A posteriori

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TEXTUALITY: See écriture.

TEXTURE: In the thought of John Crowe Ransom and the New Critics, "texture" involves poetic details such as the modification of the metrical pattern, associations attached to words, and the aural values of spoken sounds. These elements are separate from the structure of the poem, and they are significantly of interest in a technical sense, but they cannot be captured in a paraphrase or summary of the poem's argument or even in its literal content.

TEXTUS RECEPTUS: The text of the Greek New Testament based on Erasmus' Greek text. In spite of considerable errors and flaws, for four hundred years it was accepted as the standard or commonly received text, hence the name textus receptus. It served as the primary text used in scholarly translations (including the King James translation) and in scholarly debate until historical and textual criticism developed further in the 19th century.

THANATOS (Greek, "death"): Freud's term for a subconscious desire for self-destruction--a secret longing to die--a death wish. See also wish fulfillment.

THEATER IN THE ROUND: A performance taking place on an arena stage. See arena stage.

THEATER OF DIONYSUS: The outdoor theater in Athens where Greek drama began as a part of religious rituals on the sloped side of the Acropolis in Athens.

THEGN: A warrior who has sworn his loyalty to a lord in Anglo-Saxon society. In return for a gift of weaponry and provisions of food and drink at the mead-hall, the thegn vows to fight for his lord and die in his service. He also takes up the task of avenging his lord's death if that lord (hlaford) should die. Compare with Modern English thane. See Anglo-Saxon, hlaford, and heriot.

THEMATIC VOWEL: In linguistics, a vowel attached to the end of an Indo-European root word to form a stem.

THEME: A central idea or statement that unifies and controls an entire literary work. The theme can take the form of a brief and meaningful insight or a comprehensive vision of life; it may be a single idea such as "progress" (in many Victorian works), "order and duty" (in many early Roman works), "seize-the-day" (in many late Roman works), or "jealousy" (in Shakespeare's Othello). The theme may also be a more complicated doctrine, such as Milton's theme in Paradise Lost, "to justify the ways of God to men," or "Socialism is the only sane reaction to the labor abuses in Chicago meat-packing plants" (Upton Sinclair's The Jungle). A theme is the author's way of communicating and sharing ideas, perceptions, and feelings with readers, and it may be directly stated in the book, or it may only be implied. Compare with motif and leit-motif.

THEOCRASY: Not to be confused with theocracy, theocrasy is the process by which aspects of two or more separate gods in mythology comingle or blend in the form of one deity. For example, the Greek goddess Hera combines features from a pre-Classical cow-spirit (thus her lingering Homeric epithet boopis, or "cow-eyed"), and a high crown worn by various celestial queen figures, and aspects of her as the panton genthla, or mother-goddess. Through the slow process of theocrasy across the centuries, these three originally disparate deities merged into one, to produce the Hera known in Classical Greece. Much later, by Roman times, qualities of the Egyptian goddess Ishtar start to appear in Hera's iconography--another sign of theocrasy.

THEODICY (from Greek theo "God" + dike "right"): In theological writings, this term refers to a defense of God's goodness or justice in the face of evil being allowed to exist or innocent creatures being allowed to suffer--i.e., explanations for why bad things can happen to good people and to what degree a benevolent and omnipotent being can be held accountable for such injustice. An early work exploring this issue is the Hebrew book of Job. Here, the narrator tells the audience four times either that "in all this, Job did not sin" (Job 1:22), or asserts, "he is blameless and upright" (1:8) even as God explicitly allows the Accuser (Hebrew Shaitan or Satan) to ruin Job's health, destroy his possessions, slaughter his family, and kill his servants. In the conclusion, when Job tries to repent for non-existent wrong-doings, the character of God does not rebuke Job, but instead expresses anger at Eliphaz, Bildad, Elihu, and Zophar, who simplistically argue that God only causes suffering to the wicked and that he always protects the good. God's response to Eliphaz is "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has" (Job 42:7). Though the reader witnesses the Shaitan's "bet" or "wager" with God, Job never receives any explanation for his sufferings because Job never witnesses the celestial events the reader is privy to. Since the question remains open-ended, many later theologians have attempted to create some theodicy to reconcile a benevolent deity and the existence of suffering, ranging from Saint Augustine (The Confessions) to C. S. Lewis ("The Problem of Pain"). The character of Doctor Pangloss (Dr. "Explain-it-all") in Voltaire's Candide concerns himself frequently with theodicy--though other characters like Martin often demolish his theories over the course of the satiric tale. The actual term theodicy, however, comes from Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz's Théodicée, a more serious philosophical exploration of the problem than Voltaire's satirical tale.

THEOGONY: In mythology, an account of the gods' origins and their genealogy. Click here for an example chart.

THEOMARCHY: Strife or warfare among the gods, especially in the sense of this activity as a subplot (overplot?) in the Homeric poems such as The Iliad.

THERIANTHROPIC (Grk, therios [beast] + anthros [man]; noun form therianthroposis): This adjective refers to any mixture of human and animal traits together in a single description. This leads to two general uses:

(1) a poetic device akin to personification, but one in which animal traits are given to a human or to an inanimate object. This contrasts with the usual personification, in which human traits are given to an animal or an inanimate object. For example, poet Carl Sandburg uses therianthroposis when he writes of how "the fog comes / on little cat feet," and T.S. Eliot makes a similar analogy between cats and fog in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

(2) In the case of many world mythologies, therianthropic figures are mixtures of animal and human features that result in fantastic composite monsters and composite deities combining human and animal features. Examples include the Egyptian crocodile-headed deity Sobek, or the Hindu elephant-headed deity Ganesha, or angels in the Christian tradition which combine avian wings with human bodies. See theriomorphic, below.

