AskDefine | Define catabasis

Extensive Definition

Katabasis (from Greek κατα, "down" βαινω "go") means in general a "descent", a journey downwards which can mean moving downhill, a sinking of winds, a military retreat, or a trip to the underworld. It may also mean a trip from the interior of a country down to the coast, and has related meanings in poetry, rhetoric, and modern psychology.

A trip to the coast

The term katabasis can refer to a trip from the interior of a country down to the coast (for example, following a river), while the term anabasis refers to an expedition from a coastline up into the interior of a country.
This is the main meaning given for katabasis by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) which is describe as "A going down; a military retreat, in allusion to that of the ten thousand Greeks under Xenophon, related by him in his Anabasis." and quote:


In poetry and rhetoric, the term katabasis refers to a "gradual descending" of emphasis on a theme within a sentence or paragraph, while anabasis refers to a gradual ascending in emphasis.

Modern psychology

In modern psychology, the term katabasis is also sometimes used to describe the depression some young men experience. Author Robert Bly proposes in his book 'Iron John: A Book About Men several reasons for the "catabasis phenomenon", amongst them the lack of Western initiation rites and the lack of strong father figures and role models.

Trip into the underworld

see also Descent to the underworld
Katabasis is the epic convention of the hero's trip into the underworld. In Greek mythology, for example, Orpheus enters the underworld in order to bring Eurydice back to the world of the living.
Most katabases'' take place in a supernatural underworld, such as Hades or Hell — as in Nekyia, the 11th book of the Odyssey, which describes the descent of Odysseus to the underworld. However, katabasis can also referto a journey through other dystopic areas, such as what Odysseus encounters on his 20-year journey back from Troy to Ithaca. Pilar Serrano allows the term katabasis to encompass brief or chronic stays in the underworld, including those of Lazarus and Castor and Pollux.

References and notes

Further reading

  • Rachel Falconer, Hell in Contemporary Literature: Western Descent Narratives since 1945, EUP, 2005. On modern examples of katabases, or descents to Hell.
catabasis in French: Catabase
catabasis in Italian: Catabasi
catabasis in Occitan (post 1500): Catabasa
catabasis in Polish: Katabasis
catabasis in Russian: Катабасис
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