Anagnorisis and Peripeteia

I suspect that very few people outside of those who are serious literary scholars are familiar with these two terms, but we all should be, because most of us have experienced them at some point, and when we do, our lives change forever.

Let’s start with definitions courtesy of dictionary.reference.com:

anagnorisis

[an-ag-nawruh-sis, –nohr-]

noun, plural anagnorises 

  1. (in ancient Greek tragedy) the critical moment of recognition or discovery, especially preceding peripeteia.

peripeteia

[per-uh-pi-tahyuh, –teeuh]

noun

  1. a sudden turn of events or an unexpected reversal, especially in a literary work.

So, to oversimplify things, anagnorisis is that moment when the scales fall from your eyes and you realize something for the first time. As a New England friend of mine likes to say, “Dawn breaks on Marblehead.” And that “whoa “moment, that anagnorisis, is what often throws you headlong into peripeteia, a turning point in your life.

Here are some examples:

Anagnorisis: Holy cow! I have the winning lottery ticket!
Peripeteia: Take this job and shove it!

Anagnorisis: My husband just allowed his boss to steal my life savings and has absolutely no intention of doing anything about it.
Peripeteia: Kindly sign these divorce papers. Now.

Anagnorisis: Being told the love of your life has died unexpectedly.
Peripeteia: Quitting your job and moving 3000 miles away to start your life over.

You might think of anagnorisis and peripeteia as the cruel handmaidens of fate, but often when you look back upon your meeting with them after the blessed passage of time, you will discover that they can be the best things that have ever happened to you. You never know when you’ll cross paths with them, but speaking from experience, I owe them a debt of gratitude, and will make an effort to embrace them from now on when we cross paths. But I’ll ask them politely to keep their visit brief, because their company, frankly, can be a bit draining.

hot dog

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