Definition of Parrhesia

Parrhesia is borrowed from a Greek word, which means to speak boldly, freely or with bombastic bluntness. It is saying something boldly and freely without leaving any doubt behind.

It involves not only the freedom of speech, but also implies the use of truth in speech or writing. In Parrhesia, the writers open their minds and hearts fully to the readers or audience through discourse and a speaker makes it clear what his opinion is. In simple words, it is direct expression shown through words.

Evolution of Parrhesia

Parrhesia first appeared in Euripides as a rhetorical device in Geek literature and it evolved through several centuries. Later on, it was introduced in Athenian democracy. Finally it entered into the field of philosophy, where Socrates was known as a true parrhesiastic writer. Examples of parrhesia are found in Seneca’s, a famous Greek Epicurean, works as he is famous for using parrhesia.

Examples of Parrhesia from Literature

Example #1

Kent: Royal Lear
Whom I ever honoured as king,
Lov’d as my father, as my master follow’d….
This hideous rashness….

(King Lear by William Shakespeare)

Kent shows a respectful protest to King Lear on behalf of Cordelia, which is an example of parrhesia. Though he wins sudden banishment and the enmity of the king, he persuades the audience through his uprightness and honesty.

Example #2

Ne that a monk, whan he is cloisterlees,
Is lyknedtil a fish that is waterlees;
This is to seyn, a monk out of his cloistre…..
Upon a book in cloistrealwey to poure,
As Austin bit? How shal the world be served?
Lat Austin have his swink to him reserved.

(The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer)

Chaucer criticizes a monk through free speech in this passage by saying that the monk is supposed to do his duty for the church and the welfare of people; instead, he involves himself in other activities like hunting.

Example #3

The muddy streets were gay. He strode homeward, conscious of an invisible grace pervading and making light his limbs. In spite of all he had done it. He had confessed and God had pardoned him…… It was beautiful to live in grace a life of peace and virtue and forbearance with others…..

(A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce)

Here, the narrator boldly reports the dialogue and thoughts of the character. He speaks in such a way as if his character himself is speaking directly and freely.

Example #4

Now, comrades, what is the nature of this life of ours? Let us face it: our lives are miserable, laborious, and short…..? No, comrades, a thousand times no! The soil of England is fertile, its climate is good…….. Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished for ever….

(Animal Farm by George Orwell)

In this passage, all the animals listen carefully to Old Major, who tells them the plain truth that their lives are miserable and laborious solely due to human oppressors. He instructs them through free speech that the human beings are the only reasons for their plight.

Example #5

These mothers instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in stroling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants who, as they grow up, either turn thieves for want of work…..
I think it is agreed by all parties…., is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom, a very great additional grievance….

(A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift)

The writer brings into play melancholy and delivers a fearless speech for the children and women begging on Ireland’s streets. He shows his grievance about their miserable condition and suggests that if anyone does something positive for them, it would be a great service.

Function of Parrhesia

Since parrhesia is free speech, this straight bold language is preferably used in an attempt to gain the attention of readers and then to change their beliefs instantly. Often, parrhesia is employed for logical and moral purposes; however, sometimes writers use negative parrhesia in order to unleash their ideas boldly and freely without forethought. Parrhesia examples are in literary and philosophical works. Also, politicians, religious zealots and business community use it frequently as a rhetorical device.

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