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Understanding Key Features of Comparatio

In classical rhetoric, Comparatio is the Latin generic term for ComparisonOpens in new window, it is often discussed in a variety of contexts but emphasize its forceful effect in two major contexts:

1.     An Illustrative Technique

As an illustrative technique for the articulation of effective argument in deliberative speech. Here, there is comparative characterization of two cases that are connected to each other by a relationship of similarity.

What is valid for one case must also assume validity for the other case, as both cases are relative on the basis of the established rule of their similarity. This ties comparison to composition rather than substantive thought.

Cicero in his acknowlegment of this pattern of argument, discusses it as a connotationOpens in new window of judicialOpens in new window rhetoric, as judges weighed the crimes of the accusedOpens in new window against others, and defendantsOpens in new window examined the intent of their actions by contrasting the outcome with alternative.

2.     A Rhetorical Figure for Comparison

As a rhetorical figure for comparativeOpens in new window characterization, comparatio dealt extensively in the amplification of contrast, and the comparison of unlike things, as in encomiasticOpens in new window scheme, where the person, or object to be praised is placed beside outstanding specimensOpens in new window of a comparable kind.

Henry PeachamOpens in new window amongst many other rhetorical theorists understood comparison as a mode of juxtapositionOpens in new window associated with and often governing a wide range of tropes and figures of similarity — including simileOpens in new window, metaphorOpens in new window, paraboleOpens in new window, and allegoryOpens in new window, to name a few.
(Devin Griffiths, The Age of Analogy: Science and Literature Between the Darwins.)

How to Make Comparisons

Aelius TheonOpens in new window, in his “progymnasmata,” the rhetorical teaching material from the late first century CE, gives a detailed discussion on how to do comparison:

Comparison is a form of speech which contrasts the better and the worse. Comparisons are drawn between people and between things: between people, for example AjaxOpens in new window and OdysseusOpens in new window; between things, for example, wisdom and courage. When one distinguishes between people, one takes into consideration their acts, but if there is anything else of merit about them, then the one method would suffice for both.

‘First, it should be noted that comparisons are not drawn between things which are vastly different from each other. It would be ridiculous to debate whether AchillesOpens in new window is more courageous than ThersitesOpens in new window.

Like-things should be considered, things over which there can be disagreement as to whether a position should be taken up, because of the impossibility of distinguishing any pre-eminence of the one over the other.’

‘In the comparison of people, one firstly juxtaposes their status, education, offspring, positions held, prestige, and physique; if there is any other physical matter, or external merit, it should be stated beforehand in the material for the encomiaOpens in new window.’

‘Next one compares actions, preferring the finer ones and those responsible for more numerous and greater benefits; those which are more stable and durable; those which were especially opportune; those for which the failure to perform them would have resulted in the occurrence of great injury; those performed out of choice rather than of necessity or chance; and those performed by the few rather than the many.

CommonplaceOpens in new window and hackneyedOpens in new window things should not be singled out for praise. One should refer to those things done with effort rather than ease, and things done after the appropriate age and opportunity rather than those performed when the possibility was there.’”
— (Arren Bennet Lawrence, Comparative Characterization in the Sermon on the Mount: …)

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