motif

motif

[moh-teef]
motif, in literature, term that denotes the recurrent presence of certain character types, objects, settings, or situations in diverse genres and periods of folklore and literature. Examples of motifs include swords, money, food, jewels, forests, oceans, castles, dungeons, tests of skill or wisdom, journeys, separations and reunions, chaos brought to order. Motifs are not restricted to literature. Hans von Wolzogen coined the term leitmotiv [Ger.,=guiding motive] to describe Richard Wagner's use of a recurring musical phrase to reinforce the emotional impact of characters, situations, and themes in his operas. The visual arts often rely on motifs to communicate deeper levels of meaning: The bison and deer painted on the walls of the caves at Lascaux represent both threat and survival, superior strength or speed, and food supply; the endlessly rocking cradle in D. W. Griffith's film Intolerance suggests rebirth and the inescapable frailties of the human condition (see symbol; archetype).
motif, in music: see motive.

Yalli, a corruption of the Sanskrit word vyala meaning fierce monster, is an architectural or decorative motif of an animal-mask. It is usually carved of stone with the body of a lion and the head of another beast such as an elephant. There are variations in the theme of the motif, often a lion-headed horse. Yalli were frequent motifs in Hindu temples, especially in South India.

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