Commiseratio

An Introduction to Commiseratio

Commiseratio (etymologically from Latin, literally “the stirring of pity”), is a specific part of a discourse by which the speaker excites emotion unto the audience; specifically as a resort to arouse their pity upon the matter at hand.

Ágnes HellerOpens in new window observes that commiseratio is “the motive which prompts us to social action; ‘putting ourselves in the other man's place’ becomes the psychic point of departure for social compassion”
(Renaissance Man, 2015).

  • “In the case of commiseratio, appeals for pity, Cicero is more elaborate than the author of Ad Herennium, and solemnly enumerates no fewer than sixteen different themes. Both authors however end with the advice not to linger too long on the appeal to pity. …”
    (M. L. Clarke and D. H. Berry, Rhetoric at Rome: A Historical Survey, 3rd ed. Routledge, 1996)
Notable Examples
    Barack Obama's Usage:
  • “ . . . I saw it just the other day in Mentor, Ohio, where a father told the story of his eight-year-old daughter whose long battle with leukemia nearly cost their family everything had it not been for health care reform passing just a few months before the insurance company was about to stop paying for her care. I had an opportunity to not just talk to the father but meet this incredible daughter of his. And when he spoke to the crowd, listening to that father’s story, every parent in that room had tears in their eyes because we knew that little girl could be our own.

    “And I know that every American wants her future to be just as bright. That’s who we are. That’s the country I’m so proud to lead as your president.

    “And tonight, despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future. . . .”

  • — (President Barack Obama, election night victory speech, November 7, 2012)
    Marc Antony's Usage (Julius Caesar, 3:2)
  • “O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!
    Then I, and you, and all of us fell down,
    Whilst bloody treason flourish'd over us.
    O, now you weep; and, I perceive, you feel
    The dint of pity: these are gracious drops.
    Kind souls, what, weep you when you but behold
    Our Caesar's vesture wounded? Look you here,
    Here is himself, marr'd, as you see, with traitors.”
  • — (Marc Antony in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Act III, scene 2)
Further Readings:
ThoughtCo. | Glossary of Grammatical & Rhetorical Terms: CommiseratioOpens in new window