept of trinity strongly influences
Dante's Divine Comedy. To mimic the nature of a
threefold deity, Dante writes his poem in terza
rima (with sets of three interlocking rhymes);
he divides the work into three sections (Inferno,
Purgatorio, and Paradiso); finally, he
subdivides each section into 33 cantos. Even Satan himself
in the work
appears as a three-headed, six-winged monster that mimics
the tripartite structure of the Godhead. Such numerology
typical of many medieval writings.
(French, "little trio"): A stanza
of eight lines using only two rhymes, with the first line
repeating three times. Here is an example by Thomas Hardy:
great my grief, my joys how few,
Since first it was my fate to know thee!
Have the slow years not brought to view
How great my grief, my joys how few,
Nor memory shaped old times anew,
Nor loving-kindness helped to show thee
How great my grief, my joys how few,
Since first it was my fate to know thee?
RHYME: A trisyllabic rhyme involving three separate syllables
to create the rhyme in each word. For instance, grinding
cares is a triple rhyme with winding
is a triple rhyme with tearfully.
Triple rhymes are not unusual in some Italian poetry, but
single and double
rhymes are much more common in English. However, triple
rhymes and polysyllabic rhymes are frequently employed for
humorous effect in English literature. Lord Byron uses polysyllabic
rhyme for humorous effect when he writes an apostrophe
to the husbands of pedantic women: "But--Oh!
ye lords of ladies intellectual! / Inform us truly, have they
not hen-pecked you all?" Ogden Nash likewise uses
forced rhyme in order to produce the effect of surrendering
to a difficult bit of verse when he writes, "Farewell,
farewell, you old rhinocerous, / I'll stare at something less
that forms a complete stanza by itself.
(Greek, "three lines"): Another term for a tercet.
TRISYLLABIC FOOT: A foot of three syllables. In quantitative verse, dactyls, cretics, anapests, and amphibrachs could be substituted for each other, as could a single spondee, though this substitution was normally fairly rare.
In the earliest Greek dramas, the play consisted of a single
actor standing on stage speaking and singing to the chorus.
Later, a second actor (called the deuteragonist) was added
by literary innovators, and later a third actor (called the
tritagonist). In modern literary discussions, we use the term
tritagonist to refer to any tertiary character who aids the
protagonist (the main character or hero), but who does not
serve as a deuteragonist (a constant side-kick or companion).
For example, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,
Huck Finn is the protagonist, the slave Jim is the deuteragonist,
and Tom Sawyer is the tritagonist. See protagonist,
The study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric,
which in medieval education formed the basis of a bachelor's
degree, as opposed to the quadrivium of arithmetic,
astronomy, geometry, and music, which formed the basis of
a master's degree.
METER: Poetry in which each foot consists primarily
of trochees (poetic feet consisting of a heavy stress followed
by a light stress). See extended discussion under
RHYME: Another word for double
rhyme in which the final rhyming word consists of
a heavy stress followed by a light stress.
A two-syllable unit or foot of poetry consisting of a heavy
stress followed by a light stress. Many words in English naturally
form trochees, including happy,
hammer, Pittsburgh, nugget, double, incest, injure, roses,
hippie, Bubba, "beat it," clever, dental, dinner,
shatter, pitcher, Cleveland, chosen, planet, chorus, widow,
bladder, cuddle, slacker,
and so on. A line of poetry written in successive
trochees is said to be written in trochaic
meter. See extended discussion under meter.
Click here to
download a PDF handout that contrasts iambs with other
types of poetic feet.
Trope has two meanings: (1) a rhetorical
device or figure of speech involving shifts in the meaning
of words--click on the tropes link
for examples, (2) a short dialogue inserted
into the church mass during the early Middle Ages as a sort
Not to be confused with either typology
or the rhetorical device of the trope,
the term tropological refers to the interpretation
of literature in which the interpreter focuses on the ethical
lesson presented in the text, i.e., "the moral of the
story." See more discussion under fourfold
(Provençal "finder, inventor"): A medieval
love poet of southern France between 1100-1350 who wrote and
sang about the theme of fin amour (courtly
love). Troubadours were noteworthy for their creativity
and experimentation in metrical forms. They wrote in langue
d'oc, and they profoundly influenced Dante, Petrarch,
and the development of the love lyric in Europe. The term
troubadour is sometimes used interchangeably with trouvère.