THERIOMORPHIC (Grk, therios [beast] + morphos [shape]; noun form theriomorphosis): Another term for therianthropic, above.

THESIS: (1) In an essay, a thesis is an argument, either overt or implicit, that a writer develops and supports. (2) In classical metrical analysis, Greeks referred to the stressed syllable in a metrical foot as a thesis, and the unstressed syllable in a metrical foot as an arsis. Unfortunately, the Roman analysts used the exact opposite terminology, with the thesis being their unstressed foot and the arsis being the stressed foot. This results in much confusion for modern students.

THIASOS: In ancient Greece, a thiasos was an organized group of women devoted to the worship of Aphrodite. Early scholars have suggested that the poet Sappo may have been a member of a thiasos on the isle of Lesbos (modern day Lesbia).

THING: While the althing was the closest organization the Icelandic Vikings had to America's federal or nationwide government, the thing was the equivalent of the local or regional government (i.e., althings were huge gatherings dealing with matters affecting all of Iceland, while things were smaller, scattered gatherings dealing with matters affecting a town or community). At a thing, representatives from the local area gathered to vote on policy, hear complaints, settle disputes, and designate incorrigible individuals as outlaws.

THIRD-PERSON POINT OF VIEW: See discussion under point of view.

THIRD WALL: Usually referred to as the "fourth wall," depending upon how a stagebuilder numbers the sides of the stage, the third or fourth wall is an imaginary barrier that separates the events on stage from the audience. The idea is that the stage background is constructed with a cutaway view of the house, so that the people sitting on the audience can look through this invisible "fourth wall" and look directly into the events inside. Such stages preclude theater-in-the-round and they require a modified apron stage with an expensive reproduction of an entire house or building, often complete with stairs, wallpaper, furniture, and other bits to add verisimilitude. This type of stage became increasingly common within the last two centuries, but the money involved in constructing such stages often precludes their use in drama, leaving arena stages most popular for the architectural design of the stage.

THIRTEENER: A stanza rhyming ABABABABCDDDC. The 1994 edition of the E.E.T.S. produced a version of the Wakefield Master's Second Shepherd's Play printed in thirteeners, as opposed to the more traditional printing of nine lines in which the first four lines are extended in length with the first half rhyming with the last half of each line.

THORN: A letter representing a th- sound in the Anglo-Saxon alphabet and in Norse runes. The letter looks like a "P" in which the vertical line extends above the rest of the letter. Below is a visual example of the capital and lower-case thorn:

The letter thorn represented the interdental fricative sound found in words like thin, and it contrasts with the letter eth or edh, which represents the sound found in words like then. In modern English, we use the digraph

to represent both sounds. Click here for more information.

THREE ESTATES: See feudalism. Or click here for expanded historical discussion of feudalism.

THREE FOLD DEATH: See threefold death.

THREE DRAMATIC UNITIES: See unities, the three.

THREE LAWS OF ROBOTICS: See Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.

THREE UNITIES: See unities, the three.

THREEFOLD DEATH: According to Dan Wiley's entry in Duffy's Medieval Ireland: An Encyclopedia, threefold death is a motif of the early Irish aideda in which a victim is killed by three different means in rapid succession, often wounding, drowning, and burning. Examples of this motif can also be found in literature of folklore of Wales, France, and Estonia. The widespread nature of the motif makes some scholars think it began in a hypothetical Indo-European tri-functional sacrifice in which human victims were offered to a triad of divinities. Two of the best examples are found in Aided Diarnmata meic Cerbaill (The Death of Diarmait mac Cerbaill) and Aided Muirchertaig meic Erca (The Death of Muirchertach mac Erca). The tales are typically set in the early Christian period between 500 and 699 CE. The narrative pattern typically is (a) a crime is committed against the church, (b) it is prophesied the offender will die a threefold death, (c) such a death does occur. See Duffy 10-11.

THRENODY: Another term for a dirge.

THRUST STAGE: Another term for an apron stage.

TILDE: A diacritic marking usd in languages like Spanish and Portugeuse. It looks like this: ~, and the tilde appears over another letter.

TIRING-HOUSE: An enclosed area in an Elizabethan theater where the actors awaited their cue to go on stage, changed their costumes, and stored stage props. The term is an abbreviation of "attiring house" or "attiring room." This structure was located at the back of the stage and opened out onto the stage from two or more doors in the frons scenae.

