An Introduction to Digressio

Digressio (literally, “digression”), is a rhetorical scheme which consists when the orator drifts away from the theme or subject-matter of the discourse. The drifting or digression (as it is known) is a temporal one as it ends when the author or orator returns focus on the matter at hand.

In classical rhetoric since Corax of SyracuseOpens in new window, especially in Institutio OratoriaOpens in new window of QuintilianOpens in new window, the digression was a regular part of any oration or composition. After setting out the topic of a work and establishing the need for attention to be given, the speaker or author would digress to a seemingly disconnected subject before returning to a development of the composition's theme, a proof of its validity, and a conclusion.

CiceroOpens in new window was a master of digression, particularly in his ability to shift from the specific question or issue at hand (the hypothesis) to the more general issue or question that it depended upon (the thesis). As was the case with most ancient orators, Cicero's apparent digression always turned out to bear directly upon the issue at hand.

Etymology — The term “digression” comes from the Latin word digressionem (nominative digressio): “a going away, departing from a path” noun of action from past participle stem of digredi “to deviate”, from 'dis' (“apart, aside”) + 'gradi' (“to step, go”).

Importance of Digressio — Digressio in a literary text serve a diverse array of functions, such as a means to provide background information, a way to illustrate or emphasize a point through example or anecdoteOpens in new window, and even a channel through which to satirize a subject.

Digressio (Digression) is often used with direct intention of the author or orator chiefly to add stylistic or rhetorical effect. The return to the main theme is usually marked by the expression “not withstanding”, “nevertheless, I put away all these consideration…”

Further Readings:
Wikipedia | DigressionOpens in new window
Henry Peachum: The Garden of Eloquence |DigressioOpens in new window
Theresa Enos — Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition: Communication from Ancient Times: DigressioOpens in new window