Poets Avoiding Reprobate Letters

Joseph Addison, The Spectator – May 8th 1711:

“In my last Paper I mentioned some of these false Wits among the Ancients, and in this shall give the Reader two or three other Species of them, that flourished in the same early Ages of the World. The first I shall produce are the Lipogrammiatists or Letter-droppers of Antiquity, that would take an Exception, without any Reason, against some particular Letter in the Alphabet, so as not to admit it once into a whole Poem. One Tryphiodorus was a great Master in this kind of Writing. He composed an Odyssey or Epick Poem on the Adventures of Ulysses, consisting of four and twenty Books, having entirely banished the Letter A from his first Book, which was called Alpha (as Lucus a non Lucendo) because there was not an Alpha in it. His second Book was inscribed Beta for the same Reason. In short, the Poet excluded the whole four and twenty Letters in their Turns, and shewed them, one after another, that he could do his Business without them.

It must have been very pleasant to have seen this Poet avoiding the reprobate Letter, as much as another would a false Quantity, and making his Escape from it through the several Greek Dialects, when he was pressed with it in any particular Syllable. For the most apt and elegant Word in the whole Language was rejected, like a Diamond with a Flaw in it, if it appeared blemished with a wrong Letter. I shall only observe upon this Head, that if the Work I have here mentioned had been now extant, the Odyssey of Tryphiodorus, in all probability, would have been oftner quoted by our learned Pedants, than the Odyssey of Homer. What a perpetual Fund would it have been of obsolete Words and Phrases, unusual Barbarisms and Rusticities, absurd Spellings and complicated Dialects? I make no question but it would have been looked upon as one of the most valuable Treasuries of the Greek Tongue.”

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