Figure Name climax
Source Silva Rhetoricae (; Ad Herennium 4.25.34 ("gradatio");Melanch. IR d1r-v ("gradatio" "climax"); Sherry (1550) 58 ("climax," "gradacio"); Peacham (1577) Q2v-Q3r ("incrementum," "climax"); Fraunce (1588) 1.17-18 ("climax," "gradation"); Putt. (1589) 217 ("clymax," "the marching figure"); Day 1599 91 ("auxesis," "incrementum"), 94 ("climax," "gradatio" [=anadiplosis]); Hoskins 1599 12 (=anadiplosis).; JG Smith (1665) ("climax"); Garrett Epp (1994) ("gradatio," "climax"); JG Smith (1665) ("incrementum"); Peacham 1593; Vinsauf (1967) ("gradatio"); Gibbons (1767) 264 ("climax"); Holmes (1806) ("climax"); Macbeth (1876) ("climax," "ladder," "incrementum," "amplification," "epiploce"); Holmes (1806) ("incrementum"); Bain (1867) 57 ("climax"); De Mille (1882) (amplification," "climax," "progressio") ; Hill (1883); Waddy (1889); Demetrius (1902) 191; Jamieson (1844) 181; Blount (1653) 21; Raub (1888) 215; Bullinger (1898) ("climax; or, gradation"); Johnson (1903) ("climax and anticlimax"); Norwood (1742) ("climax"); Kellog (1880) ("climax"); Vickers (1989) ("climax (or gradatio)")
Earliest Source None
Synonyms klimax, clymax, gradatio, incrementum, gradation, the marching figure, ladder, amplification, epiploce, progressio
Etymology Gk. kilmax "ladder," "a gradual ascent," "a going up by steps"
Type Chroma
Linguistic Domain Semantic

1. Generally, the arrangement of words, phrases, or clauses in an order of increasing importance, often in parallel structure. More specifically, climax is the repetition of the last word of one clause or sentence at the beginning of the next, through several clauses or sentences (= anadiplosis) (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. Gradation: a figure when the succeeding clauses of a sentence transcend each other by divers degrees.; Climax, Gradatio; Gradation, or a climbing by steps; derived from [clino] reclino, acclino, to bend towards or incline to, for that its ascending is rising upwards; and its descending, declining or turning away. Gradation is a kind of Anadiplosis, by degrees making the last word a step to a further meaning: It is a figure when a gradual progresse is used in the site or placing of the same word; or When the succeeding clauses of a sentece transcend each other by divers degrees, or steps of the same sound. (JG Smith)

3. Repetition of the closing word of one clause as the opening word of the next. (Garrett Epp)

4. Climax is the figure in which the speaker
passes to the following word only after advancing by steps to the preceding one (Ad Herennium)

2. Incrementum, an increasing: a figure when a speech ascends by degrees from the lowest to the highest, &c.; INCREMENTVN, an increasing or waxing bigger: It is a form of speech which by degrees ascends to the top of something, or rather above the top, that is, when we make our speech grow and increase by an orderly placing of words, making the latter word alwaies excèed the former in the force of signification, contrary to the natural order of things, which ever puts the worthiest and weightiest words first, but this placeth them alwaies last. This figure may aptly be compared to fire, the property whereof is alwayes to ascend as high as matter can carry it. (Note in marg: It is a kind of a Climux.) A figure when a speech ascends by degrees from the lowest to the highest, where the latter words are alwayes the more great and vehement, by which the speech doth gradually as it were increase and wax great. (JG Smith)

5. Climax is a figure which so distinguisheth the oration by degrees, that the word which endeth the clause going before, beginneth ye next following, thus: The empire of Greece was the Athenians, the Athenians were conquered of the Spartans, the Spartans were vanquished of the thebans, the Thebans were overcome of the macedons, who in short space joyned Asia, being subdued by war, to the empire of Greece, Cicero for Roscius, in the cittie is bred excesse, from excesse must needes spring covetousnesse, from covetousnesse there bursteth out boldnesse, by boldnesse all wicked & ungratious deedes are furthered. (Peacham)

