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Epiplexis

Updated Jul 8, 2023

The Power of Epiplexis: A Rhetorical Device That Captivates and Challenges

Have you ever come across a speech or piece of writing that left you pondering a question, questioning your beliefs, or feeling a strong sense of conviction? Chances are, you have encountered the persuasive and thought-provoking rhetorical device of epiplexis.

What is Epiplexis?

Epiplexis, derived from the Greek word meaning "interrogation," is a powerful rhetorical technique that involves posing a series of questions, often in a challenging or provocative manner, to engage the audience or reader. This device is employed to make a point, to highlight flaws in an argument, or to create a sense of urgency or conviction.

Engaging the Audience through Questions

Epiplexis is an effective tool for capturing the attention of the audience or reader. By posing questions, the speaker or writer invites them to actively participate in the discourse, triggering curiosity and a desire to seek answers. This engagement enhances the persuasive impact of the message and fosters a deeper connection between the communicator and the audience.

Consider this example from Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic speech, "I Have a Dream":

"How long will justice be delayed? How long will we allow discrimination to persist? How long will we remain silent?

Here, King employs epiplexis to emphasize the urgency of the civil rights movement. By asking these rhetorical questions, he compels the listener to reflect on the injustices faced by African Americans and challenges them to take action.

Challenging Assumptions and Persuading through Epiplexis

Epiplexis is not only a tool for engaging the audience but also a means of challenging assumptions and encouraging critical thinking. This rhetorical technique often exposes flaws in an argument, highlighting contradictions or raising doubts that prompt the audience to reevaluate their beliefs.

For instance, let's examine this example from Shakespeare's play "Julius Caesar":

"If you have tears, prepare to shed them now. You all know this mantle. I remember the first time ever Caesar put it on. 'Twas on a summer's evening, in his tent, that day he overcame the Nervii. Look, in this place ran Cassius' dagger through: See what a rent the envious Casca made. Through this, the well-beloved Brutus stabbed, and as he plucked his cursed steel away, mark how the blood of Caesar followed it, as rushing out of doors, to be resolved if Brutus so unkindly knocked, or no; for Brutus, as you know, was Caesar's angel: judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!"

In this excerpt, Mark Antony employs epiplexis to challenge the conspirators' justification for assassinating Julius Caesar. By asking rhetorical questions and recounting the details of Caesar's death, Antony compels the audience to question whether Brutus's actions were truly justified or if they were driven by envy and betrayal.

The Emotional Impact of Epiplexis

Epiplexis is a rhetorical device that elicits an emotional response from the audience. By posing questions that evoke empathy, anger, or frustration, the speaker or writer taps into the audience's emotions, intensifying the impact of their message.

One such example is found in the famous speech by John F. Kennedy, "Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country." By utilizing epiplexis, Kennedy challenges the self-centeredness of individuals and appeals to their sense of patriotism and duty, stirring emotions and inspiring action.

Conclusion

Epiplexis, with its ability to engage, challenge, and evoke emotions, is a powerful rhetorical device that has been utilized throughout history by influential figures. By posing thought-provoking questions, speakers and writers can captivate their audience, challenge assumptions, and persuade with conviction. So next time you encounter a speech or piece of writing that leaves you questioning or motivated to take action, remember the power of epiplexis at work.

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