Syncrisis (Rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Syncrisis in Black Narcissus
In her article "On Seeing Red: The Figurative Movement of Film Colour," Laure Brost notes that a "topochromatic example of syncrisis is the abrupt contrast, in Black Narcissus, between the austere whites and blacks of the convent and the lush, saturated colors of the Himalayan mountains" (in Questions of Colour in Cinema, 2007). (Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images)


Syncrisis is a rhetorical figure or exercise in which opposite persons or things are compared, usually in order to evaluate their relative worth. Syncrisis is a type of antithesis. Plural: syncrises.

In classical rhetorical studies, syncrisis sometimes served as one of the progymnasmata. Syncrisis in its expanded form may be regarded as a literary genre and a variety of epideictic rhetoric.

In his article "Syncrisis: The Figure of Contestation," Ian Donaldson observes that syncrisis "once served throughout Europe as a central element in the school curriculum, in the training of orators, and in the formation of principles of literary and moral discrimination" (Renaissance Figures of Speech, 2007).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Greek, "combination, comparison"

Examples and Observations

  • "I pictured a rainbow;
    You held it in your hands.
    I had flashes,
    But you saw the plan.
    I wandered out in the world for years,
    While you just stayed in your room.
    I saw the crescent;
    You saw the whole of the moon! . . .

    "I was grounded
    While you filled the skies.
    I was dumbfounded by truth;
    You cut through lies.
    I saw the rain dirty valley;
    You saw Brigadoon.
    I saw the crescent;
    You saw the whole of the moon!"
    (Mike Scott, "The Whole of the Moon." Performed by the Waterboys on This Is the Sea, 1985)

  • "He always feels hot. I always feel cold. In the summer when it really is hot he does nothing but complain about how hot he feels. He is irritated if he sees me put a jumper on in the evening.

    "He speaks several languages well; I do not speak any well. He manages--in his own way--to speak even the languages he doesn't know.

    "He has an excellent sense of direction, I have none at all. After one day in a foreign city he can move about in it as thoughtlessly as a butterfly. I get lost in my own city; I have to ask directions so that I can get back home again. He hates asking directions; when we go by car to a town we don't know he doesn't want to ask directions and tells me to look at the map. I don't know how to read maps and I get confused by all the little red circles and he loses his temper.

    "He loves the theatre, painting, music, especially music. I do not understand music at all, painting doesn't mean much to me and I get bored at the theatre. I love and understand one thing in the world and that is poetry. . . .
    (Natalia Ginzburg, "He and I." The Little Virtues, 1962; Carcanet Press, 1985)

  • The Wider Implications of Syncrisis
    "The syncrisis . . . is an exercise with wider implications: a formal comparison ('compare and contrast'). The original sophists had been notable for their inclination to plead for and against, and here is the art of antithesis on its largest scale. To produce a syncrisis one could simply juxtapose a pair of encomia or psogoi [invective] in parallel: as in comparing the ancestry, education, deeds and death of Achilles and Hector; or one could produce an equally effective sense of contrast by placing an encomium of Achilles, say, beside that of Thersites. The celebrated contrast of Demosthenes between himself and Aeschines illustrates the technique at its briefest and most effective:
    You did the teaching, I was a pupil; you did the initiations, I was the initiate; you were a small-time actor, I came to see the play; you were hissed off, I did the hissing. All your dealings have served our enemies; mine the state.
    . . . [T]here are the same obviously sophistic implications to such an exercise as for encomium and psogos: that details may be emphasized or manipulated in the interest of balance rather than truth, sometimes in the most patently artificial way."
    (Graham Anderson, The Second Sophistic: A Cultural Phenomenon in the Roman Empire. Routledge, 1993)

  • Syncrisis as Modelling by Luke the Evangelist
    "Syncrisis is an ancient rhetorical device. It consists in modelling the presentation of a character on another in order to compare them, or at least to establish a correlation between the two. . . .

    "The most complete example of Lucan syncrisis is the Jesus-Peter-Paul parallel. . . . To summarize briefly: Peter and Paul heal as Jesus healed (Luke 5. 18-25; Acts 3. 1-8; Acts 14. 8-10); like Jesus at his baptism, Peter and Paul receive an ecstatic vision at the key moments of their ministry (Acts 9.3-9; 10. 10-16); like Jesus, they preach and endure the hostility of the Jews; like their master, they suffer and are threatened by death; Paul is brought before the authorities like Jesus (Acts 21-6); and like him, Peter and Paul are delivered miraculously at the end of their lives (Acts 12. 6-17; 24. 27-28. 6)."
    (Daniel Marguerat, The First Christian Historian: Writing the "Acts of the Apostles." Cambridge University Press, 2002)

    Pronunciation: SIN-kruh-sis

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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Syncrisis (Rhetoric)." ThoughtCo, Mar. 24, 2017, Nordquist, Richard. (2017, March 24). Syncrisis (Rhetoric). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Syncrisis (Rhetoric)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2018).