An Introduction to Epiplexis

Epiplexis (etymologically from Greek, literally “a chastisement”) is a specific kind of rhetorical question in which a lament or an insult is asked as a question, mainly to upbraid, reproach, and not to elicit information or answer; usually in this form:

  • “why will you say to me such hurtful thing?”
  • “What’s the point you keep doing this?”
  • “Why are you so mad?” etc,.

The Epiplexis, as a rhetorical figure, seeks to convince and move by an elegant kind of upbraiding. It basically, throws a question, not aiming to obtain an answer but to make a point or rebuke another person’s viewpoint.

Mark Forsyth opines: “Though epiplexis does not expects a real answer, it does at least have a meaning and a purpose. ‘You just can’t stop being witty, can you?’ A rebuke expressed in the form of a rhetorical question used to reproach or upbraid, as when Cicero has a go at Catiline at the outset of his first speech In Catilinam.” — (Mark Forsyth, The Elements of Eloquence: How To Turn The Perfect English Phrase)

Classical Examples
  • “why died I not from the womb? Why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?” — (Job 3:11)
  • “Did you have a brain tumour for breakfast?”— (Heathers, 1988)
  • “What shall it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and lose his own soul?” — (Mark 8:36)
Further Readings:
Daily Trope EpiplexisOpens in new window