In the ancient inventory of technical terms for rhetorical effects and devices, was there a term corresponding specifically to personification, in the sense of "the attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something nonhuman, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form"?

The closest thing I can find is prosopopoiea, which is somewhat different: it refers to speaking through the assumed character of someone else, and though that "someone else" can be a non-human or abstract entity (as in Cicero's First Catilinarian, where he speaks in the voice of the Roman Republic), it doesn't have to be. Also, personification does not necessarily involve speaking for the personified entity.

Personificatio is not in L&S nor PHI, and anyway I would expect that if a term existed it would be Greek, as most such terms are. Was there such a term?

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    John Ruskin coined the term "pathetic fallacy" to describe this. Not an ancient term, I know, but it is the technical term we would always use when analysing classical texts in class. britannica.com/art/pathetic-fallacy
    – Penelope
    Apr 10, 2017 at 11:08

1 Answer 1


Lausberg’s admirable book Elemente der literarischen Rhetorik §425 uses „fictio personae“ and also „prosopopoeia“.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "personification" was "formed within English, by derivation". The earliest citation is from 1728.

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    Thanks -- Lausberg is precisely where I would have looked, but I don't have access to it at the moment! Does he say whether fictio personae is an attested ancient term, and if so is it distinct from prosopopoeia (which as I mentioned is not quite the same as personification)?
    – TKR
    Apr 10, 2017 at 0:16

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