Spatial Metaphors of Ambiguity in Roman Culture
Reason for embargo
Under temporary embargo pending publisher permission. Publication due 2018
This chapter takes a somewhat different approach to the topic of ambiguity in Latin literature from the others in this volume. Taking as a given that Latin speakers were mindful of the capacity of some words, phrases, and even whole sentences to convey multiple different meanings, other chapters examine a range of literary settings where lexical or syntactic ambiguities appear to be exploited deliberately by Latin authors for imaginative aims. I equally assume an awareness of ambiguity on the part of Latin speakers, but in this paper I interrogate how they conceived of this and other types of multiplicity of meaning.1 In other words, I look at how Latin speakers went about representing ambiguity to themselves and how they understood ambiguity as part of their experience generally. I start by showing that Latin speakers’ conventional understanding of ambiguity is delivered metaphorically via the image of PATHS DIVERGING. I also show, however, that in certain technical contexts the image of CENTRALITY is used, permitting the delineation of two different kinds of ambiguous meaning relations. I go on to argue that what provides the motivation for, and thus makes sense of, these twin images is Latin’s regular conceptualization of “meaning” itself in terms of a linear spatial metaphor. I conclude by suggesting that Latin’s spatial metaphorics of ambiguity anticipate certain aspects of contemporary linguistic theory – but also more than this: that it constituted a feature of Roman society’s signifying order, contributing to the valuation of this phenomenon in the culture.
This is the author accepted manuscript
In: Quasi Labor Intus: Ambiguity in Latin Literature, edited by Fontaine M, McNamara C, and Short WM