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Near the end of the Gorgias, in the midst of his effort to convince Callicles of the relative unimportance of oratory, Socrates makes the following interesting remark about the price of ferry tickets (511, trans. Walter Hamilton):
Navigation is a modest art that knows her place; she does not put on airs or make out that she has performed some brilliant feat, even though she achieves as much as forensic oratory; she brings a man safe from Aegina for no more than two obols, I believe, and even if he comes from Egypt or Pontus or ever so far away the utmost she charges for this great service, for conveying in safety, as I said, a man and his children and property and womenfolk, is two drachmae when he disembarks at the Piraeus; and the man who possesses this skill and has accomplished all this lands and walks about on the shore beside his ship in a quite unassuming way.
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XXI. Quod genus non orationis modo ornatus sed etiam cotidiani sermonis usus recipit. Quidam synecdochen vocant et cum id in contextu sermonis quod tacetur accipimus: verbum enim ex verbis intellegi, quod inter vitia ellipsis vocatur: “Arcades ad portas ruere”. Mihi hanc figuram esse magis placet, illic ergo reddetur. XXII. Aliud etiam intellegitur ex alio: “aspice, aratra iugo referunt suspensa iuvenci”, unde apparet noctem adpropinquare. Id nescio an oratori conveniat nisi in argumentando, cum rei signum est: sed hoc ab elocutionis ratione distat.
21. This mode of expression not only adorns oratorical speeches, but finds its place even in common conservation [this must be a typo for ‘conversation‘]. Some say that synecdoche is also used when we understand something that is not actually expressed in the words employed, as one word is then discovered from another. But this is sometimes numbered among defects in style under the name of ellipsis, as,
Arcades ad portas ruere;
The Arcadians to the gates began to rush;
22. I consider it rather a figure, and among figures it shall be noticed. But from a thing actually expressed another may be understood, as,
Aspice aratra jugo referunt suspensa juvenci,
Behold the oxen homeward, bring their ploughs
Suspended from the yoke,
whence it appears that night is approaching. I do not know whether this mode of expression is allowable to an orator, unless in argumentation, when one thing is shown to indicate another. But this has nothing to do with elocution.
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XIX. Quod [aliquando] paene iam magis de synecdoche dicam. Nam tralatio permovendis animis plerumque et signandis rebus ac sub oculos subiciendis reperta est: haec variare sermonem potest, ut ex uno pluris intellegamus, parte totum, specie genus, praecedentibus sequentia, vel omnia haec contra, liberior poetis quam oratoribus. XX. Nam prorsa, ut “mucronem” pro gladio et “tectum” pro domo recipiet, ita non “puppem” pro navi nec “abietem” pro tabellis, et rursus, ut pro gladio “ferrum”, ita non pro equo “quadrupedem”. Maxime autem in orando valebit numerorum illa libertas. Nam et Livius saepe sic dicit: “Romanus proelio victor”, cum Romanos vicisse significat, et contra Cicero ad Brutum “populo” inquit “imposuimus et oratores visi sumus”, cum de se tantum loqueretur.
19. What I say of metaphor may be applied, perhaps with more force, to synecdoche, for metaphor has been invented for the purpose of exciting the mind, giving a character to things, and setting them before the eye. Synecdoche is adapted to give variety to language by letting us understand the plural from the singular, the whole from a part, a genus from the species, something following from something preceding, and vice versa, but it is more freely allowed to poets than to orators. 20. For prose, though it may admit mucro, “a point” for a sword, and tectum, “a roof” for a house, will not let us say puppis, “a stern” for a ship, or quadrupes, “a quadruped” for a horse. But it is liberty with regard to number that is most admissible in prose. Thus Livy often says, Romanus praelio victor, “The Roman was victorious in the battle,” when he means the Romans. Cicero, on the other hand, writes to Brutus, Populo imposuimus et oratores visi sumus, “We have imposed on the people and made ourselves be thought orators,” when he speaks only of himself.