The basic pattern of hendiadys

is simple enough. The Latin grammarian Servius, writing about A.D. 400, coined the term to describe a common figurative device in Vergil’s Aeneid: the use of two substantives, joined by a conjunction (et, atque, or -que, all signifying “and”), to express a single but complex idea. The most frequently cited example, however, is from the Georgics (II.192): “pateris libamus et auro” ‘we drink from cups and gold.’ English translators normally suppress the oddity of this phrasing (the phrasing and oddity, we might say) by interpreting one of the nouns as dependent on the other: “we drink from golden cups.” Similarly, “membris et mole valens” ‘powerful in limbs and weight’ (Aeneid v.431) is usually rendered by some such phrase as “mighty in mass of limb” (J. W. Mackail).

Recent scholars of Vergil have questioned this traditional way of interpreting such phrases. It suits the name of the figure (hendiadys means, literally, “one through two”), but it does not account for the poet’s deliberate stylistic choice of two parallel substantives instead of what we would call a noun phrase (noun and adjective [golden cups] or noun and dependent noun [cups of gold]). They wonder, indeed, whether there is such a thing as hendiadys. For when Vergil, they tell us, describes the ceremonial sacrifice at which the celebrants drink wine from cups and gold, he means us to grasp two ideas, not one: such an occasion requires the appropriate sacred vessel and an appropriately rich material. In the same way, to anyone observing the old hero Entellus in action, what is impressive is not simply his mightiness “in mass of limb” but, successively, his powerful limbs–his muscles and, indeed, his whole massive figure. In both examples, and in many others, Vergil accurately conveys our dual perception of a dual phenomenon. The et in each phrase precisely registers the separateness and successiveness of the two distinct segments of the event. The perception may even be a triple one–of each idea in turn and then of their combination or fusion.

George T. Wright
“Hendiadys and Hamlet

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