I’ve been trying to investigate Schlegel‘s use of Arabesk ‘arabesque’ as a literary term (Nicholas Saul says in the “arabesque or hieroglyph” the “material is to be ordered into complex symbolic forms which allude ironically to the inexpressible absolute rather than attempt prosaically to embody it”: The Cambridge History of German Literature, p. 230), because it influenced Gogol in his Arabeski (1835; Proffer writes: “There are two works of Gogol which nobody reads: The Arabesques is one and Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends the other”). Google Books sent me, inter alia, to Ginette Verstraete’s Fragments of the Feminine Sublime in Friedrich Schlegel and James Joyce, and in perusing it I discovered that she translated Schlegel’s Parekbase as parabasis. Why not “parecbasis,” I wondered? So of course I went to the OED, where I discovered that parabasis does indeed have the required meaning (“In ancient Greek comedy: an interlude in the action of the drama in which the chorus dance and sing, addressing the audience”), but there is also a word parecbasis “A deviation, a digression,” which has the remarkable property that “almost all early uses evidenced involve transmission errors”:

1584 R. SCOT Discouerie Witchcraft XV. xxiii. 438 A parecuasis or transition of the author to matter further purposed. 1589 G. PUTTENHAM Arte Eng. Poesie III. 195 (margin) Parecnasis, or the Stragler. 1599 A. DAY Eng. Secretorie (rev. ed.) II. sig. Mm4v, Pareonasis [sic], or Digressio, a speech beside the matter in present spoken on, as to say, But here let me remember vnto you something of the deserts and eternized memory of your worthy and most vertuous parents. 1678 E. PHILLIPS New World of Words (ed. 4), Parechasis [1706 parecbasis], a digression, in Rhetorick, it is a wandering in discourse from the intended matter.

Note. Closed due to a massive influx of spam. I will try opening it later, perhaps tomorrow, to see if the spammers have gotten bored and gone away; in the meantime, if you have a comment you’d like to add, drop me a line and I’ll reopen it for you. [Later: Reopened it, had to delete a huge influx of spam. Bah.]


  1. Schlegel apparently meant by Parekbase something much more specific than an all-singing, all-dancing interlude. One Marika Müller, in her Die Ironie: Kulturgeschichte und Textgestalt, says that Parabase and Parekbase are essentially synonymous, since (quoting from Schlegel) both designate

    eine Rede, die in der Mitte des Stücks vom Chor im Namen des Dichters an das Volk gehalten wurde. Ja, es war eine gänzliche Unterbrechung und Aufhebung des Stückes, in welcher, wie in diesem, die größte Zugellosigkeit herrschte und dem Volk von dem bis an die äußerste Grenze des Proszeniums heraustretenden Chor die größten Grobheiten gesagt wurden. Von diesem Heraustreten (ek-basis) kommt auch der Name. (Philosophische Lehrjahre)

    a speech addressed to the populace, delivered in the name of the poet in the middle of the performance. In fact it was a complete interruption and annulment of the play. The speech was as unruly and licentious as can be imagined, just like those to whom it was addressed. The chorus stepped out to the very edge of the proscenium and declaimed the rudest, coarsest things at the audience. The name (ek-basis) comes from this “stepping out”.

  2. I’ll leave it to y’all to decide if this is a parabasis or parecbasis.
    The liner notes for one of my recordings of this piece says that Schummann took the title of this piece from the term given to a position used by ballet dancers.

  3. The definition that Grumbly Stu quotes fits parabasis / παράβασις in Old Comedy. παρέκβασις, which gives the parecbasis as a technical term in rhetoric, meant ‘deviation (from the norm); digression’, like LH said. I don’t think the Greeks used it for the Chorus addressing the audience.

  4. Talking of digression, can I agree with DNB that a good memory is the key, but disagree that this is a bad thing? (Like his editor, I imagine Sir Edward is today remembered most for his Bloomsbury offspring.)

  5. wintersweet says:

    Coincidentally (OR NOT):

  6. The definition that Grumbly Stu quotes
    I merely copied out the passage from Schlegel that Müller quotes in connection with her claim that Parekbase and Parabasis are essentially synonymous. The final sentence seems to indicate that Schlegel is talking about Parekbase. Did Schlegel nod ? Does Müller have her millstones in a twist ?

  7. Here’s a curious thing: ecbasis cuiusdam captivi per tropologiam , or The escape of a certain captive, told allegorically. As this last link says, one can imagine a kind of tradition begining here that later included Reinke de Vos, as riffed on here last December. The German WiPe says the ecbasis is regarded as belonging to the genre of “cloister literature”.

  8. Stu, is that your translation? Wouldn’t Aufhebung here be suspension rather than annulment? (I’m not going into what the other German that rhymes with Schlegel said about Aufhebung now…)

  9. fanfan, good one. Suspension makes sense, annulment doesn’t. I could only think of the Aufhebung of an edict or a marriage, inappropriate as that is here. I was simply trying at all costs to avoid any association with the Other German, because that would be totally off-base. Though I’m sure somebody’s already written a home-run dissertation based on the contrary claim.

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