Literary topos


Topos, in Latin locus, referred in the
context of classical Greek rhetoric to a standardised method of constructing or
treating an argument. [See topoi in classical rhetoric.]
The technical term topos is variously translated as “topic”, “line of
argument” or “commonplace.” Ernst Robert Curtius expanded this concept in
studying topoi as “commonplaces”: reworkings of traditional material,
particularly the descriptions of standardised settings, but extended to
almost any literary meme. For example, Curtius notes the common observation in
the ancient classical world that “all must die” as a topos in consolatory
oratory; that is, one facing one’s own death often stops to reflect that
greater men from the past died as well. A slightly different kind of topos noted
by Curtius is the invocation of nature for various rhetorical purposes, such as
witnessing to an oath, rejoicing or praising God, or sharing in the mourning
of the speaker. Critics have traced the use and re-use
of such topoi from the literature of classical antiquity to the 18th century
and beyond into postmodern literature. This is illustrated in the study of
archetypal heroes and in the theory of The Hero With A Thousand Faces, a book
written by modern theorist Joseph Campbell. For example, oral histories
passed down from pre-historic societies contain literary aspects, characters, or
settings that appear again and again in stories from ancient civilizations,
religious texts, and even more modern stories. The biblical creation myths and
“the flood” are two examples, as they are repeated in other civilizations’
earliest texts such as the Epic of Gilgamesh or deluge myth, and are seen
again and again in historical texts and references.
See also Trope
References Further reading
Branham, R. Bracht; Kinney, Daniel. Introduction to Petronius Satyrica.

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