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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

EPIPHANY

In 2002, during the run-up to the Iraq war, Susie and I took an Adriatic cruise. It started in Athens and we flew in several days before the ship was due to leave. Athens was busily preparing for the 2004 Olympics and the streets were jammed with cars and trucks. On our second morning there we took a little walk in downtown Athens. We stood for a while watching the traffic and I noticed a large moving van idling on a side street while the driver waited for the traffic to ease up so that he could pull into the main street. On the side of the truck was a word in large Greek letters which I assumed was the name of the company. I do not read Greek at all but a lifetime in the philosophy business has taught me enough of the Greek alphabet so that I can make out words like demos, kronos, and of course philosophia.  Having nothing better to do, I spelled out the word on the side of the truck: mu, eta, tau, alpha, mu, omicron, rho, phi, omicron, sigma, iota, sigma – “metamorphosis.”

 

And then I had an epiphany. “Metamorphosis” in Greek means “moving.” So a metaphor is a figure of speech that moves meaning!  As I smiled and gave a metaphorical fist pump, I thought I caught a glimpse of Socrates sidling along among the pedestrians.

7 comments:

Michael Llenos said...

The only reconstructed trireme, the Olympias, was found to be several feet too short for comfort. I believe it was plagued from the start for the name it was given since its conception. It should have been, in my opinion, called The Athena, or at least the biblical name The Wisdom—after the patron goddess of Athens. But no. They named it The Olympia probably because it was less religious in terminology. The Trireme Trust was a great institution but they, I believe, messed up by not honoring Wisdom herself...

T.J. said...

I think it's the case that metamorphosis means (in Greek like in English) 'transformation' from meta (change) and morphe (shape). Metapherein means 'to transfer' from meta (after) and pherein (carrying), so metaphora is 'a transfer' and so we get our word metaphor not from metamorphosis, but from metaphora.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Lovely, T. J. Thank you. It actually helps to know what you are talking about :-)

Unknown said...

Many years ago, for our 25th anniversary, my wife and I toured Greece. I was amused to note, over the exit door on Olympic Airways, in Greek letters, "Exodus."

Ahmed Fares said...

Sufism has a saying: "The metaphor is the bridge to reality". Here, Henri Corbin uses the word "symbol" in the same meaning:

"The difference between "symbol" and what nowadays is commonly called "allegory" is simple to grasp. An allegory remains on the same level of evidence and perception, whereas a symbol guarantees the correspondence between two universes belonging to different ontological levels: it is the means, and the only one, of penetrating into the invisible, into the world of mystery, into the esoteric dimension." —Henri Corbin

Ahmed Fares said...

A more precise term is the word "anagoge":

Anagoge (ἀναγωγή), sometimes spelled anagogy, is a Greek word suggesting a "climb" or "ascent" upwards. The anagogical is a method of mystical or spiritual interpretation of statements or events, especially scriptural exegesis, that detects allusions to the afterlife.

Certain medieval theologians describe four methods of interpreting the scriptures: literal/historical, tropological, allegorical, and anagogical.
—Wikipedia

You may find this article interesting (It's the source of the quote in my previous comment):

From Allegory to Anagoge: the question of symbolic perception in a literal world

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