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A History of Ambiguity$
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Anthony Ossa-Richardson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691167954

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691167954.001.0001

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Satura Lanx

Satura Lanx

(p.185) Chapter Five. Satura Lanx
A History of Ambiguity

Anthony Ossa-Richardson

Princeton University Press

This chapter assesses the implications of artificial ambiguity for the early modern study of classical poetry. The early modern encounter with ambiguity in poetry took its cue from rhetoric. This is important because it helps to explain why the role of ambiguity in poetry was so heavily circumscribed, as it had to be in rhetoric—both were held to involve the persuasive communication of ideas. The chapter then considers a word that connects readings of deliberate ambiguity in witticisms and in poetry: elegantia, ‘elegance’. It is difficult to get the measure of this apparently simple term. Silke Diederich has argued that, whereas it meant for Cicero the quality of the Attic genus subtile, ‘precise, neat, tasteful, well-chosen, with discreet adornments’, it came to denote for later Roman critics a refined, aristocratic mode of expression. The word elegentia itself exhibits an ambiguity, or an unresolved contradiction. The term precisely describes the notion of perspicuous ambiguity, or ambiguity without obscurity, the double sense of a witticism. The chapter then argues that without a sense of how some critics defended ambiguity in poetry, one will struggle to understand how contemporary poets might have conceptualised their own ambiguities.

Keywords:   artificial ambiguity, classical poetry, ambiguity, rhetoric, deliberate ambiguity, witticisms, elegance, elegentia, perspicuous ambiguity, poetry

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