TMESIS: Intentionally breaking a word into two parts for emphasis. Goldwyn once wrote, "I have but two words to say to your request: Im Possible." In the movie True Lies, one character states, "I have two words to describe that idea. In Sane." Milton writes, "Which way soever man refer to it." The poet W. H. Auden makes emotionally laden use of tmesis in "Two Songs for Hedli Anderson," where he stretches out the word forever by writing: "I thought that love would last For Ever. I was wrong." In English, this rhetorical scheme is fairly rare, since only the compounds of "ever" readily lend themselves to it, but it is much more common in Greek and Latin. An exception to this generalization is the American poet e. e. cummings (the lack of capitalization in his name is a rhetorical affectation). Critics note that cummings makes particularly potent use of tmesis in poems like "she being Brand / -new", in which words like "brand-new" and "O. K" are artificially divided across separate lines of text to create an unusual, broken reading experience. Particularly clever poets may use a sort of infixation to insert other words of phrases between the two parts that have been split apart. For instance, a southerner might say, "I live in West--by God--Virginia, thank you very much!" Shakespeare, in Troilus and Cressida, writes the phrase, "how dearly ever parted" (III.iii), when we would expect to find the phrase written as "however dearly parted" in normal grammatical usage. Tmesis is an example of a rhetorical scheme.

TOCHARIAN: A branch of the Indo-European family of languages--now extinct. Unusually, Tocharian was geographically located in central Asia, far away from most other Indo-European languages.

TOKEN: Nathaniel Hawthorne's term for a private symbol. He also refers to private symbols as emblems. Examples include the blasted trees and brown-grass in "The Hollow of the Three Hills" or the walking stick carried by the old man and the pink ribbon belonging to Faith in "Young Goodman Brown."

TONE: The means of creating a relationship or conveying an attitude or mood. By looking carefully at the choices an author makes (in characters, incidents, setting; in the work's stylistic choices and diction, etc.), careful readers often can isolate the tone of a work and sometimes infer from it the underlying attitudes that control and color the story or poem as a whole. The tone might be formal or informal, playful, ironic, optimistic, pessimistic, or sensual. To illustrate the difference, two different novelists might write stories about capitalism. Author #1 creates a tale in which an impoverished but hard-working young lad pulls himself out of the slums when he applies himself to his education, and he becomes a wealthy, contented middle-class citizen who leaves his past behind him, never looking back at that awful human cesspool from which he rose. Author #2 creates a tale in which a dirty street-rat skulks his way out of the slums by abandoning his family and going off to college, and he greedily hoards his money in a gated community and ignores the suffering of his former "equals," whom he leaves behind in his selfish desire to get ahead. Note that both author #1 and author #2 basically present the same plotline. While the first author's writing creates a tale of optimism and hope, the second author shapes the same tale into a story of bitterness and cynicism. The difference is in their respective tones--the way they convey their attitudes about particular characters and subject-matter. Note that in poetry, tone is often called voice.

TOPONYM: A place-name, such as "Detroit" or "Transylvania," or "Rooster Rock." Toponyms are fascinating on a linguistic level. Often their etymology reveals an etiological narrative from local mythology or folklore (such as Arthurian legends for how some regions of Wales were named) or historical evidence concerning linguistic migrations. For instance, in the northern parts of England and the East Midlands, towns with name-endings such as "-by" or "-thorp" are all places named by the Danish Vikings, who invaded and settled in those parts around 800 CE. On the opposite shore, in southeastern parts of England, towns with name-endings such as "-chester" or "-caster" were once Roman military bases (from Latin castrum, a fort), and they were built before 410 CE. Toponyms tend to be linguistically conservative, so the name may not change even after new invaders or settlers take over the area. Hence, in the U.S.A., Canada, and Mexico, aboriginal words and phrases still survive in place names like Milwaukee, Alaska, Oklahoma, the Willamette river, Saskatchewan, Ottawa, Acapulco, Tenochtitlan, Oaxaca, and thousands more.

TORY (from Irish toraidhe, "outlaw, fugitive"; plural: Tories): As Marshall tells us, the name Tory was originally an insulting nickname given to supporters of James, Duke of York (James II) as heir to the throne in the 1680s. The original idea was that his supporters were all tax-bandits who did not fully support popular Protestant movements in England. Eventually, during the time of Swift, Addison, Steele, and Johnson in the 1700s, the terms Tory and Whig became the names of the two major political factions in England. Tories were associated with the Established Chuch of England (the Anglican Church) and conservative country gentry, and the Whigs were associated with religious dissenters (Quakers, anabaptists, Puritans, etc.) and the rising bourgeois class of industrialists wanting political change. In modern British politics, the term Tory remains informally attached to the Conservative party, but the word Whig has fallen out of political use for the Liberal Party. See also Whig (Marshall 11-12).

TOTAL DEPRAVITY: A doctrine associated with John Calvin's doctrine of Infant Damnation and Saint Augustine's and Saint Tertullian's doctrine of Original Sin. Total depravity argues that, because of Adam's fall from Grace, every person is born innately evil, and, in fact, is incapable of truly doing anything moral or good at all without the merciful, direct intervention of God. Questions surrounding total depravity form a key part of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," in which the protagonist, convinced that all humanity is inherently depraved, falls into despair and suspicion of his society. Total depravity contrasts with the Transcendental and Romantic notion that children in nature are born innocent and only later grow corrupt through exposure to "unnatural" and artificial surroundings provided by decadent and hypocritical civilization.

TOTEMISM (from Ojibwe odoodem): In its most specific sense, the term applies to the religious practices of the Native American Ojibiwa tribe, i.e., a religious belief in which a family or a clan would be watched over assisted by a totem-spirit. Emile Durkheim popularized the concept as a focus of anthropological study in the early twentieth century. Today, anthropologists and scholars of comparative religion apply the term generally to such beliefs among Native American tribes and find analogues in Western and Eastern Europe, Africa, Australia and the Arctic Circle.

