Definition of Icon (Rhetorical Device)

The Icon consists in the following:

  1. Icon is the model for an immediate relation between the visible and the invisible, the present and the absent, divinity and its visible form. Thus the icon is enigmatic, by which it directs the mind's eye from the symbolic to the imaginary, from symptom to cause, from creation to creator.
  2. Icon is a specific kind of description, which consists in the use of multiple comparisonsOpens in new window to other persons or things.

Notable Observation

The icon in its mode of comparison bears semblance with other comparative devices particularly the likes of simile Opens in new window and metaphor Opens in new window. However, the simile delights less than the icon, the icon less than the metaphor. Hence, a simple illustration with these devices would bring us clarity.

  • A simile is “as Bacchus drives away thirst with the cup, so Mars drives away the enemy with the shield.”
  • An icon, on the other hand, is “Bacchus with a cup as with a shield drives away thirst.”
  • A metaphor, in truth, is “With the shield of Bacchus let us drive away thirst.”

    — The Art of Rhetoric (Institutiones Oratoriae, p. 128)

The reason of the tie is more explicit in the simile than in the icon, and more explicit in the icon than in the metaphor. And so there is left less to be discovered by the ingenuity of the listener in the simile than in the icon, and less in the icon than in the metaphor.

Further Readings:
The Art of Rhetoric: (Institutiones Oratoriae, 1711-1741) by Giambattista Vico | IconOpens in new window
Silver Rhetoricae, Figures by Gideon O. Burton | IconOpens in new window