Hieratic: From the Greek for “priestly,” a term originally used with reference to a stylized, cursive form of ancient Egyptian writing based on hieroglyphs. As adapted to literary criticism by the Canadian archetypal critic Northrop Frye, the term refers to a style of literature that employs devices and conventions associated with literariness, such as rhetorical figures and figures of speech, to elevate language above the level of ordinary speech. Frye contrasted hieratic style with demotic style, which employs the connotations, diction, rhythms, and syntax of everyday speech. He associated hieratic style with aesthetic, formalist, centripetal tendencies and demotic style with oratorical, populist, centrifugal ones but viewed both styles as essential, writing in The Well-Tempered Critic (1963) that:
If we think of literature in purely esthetic and hieratic terms, we think of the end of criticism as a vision of beauty; if we think of it in purely oratorical and demotic terms, we think of the end of criticism as a possession of some form of imaginative truth. Beauty and truth are certainly relevant to the study of literature, but if either is separated from the other and made an end in itself, something goes wrong.
Frye also distinguished three categories — high, middle, and low — in both the hieratic and demotic styles, arguing that the high style in each is the “authentic speech” of “the world that man exists and participates in through his imagination,” “the language of humanity itself.”
Subsequently, Frye extended the terms hieratic and demotic to refer to aristocratic and populist ages, respectively, two of three linguistic phases he discussed in The Great Code: The Bible and Literature (1982), the first phase being the hieroglyphic, a divine or mythical age. Frye associated the hieroglyphic phase with metaphoric language, the hieratic phase with metonymic language, and the demotic phase with descriptive language.