Like shamanism, totemism sees the spirit-world as being filled with spirits that take the form of natural phenomena (especially animals, astrological or meteorological phenomena, or geographic features of the land). These spirits are personified and often treated as family members (i.e., "Brother Owl" or "Grandfather Moon") or as ancient ancestral spirits who founded the clan or tribe (for instance, one clan might claim to be descended from the Great Sea Turtle, another clan from the First Jaguar, etc.) Often the tribe has a shaman responsible for contact with the totem-spirit, and the tribe may go through elaborate hunting ceremonies to apologize for hunting their "mascot" or may develop complex taboos regarding the animal. Some scholars of mythology believe long-forgotten totemism explains otherwise inexplicable rituals and myths in classical religion. For instance, consider Athena's association with owls or the local Artemis ceremonies in which young girls would dress up as bears and dance. These may point to prehistoric times in which Athena was an owl totem or Artemis was the spirit of the great she-bear, long before these goddesses were anthropomophosized. The connotations and rituals linger even when the original meaning is forgotten. Similar background may explain the association of the Roman god Mars with wolves and woodpeckers, or the Egyptian god Thoth with the ibis, and so on.

TRACE: In literary criticism, Jacques Derrida uses the term trace to describe the remnant of all non-present meanings, sounds, or written markings on the page--especially in the sense that features are identifiable only by the absence of other features.

TRACT (from Latin, tractare, "to handle, to treat, to pull"): A brief pamphlet or leaflet dealing with a political or religious argument.

TRADITION: The beliefs, attitudes, tendencies, and ways of representing the world through art: traits widely shared by writers over a span of time, including common subject-matter, conventions, and genres.

TRAGEDY: A serious play in which the chief character, by some peculiarity of psychology, passes through a series of misfortunes leading to a final, devastating catastrophe. According to Aristotle, catharsis is the marking feature and ultimate end of any tragedy. He writes in his Poetics (c. 350 BCE): "Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; . . . through pity [eleos] and fear [phobos] effecting the proper purgation [catharsis] of these emotions" (Book 6.2). Traditionally, a tragedy is divided into five acts. The first act introduces the characters in a state of happiness, or at the height of their power, influence, or fame. The second act typically introduces a problem or dilemma, which reaches a point of crisis in the third act, but which can still be successfully averted. In the fourth act, the main characters fail to avert or avoid the impending crisis or catastrophe, and this disaster occurs. The fifth act traditionally reveals the grim consequences of that failure. See also hamartia, hubris, anagnorisis, peripeteia, and catharsis. Click the following links to download a handout discussing medieval tragedy, some general thoughts about tragedy, or a comparison of comedy and tragedy.

TRAGIC FLAW: Another term for the tragic hero's hamartia. See discussion under hamartia and tragedy.

TRAGICOMEDY: A experimental literary work--either a play or prose piece of fiction--containing elements common to both comedies and tragedies. The genre is marked by characters of both high and low degree, even though classical drama required upper-class characters for tragedy and lower-class characters for comedy. Tragicomedies were of some interest in the Renaissance, but some modern dramas might be considered examples as well. Typically, the early stages of the play resembled those of a tragedy, but an abrupt reversal of circumstance prevent the tragedy.

TRANSCENDENTALISM (Latin trans + ascendere, "to climb beyond"): Transcendentalism is an American philosophical, religious, and literary movement roughly equivalent to the Romantic movement in England (see Romanticism). The transcendentalist philosophy is not systematic or sharply defined, but it generally stresses individual intuition and conscience, and it holds that nature reveals the whole of God's moral law. It suggests that ultimate truth can be discovered by a human's inmost feelings. It argues for morality guided by personal conscience rather than religious dogma or the laws of a society. Human nature in this philosophy is basically good if humans are allowed to pursue their normal desires in a natural and wholesome environment, an idea that contrasts sharply with Calvinist doctrines like total depravity. Transcendentalism also suggests the presence of an "Over-Soul," the Emersonian sense that humanity collectively has a defining spirit.

The American transcendental movement begins around 1836 and continues up until the late 1850s, starting shortly after the Romantic period ends in England. The Civil War in the 1860s caused such cultural disjuncture that the event ended the transcendental movement in America. Much of the movement's ideas grow out of the German Immanuel Kant's philosophy (1724-1804) and Goethe in Germany, or the writings of Carlyle and Coleridge in England. Later writers advanced transcendental thinking further. In New England, Emerson and Thoreau were the two most famous transcendentalists. Emerson's Nature and Thoreau's Walden best express the ideas. These two believed in living close to nature, accepted the value of manual labor, and favored self-reliance. Other transcendentalist writers include Bronson Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne, however, later grew disillusioned with transcendentalism, and wrote a skeptical work (The Blithedale Romance of 1852) in which he critiques his experiences while living at a communal farm operated according to transcendentalist principles.

Transcendental philosophy has had a profound effect on the American psyche, including the idea of independent, do-it-yourself self-reliance, the rejection of conformity, and a deep love of nature, much as the Romantic period influenced England. Traces of its voice--albeit somewhat muted--appear in the counter-cultural rhetoric of the 1960s and in ecological writings of the late twentieth-century. In the Christian religious tradition, the transcendentalist philosophy was a powerful influence on the growth of the modern Unitarian Church. To see how transcendentalism fits in with other literary movements and time-periods, click here to download a PDF handout that places the literary periods in chronological order.

