is a rhetorical device
In rhetoric, a rhetorical device or resource of language is a technique that an author or speaker uses to convey to the listener or reader a meaning with the goal of persuading him or her towards considering a topic from a different perspective. While rhetorical devices may be used to evoke an...
in which a speaker or writer communicates to the audience by speaking as another person or object. The term literally derives from the Greek
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...
face, person, and poiéin
to make, to do".
Prosopopoeiae are used mostly to give another perspective on the action being described. For example, in Cicero's Pro Caelio
Marcus Tullius Cicero gave the speech, Pro Caelio, on April 4, 56 BC, in defense of Marcus Caelius Rufus. It is unknown why Cicero agreed to defend Caelius, who had been a political enemy, though various theories have been postulated. Caelius' was charged with vis , one of the most serious crimes...
, 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
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was a Roman rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing...
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.]). A classic example of this usage can be found in the book of Sirach in the Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...
, where Wisdom is personified and made to speak to the people and to the reader:
- "If Miller Huggins
Miller James Huggins , nicknamed "Mighty Mite", was a baseball player and manager. He managed the powerhouse New York Yankee teams of the 1920s and won six American League pennants and three World Series championships....
was alive today, he'd be turning over in his grave". —Yogi Berra
Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra is a former American Major League Baseball catcher, outfielder, and manager. He played almost his entire 19-year baseball career for the New York Yankees...
, speaking of a former Yankees
The New York Yankees are a professional baseball team based in the The Bronx, New York. They compete in Major League Baseball in the American League's East Division...
- In the second section of his "Cooper Union Address," Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...
creates a mock debate between Republicans and the South, a debate in which he becomes spokesman for the party.
- In court a prosecutor may suggest to jurors
A jury is a sworn body of people convened to render an impartial verdict officially submitted to them by a court, or to set a penalty or judgment. Modern juries tend to be found in courts to ascertain the guilt, or lack thereof, in a crime. In Anglophone jurisdictions, the verdict may be guilty,...
that a homicide
Homicide refers to the act of a human killing another human. Murder, for example, is a type of homicide. It can also describe a person who has committed such an act, though this use is rare in modern English...
victim is "speaking to us through the evidence". Before becoming a Senator, John Edwards
Johnny Reid "John" Edwards is an American politician, who served as a U.S. Senator from North Carolina. He was the Democratic nominee for Vice President in 2004, and was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 and 2008.He defeated incumbent Republican Lauch Faircloth in...
was reputed to have made such an argument in one of his most famous tort
A tort, in common law jurisdictions, is a wrong that involves a breach of a civil duty owed to someone else. It is differentiated from a crime, which involves a breach of a duty owed to society in general...
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
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...
, Sonnet 129
- Prosopopeia is the name of series of reality-games, primarily in Stockholm, Sweden. See references. *