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Antithesis (Greek for "setting opposite", from "against" + "position") is a counter-proposition and denotes a direct contrast to the original proposition. In setting the opposite, an individual brings out a contrast in the meaning (e.g., the definition, interpretation, or semantics) by an obvious contrast in the expression.



A simple enumeration of the elements of dialectics (any formal system of reasoning that arrives at the truth by the exchange of logical arguments) is that of thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Hell is the antithesis of Heaven; disorder is the antithesis of order. It is the juxtaposition of contrasting ideas, usually in a balanced way. In rhetoric,:(using language effectively to please or persuade) it is a figure of speech involving the bringing out of a contrast in the ideas by an obvious contrast in the words, clauses, or sentences, within a parallel grammatical structure, as in the following:

When there is need of silence, you speak, and when there is need of speech, you are dumb; when you are present, you wish to be absent, and when absent, you desire to be present; in peace you are for war, and in war you long for peace; in council you descant on bravery, and in the battle you tremble.

Antithesis is sometimes double or alternate, as in the appeal of Augustus:

Listen, young men, to an old man to whom old men were glad to listen when he was young.

Some other examples of antithesis are:

A) Man proposes, God disposes.
B) Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.
C) Many are called, but few are chosen.
D) Rude words bring about sadness, but kind words inspire joy.

Among English writers who have made the most abundant use of antithesis are Pope, Young, Johnson, and Gibbon; and especially Lyly in his Euphues. It is, however, a much more common feature in French than in English; while in German, with some striking exceptions, it is conspicuous by its absence. The familiar phrase “Man proposes: God disposes” is an example of antithesis, as is John Dryden's description in The Hind and the Panther: “Too black for heaven, and yet too white for hell.”

The force of the antithesis is increased if the words on which the beat of the contrast falls are alliterative, or otherwise similar in sound. It gives an expression greater point and vivacity... than a judicious employment of this figure.


In literary fiction, an antithesis can be used to describe a character who presents the exact opposite as to personality type or moral outlook to another character in a particular piece of literature. Some examples of an antithesis in popular literature include the characters of Dumbledore and Voldemort in Harry Potter, the doctor and Kino in The Pearl, and Aslan and the White Witch in "The Chronicles of Narnia". This does not mean however, that they are necessarily in conflict with each other.


Matthew's Antitheses is the traditional name given to a section of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus is reported as taking six well known prescriptions of the Mosaic Law and calling on his followers to do more than the Law requires. Protestant scholars since the Reformation have generally believed that Jesus was setting his teaching over against false interpretations of the law current at the time. The Jewish Encyclopedia: Brotherly Love states:

As Schechter in J. Q. R. x. 11, shows, the expression 'Ye have heard...' is an inexact translation of the rabbinical formula (שןמע אני), which is only a formal logical interrogation introducing the opposite view as the only correct one: 'Ye might deduce from this verseTemplate:Bibleref2c that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy, but I say to you the only correct interpretation is, Love all men, even thine enemies.'

Jesus' six antitheses are on the following topics:

  1. You shall not murder at 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26
  2. You shall not commit adultery at 27, 28, 29, 30
  3. Divorce at 31 and 32
  4. Oaths at 33, 34, 35, 36, 37
  5. Eye for an eye at 38, 39, 40, 41, 42
  6. Love thy neighbour as thyself at 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48

Antithesis was the name given by Marcion to a document in which he contrasted the Old Testament with the New Testament.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Antithesis" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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