6. If a mode of expression both easy and adorned is desired, set aside all the techniques of the dignified style and have recourse to means that are simple, but of a simplicity that does not shock the ear by its rudeness. Here are the rhetorical colours with which to adorn your style: (Vinsauf)

7. "Climax, according to Mr. Blackwall's definition, is 'when the word or expression, which ends the first member of a period, begins the second, and so on; so that every member will make a distinct sentence, taking its rise from the next foregoing, till the argument and period be beautifully finished: or, in the terms of the schools, it is when the word or expression, which was predicate in the first member of a period, is subject in the second, and so on, till the argument and period be brought to a noble conclusion.'" (Gibbons)

8. A Climax by gradation still ascends, Until the sense with finish'd period ends. (Holmes)

9 a) Climax is the next figure. From the Greek
it is, meaning Ladder. In this figure the orator builds up idea on idea till a grand apex crowns the whole pyramid; as in Rom. viii., 38. There is thus afforded a gratification similar to what we receive in ascending a hill situated in the centre of a rich and varied landscape, where at every climbing step a grander prospect bursts on the eye. (Macbeth)

9 a) Strictly speaking, climax occurs when each successive clause of a sentence begins with the conclusion of the preceding, the sense swelling an the time; as in this of Cicero :
"What hope is there for liberty if what these men wish to do the law permits them to do; if what the law permits them to do they are able to do; if what they are able to do they dare do; and if what they dare do gives you no offense." (Macbeth)

9 b) But under climax we have included also what the rhetors term strictly Incrementum-that is, Amplification, that increases as the sentence advances. (Macbeth)

9 c)In connection with climax is epiploce, by which one striking circumstance is added in due gradation to another, as:
"He not only spared his enemies, but continued them in employment; not only continued them in employment, but advanced them." (Macbeth)

10. An Incrementum by degrees doth rise, And from a low t'a lofty pitch it flies. (Holmes)

11. "the arranging of the particulars of a period, or other portion of discourse, so as to rise in strength to the last." (Bain)

Amplification is the expansion of any topic by the assemblage of particulars appertaining to it, so that it shall be conveyed to the mid with enlarged force and dignity. (De Mille)

12 b) 160. CLIMAX.
One of the most important of the augmentative figures is the climax. It has something in common with the figures of similarity, and also with those of contiguity, so that it is sometimes classified with the one or the other of these; but its chief effect seems to be to augment the subject by presenting it in connection with others. By climax is meant an ascending series of thoughts or statements, which go on increasing in importance until the last. (De Mille)

12 c) 162. PROGRESSIO.
Progressio also, once considered as a separate figure, is now, like incrementum, associated with climax. It is defined as a progressive strengthening of the expression. (De Mille)

13. 2. Climax.
Climax, or the rhetorical ladder, consists in such an arrangement of ideas in a series as to secure a gradual increase of impressiveness. It is based on the principle of contrast. Antithesis contrasts objects by bringing them together in opposition; climax contrasts objects by exhibiting their degrees of difference through a series of intermediates. (Hill)

14. Climax (Greek klimax, a ladder), consists in so arranging the words of a series, or the parts of a sentence, that the least impressive shall stand first, and the successive words or parts grow in strength. This order may hold in (1) words, (2) phrases, (3) clauses, and (4) sentences. Paragraphs, even, may stand in this order. (Waddy)

16. "Climax, or Amplification, is nearly related to hyperbole, and differs from it chiefly in degree. The purpose of hyperbole is to exalt our conceptions beyond the truth; of climax, to elevate our ideas of the truth itself, by a series of circumstances, ascending one above another in respect of importance, and all pointing toward the same object." (Jamieson)

17. "by steps of comparison scorns every degree, till it come to the supreme; and sometimes to advance the matter higher, it descends lower. It is an ornament in speech to begin at the lowest" (Blount)

18. "Climax is a figure in which the strength of the thought increases to the close of the sentence or the paragraph." (Raub)

19. Repeated Anadiplosis... There are two figures to which this name is sometimes given. There is a "climax" where only words are concerned, and a "climax" where the "sense" is concerned. A "climax of words" is a figure of Grammar, and a "climax of sense" is a figure of Rhetoric. We have confined our use of the word "climax" to the former; as there are other names appropriated to the latter. A Climax in Rhetoric is known as "Anabasis," where the gradation is upward; and "Catabasis," where it is downward: and these have other alternative titles.... "Climax" relates to words; and is, as we have said, a repeated "Anadiplosis," or a combination of successive "Anadiplosis" and "Epanadiplosis:" where the last word of one sentence is repeated as the first word of the next, and the last of this next sentence is repeated as the first word of the sentence following, and so on. (Bullinger, 274)

20. Climax and Anticlimax.—Climax (from a Greek word that means ladder) is such an arrangement of successive words, clauses, or sentences as presents a graded increase of force or vividness until the last member of the series apparently leaves no more to be said... Sometimes the full effect of a climax is produced by simple, rapid enumeration and cumulation, when the successive items do not increase in power or importance, and might as well be placed in some other order... Strictly, this is an example of aparithmesis, though the rhythm gives it the eflfect of climax. (Johnson, 61. 62)

21. CLIMAX. Climax, gradatio; when the word's are in such a position, that there is a gradual ascent from one to another: till you arrive at the last step of the period. (Norwood, 66)

22. V. THE CLIMAX.-A climax is an expression whose parts are arranged in the order of their strength, the weakest standing first. This order may hold in (1) words, (2) phrases, (3) clauses, and (4) sentences. Paragraphs, even, may stand in this order. The parts of a climax grow in importance as a wedge gains in thickness, the most forcible standing last, and making the deepest impression-the last impression being the impression of the whole which the reader or listener carries away. (Kellog, 148-9)

23. Climax (or gradatio), where the last word of one clause or sentence becomes the first of the one following, as in anadiplosis, but continued through three or more stages—like the rungs of a ladder. (Vickers 493)


1. Miss America was not so much interested in serving herself as she was eager to serve her family, her community, and her nation. (Silva Rhetoricae)

1. The following passage from the Bible shows that version of climax that is synonymous with anadiplosis:
But we glory also in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience trial; and trial hope; and hope confoundeth not, because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us. —St. Paul (Silva Rhetoricae)

3. Then everthing include itself in power,

Power into will, will into appetite. (T&C 1.3 qtd. in Garrett Epp)

3. (For a variation on this figure, combined with repetitio, see AYL 5.2:) sooner met but they looked; no sooner looked but they loved; no sooner loved but they sighed; no sooner sighed but they asked the reason; no sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy; and in these degrees have they made a pair of stairs to marriage.... (Garrett Epp)

4. " Now what remnant of the hope of liberty survives, if those men may do what they please, if they can do what they may, if they dare do what they can, if they do what they dare, and if you approve what they do ?" (Ad Herennium)

4. "I did not conceive this without counselling it ; I did not counsel it without myself at once undertaking it ; I did not undertake it without completing it ; nor did I complete it without winning approval of it." (Ad Herennium)

4. "The industry of Africanus brought him
excellence, his excellence glory, his glory rivals." (Ad Herennium)

4. " The empire of Greece belonged to the
Athenians ; the Athenians were overpowered by the Spartans ; the Spartans were overcome by the Thebans ; the Thebans were conquered by the
Macedonians ; and the Macedonians in a short time subdued Asia in war and joined her to the empire of Greece."

4. "The sovereign majesty of the republic is that which comprises the dignity and grandeur of the state."

4. " By an injury is meant doing violence to
some one, to his person by assault, or to his sensibilities by insulting language, or to his reputation by some scandal."

4. " That is not economy on your part, but greed, because economy is careful conservation of one's own goods, and greed is wrongful covetousness of the goods of others."

4. " That act of yours is not bravery, but recklessness, because to be brave is to disdain toil and peril, for a useful purpose and after weighing the advantages, while to be reckless is to undertake perils like a gladiator, suffering pain without taking thought."

