Epithet


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Epithet

 

a poetic attribute, a type of trope. Epithets are usually adjectives (sladostnyi napev, “sweet melody”); in Russian literary criticism, however, the category is extended to include adverbs (goriacho liubit’, “to love hotly”), nouns (vesel’ia shum, “noise of mirth”) numerals (pervyi drug, “first [best] friend”), and verbs (zhelanie zabyt’sia, “desire to forget”). Unlike common attributes, which distinguish some object from many others (tikhii zvon, “faint pealing”), an epithet may single out one special quality of the object (gordyi kon’, “proud steed”) or function as a metaphor, investing the object with the properties of another object (zhivoi sled, “living trace”).

The epithet evolved in oral poetry in various ways: as a generalization of a standard attribute typifying an object (rusaia kosa, “light brown braid”; belaia bereza, “white birch”), as a means of fixing a historical relation (sedelyshko cherkasskoe, “Circassian saddle”; the “Arabian steed” of French medieval poetry), and as an idealization (laskovyi kniaz’ Vladimir, “gentle Prince Vladimir”). The development of a personal poetic diction expanded the system of stock epithets used in folk poetry. The attributes of natural phenomena were applied to persons (iasnoe solntse, “bright sun” for iasnyi vzgliad, “bright visage”), and syn-esthetic epithets were created by combining different categories of sensation (kholodnyi tsvet, “cold color”; iasnyi zvuk, “clear sound”). The desire to emphasize an impression led to repetition (ukrasno ukrashennaia zemlia Russkaia, “beauteously beautiful Russian land”) or the fusion of different roots (Homer’s “swift-footed Achilles”; shirokoshumnye dubrovy, “wide-rustling oak groves”).

Professional literature eventually abandoned the stock epithets of folk poetry, which in extreme cases stripped words of their fundamental semantics (Naostri moiu ostruiu sabliu!, “Sharpen my sharp saber!”), to develop personal, striking, and unique epithets (A. S. Pushkin’s dam obdumannyi nariad, “ladies’ calculated attire”). Epithets may thus reflect an author’s style, historical period, and literary school (sladkoglasnyi pevets, “sweet-voiced singer,” and khladnyi prakh, “cold ashes,” are typical of sentimentalism; zheltaia zaria, “yellow dawn,” and snezhnoe vino, “snowy wine,” figure as elements in A. Blok’s poetic system).

REFERENCES

Veselovskii, A. N. Istoricheskaia poetika. Leningrad, 1940. Pages 73–93.
Zhirmunskii, V. M. “K voprosu ob epitete.” In his collection Teoriia lit-ry, poetika, stilistika: Izbr. trudy. Leningrad, 1977.
Tomashevskii, B. V. Stilistika i stikhoslozhenie. Leningrad, 1959. Pages 200–08.
Ozerov, L. “Oda epitetu.” Voprosy literatury, 1972, no. 4.

V. S. BAEVSKII

References in classic literature ?
Many might take for their device the epithet STRONG, which formed the second part of his motto, but very few gentlemen could lay claim to the FAITHFUL, which constituted the first.
We need hardly say that many of those who gave him this epithet repeated it because they had heard it, and did not even know what it meant.
We speak of what is white as large, because the surface over which the white extends is large; we speak of an action or a process as lengthy, because the time covered is long; these things cannot in their own right claim the quantitative epithet.
Elizabeth could hardly help laughing at so convenient a proposal; yet was really vexed that her mother should be always giving him such an epithet.
Indeed, though Indians are generally very lofty, rhetorical, and figurative in their language at all great talks, and high ceremonials, yet, if trappers and traders may be believed, they are the most unsavory vagabonds in their ordinary colloquies; they make no hesitation to call a spade a spade; and when they once undertake to call hard names, the famous pot and kettle, of vituperating memory, are not to be compared with them for scurrility of epithet.
Julia felt indignant at the freedom of his manner, and particularly at the epithet of "Tony"--yet her lover did not in the least regard either--or rather his manner exhibited no symptoms of displeasure--he has made up his mind, thought Julia, to support his disguise, and it is best for us both that he should.
Amidst this assemblage of all that was insignificant and defective, much that was vicious and repulsive (by that last epithet many would have described the two or three stiff, silent, decently behaved, ill-dressed British girls), the sensible, sagacious, affable directress shone like a steady star over a marsh full of Jack-o'-lanthorns; profoundly aware of her superiority, she derived an inward bliss from that consciousness which sustained her under all the care and responsibility inseparable from her position; it kept her temper calm, her brow smooth, her manner tranquil.
The patient was much more deserving of that epithet while under the hands of Mohegan, than while suffering under the practice of the physician.
At length the old lady became desperate, for the second Pole, when dismissed, imitated his predecessor by declining to go away; with the result that one Pole remained standing on the right of the victim, and the other on her left; from which vantage points the pair quarrelled, abused each other concerning the stakes and rounds, and exchanged the epithet "laidak " [Rascal] and other Polish terms of endearment.
Babcock had related this incident to Newman, and our hero had applied an epithet of an unflattering sort to the young girl.
The noun "angel" being of common gender suits the case admirably, and the epithet is sure of being favorably received.
I remonstrated, in allusion to the epithet and the vigorous emphasis Miss Jellyby set upon it.