Ornate aliases

January 21 2014

“A sad feature of Dr Toynbee’s classicism is its effect on his style. Whatever he may have derived from his study of the thought and history of the Greek past, he has drawn too much from his reading of Greek and Latin literature and from his early training in Greek and Latin composition. He confesses in two of his footnotes that as the result of his ‘fifteenth-century Italian education’ he was led to express his deeper feelings in Greek or Latin verse rather than in the English vernacular, and that he had ‘acquired and retained … an articulateness in Greek and Latin of which he was destitute in his … mother tongue’. Certainly his English style, in these last four volumes, is plus-quam Ciceronian in the prolonged rotundity of its voluminous periods. He writes English almost as if it were a foreign language, in long periodic sentences, with one relative clause piled on, or dovetailed into, another. What is more sad is that he also writes on a high and strained note, with a wealth of curious adjectives (often of condemnation), and with the liberal use of a peculiar technical terminology which falls away into slogans and sometimes even into slang (especially American slang). Add recurrent quotations from the classics (and especially from Lucretius) and a great use of Biblical phrases (so frequent as to pall and even to jar); and the result is a remarkable amalgam. The reader cannot but wish that the style were simpler and the sentences shorter: that adjectives were fewer, less high-pitched, and less far-fetched: that there were more Attic restraint, and less Asiatic luxuriance. The reviewer found himself tempted, again and again, to break up and re-write the long rolling cryptic sentences: in particular he found himself anxious to banish the too frequent use of what he was taught at school to call the ‘ornate alias’, and to substitute, for instance, the words ‘St Paul’ for ‘the Tarsian Jewish apostle of Christianity in partibus infidelium’.”


Ernest BarkerDr Toynbee’s Study of History: A ReviewInternational Affairs, Vol 31, No 1, January 1955.

Whatever the other excesses, I like the donnish ornate aliases. They give the work its charm. I like to be reminded of simple things, such as that Paul was a Jew from Tarsus and preached among pagans.

One Response to “Ornate aliases”

  1. […] “Chinese blood” would somehow not be the same: fine example, in the last post, of the ornate alias. […]

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