Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style  

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Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style (De Utraque Verborum ac Rerum Copia) is a rhetorical guide written by Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus in 1512. It is Erasmus' systematic instruction on how to embellish, amplify, and give variety to speech and writing.

The subject of Copia is the ability to express oneself through the "abundant style." Erasmus theorizes that in order to persuade an audience, it is important that a rhetor have as many options as possible to give variety to their message. Knowledge and clarity are important, but these gifts are slighted if the speaker or writer is short on abundance of style.

"If in these circumstances we find ourselves destitute of verbal riches and hesitate, or keep singing out the same old phrase like a cuckoo, and are unable to clothe our thought in other colors or other forms, we shall look ridiculous when we show ourselves to be so tongue-tied, and we shall also bore our wretched audience to death."

The text is divided into two books. Book I ultimately consisted of 206 chapters, while Book II is not sectioned off.

Book I:

Chapters 1-12 A discussion of the general nature and value of the abundant style

Chapters 13 - 33 An analysis of major tropes in classical literature: synecdoche, equivalence, allegory, etc. Chapter 33 is a famous demonstration of variety, where Erasmus illustrates 195 variations on the sentence, "Your letter pleased me greatly". (Latin: tuae litterae me magnopere delectarunt)

Chapters 34-94 Features variations of grammatical and syntactic forms

'Chapters 94 - 206 Operates like a Thesaurus, although the organization is haphazard, not alphabetical

Book II : Abundance of Subject Matter

Not divided into chapters, but does address 11 separate methods of using abundant subject matter. Here Erasmus uses a more dialectical approach, and typically gives a few lines of theory followed by many illustrations from classical sources.

While designed as a university text book, Copia enjoyed far broader appeal. The book was immensely popular in England and in Europe, at least 85 editions of the book were printed in Erasmus' own lifetime, and countless more after that. Erasmus made three separate revisions to the original text, adding chapters each time. The original 1512 edition contained 153 chapters, which swelled to 206 in the final version that Erasmus completed before his death.

See also

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