THE: A period of social unrest in Northern
Ireland during the 1970s that profoundly influenced
Irish poetry and
writings. See for an example Seamus Heaney's "Casualty."
(Old French, "finder, inventor"): A medieval poet
of northern France, especially Picardy, who wrote and sang
in lang d'oïl and composed chasons de gestes
(songs about the adventures of knights) and romans bretons
as well. The term trouvère is sometimes used
interchangeably with troubadour. Cf. troubadour,
RHYME: Another term for perfect rhyme or exact rhyme.
TRUNCATION: Also called catalexis, the act of dropping an unstressed syllable from a line where it would normally be expected to appear. See catalectic.
A reference to the period in England during which the ruling
monarchs came from the Tudor family (1485-1603). Tudor was
the name of a Welshman, Owen Tudor, born in the 1400s. His
line became the ruling dynasty when his son Henry Tudor ended
the War of the Roses by killing
Richard III in 1485. The last ruling Tudor monarch was Henry
Tudor's granddaughter, queen Elizabeth I, who died in 1603.
After Elizabeth, the House of Stuart claimed the throne when
Elizabeth's cousin James I of England (also known as James
VI of Scotland) inherited her power. The Tudor period is largely
synonymous with the early Renaissance
in England. See Renaissance,
INTERLUDE: Short tragedies, comedies, or history plays
performed by either professional acting troupes or by students
during the early sixteenth century.
TUMBLING VERSE: Another term for Skeltonic verse.
Also called a volta,
a turn is a sudden change in thought, direction, or emotion
at the conclusion of the sonnet. This invisible turn is followed
by a couplet called a gemel
(in English sonnets) or a sestet
(in Italian sonnets).
ENDING: Another term for an O.
A magical taboo or restriction placed on a hero in Welsh literature;
the Welsh equivalent to the Irish geasa.
One example from The Mabinogion would be how Culwch's
mother places a "destiny" on him so that he can
have sex with no woman except Olwen, the daughter of the Giant-king
An earlier figure, event, or symbol in the Old Testament thought
to prefigure a coming antitype
(corresponding figure, event, or symbol) in the New Testament.
See discussion under typology.
The term should not be confused with Jung's idea of an archetype.
CHARACTER: A literary
character with traits commonly associated with a particular
class of people.
JUSTIFICATION: See justification,
CLASSIFICATION: In linguistics, this schema
is a "grouping of languages based on structural similarities
and differences rather than genetic relations" (Algeo
332). Do not confuse this linguistic term with typology
CRITICISM: A type of literary analysis of medieval
or patristic texts in which critics read characters, objects,
or events according to established interpretations of similar
characters, objects, or events in biblical literature. See
discussion under typology.
Do not confuse this term with typological
classification in linguistics.
A mode of biblical interpretation introduced by Saint Paul
and developed by Patristic writers as a means of reconciling
the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) and the New Testament.
Saint Augustine expressed the general principle in De Doctrina
Christiana, in which he writes, "In the Old Testament,
the New Testament is concealed; in the New Testament, the
Old Testament is revealed." Hebrew scholars would contest the Christian reading, but in patristic and medieval Latin writings,
Christians eager to reconcile their
faith with Hebrew antiquity widely accepted this means of interpretation. In typological theory, readers should see key persons,
events, and symbols in the Old Testament as "pre-figures"
or "figurations" (Latin figurae) that
anticipate a matching figure in the New Testament. These figurae
were seen as historically real in and of themselves, but also
they served as symbols or foreshadowings of similar persons,
events, and symbols in the New Testament. The Old Testament
figures were known as types and the New Testament figures
were known as antitypes. Here are a few examples of
such types and antitypes as identified by patristic and medieval
|Old Testament Type
||New Testament Antitype
|Adam's rib removed by
God to create Eve.
||Christ pierced in his
side by a Roman spear and blood flowing from his side.
|The Tree of Knowledge
of Good and Evil in the garden bearing the fruit that
will damn humanity.
||The cross at Golgatha
bearing as its fruit, Christ, which will redeem humanity.
