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Cicero, De Oratore [On the Orator] 2.42.178 (55 B.C.). Translated by E.W. Sutton and H. Rackham (Harvard University Press, 1942).


In classical rhetoric, the means of persuasion that appeals to the emotions of an audience. Adjective: pathetic.

Pathos is one of the three kinds of artistic proof in Aristotle's rhetorical theory. (See Examples and Observations, below.)

See also:


From the Greek, "experience, suffer"

Examples and Observations:

  • "Of the three appeals of logos, ethos, and pathos, it is the [last] that impels an audience to act. Emotions range from mild to intense; some, such as well-being, are gentle attitudes and outlooks, while others, such as sudden fury, are so intense that they overwhelm rational thought. Images are particularly effective in arousing emotions, whether those images are visual and direct as sensations, or cognitive and indirect as memory or imagination, and part of a rhetor's task is to associate the subject with such images."
    (L. D. Greene, "Pathos." Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. Oxford University Press, 2001)

  • "Most twenty-first-century direct mail solicitations for environmental groups invoke the pathetic appeal. The pathos exists in the emotional appeals to the receiver's sense of compassion (for the dying animal species, deforestation, the shrinking of glaciers, and so on)."
    (Stuart C. Brown and L.A. Coutant, "Do the Right Thing." Renewing Rhetoric's Relation to Composition, ed. by Shane Borrowman et al. Routledge, 2009)

  • Cicero on the Power of Pathos
    "[E]veryone must acknowledge that of all the resources of an orator far the greatest is his ability to inflame the minds of his hearers and to turn them in whatever direction the case demands. If the orator lacks that ability, he lacks the one thing most essential."
    (Cicero, Brutus 80.279, 46 B.C.)

  • Quintilian on the Power of Pathos
    "[T]he man who can carry the judge with him, and put him in whatever frame of mind he wishes, whose words move men to tears or anger, has always been a rare creature. Yet this is what dominates the courts, this is the eloquence that reigns supreme. . . . [W]here force has to be brought to bear on the judges' feelings and their minds distracted from the truth, there the orator's true work begins."
    (Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, c. 95 A.D.)

  • Augustine on the Power of Pathos
    "Just as the listener is to be delighted if he is to be retained as a listener, so also he is to be persuaded if he is to be moved to act. And just as he is delighted if you speak sweetly, so is he persuaded if he loves what you promise, fears what you threaten, hates what you condemn, embraces what you commend, sorrows at what you maintain to be sorrowful; rejoices when you announce something delightful, takes pity on those whom you place before him in speaking as being pitiful, flees those whom you, moving fear, warn are to be avoided; and is moved by whatever else may be done through grand eloquence toward moving the minds of listeners, not that they may know what is to be done, but that they may do what they already know should be done."
    (Augustine of Hippo, Book Four of On Christian Doctrine, 426)

  • Playing on the Emotions
    "[I]t is perilous to announce to an audience that we are going to play on the emotions. As soon as we apprise an audience of such an intention, we jeopardize, if we do not entirely destroy, the effectiveness of the emotional appeal. It is not so with appeals to the understanding."
    (Edward P.J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, 4th ed. Oxford Univ. Press, 1999)

  • All About the Children
    "It has become a verbal tic for politicians to say that everything they do is 'about the children.' This rhetoric of pathos reflects the de-intellectualization of public life--the substitution of sentimentalism for reasoned persuasion. Bill Clinton carried this to comic lengths when, in his first State of the Union address, he noted that 'not a single Russian missile is pointed at the children of America.'

    "Those children-seeking missiles were diabolical."
    (George Will, "Sleepwalking Toward DD-Day." Newsweek, October 1, 2007)

    "A brilliant young woman I know was asked once to support her argument in favor of social welfare. She named the most powerful source imaginable: the look in a mother's face when she cannot feed her children. Can you look that hungry child in the eyes? See the blood on his feet from working barefoot in the cotton fields. Or do you ask his baby sister with her belly swollen from hunger if she cares about her daddy's work ethics?"
    (Nate Parker as Henry Lowe in The Great Debaters, 2007)

  • Stirred, Not Shaken
    "Hillary Clinton used a moment of brilliantly staged emotion to win the New Hampshire Democratic primary . . .. As she answered questions in a diner on the morning before the election, Mrs. Clinton's voice began to waver and crack when she said: 'It's not easy. . . . This is very personal for me.'

    "Emotions can be an electoral trump card, especially if one can show them as Mrs Clinton did, without tears. The key is to appear stirred without appearing weak."
    (Christopher Caldwell, "Politics of the Personal." Financial Times, Jan. 12, 2008)

  • Winston Churchill: "Never give in"
    "[T]his is the lesson: Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated. Very different is the mood today. Britain, other nations thought, had drawn a sponge across her slate. But instead our country stood in the gap. There was no flinching and no thought of giving in; and by what seemed almost a miracle to those outside these Islands, though we ourselves never doubted it, we now find ourselves in a position where I say that we can be sure that we have only to persevere to conquer."
    (Winston Churchill, "To the Boys of Harrow School," Oct. 29, 1941)

  • The Lighter Side of Pathos: Pathetic Appeals in Monty Python
    Restaurant Manager: I want to apologize, humbly, deeply, and sincerely about the fork.

    Man: Oh please, it's only a tiny bit. . . . I couldn't see it.

    Manager: Ah, you're good kind fine people for saying that, but I can see it. To me it's like a mountain, a vast bowl of pus.

    Man: It's not as bad as that.

    Manager: It gets me here. I can't give you any excuses for it--there are no excuses. I've been meaning to spend more time in the restaurant recently, but I haven't been too well. . . . (emotionally) Things aren't going very well back there. The poor cook's son has been put away again, and poor old Mrs. Dalrymple who does the washing up can hardly move her poor fingers, and then there's Gilberto's war wound--but they're good people, and they're kind people, and together we were beginning to get over this dark patch. . . . There was light at the end of the tunnel. . . . Now this. Now this.

    Man: Can I get you some water?

    Manager (in tears): It's the end of the road!
    (Eric Idle and Graham Chapman, episode three of Monty Python's Flying Circus, 1969)
Pronunciation: PAY-thos
Also Known As: pathetic proof, emotional argument
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