Necessary Abuse: The Mirror as Metaphor in the Sixteenth Century

Jenny Smith


Metaphor, or translatio, is one of the most prominent figures in classical and medieval rhetoric, and the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries inherited both the sense of its importance, and a complex admixture of attitudes about its cognitive and linguistic functions. This was enabled by the teaching of imitatio (μίμησις), ‘the study and conspicuous deployment of features recognizably characteristic of a canonical author's style or content…’[i], which emphasised intimate knowledge of as large as possible a library of texts.

The close analysis involved necessitated memorizing and internalizing a wide variety of authorial models, which makes Renaissance authors ideal for a historical examination of one of the key tenets of an influential modern theory, that metaphor is fundamental to cognition. In this paper I survey some sixteenth-century uses of the metaphor of the mirror for counsel, against the background of Lakoff and Johnson’s ‘invariance principle’.

[i] Gian Biagio Conte and Glenn W. Most, ‘Imitatio’, in Oxford Classical Dictionary. Published online Dec 2015. DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.013.3266, [accessed 25 October 2016].


metaphor; imitatio; mirror

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