What is Exergasia?

Exergasia (also called Epexergasia) is a series of sentences or phrases, having all the same meaning, or implying the same thing; as, when we describe a beautiful woman, we say,

  • She hath a winning countenance, a sparkling eye, an amiable presence, a cheerful aspect.

This Figure involves the repetition of the same thought, idea, or subject in different words by which form it is worked out, differently explained, and developed. Therefore, it resembles SynonymiaOpens in new window; but differs from it in that not merely synonymous words are repeated, but synonymous expressions or sense.

The latin term for exergasia is ‘expolitio’ meaning ‘a polishing up’, because by such repetition the meaning is embellished as well as strengthened and not merely explained or interpreted in subsequent repetitions. This occur in form of a repetition, so as to work out or illustrate what has been said.

Classic Examples
    Shakespeare made use of exergasia. In The Winter's Tale, the character “Florizel” is quoted as saying:
  • I take thy hand, this hand
    As soft as dove's down, and as white as it,
    Or Ethiopian's tooth, or the fanned snow that's bolted
    By th' northern blasts twice o'er
    — The Winter's Tale (IV.iv.360-363).
  • Florizel calls the hand white in three different ways: comparing it to dove's down, an Ethiopian's tooth, and snow.
    Exergasia is used to make a point and emphasize a pressing idea. Repetition is quite instrumental in achieving this, but without the restatement of the idea it tends to become boring. As such, it is used by many great writers and orators. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “I Have a Dream” Speech says:

  • Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy;
    now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice;
    now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood;
    now is the time to make justice a reality for all God’s children.
  • The idea of correcting injustice is repeated in all four lines to emphasize this idea.

Exergasia is sometimes called Epexergasia, i.e., the addition of the prefix ‘ep’ to the word exergasia and implies a working out upon. In which vein, words of the same signification are repeated to make clearer the previous statement: or to illustrate the sense of what has been mentiond earlier.

Further Readings:
Silva Rhetoricae, Figures | ExergasiaOpens in new window
Wikipedia | ExergasiaOpens in new window
Roland Meynet, Rhetorical Analysis: An Introduction to Biblical Rhetoric | ExergasiaOpens in new window
Bullinger, E. W., Figures of Speech Used in the Bible | ExergasiaOpens in new window