Description

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Key Features of Description, the 12th Progymnasmata Exercise.

Description (also known as Ekphrasis, the 12th exercise in the series of the Progymnasmata exercises  Opens in new window) is a descriptive composition which consists in bringing the subject clearly before the audience mind’s eye.

Theon  Opens in new window defines ekphrasis as “descriptive language, bringing what is portrayed clearly before the sight.”

EkphrasisOpens in new window as a progymnasma deals with vivid description. It can give a vivid description of something from start to finish, its subjects are like those of encomiumOpens in new window, such as persons, actions, times, places, animals, and growing things.

The usefulness of ekphrasis is that it brings clarity and vividness. It makes room for hearers to become spectators. More so it can function as an element of discourse in other progymnasma exercises including fablesOpens in new window, narrativesOpens in new window, common–placesOpens in new window, and encomiaOpens in new window.

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Other similar terms and expressions (effictioOpens in new window, characterismusOpens in new window, enargiaOpens in new window) for vivid descriptions abounds in rhetorical manuals, such can be employed to describe a person or other subject so that it stands before the listener's eyes.

TheonOpens in new window, in his discussion of topos, opines “we shall create vividness whenever we describe the crime in the process of execution and the suffering of the one wronged.” And he proceeds with an example of a murderer:

one should describe in detail the kind of person who committed the murder, the manner in which it was done, and a blow–by–blow description of the act.

In the same vein, CiceroOpens in new window, in his discussion of the indignatio, expresses a similar idea, “a passage which results in arousing great hatred against some person, or violent offense at some action.” In describing the act of a crime, the speaker should “by [his] language bring the action as vividly as possible before the eyes of the judge before whom [he is] pleading, so that a shameful act may seem as shameful as if he had himself been present and seen it in person.”

Ekphrasis largely functions as a part (of a larger whole), but nothing prevents it sometimes being worked out as sufficient in itself for a complete hypothesis.

Nicolaus often stress that ekphrasis is useful for all three kinds of rhetoricOpens in new window; for in deliberative speakingOpens in new window we often encounter a necessity to describe the thing about which the speech is concerned in order to be forcefully persuasive; also in prosecuting or defendingOpens in new window, the amplification that comes from making a vivid description is required; and likewise in panegyricalOpens in new window subjects the element of ekphrasis is capable of rousing gratification in theater–audiences.

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  • References
    • Aphthonius 10—16; Nicolaus 29—35; Schouler, La tradition hellénique, 1:86—97.

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