Systrophe (Rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

systrophe - oratory
"In the traditional division of rhetoric," says Brian Vickers, "systrophe is firmly rooted in demonstrative oratory, and deploys its fullest persuasive force nowhere better but where somebody is to be exalted or 'debunked,' where its effect is increased by making ample use of hyperbole and by being set in direct apostrophe" ( Rhetoric Revalued, 1982). (Glowimages/Getty Images)

Systrophe is a rhetorical term for an expansive series of definitions, descriptions, or tropes. Similar to horismus. Also known as conglobatio.

In The Garden of Eloquence (1577), Henry Peacham characterized systrophe as "when the orator bringeth in many definitions of one thing, yet not such definitions as do declare the substance of a thing by the general kind and difference, which the art of reasoning doth prescribe, but others of another kind all heaped together."

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Greek, "together" + "turning"

Examples and Observations

  • "[W]hether I was sorry to see him go or not, I couldn't have said. I was feeling a good deal worked up. Taut, if you know what I mean. On edge. Tense. The best idea I can give you of my emotions at this juncture is to say that they rather resembled those I had once felt when starting to sing 'Sonny Boy' at Beefy Bingham's Church Lads entertainment down in the East End."
    (P.G. Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves, 1934)
  • Systrophe in Shakespeare
    - "Thou elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog,
    Thou that wast sealed in thy nativity
    The slave of nature and the son of hell.
    Thou slander of thy heavy mother's womb,
    Thou loathed issue of thy father's loins,
    Thou rag of honour!"
    (Margaret of Anjou, in Act I, scene three of Richard III by William Shakespeare)

    - "Innocent
    Sleep that knits up the ravell's sleeve of care,
    The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,
    Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
    Chief nourisher in life's feast."
    (Macbeth in Act I, scene two of Macbeth by William Shakespeare)
  • Tom Wolfe's Use of Systrophe
    - "Rhetoric has a term, systrophe, which means piling up descriptions of an object without really defining it. In a way, 'The Saturday Route' [in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby by Tom Wolfe] seems one huge systrophe. Everything is described as something else. Nothing has any essence. Instead of definition, we are offered only metonymic description. People are What They Do . . . [or] above all, What They Wear."
    (Richard A. Lanham, Analyzing Prose, 2nd ed. Continuum, 2003)

    - "Irresistibly, this promenade of socialites, stars, literati, and culturati begins to attract a train of vergers, beadles and hierophants of fashion. One whole set is called 'Seventh Avenue'—as in, 'Her? That's Marilyn. She's Seventh Avenue'—designers, manufacturers' agents, who want to know what They are wearing on the Saturday Route. Also a vast crowd of interior decorators, both young and foppish and old and earnest. And jewelry makers, young museum curators and curates, antique dealers, furniture designers, fashion journalists, art journalists, press agents, social climbers, culture climbers, moochers, oglers, duns and young men who have had pairs of leather slacks made or young women in black stretch nylon pants and alligator coat outfits who have been looking all week for somewhere to wear them. So by 2:30 p.m. the promenade is roaring up and down Madison Avenue like a comet with the little stars trailing out like dust at the end. . . ."
    (Tom Wolfe, "The Saturday Route." The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1965)
  • Expanded Definition of Systrophe
    - "Systrophe is a chain of at least three tropes that amplify a given term of reference . . ., usually and most effectively without a predicative verb to conduct the comparison, and likewise without any connective and's or alternative or's. Its individual members are mostly set in parison, syntactical parallelism. Reduced to its briefest formula: Systrophe is an elliptical periphrasis of one tenor by three or more asyndetic and isocolical analogies."
    (Salomon Hegnauer, "The Rhetorical Figure of Systrophe." Rhetoric Revalued: Papers From the International Society for the History of Rhetoric, ed. by Brian Vickers. 1983)

    - "Zenocrate, lovelier than the love of Jove,
    Brighter than is the silver Rhodope,
    Fairer than whitest snow on Scythian hills—
    Thy person is more worth to Tamburlaine,
    Than the possession of the Persian crown."
    (Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine the Great, 1590)
  • Systrophe in the Prose of American Architect Louis Sullivan
    "Apparently introduced formally as a concept in English rhetoric by [Henry] Peacham's Garden of Eloquence (1593), systrophe involves a 'heaping together' of attributes. Each successive item adds to the cumulative effect of the previous ones, thereby engendering a feeling of expansiveness and, if carried to an extreme, of surfeit. The itemization is often felt as engaging sentience into a rhythmic pattern. . . .

    "The following passage is dominated by systrophe, to which [Louis] Sullivan has added the effect of anaphora, whereby the same word begins consecutive phrases or clauses. . . . [T]hese multiple instances of anaphora, gathered in conjunction with the overarching organization based on systrophe and seconded with isocolon and parison, create a complex rhythmic patterning:
    Open the mind, open the heart to impressions at the very beginning. These are to the human what sunlight, soil and rain are to plants. Then let utterance of these impressions begin as soon as it is evident that they are impressions. Then new impressions, then new utterance--ever reciprocal, ever penetrating, ever broadening, slowly but surely organizing, upbuilding, unfolding, ever growing in aspiration, ever growing in mobility, ever growing in serenity, ever growing more complex--paralleling the complexity of life, ever growing more simple--paralleling the simplicity of life; ever gaining in strength, ever gaining in delicacy, ever fermenting, ever clarifying those elemental qualities which are so subtle, and the most potent of all--the power of receiving, the power of uttering!
    [Louis K. Sullivan, Kindergarten Chats, 1901-1902]
    With the interweaving of multiple figures of elocution in this invocation to 'upbuilding' and 'unfolding,' the medium becomes the message, where the structure mirrors Beethoven's music with its building motion that reaches temporary plateaus before continuing to build upward once again."
    (Richard A. Etlin, "Louis Sullivan: The Life-Enhancing Symbiosis of Music, Language, Architecture, and Ornament." The Orchestration of the Arts, ed. by Marlies Kronegger. Kluwer, 2000)

    Pronunciation: SIS-tre-fee