‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Friday, 21 March 2014


Πολύφημος (Polyphēmos) is the Cyclopean giant from Homer's Odyssey who imprisons and eats many of Odysseus' crew in his cave, such that only Odysseus's polymētis many-wittedness is able to save the day. There's plenty we could say about him; but for the minute I'm interested in one thing only, the 'many-' prefixity of his name.

When I was a student I was taught that the name Πολύφημος means 'many voices', which is to say 'loud'. But there are other derivations, since φημη means, L&S tell us, pretty much the same as the Latin fama, into which, etymologically speaking, the Greek word devolves. ('a voice from heaven, a prophetic voice'; 'a saying or report'; 'the talk of report of a man's character'; 'a song of praise'). Taking 'Polyphemus' as 'Polyfamous' sets up a nice allegory of the lumbering one-eyed, dinosaurian brutality of 'fame' versus the small, mammallian, quick-wittedness of Odysseus' 'nobody'. No question as to who will win that battle. A lesson for our times.


  1. The father of fame punishes the upstart nobody once his real name gets outed.

  2. Tries to, at any rate. In the big splashy way that is appropriate to him.

  3. Apropos to the etymological concerns of the cyclops, I've always found this passage in Harrison's book on forests regarding Vico's discussion of the cyclops in the New Science fascinating - http://offeredwithout.tumblr.com/post/80252563624/forests-the-shadow-of-civilization-robert-pogue