the poet as namer


“The elements into which all poesy is divided are two…metaphor and meter.” Thus writes Snorri Sturluson in the Prose Edda, a handbook compiled by Snorri for the aid of the Icelandic skalds. Of “skaldic metaphor,” he writes, there are three types: “first, calling everything by its name; the second type is that which is called ‘substitution;’ the third type of metaphor is that which is called ‘periphrasis.’” Offering an example of this last, Snorri writes: “Suppose I take Odin, or Thor, or any of the Aesir or Elves, and to any of them whom I mention, I add the name of a property of some other of the Aesir, or I record certain works of his. Thereupon he becomes owner of the name…just as when we speak of Victory-Tyr, or Tyr of the Hanged…that then becomes Odin’s name, and we call these periphrastic names.” So it becomes evident that for Snorri, metaphor, in all of its varieties, is simply a matter of giving the right names to things, and this task of naming he calls one of the two elemental tasks of the poet. There is a remarkable similarity here between Snorri and Aristotle, for one finds that in the Poetics, metaphor is said to “consist in giving the thing a name that belongs to something else,” and to be a master of metaphor, Aristotle claims, is “the greatest thing by far.”

more from Mark Signorelli at Anamnesis here.

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