TRANSFER OF MEANING: A change in meaning--often poetic in origin--in which a word's referent alters by a figure of speech such as a synecdoche, a metaphor, or a metonym. For instance, consider the phrase, "all hands on deck." Here, the normal referent for "hands" would be a body part located on the end of the human arm. However, by synecdoche, the referent for "hands" becomes "sailors" more generally.

TRANSFORMATIONAL GRAMMAR: An influential theory of grammar associated with the linguist Noam Chomsky. This theory, also known as generative grammar, or transformational-generative grammar (and abbreviated T-G), tries to explain the ability of a speaker to create and understand the sentences in a native language--especially the ability to recognize and create sentences that the listener or speaker could never have heard before. It attempts to answer the question of how an apparently infinite variety in meaning and communication can be generated from finite vocabulary and finite grammatical forms.

TRANSITIVE: This term refers to a verb or a verbal phrase that contains or can take a direct object, which contrasts with an intransitive verb, i.e., one that cannot take a direct object. For example, hit is a transitive verb: Joey hit the wall. In this example, hit can take a direct object like wall or target or even brother if Joey hit his brother. Some transitive verbs are so strongly transitive they do not make sense without a direct object. For instance, "Joey repaired the sink." Here, the verb repaired sounds strange if we leave out the object and write, "Joey repaired." This example contrasts with intransitive verbs, i.e., verbs which need not (or in many cases cannot) take an object. For example, Joey chuckled. Here, chuckled needs no direct object. In English, transitive verbs belong to active voice verbs, but in some languages (like Greek) they can belong to any voice--active, passive, middle, or aorist.

TRANSITUS MUNDI: The theme of life's ephemeral or transient nature, especially when that thematic exploration ends by suggesting humanity should reject the world or turn its attention away from mundane life and retreat to spiritual contemplation of the next life. The term comes from the Latin phrase, Sic transit gloria mundi. ["Thus the glory of the world passes away"]. Note that if the theme of life's ephemeral or transient nature leads to a suggestion that one should embrace life more fiercely and take advantage of its pleasures before death ends the opportunity, the theme is usually referred to as a carpe diem theme instead. See also ubi sunt.

TRANSLATIO (Latin, derived from the verb translatere, "to carry across"): The medieval idea of what modern individuals might mistakenly call "translation." Translatio is the act of taking an older text in a different language and creating a new work that embodies the same ideas in a new language. Unlike modern translation, in which a translator often tries to convey each sentence, word, and phrase as literally and accurately as possible, the medieval idea of translatio was to take the gist of the original work's ideas and to convey them loosely in a new form. Examples include King Alfred's early and Chaucer's later "translations" of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, Chaucer's loose "translations" (i.e., new versions) of the Troy myth in Troilus and Criseyde, which in turn was adapted from earlier medieval Italian authors, or his abbreviated version of the French poem, Roman de la Rose. Medieval translators felt little compunction about keeping the same sequence of events, settings, or characters in their translations. The important element to be conveyed was the feeling and philosophy behind the original work.

TRANSLATION: The act of conveying the meaning of words in one language by attempting to say the same thing in another language, as opposed to paraphrasing, summarizing, and transliteration.

TRANSLITERATION: The representation of the symbols appearing in one language's writing system by those of another language's writing system. For instance, Anglo-Saxon had a letter called eth (), which does not exist in Modern English. To transliterate this letter, we use the digraph

when we write out Anglo-Saxon words. For instance, ∂aes might become thaes. For extended examples of transliteration in Mandarin Chinese, click here.

TRAVEL LITERATURE: Writings that describe either the author's journey to a distant and alien place, or writings which discuss the customs, habits, and wildlife of a distant place. The oldest surviving travel literature is an account from 1300 BCE, an anonymous record of Egyptian naval voyages called The Journeying of the Master of the Captains of Egypt. Herodotus' Histories recount his travels in Egypt, Africa, and elsewhere in the late 400s BCE. In China, we find accounts of travels to India by a certain Fa-Hian (c. 400 CE) and Shuman Hwui-Li's travels to the farthest Eastern reaches of the Chinese Empire. Roman travel literature includes writings by Gaius Solinus (c. 250 CE).

Medieval travel writers include Marco Polo (c. 1254-1324 CE), who traveled from Italy to China, and the Arabian traveler, Ibn Battutah (1304-78 CE), who spent twenty-eight years traveling through Spain, South Russia, India, Africa, Egypt, and other locations. In roughly the same time period, Friar Jordanus of Sérac traveled to Armenia and India and recounted the stories he heard there of the Far East.

European travel writings reached their peak in the Renaissance, when the discovery of the Western hemisphere and increasingly accurate maps and navigational tools led explorers to ever-more-distant discoveries. Many, like the Spanish explorer Francisco de Alvarez (c. 1465-1541), set out in search of the fantastic places described in medieval legend, such as the fabled Kingdom of Prester John in the east; others searched for the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola in the west. In these cases, medieval travel writing served as a spur toward European expansion and colonization. Shakespeare's The Tempest shows signs of influence from this genre, as does Othello's description of his adventures abroad in Othello. Other examples of travel literature are of historical significance for the U.S.A., such as The Journals of Lewis and Clark, recounting their early expedition across America.

