Metabasis

Breaking Down Metabasis

Metabasis (also known as ‘Transitio,’ in Latin; derives from Greek ‘metabaio’, literally means “to pass over”), is a rhetorical device which consists in the introduction of a concise statement that is used to recall or to summarize briefly a body of work that was earlier discussed, and anticipate what is to follow.

Metabasis almost always takes a regular form, something along the line as,

  • “Before we continue, let’s consider the devices we’ve already covered and anticipate what is still to come…”
  • “I have discussed cars and factories, and how these relate to global warming, but we have still to look at long—term atmospheric trends.”

Words which are used to pave way towards introducing further discussion after the summary may include:

  • “next,” “additionally,” “further,” “besides, equally important,” “also interesting,” “also important,” “also necessary to mention,” “it remains.”

Words signifying comparison and contrast such as:

  • “similarly,” “on the other hand,” “by contrast,” etc. may also be used.

Metabasis is an instrumental device for orators and writers to sum up what has been mentioned earlier and bring up important points which may not be directly related to the main point of the earlier sections but which may serve as a vehicle to introduce a concluding section.

Metabasis may also be used as a way to bring up a contrasting opinions or different perspective for approaching contending arguments.

Notable Examples of Metabasis

Metabasis consists of a brief statement of what has been teated earlier and the anticipated points likely to follow. It may be regarded as a linking, or transitional summary, serving the purpose of keeping the material neatly assembled in its delivery as the following examples show:

  • “I have hitherto made mention of his noble enterprises in France, and now I will rehearse his worthy acts done near to Rome.”
    — Peacham
  • “Such, then, would be my diagnosis of the present condition of art. I must now, by special request, say what I think will happen to art in the future.”
    — Kenneth Clark

Metabasis may also serve the purpose of clarifying the movement of a discussion by quickly summing up large sections of preceding material as thus:

  • “By the foregoing quotation I have shown that the language of prose may yet be well adapted to poetry; and I have previously asserted that a large portion of the language of every good poem can in no respect differ from that of good prose. I will go further. I do not doubt that it may be safely affirmed, that there neither is, nor can be, any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition.”
    — William Wordsworth
  • “Thus we have surveyed the state of authors as they are influenced from without, either by the frowns or favor of the great, or by the applause or censure of the critics. It remains only to consider how the people, or world in general, stand affected towards our modern penmen, and what occasion these adventurers may have of complaint or boast from their encounter with the public.”
    — Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury

Practically, it is almost always unlikely to summarize materials less than four or five page; the average reader is more than capable of keeping that amount clear in his or her head. Therefore, caution should be applied in its usage; if used in shorter papers, you run the risk of speaking down to your readers — or worse, of coming across as repetitive in your writing.

Further Readings:
Course Note: Metabasis Opens in new window
Brendan McGuigan | Rhetorical Devices: A Handbook and Activities for Student Writers: Metabasis Opens in new window