di-gres'-si-o digression

A departure from logical progression in a speech.

Cicero, in his Defense of the poet Archias, demonstrates the rhetorical effectiveness of the digression. There, in a suit whose issue was the Roman citizenship of an individual, he provides a long discussion on the virtues of literature and their cultural value. This both diverts attention from the issue at hand (whether Archias was indeed a Roman or whether he should be expelled) and leads effectively back to it: to the extent that Cicero prompts his hearers to value literature, they will be inclined to sympathize with someone who professes literature (and has written positively for the Roman republic). Cicero's digression succeeded, and it is presumed his suit for Archias was won.

A second example of digressions, from a different period altogether, can be found in Jonathan Swift's Tale of a Tub, in which he meta-rhetorically devotes an entire chapter, a digression, in praise of digressions (Section VII), thus comically combining encomium with digressio.

Related Figures
See Also
  Sources: Quintilian 4.3.12; Peacham (1577) U4r

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Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University
Please cite "Silva Rhetoricae" (rhetoric.byu.edu)

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