TRAVESTY (Latin trans + vestis, "switched clothing"): Debasement of a serious subject or serious literary work either accidentally or through intentional satire--especially through treating a dignified topic in a silly or inappropriate manner. For instance, Boileau describes one travesty of Virgil's Aeneid by stating, "Dido and Aeneas are made to speak like fishwives and ruffians." In many cases, the author of intentional travesties uses a mock-serious tone and is deliberately heavy-handed in his treatment.

TRAWS FANTACH (Welsh, "toothless"): A derogatory adjective in Welsh poetic criticism for a poetic line contains a single scheme, trope, or poetic correspondence with another line. This lack of complexity is considered a sign of inferior poetry.

TREATY OF WEDMORE: The agreement signed by King Alfred the Great and the Viking leader Guthrum in 878. This divided England into spheres of influence, with Alfred's kingdom of Essex safe from further Viking attacks, and it established an area of Viking control (the Danelaw) north of London and east of Chester. As part of the agreement, the invading Danes agreed to convert to Christianity.

TRENCH POETRY: Poetry and songs written by both common soldiers and professional poets focusing on the disillusionment, suffering, and ethical dismay these individuals felt at their involvement in World War I. The poetry is often bitter in tone. Often the poetic voice of the speaker mimics the voice, style, and speech of an ordinary soldier. Sometimes the poet presents the poem's speaker in the persona of a soldier, even if the poet himself was not one. Much of this "trench poetry" was published in trench newsletters. The well-known trench poets of the period include Sassoon and Owens. Owens' "Dulce Et Decorum Est" is one famous example of trench poetry.

TRIAD: A collection of three ideas, concepts, or deities loosely connected--as opposed to a pure trinity in which the three concepts are much more closely linked or equivalent to each other. The oldest known triad comes from the Sumerian scholastic period (circa 2400-2200 BCE). Here, the gods of heaven, earth, and water (Anu, Enlil, and Enki) would form a common group of three linked together in religious poetry and ritual (Hopper 6), as was the case with the Babylonian triad of air deities, Sin, Shamash, and Raman who ruled the moon, sun, and storms (Hopper 20). The former Babylonian triad later altered to focus on Anu, Baal, and Ea in following centuries--a formula reminiscent of the three divine brothers Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon in Greek mythology (Hopper 7). The three Greek fates (Klotho the spinner, Lachesis the measurer, and Atropos the cutter) are a triad matched by the three Germanic Norns (Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld). Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma are the Hindu triad representing destruction, preservation, and creation. Often triads revolve around the idea of the "celestial family"--such as the Egyptian Osiris, Isis, and Horus or it may consist consist of three brothers--such as the cyclopean smiths who assist Hephaestus: Brontos, Sterope, and Argus.

Note that the idea of a triad is distinct from the idea of a trinity, in which three divine persons are thought to be in some way equivalent or identical to each other--as is the case in the Christian trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) or the Egyptian solar trinity (Horus, Ra, and Atun--the sun gods associated with the morning, noonday, and setting sun). The first Christian missionaries to Ireland were greatly aided by the fact that Irish mythology already contained an idea of trinity in the form of three-headed or three-personed gods, as MacCulloch notes in The Religion of the Ancient Celts (34, qtd. in Hopper 203).

In a looser sense, any grouping of three is a triad--including groupings such as these:

  • past-present-future

  • earth-sea-sky

  • heart-mind-body

  • beginning-middle-end

  • father-mother-child

  • heaven, earth, hell (or heaven, hell, and purgatory)

  • childhood, adulthood, and old age

  • the world, the flesh, the devil

  • the three steps of Vishnu in Hindu mythology.

  • faith, hope, and love

In Welsh literature, the work known as the Welsh Triads consists of many delightful and humorous sets of three--such as the "three costly pillages," the "three frivolous bards," the "three inventors," the "three ill resolutions," even the "three well-endowed warriors."

TRIAL BY COMBAT: A means of resolving disputes between knights in which both agree to meet at an agreed-upon time and place and fight with agreed-upon weapons. The knight who was in the right and honest in his words would be the one to win the day, since in popular medieval theology, it was thought that God would favor the just. In actual point of fact, the late medieval church condemned trial by combat as barbaric, though records of it persist through the early 1300s. The habit of gentlemanly duels, which continued through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Early Romantic period, along with the Western American practice of the gun-fight, are vague remnants of this earlier practice among knights. Shakespeare uses this ritual in the opening scenes of Richard II. See lists, chivalry, trial by ordeal, and feudalism. Contrast with trial by ordeal.

TRIAL BY ORDEAL: Click here for more information.

TRIBRACH: In Greek poetry, a three-syllable foot in which each foot is unstressed or short--rarely used in English poetry.

TRICK ENDING: Another term for an O. Henry ending.

TRICOLON: The repetition of a parallel grammatical construction three times for rhetorical effect. See discussion under parallelism.

TRIGRAPH: A combination of three symbols or letters to indicate a single sound phonetically. For instance, the in witch represents a single sound phonetically, but English speakers use three letters together to represent that sound. See also digraph.

