Pathos Practice1

Pathos: Appeals designed to generate emotions and a sense of identification in the audience by stirring their sympathies and imagination. Pathos therefore refers to both the emotional and imaginative impact of the message on the audience. Emotions the rhetor might want to stir include a sense of pity, compassion, fear, shame, anger, joy, shared pride, etc.

There are a handful of ways to stir an audience’s emotions and sense of identification with the rhetor and the message, including:

  • Enargeia involves vivid description, a bringing before the eyes or actualization, a way of speaking or writing that makes the lifeless living through metaphor, especially striking or unfamiliar metaphor. One of the most effective means of pathetic appeal, enargeia gives the listener or reader a sense that s/he is there, experiencing what is being described. Moving personal narratives that turn an abstraction into something palpable and present accomplish this. Images can do this, as well, for a viewer. Aristotle focuses in on the power of active metaphors to accomplish this goal.
  • Using emotionally charged language and delivery—showing signs yourself of the very emotion you hope to arouse in your audience. Exclamation points or ellipses can be ways to convey emotion through punctuation. In a verbal address, the rhetor’s voice can demonstrate the emotion s/he hopes to arouse in the audience.
  • Personification involves granting human-like qualities and perhaps voice to something you’re describing that doesn’t really have those qualities: you might suggest that your new iPad is calling to you or winking at you, or you may represent someone who has died as if she were present, etc.
  • Ethopoeia (character portrayal) involves vividly depicting someone’s physical characteristics or personality.
  • Example of personification from Crowley and Hawhee: “the ruddy, short, bent man, with white and rather curly hair, blue-grey eyes, and a huge scar on his chin.”

  • Another, revised and updated, from ad Herennium: “That person there thinks it’s admirable to be called rich. Once he has propped his chin on his left hand he thinks that he dazzles the eyes with his brand new Rolex. When he calls to his personal assistant, he does it loudly to call attention to the fact that he has one.”

  • Vividly depicting someone’s personality (ethopoeia) would involve impersonation: if I were arguing that Donald Trump would not be an acceptable presidential candidate, I might interrupt my argument with an imitation of him, mocking what I find distasteful in such a way that you recognize something of him in my impersonation. (In this case, the impersonation would almost demand that I also swoop my hair into a mock comb-over.) But i might also use a phrase this person often used, maybe changing the spelling to emphasize a unique tonality. (For ex, the person you’re imitating may have said “bye-eee” instead of “bye.”)

Pathetic appeals involve a two-step process:

  1. the rhetor offers something to arouse, intensify, or change the audience’s emotion (this “something” would be called the a pathema, or plural: pathemata);
  2. and then that emotion functions as a reason for embracing an idea or taking action: I feel overwhelmed with a mix of compassion, anger, hope, and frustration after listening to Obama’s eulogy of Reverend Pinckney, so–for one thing–I call my congressperson and encourage him or her to produce some effective gun control legislation.

Give it a try yourself. Spend 10-15 minutes crafting a paragraph-long description of some person you know, either a personality trait or physical characteristics (personification). Try to bring what you’re describing to life for us, using emotionally charged language and perhaps an imitation that will make us feel affection or disgust for this person.

In groups of 4, read your paragraph aloud to your group members; pick the best one.