What is Erotesis?

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Erotesis (etymologically from Greek, literally “an enquiry”) is a rhetorical figure which consists when the speaker adopts a kind of interrogation, primarily not to express a doubt, but ironically and confidently asserting the reverse of the statement.

Erotesis is considered to be a vehicle through which the emotion of the mind is expressed, as it is known to injects a texture of passion and energy into the discourse by proposing questions. However, when we inquire about something that is doubtful, in order to be informed, this is no figure, but the natural form of such expressions; as if I ask a person, where he is going? Or what he is doing?

But it then becomes figurative, when the same thing may be expressed in a direct manner: but in putting it by way of question gives it a much greater life and spirit: as when Cicero says,

Catine, how long will you abuse our patience? Do not you perceive your designs are discovered?

He might indeed have said, You abuse our patience a long while: you must be sensible your designs are discovered. But it is easy to perceive how much this latter way of expression falls short of the force and vehemence of the former.” — (John Walker, A Rhetorical Grammar: In which Improprieties in Reading and Speaking are ...)

Erotetic questions have the nature of a climaxOpens in new window, as they are merely pronounced with higher and increasing force to the end, of which every succeeding question is pronounced higher and louder than its predecessor. This is evident when CiceroOpens in new window says:

  1. “How long, O Catiline, will you abuse our patience? And for how long will this madness of yours mock us? To what end will your unbridled audacity hurl itself?”

    — (Cicero, 63 BC)

Notable Examples

  1. “How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?”

    — (Bob Dylan, Blowing in the Wind)

  2. “Another thing that disturbs me about the American church is that you have a white church and a Negro church. How can segregation exist in the true Body of Christ?”

    — (Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.,1956)

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