(redirected from personifications)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Legal.


figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstract ideas are endowed with human qualities, e.g., allegorical morality plays where characters include Good Deeds, Beauty, and Death. John Ruskin termed sentimentalized, exaggerated personification the "pathetic fallacy." See also allegoryallegory,
in literature, symbolic story that serves as a disguised representation for meanings other than those indicated on the surface. The characters in an allegory often have no individual personality, but are embodiments of moral qualities and other abstractions.
..... Click the link for more information.
; apostropheapostrophe,
figure of speech in which an absent person, a personified inanimate being, or an abstraction is addressed as though present. The term is derived from a Greek word meaning "a turning away," and this sense is maintained when a narrative or dramatic thread is broken in
..... Click the link for more information.
; metonymymetonymy
, figure of speech in which an attribute of a thing or something closely related to it is substituted for the thing itself. Thus, "sweat" can mean "hard labor," and "Capitol Hill" represents the U.S. Congress.
..... Click the link for more information.



(prosopopoeia), a form of metaphor that attributes human traits or traits of any living being to inanimate objects and phenomena. Three gradations of personification are distinguished, depending on how it is used in literary language.

(1) Personification can be a figure of speech found in expressive language, connected with “the instinct for personification in living languages” (A. Beletskii) and with the rhetorical tradition, for example: “the heart speaks,” “the river plays.”

(2) Personification in folk poetry and in individual lyric poems (examples are those of H. Heine and S. Esenin) can be a metaphor close in its role to psychological parallelism: the life of the surrounding world, especially of nature, is made to share in the hero’s inner life and is endowed with human attributes. The comparison of the natural to the human on which such personifications are based goes back to a way of thinking found in myths and fairy tales, with the important difference that in mythology the “face” of an element is revealed through “kinship” with the human world. For example, the relationship between Uranus, the Sky, and Gaea, the Earth, is explained by comparing it to a marriage. In folkloric and poetical works of later eras, on the other hand, the “face” and inner feelings of man are revealed through the personified manifestations of nature and the elements.

(3) Personification can be a symbol directly connected with a central literary concept and developing from a system of individual personifications. For example, the poetic prose of A. P. Chekhov’s novella The Steppe is permeated with personifications as metaphors or similes: the “handsome” poplar is oppressed by its solitude, the withered grass “sings” a mournful song, and so on. Thus the resulting ultimate personification is the “face” of the steppe that is aware of the vain loss of its riches, heroism, and inspiration. This “face” is a polysemantic symbol connected with the writer’s thoughts about his native land, life’s meaning, and the flight of time. This type of personification approaches myth in its generalized meaning, “objectivity,” and relative dissociation from the narrator’s psychological state yet does not cross the theoretical line that always separates conventional forms of art from mythology.


Beletskii, A. “Izobrazhenie zhivoi i mertvoi prirody.” In his book Izbrannye trudy po teorii literatury. Moscow, 1964.


References in periodicals archive ?
Indeed, I will argue that the poetic and biographical rationales for Auden's turn away from personification are virtually inextricable, and that this can be seen most clearly through his personifications of love: no single word proves more able to encapsulate his dominant concerns of the decade, troubling the gaps not only between free will and determinism, but between private and public, individual and collective, psychology and politics.
As those examples have suggested, there are quite a few figures in our language that are simultaneously personifications and catachreses.
Middleton's contributions to Timon suggest that this material was staged, because he 'was fond of incorporating personifications and masque like scenes on the stage' (p.
God and the Goddesses is full of fascinating plums, and no reader will look at female personifications again without fresh questions and ideas.
As Steven Knapp has suggested, personifications such as Sin or Death in Milton's Paradise Lost, for example, became problematic in the eyes of eighteenth century writers.
While certain Greeks may once have been content with working definitions of what personification was, their enviable Attic simplicity, by the time readers have finished James Paxson's book, will look a thing bedraggled and forlorn.
On the narrative level there is no emphasis on their generation, by the narrating human figure or anyone else, and the dream that commonly contains the personifications is rightly read, as Paxson himself points out, as externally imposed upon the narrator not self-generated.
Polis and personification in classical Athenian art.
Simonutti's illustration of philosophy includes many different images, the relation to each other remaining unclear: allegorical personifications of philosophy, of which she provide a survey from Pietro Lorenzetti (mid-fourteenth century) to Cesare Ripa (1603) via Raphael (1508), all in two pages; portraits of philosophers, particularly ancient ones, whose facial features were invented according to the themes of their philosophy; and frontispieces of philosophical works from Erasmus to Vico.
Quintilian's distinction between personification the trope and personification the figure, which separates a whole group of personifications better classified as metaphors, serves as a useful point from which to begin a tidying exercise: "Effects of extraordinary sublimity are produced when the theme is exalted by bold and almost hazardous metaphor and inanimate objects are given life and action" (Sonnino 54).
These vagrant personifications of cultural moods and memories tug at viewers' own experiences and fill in the considerable blanks that stand in lieu of plot.
Through her close analysis, it is possible to trace, with greater precision than previously, the successive painters who worked on them, Angelo Maccagnino, Michele Pannonio, and Tura himself, and the radical transformations these enigmatic female personifications underwent.