They had no idea

They had no idea

In Brief

Figure of speech. Stephen paints a vivid picture of his two old women laboring up the spiral stairs inside Nelson's pillar: "They give two threepenny bits to the gentleman at the turnstile and begin to waddle slowly up the winding staircase, grunting, encouraging each other, afraid of the dark, panting, one asking the other have you the brawn, praising God and the Blessed Virgin, threatening to come down, peeping at the airslits. Glory be to God. They had no idea it was that high." Ancient rhetoricians used the terms hypotyposis and enargia for lively descriptions of this sort, which gave orators the ability to create a strong sense of reality.

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Hypotyposis (HYE-po-tye-PO-sis, from Greek hypo- = under + typos = impression) means "sketching out." Enargia (en-AR-gee-uh, from Greek enarges = visible, palpable, manifest) refers to an effect of sensory vividness. The two terms were used synonymously (along with Latin ones like descriptio, demonstratio, representatio, and others) to name the orator's capacity to paint a picture with words, making something absent seem palpably present. Henry Peacham says that descriptio "doth expresse and set forth a thing so plainly and lively, that it seemeth rather painted in tables, then declared with words, and the mind of the hearer therby so drawen to an earnest and stedfast contemplation of the thing described, that he rather thinketh he seeth it then heareth it." Its "cunning and curious Images are made so like to the persons which they present, that they do not onely make a likely shew of life, but also by outward countenance of the inward spirite and affection."

Stephen's portrait of the two women certainly fulfills these criteria, though other details in Aeolus and elsewhere in the novel probably could be claimed as examples, since hypotyposis is a broad and loosely defined category with vast relevance to works of literary fiction. It does not seem relevant, however, to two examples cited by Gilbert and seconded by Seidman: Professor MacHugh's murmured "The ghost walks" when Bloom enters the newspaper office, and Stephen's picturing of some rhyming words in Dante's Comedy as "three by three, approaching girls." Gilbert calls hypotyposis the "visionary imagination of things not present as being before the eyes" and he illustrates his definition with Alexander Pope's description of a ghostly apparition. He apparently has confused visualizable scenes with visionary ones.

JH 2023
Slide by Michaela Kremhelmer, Stephanie Roberts, and Jessica Szczpkowski. Source: