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antithesis, a figure of speech involving a seeming contradiction of ideas, words, clauses, or sentences within a balanced grammatical structure. Parallelism of expression serves to emphasize opposition of ideas. 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."
Antithesis (Greek for "setting opposite", from ἀντί against + θέσις position) is a counter-propositions and denotes a direct contrast to the original proposition. In setting the opposite, an individual brings out of a contrast in the meaning (eg., the definition, interpretation, or semantics) by an obvious contrast in the expression.


A simplistic description of dialectics is 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, 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 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."
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.


The Antithesis of the Law is the name given by some New Testament scholars 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. The best known is perhaps his teaching on retaliation in ,
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." (KJB).
The antithesis arises from the turn of phrase, repeated with minor variations in each of the six sayings,
"Ye have heard that it hath been said... But I say unto you...".
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 verse [] 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.""

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

In fiction

In fiction, an antithesis can be used to describe a character who presents the exact opposite as to personality type, moral outlook, etc. to another character in a particular piece of literature. This does not mean however, that they are necessarily in conflict with each other. Some examples of an antithesis in fiction include the characters of Locke and Jack in Lost (TV series), Dumbledore and Voldemort in Harry Potter, the doctor and Kino in The Pearl, and Théoden and Denethor in The Lord of the Rings. : :
Antithesis is also a rhetorical figure of speech, often used
in both poetry and prose.
Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome 'more.
(William Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar," Act 3, scene 2, 22)

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