Enantiosis

An Introduction to Enantiosis

Enantiosis (derives from Greek enantios, literally “opposite”), is a figure which consists when contrasting ideas or things very different are by comparisonOpens in new window placed together, in which they mutually set off and enhance one another.

Enantiosis is a close relative of antithesis; while the antithesisOpens in new window balances one idea against its opposite, enantiosis presents the contrary or negative aspect of the stated idea, so as to imply an affirmativeOpens in new window.

Examples of Enantiosis
    We have a notable instance of this figure in the following passage of Virgil, in which we have the different scenes of a court and country life, admirably drawn and contrasted with each other:

  • Happy, too happy for the world below,
    The countryman, did he his bliss but know:
    Who far from war his easy food obtains
    From the till’d earth, that well rewards his pains.
    What tho’ no lofty house its torrent pours
    Of morning-flatt’rers from his ample doors;
    No costly shells his swelling columns hide
    With wreathing pomp, and variegated pride:
    What tho’ no robe enrich’d with gold he wears,
    Nor brazen bust within his walls appears;
    What tho’ his wool imbibes no pois’nous juice,
    Nor drugs infect his oils design’d for use;
    Yet unmolested peace broods o’er his feat,
    Pure runs his life, untinctur’d with deceit.
    One universal rest his farm enjoys;
    Cool grots, resounding with no frightful noise,
    Fresh bubbling springs, and valleys thick with shade,
    Oxen rebellowing thro’ the greensword glade,
    And sleep beneath the waving foliage bless
    His happy hours, and sooth his still recess.

In another instance of this figure, Alexander PopeOpens in new window has most beautifully contrasted the noisy rattling of numbers, and their soft and easy smoothness, in the following verses:

  • What, like Sir Richard, rumbling, rough and fierce
    With arms, and George, and Brunswick crowd the verse,
    Rend with tremendous sound your ears asunder,
    With gun, drum, trumpet, blunderbuss, and thunder?
    Or nobly wild, with BUDGELL’s fire and force,
    Paint angels trembling round his falling horse? -
    Then all your muse’s softer art display,
    Let CAROLINA smooth the tuneful lay,
    Lull with AMELIA’s liquid name the nine,
    And sweetly flow thro’ all the royal line.

The nature of this figure, is that of contrast, by which contraries are resembled together, and made to exhibit contraries in their utmost propensity, as with the following lines of Mr. Pope:

  • Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
    An hero perish, or a sparrow fall;
    Atoms or systems into ruin hurl’d,
    And now a bubble burst, and now a world.
  • [here, a strong contrast is achieved by setting together, “Heroes and sparrows,” “atoms and systems,” “bubbles and worlds” being matched together produce a wonderful effect upon the mind; and, beign represented as appearing upon a level before the infinite Supreme fill us with exalted ideas of his immense greatness.]

Examples of enantiosis, also abounds in the scripture; we have in 2. Cor. Iv.17, where the present and future state of the saints of God are described, and compared with each other; in which the darkness of the first is all dissolved befor the glories of the last:

  • For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

And in the beginning of the next chapter we are met with a most beautiful contrast:

  • “For we know that if our eathly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
Further Readings:
Silver Rhetoricae: EnantiosisOpens in new window
Thomas Gibbons, Rhetoric; Or, A View of Its Principal Tropes and Figures, in Their Origin [...] | Enantiosis (p. 248 - 264)Opens in new window