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Key Features of Impersonation, the 11th Progymnasmata Exercise, Explained

Impersonation (also known as Ethopoeia, the 11th exercise in the series of the Progymnasmata exercisesOpens in new window) is an imitation of the ethos of a person chosen to be portrayed.

AphthoniusOpens in new window uses ethos in the Aristotelian sense of the character of a speaker, including presentation of moral choice embodied in words and arguments. Imitation means that the exercise takes a dramatic form whereby one or more characters is imagined as speaking.

Imitation are of three forms:

  1. eidolopoeiaOpens in new window, a speech attributed to the ghost of a known person;
  2. prosopopoeiaOpens in new window, used by Theon for the exercise as a whole — here, the character of the speaker is a creation of the writer, for example a mythological figure;
  3. ethopoeiaOpens in new window, the third form, has a known person as speaker and only invents the characterization, which is why it is called “character-making”, for example, what words would Heracles say when Eurystheus gave his commands. Here Heracles is known, but the character in which he speaks is invented. The divisions of ethopoeia as whole are pathetical, ethical, and mixed. Learn more here!Opens in new window

Some have rightly introduced ethopoeia after thesis Opens in new window; for in a certain sense there is a path leading from thesis through ethopoeia, to complete hypotheses. But we, following the prevailing convention of introducing ethopoeia right after comparison Opens in new window, reply that ethopoeia is speech suiting the proposed situations, showing ethos or pathos or both: “suiting the proposed situations” since it is necessary to take account of the speaker and the one to whom he is speaking; “ethos or pathos or both” since one looks either to the universal or to what came from the circumstance; for this is how ethos differs from pathos.

For example, if we speak on the theme, “What words a coward would say when going out to battle,” we shall give attention to the character generally belonging to cowards; but if we speak on, perhaps, “What words Agamemnon would say after taking Ilium,” or Andromache when Hector fell, the emotions of the situation will give a supply of things to say.

A number of ethopoeias are ethical, some pathetical, and several others mixed. The ethical and pathetical are those already cited above, mixed are those combining both; for example, if one attempts to speak on the theme, “What words would Achilles say when going to war after the death of Patroclus”; for he could add elements of emotion to the character and create a mixed ethopoeia.

Template for Composition

The “characters” of style to be applied to ethopoeia are, according to Aphthonius, clarity, brevity, floridity, lack of finish, and absence of figures; this terminology is not that of Hermogenes on style, indicating that his work was not yet the standard authority. Instead of headings there are to be divisions into past, present, and future time.

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