What is Erotema?

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Erotema (also known as “interrogatio,” “the questioner”; etymologically from Greek—meaning “a rhetorical question”) is a rhetorical device which consists when the orator asks a question but does not expect an answer other than the obvious. Instead of making a plain and direct statement, he suddenly changes his style, and puts what he was about to say or could otherwise have said into the form of a question, in the manner that it does not necessarily require a direct response.

Rather than declaring a conviction, or expressing indignation, or vindicating authority; with this figure, the orator merely conveys his thoughts in the form of a question without expecting any reply.

Erotema though does not expect an answer but it does help to stimulate the opponent to reflect over the question. Although, in numerous occasion, rhetorical questions often exhibits humor and amusement but its intentions are completely different as they are merely intended to condemn certain undesirable conditions.

Likewise, in some cases, a rhetorical question may be used by the orator in the attempt to initiate an argument with the opponent over some dicey matter:

  1. “O mighty Caesar! Dost thou lie so low?
    Are all thy conquests,
    Glories, triumphs, spoils,
    Shrunk to this little

    — (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, III.i.148)

The lines above are intended as a challenge to incite some level of motivation upon the mighty Caesar who was currently down trodden.

Notable Examples

  1. “All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, irrigation system, electricity, public health…what have the Government ever done for us?”
  2. “And how many deaths will it take till we know, that too many people have died?”
  3. The Americanism Committee also uses erotema to enhance the sense of menace and power associated with Vera Micheles Dean and the FPA. Here erotema is fused with the logical fallacy begging the question:

  4. “Shall we let her pull the wool over our eyes?”(43).
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