An Introduction to 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:

  • “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)
    Also by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” contains the descriptions of Dupin’s mental capabilities, typical of characterismus:
  • 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)
Further Readings:
Silver Rhetoricae | Figures: CharacterismusOpens in new window
Brett Zimmerman | Edgar Allan Poe: Rhetoric and Style: CharacterismusOpens in new window
Gregory T. Howard | Dictionary of Rhetorical Terms: CharacterismusOpens in new window