I am reading some literature on Shakespeare, and the critic has referred to marriage as a concordia discors, "a discordant harmony". In a footnote, she states:

I use "concordia discors" throughout rather than the familiar "discordia concors" because (...) Dr. Johnson distinguished sharply between the two, "differentiat[ing] the forcible yoking together of the totally diverse (discordia concors) from the harmonious combination of the true opposites, the male and female (concordia discors)".

Wikipedia has an entry for discordia concors that states:

discordia concors is a rhetorical device in which opposites are juxtaposed so that the contrast between them is striking. Dr. Johnson in his Lives of the Poets (1779) defined discordia concors as "a combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike. (...) The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together."

My question has to do with the metaphysics that allow us to call the harmony between male and female, the harmony between "true opposites". Can someone help me understand the distinction Johnson sees between these two words that mean, as far as I can tell "unity through diversity"?

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    @MoziburUllah: I think I see this metaphysically. A concordia discors seems to focus on two opposites drawn together by love. A discordia concors, however, doesn't specify what elements are drawn together, only that they are "yoked together by violence", to quote Dr. Johnson. I see the connection with mythology and that helps my understanding: the male/female concordia discors as archetypal opposites.
    – tylerharms
    Mar 11, 2013 at 20:32

1 Answer 1


In all modern references the terms are synonymous except in music. Discordant harmony in music refers to a harmony created by discordant notes - notes which do not fall in the same chord. This is also called dissonance.

Frank L. Huntley discusses Dr. Johnson's lexical ambiguity in the The Bulletin of the Midwest Modern Language Association, Vol. 2, in an article titled Dr. Johnson and Metaphysical Wit; Or, "Discordia Concors" Yoked and Balanced

Why should Dr. Johnson, while apparently criticising adversely the poetry of Donne, use the term discordia concors whereas, according to recent scholar-critics, Alexander Pope, that paragon of Augustan verse, builds much of his poetry on the very same principle?- True, Johnson says discordia concors and Pope is said to have concordia discors, but the two phrases mean the same thing. They both refer to the idea of world harmony, the discovery of unity in variety or variety in unity in the cosmos and in ourselves. Thus the crucial point of Johnson's criticism of the metaphysical poets is their "imitation of nature." Metrically they fail to imitate its harmony harmoniously, and philosophically they try to make its discordant elements concordant by "violently yoking them together.

~ F. Huntley

You can properly dismiss any critiques about your misuse of one or the other.

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