From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- The aspect of something which gives rise to a sense of pity
- In its rhetorical sense, pathos is a writer's attempt to persuade an audience through appeals involving the use of strong emotions. In this sense, pathos is not strictly limited to pity. In its critical sense, pathos denotes an author's attempt to evoke a feeling of pity or sympathetic sorrow for a character.
Pathos ("suffering" or "experience;" 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.
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. In this sense, pathos evokes a meaning implicit in the verb 'to suffer' - to feel pain imaginatively. 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.
In the many works of Friedrich Schiller, "Sublime Pathos" (German, das Pathetisch-Erhabene) appears as a privileged aesthetic concept. According to Schiller, 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. Generally, Schiller links the experience of suffering to "grand ideas" - such as the idea of freedom; in this sense, pathos reminds one of Milton's Satan, when he cries out: "Hail, horrors, I greet thee!". Schiller's description of pathos continues to influence the use of the word today, in which such triumphant overcoming of suffering and other negative situations is seen as representing pathos.