Is there any difference between "Anagnorisis" and "Epiphany"?

Expert Answers
Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Anagnorisis and epiphany are two very similar literary terms.  Both terms label a moment of discovery or revelation in a literary work, but there is a slight difference between the two.  The chief distinction between the literary terms anagnorisis and epiphany is that anagnorisis is a much more specific type of epiphany.  Greek in origin, anagnorisis occurs in the plot of a tragedy when a character, usually the protagonist, discovers some hidden truth about his identity, family, or role. 

A perfect example of anagnorisis occurs in the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex as Oedipus makes the terrible discovery that he has killed his father and married his mother:

Ah me! ah me! all brought to pass, all true!
O light, may I behold thee nevermore!
I stand a wretch, in birth, in wedlock cursed,
A parricide, incestuously, triply cursed!

Often the anagnorisis in tragedies also leads to the catastrophe of the play, usually because the character uncovers some sort of life-changing, horrible truth about his reality.

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