The priamel

The 'priamel' (praeambulum) is a figure familiar to classicists from archaic elegy and lyric, whereby a series of parallel statements serves to throw the last into relief.129 Solon fr. 9 may serve as an illustration: 'From the cloud comes the fury of snow and hail, I from the bright lightning comes thunder, I and from big men a city is destroyed.' When Achilles says to Hector 'As there are no treaties between lions and men, nor do wolves and lambs maintain concord, ... so there is no friendship for me and you' (Il. 22. 262-5), it is from the formal point of view a simile, but otherwise it much resembles a priamel.

Occasional Indic examples can be found. Watkins has adduced RV 8. 3. 24, 'The soul is food, the body clothing, I unguent gives strength; I as the fourth I have named Pakasthaman, I generous giver of the bay.'130 The poet's patron, Pakasthaman, has given him a horse, and the priamel serves to praise him by setting him in parallel with those things that give food, clothing, and strength.

Another Vedic passage seems an astonishing pre-echo of Pindar's most famous priamel. RV 1. 161. 9:

apo bhuyistha, iti eko abravld;

agnir bhuyista, iti anyo abravlt;

vadharyantlm bahubhyah praiko abravld;

rta vadantas camasiam apimsata.

'The waters are best', said one;

'fire is best', said another;

one commended the thunderbolt(?) to many;

(but) speaking the truth, you (Rbhus) carved the (gods') chalice.

This is how Pindar exalts the Olympic Games:

129 W. Kröhling, Die Priamel (Beispielreihung) als Stilmittel in der griechisch-römischen Dichtung (Diss. Greifswald 1935); Franz Dornseiff, Antike und alter Orient (Leipzig 1956), 379-93. In West (1997), 509 f., 526, I have noted some Hebrew examples.

130 Watkins (1995), 115; his translation.

The best thing is water; gold shines like a blazing fire in the night above all proud wealth;

but if you yearn to sing of games, my heart.. .131

The Ramayana provides a couple of fine examples: 2. 34. 25, 'Without strings a lute cannot be played, without wheels a chariot cannot move, and without her husband a woman finds no happiness, though she have a hundred sons'; 2. 98. 6, 'An ass cannot match the pace of a horse, birds cannot match Tärksya's pace, nor have I the power to match yours, lord of the land.'

From Old Norse and Old English we may adduce Hävamäl 53 litil lä sanda, litil lä sava, litil ero geö guma, 'narrow the sands' edge, narrow the seas' edge, narrow are the minds of men'; Maxims B 16-20, 'The hawk belongs on the glove .. .; the wolf belongs in the forest .. .; the boar belongs in the wood . .. ; a good man belongs in his native land, forging his reputation'; 21-8, 'The javelin belongs in the hand .. .; the gem belongs on the ring . .. ; the stream belongs among the waves . ..; [four more items, then] the king belongs in his hall, sharing out rings' (trs. S. A. J. Bradley).

This evidence is perhaps rather too scant and scattered to allow us at present to claim the priamel as an Indo-European figure. But future observation may augment it.

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