I'm afraid my question is somewhat vague, and I'll try to improve it as I find the time to research it more.

I've been having a nagging memory of my Ancient Greek and Latin classes (and in that memory this was related to Homer), where we analysed a poetic practice consisting of applying, say, an adjective describing a word X to a nearby word Y, for instance for a poetic effect. This idea seems pretty clear to me, but I am at a loss finding a name for it, and I'm guessing there must be one.

Examples (all fictitious, if I find one in the literature I'll add it, but right now I don't have one at hand):

  • "The bloody clouds hovered over the battlefield" (bloody applied to clouds instead of battlefield)
  • "As the Acheans waited, a grief-stricken storm was rising to the North" (grief-stricken Acheans)
  • "And then the queen lifted her amorous cup and greeted him" (amorous queen...)

A friend mentioned chiasmus, which, seems to me, would require the last leg, to get any sort of ABBA cross pattern, even if conceptual, whereas here we only have AB + C becoming B + AC, as it were, applying to objects or atmospheres the internal states of people present, in a gesture of semantic transposition.

Has anyone else heard of this, or am I just hallucinating this memory?

Many thanks in advance,




At least one term for this is 'transferred epithet.' It's one species of a more general figure of speech called hypallage, an interchange in the relation of words.

It isn't confined to Homer. For example, in Ovid, Amores 1.11.3, we find:

colligere incertos et in ordine ponere crines
docta neque ancillas inter habenda Nape,
inque ministeriis furtivae cognita noctis
utilis et dandis ingeniosa notis
saepe venire ad me dubitantem hortata Corinnam,
saepe laboranti fida reperta mihi –
accipe et ad dominam peraratas mane tabellas
perfer et obstantes sedula pelle moras!

...known as useful in services of the secret night...

Here, furtivae grammatically modifies noctis but more logically belongs with ministeriis ('secret services of the night').

  • Grand! Thanks so much, it had been bugging me for so long! – Jeremie Oct 29 '20 at 18:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.