2. Gradation: You could not enjoy your goods without Government, no Government without a Magistrate, no Magistrate without obedience, and no obedience, where every one upon his private passion interprets the rulers actions. (JG Smith)

2. Incrementum: (Note in marg: Terence.) O my Parmeno, the beginner, the enterprizer, performer and accomplisher of all my pleasures. (JG Smith)

2. (Incrementum) Neither silver, gold, nor precious stones may be compared to her vertues. (JG Smith)

2. (Incrementum) He was carelesse of doing well, a looseness of youth; he was inclined to do ill, a weaknesse of youth; his mind consented to offend, a shrewd temptation, he committed the act, an unhappy fault; he accustomed himself to abuse, a sad imployment; yet he did not this alone, but infected others with his perswasion, and seduced them by his example: and not that only, but detained those he had drawn in, with fresh inventions, and disgraced the modesty of such as resisted his corruptions, with scorns and derisions, which could argue no lesse in him than a most pernicious and detestable resolution. (JG Smith)

5. Another, “to care for vertue is love, and love is the keeping of her lawes, and the keeping of her lawes is perfection, & an uncorrupt life maketh a man familiar with God” Sapien 6.: “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” Matth. 10. (Peacham)

5. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was God, and God was the word.” Joh.1. (Peacham)

6. For the enemy had first condemned Eve; Eve, secondly, condemned her husband; her husband, thirdly, condemned all his offspring; the offspring, fourthly, condemned God; God, last of all, condemned the enemy whose cause of death he was - he was, and so to the world he brought good; he brought good, and it was made free; it was made free because he redeemed all things. (Vinsauf)

7. "'There is also a Figure,' says Hermogenes, 'remarkable and well adapted for illustration, which is stiled a Climax. This Climax is nothing else than a copious repetition; as when Demosthenes says, Not only did I not speak these things, but I did not write them; not only did I not write them, but I did not make them a part of my embassy; and not only did I not make them a part of my embassy, but I did not so much as advise them." (Gibbons)

8. Folly breeds Laughter; Laughter, Disdain; Disdain makes Shame her Daughter. (Holmes)

9. It greatly contributes to energy. but is
apt to seem overlabored; as thus:
"O thou, Dalhousie, thou great god of war,
Lieutenant-Colonel to the Earl of Mar !" (Macbeth)

10. The wickedness of a mob, the cruel force of a tyrant, storms and tempests, even Jupiter's thunder; nay, if the world should fail, it cannot disturb the just man, nor shake his solid resolution. (Holmes)

11. "[Cicero against Verres] 'It is an outrage to bind a Roman citizen; to scourge him is an atrocious crime; to put him to death is almost a parricide; but to crucify him--what shall I call it?" (Bain)

14. "It is observed by all travelers who have visited the Alps, or other stupendous mountains, that they form a very inadequate notion of the vastness of the greater ones, till they ascend some of the less elevated, (which yet are huge mountains), and thence view the others still towering above them. And the mind, no less than the eye, can not so well take in and do justice to any vast object at a single glance, as by several successive approaches and repeated comparisons." (Hill)

14. I was born an American; I live an American; I shall die an American. (Waddy)

14. A day, an hour, an instant, may prove fatal. (Waddy)

14. While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand;
When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall;
And when Rome falls, -the World. (Waddy)

15. 'I did not speak thus, and then fail to move a resolution ; I did not move a resolution, and then fail to act as an envoy : I did not act as an envoy, and then fail to convince the Thebans.' (Demetrius)

16. "Oronooko thus utters his recollection of past happiness: 'Can you raise the dead? / Pursue and overtake the wings of time? / And bring about again the hours, the days, / The years that made me happy?'" (Jamieson)

17. "I begin with the excesses of Alphonsus on his fathers funeral; thence to Alexanders profusion upon one of his friends Tombs; then to Urbanus, towards his servant; thence to Caesar, on his horses burial; after that, to the Molossians on their dogs; and thence to the Ehyptians that charged themselves with the sumptuous burial of a Crocodile." (Blount)

18. "In form and moving, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god!" (Raub)

19. Joel 1:3,4, - The prophecy of Joel opens with the solemnity which this figure always gives.
"Tell ye
your children of it, and let
your children tell
their children, and
their children another generation.
That which the palmerworm hath left hath
the locust eaten; and that which
the locust hath left hath
the cankerworm eaten; and that which
the cankerworm hath left hath
the caterpillar eaten."
(Bullinger, 275)

