An Introduction to Bathos

Bathos (the Greek term for depth ), is a figure of speechOpens in new window which in its build-up, consists in an unintentional descent, whereby the expression is amplified with grander series and soon descent into ludicrous and trivial series.

The term is sometimes interchangeable with anticlimaxOpens in new window, but bathos can be intentional when a writer uses it to achieve comical or satirical effect.

Examples of Bathos

Bathos effectively featured in Alexander PopeOpens in new window’s essay on the bathetic, titled ‘Peri BathousOpens in new window,’ or, ‘Of the Art of Sinking in Poetry,’ the essay which attracts Edgar Allan PoeOpens in new window’s critique, describes the writers hiatus at keeping sublime series. Excerpts below:

  • “Through the breast
    Of that fair vale the Susquehannah roam’d
    Wearing its robe of silver like a bride.
    Now with a noiseless current gliding slow,
    ’Mid the rich velvet of its curtaining banks
    It seemed to sleep.”
  • Here, Poe’s comments unfold:
  • “when the noble river is bedizened out in robes of silver, and made to wash with its bright waters nothing better than curtains of velvet, we feel a very sensible and a very righteous indignation. We might have expected such language from an upholsterer, or a marchande des modes, but it is utterly out of place upon the lips of Mrs. Sigourney. To liken the glorious objects of natural loveliness to the trappings and tinsel of artificiality, is one of the lowest, and at the same time, one of the most ordinary exemplifications of the bathos.
  • — (Brett Zimmerman, Edgar Allan Poe: Rhetoric and Style)
Further Readings:
Kenneth Burke | A Rhetoric of Motives: Traditional Principles of RhetoricOpens in new window
Brett Zimmerman | Edgar Allan Poe: Rhetoric and Style: BathosOpens in new window