An Introduction to Syncrisis

Syncrisis (derives from Greek combination ‘syn,’ and ‘krinein,’ literally means “to separate” or “to compare”), is a rhetorical device in the form of a parallel structure, by which persons, or things of similar or dissimilar qualities, are contrasted and put into comparison to show that either of these subjects (things in comparison) are equal to one another or that one is greater or lesser than the other.

Syncrisis is frequently used that it has been included in common-placeOpens in new window, where people’s misdeeds or vices are amplified by comparison, and in encomionOpens in new window where virtues and goodwills are amplified by comparison. Likewisely, it is applied in invectiveOpens in new window with the same inherent function.

Notable Examples of Syncrisis
  • “I was grounded
    While you filled the skies.
    I was dumbfounded by truth;
    You cut through lies.
    I saw the rain dirty valley;
    You saw Brigadoon.
    I saw the crescent;
    You saw the whole of the moon!”
  • — (Mike Scott, “The Whole of the Moon.” Performed by the Waterboys on This Is the Sea, 1985)

  • “He always feels hot, I always feel cold. In the summer when it really is hot he does nothing but complain about how he feels. He is irritated if he sees me put a jumper on in the evening.

    He speaks several languages well; I do not speak any well. He manages — in his own way — to speak even the languages that he doesn’t know.

    He has an excellent sense of direction, I have none at all. After one day in a foreign city he can move about in it as thoughtlessly as a butterfly. I get lost in my own city; I have to ask directions so that I can get back home again.

    He loves the theatre, painting, music, especially music. I do not understand music at all, painting doesn’t mean much to me and I get bored at the theatre. I love and understand one thing in the world and that is poetry.” [quite an interesting piece huh? You can read more hereOpens in new window.]
  • — (Natalia Ginzburg, The Little Virtue; He and I)
    Examples like these very ones above are bountiful in the holy scripture, few of them below:
  • “Behold my servants shall eate, and you shall suffer hunger, behold my servants shall drinke, and you shall abide thirst, behold my servants shall rejoyce and you shall you shall be put to shame, behold my servants shal be glad through joy of heart, & you shal cry through sorrow of heart, and waile through contrition of spirit.”
  • — (Esa.65.13.14.)

  • “Wise women uphold their house, but a foolish woman pulleth it downe.”
  • — (Prov.14.1.)

  • “The curse of ye Lord is in the house of the ungodly, but he blesseth the dwellings of the righteous.”
  • — (Prov.10.1.)
Further Readings:
George Alexander Kennedy | Progymnasmata: Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric; Syncrisis (pg.83)Opens in new window
ThoughtsCo | Glossary of Rhetorical Terms: SyncrisisOpens in new window
Henry Peachum | The Garden of Eloquence: SyncrisisOpens in new window