(In many medieval legends, the cross is cut and shaped
from the same tree that grew in the Garden of Eden; in
other versions, this tree instead grows from the seed
of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the cross
is positioned exactly over the geographic spot where Adam
was buried by his sons).
|God manifesting to Moses
as a burning bush, and the bush is not withered by the
||God manifesting to
the Jews in the Virgin Mary's womb, and Mary's
virginity is not tarnished by this divine impregnation.
|God provides the children
of Israel with mana in the desert to save them from physical
||God provides Eucharist
to the faithful church, to save them from spiritual starvation.
|Jonah spends three days
in the belly of the whale before being vomited forth.
||Christ spends three
days in the tomb before resurrection.
|The Israelites pass
through the Red Sea to emerge to a new life in the Promised
||The faithful emerge
through the waters of baptism to emerge in a new life
|The journey to the Promised
||The pilgrimage to Heaven
|Abraham's call to sacrifice
his son, Isaac
||God's decision to sacrifice
his son, Jesus
|Those who would be saved
coming before Noah's Ark to avoid the coming deluge, entering
salvation under the cross-shaped mast.
||Those who would be saved
coming before the crucifixion to avoid the coming fires
of hell, entering salvation under the cross.
The list goes on at length,
with the figurations varying greatly in terms of how plausible
they seem to modern Christians and non-Christians. Typological
interpretation was only one of several ways medieval readers interpreted the Bible. Others are discussed under fourfold
meaning. Some scholars interpret works of medieval literature according to the typological models common in medieval religion. For instance, in Chaucer's Canterbury
Tales, the Miller's Tale of John the Carpenter describes
how the gullible carpenter believes the trickster Nicholas'
prediction of a coming flood, and John builds three boats
out of tubs and hangs them from the rafters in preparation.
His efforts provide sly Nicholas with an opportunity to engage
in adultery with John's wife. Clearly this situation is a
sort of type meant to be contrasted with the Biblical account
of Noah's flood. Likewise, Dante's Inferno has passages
with biblical overtones strategically placed throughout the
poem. The exact extent to which readers can legitimately apply
typological and tropological theory to secular literature
is a matter of sharp debate among critics. The (in)famous
American scholar D. W. Robertson in the last part of
the twentieth-century, along with other "Robertsonian"
scholars, have applied typological interpretations to secular
poems such the Roman de la Rose, the works of Chrétien
de Troyes, and medieval love lyrics. That application has
been a source of fierce argument, however.
More recent religious
poets--such as Edmund Spenser, George Herbert, John Milton,
and William Blake have also used typological symbolism in
their poetry. Twentieth-century Christian writers such as
C. S. Lewis employ typological models in The
Chronicles of Narnia and The Great Divorce.
NOTA (Also Tironian note): While modern English authors use an
ampersand (&) as an abbreviation for the word and,
many classical Roman and medieval writers would use a tyronian nota to represent
the Latin word et (modern English and).
The nota looks a bit like the modern arabic number
The term is eponymic in origin, coming from the name of Marcus Tullius Cicero's favorite slave, the scribe Tiro, who was said to have invented the symbol as part of his short-hand note-taking. The mark is still frequently used in Irish road-signs and appears ubiquitously in medieval manuscripts.
A Chinese genre
of poetry invented during the T'ang period. It was akin to
a song libretto with a tonal pattern similar to the
but with irregular meter. This term should not be confused
with -tzu, an honorific suffix meaning "master"
or "teacher" in names like the military philosopher
Sun-Tzu (author of The Art of War) or the taoist Lao-Tzu (author of the Tao-te
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feasible, but in many cases multiple reference works use the same examples or
provide the same dates for common information. Students should examine these
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