TRILOGY: A group of three literary works that together compose a larger narrative. Early types of trilogy resulted from the common practice of Athenian playwrights, who would submit tragedies as groups of three plays for performance in the Dionysia. Examples include the Oresteia of Aeschylus and Sophocles' trilogy of Oedipus Rex, Antigonê, and Oedipus at Colona. Contrast with tetralogy and sequel.

TRIMETER: A line consisting of three metrical feet. This short line is most common in English nursery rhymes, lullabies, and children's songs. We do find examples of it in poems like the opening lines of William Blake's "The Lamb":

Little Lamb, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?

TRINITY: A grouping or relationship of three divine persons thought in some way to be equivalent or identical to each other--as is the case in the Christian trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) or the Egyptian solar trinity (Horus, Ra, and Atun--the sun-gods associated with the morning, noonday, and setting sun). The first Christian missionaries to Ireland were greatly aided by the fact that Irish mythology already contained an idea of trinity in the form of three-headed or three-personed gods, as MacCulloch notes in The Religion of the Ancient Celts (34, referenced. in Hopper 203). Contrast with a triad, a group of three loosely connected with each other in mythology, philosophy, or poetry.

In patristic and medieval literature, a number of theological treatises survive pertaining to the trinity--the most influential probably being Saint Augustine's De Trinitate. Many heretical groups originated in disputes concerning the nature of the trinity (see heresy for more information). The concept of trinity strongly influences Dante's Divine Comedy. To mimic the nature of a threefold deity, Dante writes his poem in terza rima (with sets of three interlocking rhymes); he divides the work into three sections (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso); finally, he subdivides each section into 33 cantos. Even Satan himself in the work appears as a three-headed, six-winged monster that mimics the tripartite structure of the Godhead. Such numerology is typical of many medieval writings.

TRIOLET (French, "little trio"): A stanza of eight lines using only two rhymes, with the first line repeating three times. Here is an example by Thomas Hardy:

How great my grief, my joys how few,
Since first it was my fate to know thee!
Have the slow years not brought to view
How great my grief, my joys how few,
Nor memory shaped old times anew,
Nor loving-kindness helped to show thee
How great my grief, my joys how few,
Since first it was my fate to know thee?

TRIPLE RHYME: A trisyllabic rhyme involving three separate syllables to create the rhyme in each word. For instance, grinding cares is a triple rhyme with winding stairs. Fearfully is a triple rhyme with tearfully. Triple rhymes are not unusual in some Italian poetry, but single and double rhymes are much more common in English. However, triple rhymes and polysyllabic rhymes are frequently employed for humorous effect in English literature. Lord Byron uses polysyllabic rhyme for humorous effect when he writes an apostrophe to the husbands of pedantic women: "But--Oh! ye lords of ladies intellectual! / Inform us truly, have they not hen-pecked you all?" Ogden Nash likewise uses forced rhyme in order to produce the effect of surrendering to a difficult bit of verse when he writes, "Farewell, farewell, you old rhinocerous, / I'll stare at something less prepocerous."

TRIPLET: A tercet that forms a complete stanza by itself.

TRISTICH (Greek, "three lines"): Another term for a tercet.

TRITAGONIST: In the earliest Greek dramas, the play consisted of a single actor standing on stage speaking and singing to the chorus. Later, a second actor (called the deuteragonist) was added by literary innovators, and later a third actor (called the tritagonist). In modern literary discussions, we use the term tritagonist to refer to any tertiary character who aids the protagonist (the main character or hero), but who does not serve as a deuteragonist (a constant side-kick or companion). For example, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck Finn is the protagonist, the slave Jim is the deuteragonist, and Tom Sawyer is the tritagonist. See protagonist, antagonist, and deuteragonist.

TRIVIUM: The study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, which in medieval education formed the basis of a bachelor's degree, as opposed to the quadrivium of arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music, which formed the basis of a master's degree.

TROCHAIC METER: Poetry in which each foot consists primarily of trochees (poetic feet consisting of a heavy stress followed by a light stress). See extended discussion under trochee and meter.

TROCHAIC RHYME: Another word for double rhyme in which the final rhyming word consists of a heavy stress followed by a light stress.

TROCHEE: A two-syllable unit or foot of poetry consisting of a heavy stress followed by a light stress. Many words in English naturally form trochees, including happy, hammer, Pittsburgh, nugget, double, incest, injure, roses, hippie, Bubba, "beat it," clever, dental, dinner, shatter, pitcher, Cleveland, chosen, planet, chorus, widow, bladder, cuddle, slacker, and so on. A line of poetry written in successive trochees is said to be written in trochaic meter. See extended discussion under meter. Click here to download a PDF handout that contrasts iambs with other types of poetic feet.

TROPE: Trope has two meanings: (1) a rhetorical device or figure of speech involving shifts in the meaning of words--click on the tropes link for examples, (2) a short dialogue inserted into the church mass during the early Middle Ages as a sort of mini-drama.

TROPOLOGICAL: Not to be confused with either typology or the rhetorical device of the trope, the term tropological refers to the interpretation of literature in which the interpreter focuses on the ethical lesson presented in the text, i.e., "the moral of the story." See more discussion under fourfold interpretation.

TROUBADOUR (Provençal "finder, inventor"): A medieval love poet of southern France between 1100-1350 who wrote and sang about the theme of fin amour (courtly love). Troubadours were noteworthy for their creativity and experimentation in metrical forms. They wrote in langue d'oc, and they profoundly influenced Dante, Petrarch, and the development of the love lyric in Europe. The term troubadour is sometimes used interchangeably with trouvère. Cf. trouvère, below.

