Katharsis & Kleos — A-to-Z Blog Challenge, Literary Terms

KNow we come to the end of the second week with K. I would like to believe the difficulty of this letter was the last of my challenge, but I know that this challenge is going to get even worse. My problem is not with finding words (though that is still a challenge) but finding two words that I can connect together.

Today we have Katharsis and Kleos. So obscure that Firefox thinks they are misspellings.

As always, post below and tell me what you think. I love the attention… I mean encouragement… yeah, encouragement.

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Katharsis. Very similar to Catharsis, in fact, it is the same word. Catharsis is the modern version of the word, to which Katharsis is the ancient Greek usage. The term originates to mean “to purify” or “to make clean”.

Katharsis takes on two meanings. A literary one and a metaphorical one. The metaphorical is more for individuals but can be applied to our characters. This is the form of Catharsis that people are most familiar with.

Katharsis was first used in Aristotle’s book Poetics. He used it to describe how drama can affect the viewer. Good drama engages the viewer so they can identify with the experiences of the characters and situation. To this end, when good drama evokes powerful emotions, the audience is more likely to leave the theatre clean, with a refreshed feeling; purified in emotions. I guess Aristotle didn’t want to clean up afterwards.


Aristotle believed that good drama could help an individual live a calmer life in their daily living. This is an effect we see today; anytime a sad moment comes in a movie and we are left with tears in our eyes. Though a Katharsis moment is not always a tearful one as people claim to feel good after a really good laugh.

The metaphor, cleaning ones self had been around for some time, but it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that Josef Breuer developed a psychiatric treatment using hypnosis to treat hysteria. Under hypnosis, the patient was able recall traumatic events that could often be forgotten or unknown. Having understood these experiences, patients were able to obtain a relief in their symptoms.

The term has further evolved in expressing/experiencing deep emotions from ones past to properly deal with them. Gaining a sense of renewed energy. It is also used in everyday language to denote experiencing emotions that you hide from or push to the side so you can function in life, taking a moment to engage them. This is often called a Cathartic experience.

Expanding it into narrative, this is called Emotional Torque. As writers, our overall goal should be the reaction from our readers. Some strive for happiness, sadness, or simply an angry response. It’s the apathetic reaction that should dishearten a writer.

A good book, like a good movie, should change who you are from before you read/saw it to when you finished. I felt that way about Serenity, especially with the death of Wash. I felt different. I don’t know how, I just knew I did.

In Emotional Torque, Catharsis comes into play as a means to relieve your emotions and influence your psyche. Not something you can describe, but leaves you feeling refreshed and satisfied. This does require a suspension of disbelief, that maintains a need/want for your readers to keep reading your story. Hard to accomplish, but well worth the time and effort.


Kleos is a Greek word meaning to “renown” or “glory”. It is related to the word “to hear”, which further means, “what others hear about you”. This is most often directed at a Greek hero who earns kleos through accomplishment of great deeds. Often involving his own death.

Kleos is transferred from father to son, making the son responsible to carry on the legacy and build glory for himself and of his father.

Kleos in ancient times was a sacred act, and choosing against Kleos was practically unholy. To choose yourself over a great dead would cause one to be forgotten and could even be a shame to your heirs.

Kleos is not a term used anymore, but the word honor is, the same with glory. Kleos is a bit different of these as in other societies, the honor and glory one receives in life and death are theirs to have and no one holds onto that matle. However, there is the concept of “Sins of the Father”, whatever their bad deed will now become the Sons. Punishment was occasionally carried out generations later for the actions of a single person.

Katharsis & Kleos

The commonality here is what characters carry with them. Pain, regret, glory, and honor. In many older societies, there was more pressure for people to care about these things, often originating from the family and carried on for generations.

When we consider the character’s motives, we must look at what their past reveals and what they inherited from their family and past generations, especially in fantasy. Science Fiction does touch on this, such as the Klingons in Star Trek. A character being an island unto themselves would have to ignore their past and their families and that is not an easy feat to accomplish.


When you write your character, consider what baggage they carry with them. No matter how small, life can very hard on us, and even a positive attribute can weigh people down.

While Katharsis is more directed at the writer in the works, characters also need a Kathartic experience, even if temporary to move forward. Sometimes a good cry is in order to be able to pick themselves up and carry on. Especially with the burdens that others put on us.

It might seem great to be honored and respected, but to be everyone’s hero is a daunting task that gets harder and hardened to fulfill. The best way to handle it is to address your feelings and express them, or to engage in an activity that forces you to confront them. May not solve your problems, but will give you a peace of mind.

Help Keep This Site Running

This site is a great achievement for me, but due to being unable to work, I may not be able to keep this site running. With your help, I might be able to.

I need $125 by October 30th, 2017. Anything you can give will help.



  1. When I’m reading a book, or watching a movie, I find crying and laughter cathartic, but not usually anger. Kleos sounds like a double-edged sword – sometimes I just wanted to bash Klingons over the head when it came to their family honour, I think, because in a lot of cases, it hid injustices, when form was more important that justice and I get really angry about things like that.
    Good post.
    Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles – A to Z Ghosts
    Fantasy Boys XXX – A to Z Drabblerotic

    • mad_cat says:

      There was a Star Trek fan series called Hidden Frontiers (http://www.hiddenfrontier.com/episodes/indexhf.php) that dealt with an Andorian who was injured and would be forever depressed. No treatment could help him.

      In Andorian culture (not sure it is canon), they looked down upon this and Doctors would kill their patients, or allow them to engage in battle as Heroes, which were likely people committing suicide.

      In a later episode, the Tellerite Doctor dealt with the issue of honor, that it is an excuse to allow people to behave any way they want, or to sanction killing.

      I can understand the importance of family honour (I have a bad tendency of spelling it both ways) but I agree with you that it is often taken to an extreme, in real life and in fiction.

  2. Katharsis and kleos–the cleansing of baggage. I’ve never heard of kleos, so it’s always nice learning new words/concepts. And these are important concepts for writing and characters. Everyone has baggage which affects how we interact with the world. Characters should be no different.

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