20. The closing sentence of Thackeray's sketch of George the Third is an example of climax: "Hush, Strife and Quarrel, over the solemn grave! Sound, Trumpets, a mournful march! Fall, Dark Curtain, upon his pageant, his pride, his grief, his awful tragedy!" Romans v, 3-5, presents one of Paul's many examples of this figure: "We glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed." One of the most famous examples of climax is the passage in Hamlet, Act H, Scene 2: "What a piece of work is man ! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!"... Childe Harold, Canto IV, stanza 80, furnishes an example:

The Goth, the Christian, Time, War, Flood, and Fire,
Have dealt upon the seven-hilled city's pride...

The closing words of the Declaration of Independence—"We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor"—have the effect of a climax, but to be a climax logically the items should have come in another order, thus: Our fortunes, our lives, and our sacred honor. Yet because this would have marred the rhythm, and because the enumeration is so short that exact logical arrangement is not imperative, Jefferson, with true literary instinct—except that "mutually" and "each other" form a pleonasm—wrote the sentence as it stands. It is not to be expected that a solecism so obvious as anticlimax will occur often in the work of classic writers, but occasional examples of it are found even there. Tennyson, in his poem Will, writes:

But ill for him who, bettering not with time,
Corrupts the strength of heaven-descended will.
And ever weaker grows through acted crime
Or seeming-genial fault,
Recurring and suggesting still!
He seems as one whose footsteps halt,
Toiling in immeasurable sand.
And o'er a weary, sultry land,
Far beneath a blazing vault,
Sown in a wrinkle of the monstrous hill,
The city sparkles like a grain of salt.

The simile that likens the weak-willed man, not reaching that for which he knows he should strive, to one who travels toward a distant city but halts because of the weary journey over a sultry road, is good. And no doubt if, from a distance, one should see a small city between great hills, its roofs and spires and windows might make one bright little spot in the sunlight. It might be true that it would appear literally like a grain of salt. But after the poet has told us that it is really a city, and suggested that it is important enough to be the end and aim of the weary journey he has just described, the whole idea is broken and belittled by asking the reader to contemplate it as resembling a grain of salt. In the mind of the weary traveler it would be a very different thing from that which it appears to his bodily eye; and the poet should have suggested that aspect, rather than the literal one. Byron, in Canto IV, stanza i8o, of Childe Harold, contrasting the power of the ocean with the weakness of man, writes:

His steps are not upon thy paths; thy fields
Are not a spoil for him; thou dost arise
And shake him from thee; the vile strength he wields
For earth's destruction thou dost all despise,
Spurning him from thy bosom to the skies,
And sendst him, shivering in thy playful spray
And howling, to his gods, where haply lies
His petty hope in some near port or bay,
And dashest him again to earth.

Thus far we have a vivid picture of natural power and presuming littleness. But the last line is incomplete; and Byron, with a carelessness of which he could sometimes be guilty—as if the press had been waiting, and he in a hurry to go to dinner—fills it up by tossing in the exclamation, "there let him lay!"—which is not only ungrammatical but a pitiful anticlimax. (Johnson, 62-65)

21. Matt. 10. 40. He that receiveth you, receiveth me; and he that receiveth me,
receiveth him that sent me: there is a gradual advancement in every period, and the last is the highest of all. In as much as the respect and honour given to God the Father, upon the reception his Son, is much greater, than any that is paid to the Son, who, in respect of his humanity and his mission from heaven was inferior to God the Father. (Norwood, 66)

23. My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain. . . .
--Shakespeare, Richard III, 5.3.193 (Vickers 493)

Kind Of Symmetry
Part Of
Related Figures anadiplosis, auxesis, catacosmesis, figures of amplification, figures of parallelism, figures of order, auxesis, epanadiplosis
Notes not sure of type. closest would be series, but not quite. -jm Macbeth does not list Incrementum and epiploce as separate figures (did not assign roman numerals), so I put them under Climax. Though Incrementum maybe should be moved to auxesis?- sam
Confidence Unconfident
Last Editor Daniel Etigson
Confidence Unconfident
Editorial Notes
Reviewed No