Pathos, Greek for ‘suffering’ or ‘experience’. The adjectival form: ‘pathetic’ represents an appeal to the audience’s emotions. Pathos is a communication technique used most often in rhetoric – where it is considered one of the three modes of persuasion, alongside ethos and logos – and in literature, film and other narrative art.

Emotional appeal can be accomplished in a multitude of ways:

– by a metaphor or story telling, common as a hook,

– by a general passion in the delivery and an overall emotion and sympathies of the speech or writing as determined by the audience. The pathos of a speech or writing is only ultimately determined by the hearers.

Tragic Mask

Pathos is often associated with emotions, but it is more complex than simply emotions. A better equivalent might be appeal to the audience’s sympathies and imagination. An appeal to pathos causes an audience not just to respond emotionally but to identify with the writer’s point of view – to feel what the writer feels.

So, when used in tragedy, pathos evokes a meaning implicit in the verb ‘to suffer’ – to feel pain imaginatively or vicariously. Pathos is often employed with tragedies and this is why pathos often carries this negative emotional connotation.

Perhaps the most common way of conveying a pathetic appeal is through narrative or story, which can turn the abstractions of logic into something palpable and present. The values, beliefs, and understandings of the writer are implicit in the story and conveyed imaginatively to the reader. Pathos thus refers to both the emotional and the imaginative impact of the message on an audience, the power with which the writer’s message moves the audience to decision or action.

‘Sublime Pathos’ appears as a privileged aesthetic concept. According to a number of writers, sublime pathos in the context of art demonstrates human freedom and triumph in the struggle against suffering. As such, pathos no longer refers to suffering itself, but rather an effect produced by overcoming suffering.


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