Sententia

What Is Sententia?

Sententia (derives from Latin, meaning “feeling”, “opinion” or “judgement”) is a concise utteranceOpens in new window taken from life which shows briefly what either is or ought to be in life. Sententia could be gnomicOpens in new window, proverbialOpens in new window, and universalOpens in new window in application or pertain expressly to the specifics of the individual speech.

The following expressions are typical examples of sententia:

  • “Each beginning is difficult” (Ad Herrenium, 4.24)
  • “All happiness is unstable and uncertain” (Winterbottom 1.1.3)

The sententia, being a brief, pointed, clever or profound expression often delighted Roman audiences when it occurred at the end of a periodic sentence or long paragraph (Quint. 8.5.2–3). Thus, a sententia is generally introduced at the concluding part of one’s argument mainly to add force and validity to the argument. Notable Examples include:

  • “The lesson we have to learn is that our dislike for certain persons does not give us any right to injure our fellow creatures. The social rule must be: ‘Live and let live.’
    — George Bernard Shaw
  • “There has been this tendency to set aside some of the women, and if they were willing, either to set themselves aside in a religious service, or in some dedicated activity where they didn't act as wives and mothers. Society was willing, then, to accord them quite a few of the privileges that were accorded to men, as if it was being said, implicitly - but of course...sometimes explicitly: ‘You can't have everything.’
    — Margaret Mead
  • “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!
    — Martin Luther King
  • “I am not a perfect servant. I am a public servant doing my best against the odds. As I develop and serve, be patient: God is not finished with me yet.”
    — Jesse Jackson, 1984 Democratic National Convention Address

Importance of Sententia

By invoking the likes of proverb, maxim, etc. during a dialogue, one may be able to win the assent of the listener because the witty sayings of such proverb or the likes is well known as a valid, and general truthOpens in new window.

Important Hint!  

Sententia usually comes at the end of the argument to help summarize and add a powerful and forceful feel. The anonymous author of the rhetorical manual Rhetorica ad HerenniumOpens in new window confines the sententia to a universal usage but warns that the charm of a sententia lies in brevity and infrequent usage. Hence, it is much more fruitful to use Sententia only in certain contexts where it proves relevant.

Further Readings:
American Rhetoric; Rhetorical Figures In Sound: Sententia Opens in new window
John Zimmer — Manner of Speaking; Rhetorical Devices: Sententia Opens in new window
Wikipedia: Sententia Opens in new window