TROUBLES, THE: A period of social unrest in Northern Ireland during the 1970s that profoundly influenced Irish poetry and writings. See for an example Seamus Heaney's "Casualty."

TROUVÈRE (Old French, "finder, inventor"): A medieval poet of northern France, especially Picardy, who wrote and sang in lang d'oïl and composed chasons de gestes (songs about the adventures of knights) and romans bretons as well. The term trouvère is sometimes used interchangeably with troubadour. Cf. troubadour, above.

TRUE RHYME: Another term for perfect rhyme or exact rhyme. See exact rhyme.

TSMESIS: See tmesis.

TUDOR: A reference to the period in England during which the ruling monarchs came from the Tudor family (1485-1603). Tudor was the name of a Welshman, Owen Tudor, born in the 1400s. His line became the ruling dynasty when his son Henry Tudor ended the War of the Roses by killing Richard III in 1485. The last ruling Tudor monarch was Henry Tudor's granddaughter, queen Elizabeth I, who died in 1603. After Elizabeth, the House of Stuart claimed the throne when Elizabeth's cousin James I of England (also known as James VI of Scotland) inherited her power. The Tudor period is largely synonymous with the early Renaissance in England. See Renaissance, above.

TUDOR INTERLUDE: Short tragedies, comedies, or history plays performed by either professional acting troupes or by students during the early sixteenth century.

TURN: Also called a volta, a turn is a sudden change in thought, direction, or emotion at the conclusion of the sonnet. This invisible turn is followed by a couplet called a gemel (in English sonnets) or a sestet (in Italian sonnets).

TWIST ENDING: Another term for an O. Henry ending.

TYNGED: A magical taboo or restriction placed on a hero in Welsh literature; the Welsh equivalent to the Irish geasa. One example from The Mabinogion would be how Culwch's mother places a "destiny" on him so that he can have sex with no woman except Olwen, the daughter of the Giant-king Ysbaddaden.

TYPE: An earlier figure, event, or symbol in the Old Testament thought to prefigure a coming antitype (corresponding figure, event, or symbol) in the New Testament. See discussion under typology. The term should not be confused with Jung's idea of an archetype.

TYPE CHARACTER: A literary character with traits commonly associated with a particular class of people.

TYPOGRAPHICAL JUSTIFICATION: See justification, typographical.

TYPOLOGICAL CLASSIFICATION: In linguistics, this schema is a "grouping of languages based on structural similarities and differences rather than genetic relations" (Algeo 332). Do not confuse this linguistic term with typology and typological criticism.

TYPOLOGICAL CRITICISM: A type of literary analysis of medieval or patristic texts in which critics read characters, objects, or events according to established interpretations of similar characters, objects, or events in biblical literature. See discussion under typology. Do not confuse this term with typological classification in linguistics.

TYPOLOGY: A mode of biblical interpretation introduced by Saint Paul and developed by Patristic writers as a means of reconciling the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) and the New Testament. Saint Augustine expressed the general principle in De Doctrina Christiana, in which he writes, "In the Old Testament, the New Testament is concealed; in the New Testament, the Old Testament is revealed." The theory is contested by Hebrew scholars, but in patristic and medieval Latin writings, it was accepted widely by Christians eager to reconcile their faith with Hebrew antiquity. In typological theory, key persons, events, and symbols in the Old Testament are viewed as "figures" or "figurations" (Latin figurae) that predict a matching figure in the New Testament. These figurae were seen as historically real in and of themselves, but also they served as "prefigurations" of similar persons, events, and symbols in the New Testament. The Old Testament figures were known as types and the New Testament figures were known as antitypes. Here are a few examples of such types and antitypes as identified by patristic and medieval writers:

Old Testament Type

New Testament Antitype

Adam's rib removed by God to create Eve.

Christ pierced in his side by a Roman spear and blood flowing from his side.

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden bearing the fruit that will damn humanity.

The cross at Golgatha bearing as its fruit, Christ, which will redeem humanity. (In many medieval legends, the cross is cut and shaped from the same tree that grew in the Garden of Eden; in other versions, this tree instead grows from the seed of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the cross is positioned exactly over the geographic spot where Adam was buried by his sons).

God manifesting to Moses as a burning bush, and the bush is not withered by the flames.

God manifesting to the Jews in the Virgin Mary's womb, and Mary's virginity is not tarnished by this divine impregnation.

God provides the children of Israel with mana in the desert to save them from physical starvation

God provides Eucharist to the faithful church, to save them from spiritual starvation.

Jonah spends three days in the belly of the whale before being vomited forth.

Christ spends three days in the tomb before resurrection.

The Israelites pass through the Red Sea to emerge to a new life in the Promised Land.

The faithful emerge through the waters of baptism to emerge to a new life in Heaven.

The journey to the Promised Land

The pilgrimage to Heaven

Abraham's call to sacrifice his son, Isaac

God's decision to sacrifice his son, Jesus

Those who would be saved coming before Noah's Ark to avoid the coming deluge, entering salvation under the cross-shaped mast.

Those who would be saved coming before the crucifixion to avoid the coming fires of hell, entering salvation under the cross.
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