Abstract: When lyric poets in late Renaissance England responded to the demand for wonder in poetry and all courtly activity by astonishing audiences through style, they drew upon the Greek rhetorical tradition, which presents roughness and obscurity as coordinate methods of making style deinos, or admirable. In the Life of Cowley, Samuel Johnson also sees roughness and obscurity as coordinate qualities in the verse of the “metaphysical poets” he says erred in pursuit of wonder. Before admirable style went out of fashion, poet-critics praised its ability to provoke the audience's inferences and to transcend persuasión by “ravishing” the audience's will, precisely the effects that Demetrius attributes to the charaktēr deinos in On Style. Yet deinolēs is the term used to describe both the most powerful style and the clever style of sophistic epideixis, and this breadth of meaning helps explain both the rise and fall of wit.
- Copyright 1996, The International Society for the History of Rhetoric