AskDefine | Define prosopopoeia

Dictionary Definition

prosopopoeia n : representing an abstract quality or idea as a person or creature [syn: personification]

User Contributed Dictionary



From προσωποποιία, “a face, a person, to make”.


  1. A rhetorical device in which a speaker or writer communicates to the audience by speaking as another person or object.

Extensive Definition

A prosopopoeia (Greek: προσωποποιία) is a rhetorical device in which a speaker or writer communicates to the audience by speaking as another person or object. The term literally derives from the Greek roots meaning "a face, a person, to make".
Prosopopoeiae are used mostly to give another perspective on the action being described. For example, in Cicero's Pro Caelio, Cicero speaks as Appius Claudius Caecus, a stern old man. This serves to give the "ancient" perspective on the actions of the plaintiff. Prosopopoeiae can also be used to take some of the load off of the communicator by placing an unfavorable point of view on the shoulders of an imaginary stereotype. The audience's reactions are predisposed to go towards this figment rather than the communicator himself.
This term also refers to a figure of speech in which an animal or inanimate object is ascribed human characteristics or is spoken of in anthropomorphic language. Quintilian writes of the power of this figure of speech to "bring down the gods from heaven, evoke the dead, and give voices to cities and states" (Institutes of Oratory [see ref.]).
  • Often a prosecutor will suggest to jurors that a homicide victim is "speaking to us through the evidence". Before becoming a Senator, John Edwards was reputed to have made such an argument in one of his most famous tort cases, representing the family of a girl who had been killed by a defective pool drain.
  • "Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame Is lust in action; and, till action, lust Is perjured, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame, Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust; Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight; Past reason hunted, and no sooner had, Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait." -- William Shakespeare, Sonnet 129
Other Uses:
  • Prosopopeia is the name of series of reality-games, primarily in Stockholm, Sweden. See references. *

See also

prosopopoeia in French: Prosopopée
prosopopoeia in Italian: Prosopopea
prosopopoeia in Dutch: Prosopopee
prosopopoeia in Norwegian: Prosopopeia
prosopopoeia in Swedish: Prosopopoeia
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