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Topothesia is “the description of an imaginable or non-existent place”. [1] It has been classified as a type of enargia [2] (a synonym to “hypotyposis”), which is a “generic name for a group of figures aiming at vivid, lively description”. Edgar Allan Poe used enargia frequently to describe his characters in his literary works. [3] According to Philip Hardie, a professor at the University of Cambridge, its determining characteristic is its position within a text. Normally, when the descriptive analysis of a place is found to discontinue a narrative, this interrupting section can be considered topothesia. In addition, it has a stereotyped entry formula that facilitates distinguishing the narrative from the descriptive. In most famous texts, topothesia begins with est locus (“there is a place” in Latin), as can be seen in Metamorphoses [4] by Ovid. [5]



Topothesia is derived from a mixture of two Greek words: “topos” (τοπος), which literally translated means “place”, and the suffix “-thesia”, which is obtained from the noun "thesis", meaning “setting forth". In ancient Greek the word always seems to refer to the description or arrangement of a real place, [6] while the application of the word to an imaginary description (as opposed to "topographia", the description of a real place) is first found in the Latin commentator Servius. [7]


Topothesia is a tool often used in poetry rather than by orators. A renowned poet who frequently utilized topothesia along with other forms of enargia was Edgar Allan Poe. A popular poem that featured various examples of topothesia is “Dreamland”. [8]

By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named Night,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule-
From a wild clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of Space – Out of Time.

Bottomless vales and boundless floods,
And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,
With forms that no man can discover
For the tears that drip all over;
Mountains toppling evermore
Into seas without a shore;
Seas that restlessly aspire,
Surging, unto skies of fire;
Lakes that endlessly outspread
Their lone waters- lone and dead,-
Their still waters- still and chilly
With the snows of the lolling lily. (“Dream-Land,” 7:89) [9]

However, this rhetorical term was apparent in other of Poe's works of fiction like “The Domain of Arnheim”. [10] This short story was recognized for its repeated use of topothesia. According to author and professor at York University, Brett Zimmerman, “the tale’s entire second half is a description of Arnheim, an artificial paradise on Earth – “the phantom handiwork, conjointly, of the Sylphs, of the Fairies, of the Genii, and of the Gnomes” (6: 196). We also have “Landor’s Cottage: A Pendant to ‘The Domain of Arnheim’.” That piece really has no plot; it is extended topothesia – an exercise in picturesque description of a place…” [11]


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Primary Sources

  • Oxford Dictionary (American English). United States.Missing or empty |title= (help)[ full citation needed ]
  • "Online Etymology Dictionary". 2014.

Secondary Sources