) (from Greek
: without and dynasthai
: to be powerful) is a figure of speech
in the form of hyperbole
taken to such extreme lengths as to suggest a complete impossibility:
Classical and Medieval usage
Adynaton was a widespread literary and rhetorical
device during the Classical Period
and was known in Latin
. A frequent usage was to refer to one highly unlikely event occurring sooner
- One can expect an agreement between philosophers sooner than between clocks. Seneca, "The Pumpkinification of Claudius".
However it largely fell into disuse during the Middle Ages before undergoing a minor revival in the works of romantic poets, who would boast of the power of their love, and how it could never end.
- Together, we shall sooner see, I, & you, The Rhône tarry, & reverse its course, The Saône roil, & return to source, Than this my fire ever die down Maurice Scève
Fiction, folklore and drama
Adynata are sometimes used within works of fiction or drama:
- Part heat from fire, then, by that notion,
- Part frost from snow, wet from the ocean!
- Ask less! Henrik Ibsen, Brand
Impossible tasks appears often in legends and folklore, such as the tale of "The Spinning-Woman by the Spring", and can form elements of ballads, riddles and proverbs.
Adynaton has survived to the modern age in several colourful examples:
References and further reading