What is Characterismus?

Characterismus (etymologically from Greek, literally “a designation by a characteristic mark”), is a kind of EnargiaOpens in new window which in its description, consists by painting a vivid picture either of a person’s body or mind.

Characterismus typically features in literary works when describing physical attributes. It is regarded as a close relative of EthopoeiaOpens in new window.

Examples of Characterismus

In Ligeia, by Edgar Allan PoeOpens in new window, Ligeia’s intellectual abilities and accomplishments works as an instance of characterismus:

  1. “In the classical tongues was she deeply proficient, and as far as my own acquaintance extended in regard to the modern dialects of Europe, I have never known her at fault. Indeed upon any theme of the most admired, because simply the most abstruse of the boasted erudition of the academy, have I ever found Ligeia at fault? … I said her knowledge was such as I have never known in woman – but where breathes the man who has traversed, and successfully, all the wide areas of moral, physical, and mathematical science?”

    — (Edgar Allan Poe, LigeiaOpens in new window, 2:253 – 4)

  2. Also by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” contains the descriptions of Dupin’s mental capabilities, typical of characterismus:

  3. I often dwelt meditatively upon the old philosophy of the Bi-Part Soul, and amused myself with the fancy of a double Dupin – the creative and the resolvent.

    (Edgar Allan Poe, The Murders in the Rue MorgueOpens in new window, 4:152)

  4. “Thou bearest thy father’s face:
    Frank nature …
    Hath well composed thee.
    Thy father’s moral parts
    Mayst thou inherit too”

    — (Williams Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends WellOpens in new window I. ii.19-21)

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