Brevity and Wit: Demetrius on Compression

See earlier posts for Demetrius on the words for punctuation

Demetrius, On Style 9

“This smallest part of a composition is called a phrase [komma]. This often defines a phrase: it is shorter than a clause” [kôlon], as in the previously quoted “Dionysus [is] in Korinth” or “know yourself” or “follow god”, those sayings of the wise men. Brevity is a characteristic of proverbs and maxims and it is cleverer to compress a lot of meaning into a small space, just as seeds have the power of whole trees. If someone works a proverb out at length, it develops into teaching or rhetoric instead of a proverb.”

(9) ἡ δὲ τοιαύτη βραχύτης κατὰ τὴν σύνθεσιν κόμμα ὀνομάζεται. ὁρίζονται δ᾿ αὐτὸ ὧδε, κόμμα ἐστὶν τὸ κώλου ἔλαττον, οἷον τὸ προειρημένον, τὸ [τε] “Διονύσιος ἐν Κορίνθῳ,” καὶ τὸ “γνῶθι σεαυτόν,” καὶ τὸ “ἕπου θεῷ,” τὰ τῶν σοφῶν. ἔστι γὰρ καὶ ἀποφθεγματικὸν ἡ βραχύτης καὶ γνωμολογικόν, καὶ σοφώτερον τὸ ἐν ὀλίγῳ πολλὴν διάνοιαν ἠθροῖσθαι, καθάπερ ἐν τοῖς σπέρμασιν δένδρων ὅλων δυνάμεις· εἰ δ᾿ ἐκτείνοιτό τις τὴν γνώμην ἐν μακροῖς, διδασκαλία γίνεταί τις καὶ ῥητορεία ἀντὶ γνώμης.

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Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 1.1

“We don’t have too little time, but we do waste most of it. Life is long enough for the completion of the greatest affairs—it is apportioned to us generously, if it is wholly well managed.”


non exiguum temporis habemus, sed multum perdidimus. satis longa uita et in maximarum rerum consummationem: large data est, si tota bene conlocaretur.