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Erotema
(Rhetorical Questions, from the Greek ἐρώτημα (erotema) meaning Question (]

 

Erotema is a designation for Rhetorical Questions, also called Erotesis, often used by public speakers and debaters, that either does not require an answer or for which the speaker intends to provide his or her own answer ('Does this government know what it is doing?'). Such a question is used as a striking substitute for a statement. Erotema often implies an answer, but usually does not provide one explicitly. Erotema may be a device used by the speaker to assert or deny something. Erotema encourage the listener to think about what the answer to the question must be, however obvious. The rhetorical question. To affirm or deny a point strongly by asking it as a question. Generally, Erotema includes an emotional dimension, expressing wonder, indignation, sarcasm, etc. "Exactly why are you so stupid?"

 

Oxford English Dictionary - lists Erotema's first citation as from 1589's The Arte of English Poesie by George Puttenham: "[modernized] Erotema ― (This figure I call the Questioner) "There is a kind of figurative speech when I've asked many questions and look for none answer, speaking indeed by interrogation, which I might as well say by affirmation. This figure I call the Questioner or inquisitive, as when Medea, excusing her great cruelty used in the murder of her own children which she had by Jason, said "Was I able to make them, I pray you tell? And am I not able to murder them all as well?" "; in an endnote to his comments on the Taming of the Shrew.

 

Shakespeare's "Here was a Caesar! when comes such another?" (Julius Caesar, Act 3, scene 2, 257) functions as an assertion that Caesar possesses rare qualities that may not be seen again for a long time, if ever.

 

In the lyrics to the song "Maria" from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The Sound of Music, in which the "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" is repeatedly answered with other questions as metaphors for the original question: "How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?", "How do you keep a wave upon the sand?" and "How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?" These responses may be taken as asserting that "the problem of Maria" cannot be solved; and furthermore the choice of cloud, wave and moonbeam as metaphors for Maria give insight into her character and the nature of the problem.

 

Sometimes the implied answer within a Erotema is "Yes, but I wish it were not so" or vice versa:

 

Erotema include questions asked for the sake of persuasive effect rather than as a genuine request for information, the speaker implying that the answer is too obvious to require a reply, for example: in Milton: "For what can war but endless war still breed?"

 

Sometimes Erotema contain negative assertions that may function as positive assertations in sarcastic contexts. In the case of the hackneyed sarcastic "who knew?" which qualifies as an Erotema, and functions as an assertion that the preceding statement is utterly obvious: e.g.: "Smoking causes lung cancer. Who knew?"

 

Rhetorical questions are not confined to public speaking but are part of everyday colloquial speech ('Do you want a slap on the head?').

 

EROTEMA (also called erotesis): Asking a rhetorical question to the reader, i.e., "What should honest citizens do?" Often the question is asked in order to get a definite answer from the reader--usually, "no," as J. A. Cuddon suggests. Examples include Laertes' rant about Ophelia's madness, when he asks, "Do you see this, O God?" (Hamlet 4.5). American politicians still make use of this technique in debate, as evidenced by Senator Edward Kennedy's arguments before the senate concerning the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968: "How can the poor feel they have a stake in a system which says that the rich may have due process but the poor may not? How can the uneducated have faith in a system which says that it will take advantage of them in every possible way? How can people have hope when we tell them that they have no recourse if they run afoul of the state justice system?"

 
 

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