What Is Synoeciosis?

Synoeciosis (derives from Greek combination ‘syn,’ “with” and ‘oikeios’ “one’s own” ), is a figure which consists by presenting two contrary qualities or conditions of the same subject, in the context not to oppose but mainly to agree upon one another.

George PuttenhamOpens in new window, in his rhetorical manual, “The Arte of English Poesie” (1589), defines the figure synoeciosis as a “cross-couple” because it takes two contrary words, and tieth them as it were in a pair of couples, and so makes them agree like good fellows. Thus, he supports with an Example:

  • “The covetous miser of all his goods ill got,
    As well wants what he hath, as that he hath not.”

Synoeciosis effectively thrives in bringing two contraries together in agreement to form oxymoronic or paradoxical truths, as some author points out:

  • to hope more is to have less;
  • to gain is to lose;
  • excess of pleasure brings grief.
Some Examples of Synoeciosis
    Synoeciosis is a figure known to invoke emotions as it does in Hamlet:
  • ‘I must be cruel only to be kind.’
  • — (Hamlet; III, iv, 178).
    This figure of scheme also occurs when Claudio used intellectual words to convince the Duke, where he declares:
  • To sue to live, I find I seek to die;
    And seeking death, find life.
  • — (Measure For Measure, III, I, 42 – 43)
    The ‘cross-couple’ effect of synoeciosis is also eminent in Adam’s bitter outburst in “As You Like It”:
  • Your virtues, gentle master,
    Are sanctified and holy traitors to you.
    O, what a world is this, when what is comely
    Envenoms him that bears it!
  • — (As You Like It; II, iii, 12 – 15)
    And finally this masterpiece from one of Shakespeare's poems 'Venus And Adonis':
  • “The strongest body shall it make most weak,
    Strike the wise dumb, and teach the fool to speak…
    It shall be raging mad and silly mild,
    Make the young old, the old become a child.”
  • — (lines 1145-46, 1151-52)
Important Hint! 

Synoeciosis uses two contraries to put up one thought pattern without necessarily contradicting or opposing one another. This scheme of reasoning merely stimulates attention in virtue of the seeming incompatibility of the terms which are joined together which in return creates a kind of balancing effect traceable to rhetorics.

Further Readings:
Shakespeare's Sonnets & Poems, Rhetorical Schemes; Reading Shakespeare's Language | Synoeciosis (pg.353)Opens in new window
Bertram Leon Joseph | Acting Shakespeare | SynoeciosisOpens in new window
Silva Rhetoricae | Figures | SynoeciosisOpens in new window