Julius Caesar and Winston Churchill and Their Love of the Hypozeuxis
Learn how two famous speeches, centuries apart, are linked by a common rhetorical device
You are probably familiar with the hypozeuxis but just don’t know it. Don’t worry — it is not a terminal or incurable medical condition. A hypozeuxis (pronounced “hi PUH zook sis”) is a rhetorical term for a series of brief parallel clauses where each clause has its own subject and predicate. The word is derived from the Greek word hypozeugnynai that means “to subjugate or to put under the yoke.”
Perhaps the most famous hypozeuxis is Julius Caesar’s proclamation to the Roman Senate, reporting his victory at the Battle of Zela (47 BC): “I came; I saw; I conquered.” If you studied Latin, you will recall that early lesson: “veni, vidi, vici.” In Ecclesiastical Latin, that phrase is pronounced “vee-nee, vee-dee, vee-kee”; however, in Classical Late Latin, the “v” is pronounced as a “w”, so Caesar would have pronounced it “wee-nee, wee-dee, wee-kee.”
Another well-known hypozeuxis is from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s famous speech to the House of Commons (often referred to as “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech) on June 4, 1940 regarding the successful evacuation of more than 300,000 soldiers during the Battle of Dunkirk in France (May 26 to June 4, 1940):
“We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills.”
Churchill’s consistent use of “we shall fight” in his speech is also an example of an anaphora (from the Greek word anaphora, meaning “a carrying back”) where a specific word or sequence of words repeats at the beginning of a sentence.
In the world of literature, one of the most famous examples of an anaphoric hypozeuxis is found in the glorious — and timeless!—first sentence from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859):
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…
If you’re curious, the opposite of the hypozeuxis is the zeugma, also referred to as a syllepsis. In a zeugma (pronounced “ZOOG muh”), a single word is used with two other parts of a sentence that are understood differently in relation to each. A zeugma uses both ellipsis (omission of words which are easily understood) and parallelism (balance of several words or phrases). An example of a zeugma is: “He took his hat and his leave.” The verb “take” is understood in two different contexts: “he took his hat” and “he took his leave.” Another example of a zeugma is: “He held his breath and the door for me.” Here the operative verb is hold and understood in two different ways: holding one’s breath, and holding a door open.
Another type of zeugma is the hypozeugma in which the last clause of a sentence uses a verb that is inderstood in the other clauses. Here is a classic example of a hypozeugma from Cicero: “Does not the nightly watch of the Palatine, does not guard of the city, does not the fear of the people, does not the union of all good men, does not the holding of the senate in this most defensible place, do not the looks and faces of these people move you?” [In Catilinam I-IV]
We began this fascinating exploration of a rhetorical term with Julius Caesar; therefore, it is fitting to circle back to him by presenting the most famous hypozeugma in literature — this time from the pen of William Shakespeare from his play Julius Caesar (1599). In Act III, Scene II, Mark Antony delivers the eulogy at Caesar’s funeral. The hypozeugma appears in the first line:
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interrèd with their bones.
So let it be with Caesar…”
So the next time you want to emphasize a point, think of borrowing the persuasive hypozeuxis from Caesar, Churchill, and Dickens.
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