Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Now THAT is Pathos

Pathos is the moment in a great piece of literature, or film, etc., where you get that lump in your throat and a tug at your heartstrings. It is when a work elicits from the reader an overwhelming sense of compassion (in a way, anticipating and manipulating reader response). I have yet to read anyone who does this better than Homer (if there was a Homer). He does this in many ways. He tells us the back stories of each individual fighter who dies, whose family depends upon him and who will no longer be able to provide for them in death. Yet I think the most pathos-ridden passage is the one where Priam visits Achilleus in the latter's tent to beg for the return of Hektor's body. After kissing Achilleus' hand and supplicating at his knees, the great Priam, king of Troy, says:

I have gone through what no other mortal on earth has gone through;
I put my lips to the hands of the man who has killed my children.
(Il. 24.505-6).

Now that's Pathos.

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