Metaphors and the Conceptualisation of Human Emotions in the 4th c. A.D.
: Anger and Envy in Christian Literature

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The aim of this thesis is to examine the metaphorical conceptualisation of human emotions, and particularly those of anger and envy, in Christian literature. My research is based on homiletic and exegetical texts of the 4th c. A.D., composed by three important figures of the ecclesiastical life of Eastern Christianity: Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom. Their texts are rich sources of conceptual metaphors, namely of metaphorical processes of establishing cognitive links or mappings between several aspects of the emotional experiences and concepts that pertain to other domains. Those metaphors are integral part of the authors’ reflection and preaching on the important role of emotions in moral reasoning and the Christian struggle for salvation. For that reason, the starting point of this thesis is to address the research question "What is the role of metaphor in the conception and evaluation of any single emotion, as well as in preaching"?

The Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT) has been proved a useful methodological tool for the analysis of the material under examination. The application of its findings to the Christian material contributes a lot to our understanding of the Christian authors’ conceptualisations.

First, the notions of universality and variation of the CMT steers us toward understanding that in some cases the metaphorical structures for the emotions are based on our universal bodily experiences (embodiment), whereas in other cases it is culture (lay views, medical knowledge, philosophical and religious ideas) that shapes the form of the conceptual metaphors. In the latter case, metaphors disclose cultural underpinnings, either of the Greco-Roman or of the Biblical past. Especially scriptural authority and Christian ideology provide extra association and nuances to the classical imagery used and, as a result, create slightly new, variated concepts for emotions.

Second, the methodology of CMT to trace mappings between different domains, through which we can identify primary conceptual metaphors underlying more elaborate analogies, has been proved an effective tool for finding out the building blocks of the Christian writers’ thought. This disclosure also helps us to understand why they present metaphors from disparate source domains in bundles or clusters: it is the conceptual interconnection of those domains rather than the desire of the author to embellish his discourse with variety.

Finally, the CMT’s suggestion that the use of specific conceptual metaphors not only makes us think of emotions in terms of another concept, but also leads us to experience the target domain as the source domain, can be proved a key idea for further understanding the cognitive role of metaphors in a homiletic and exegetical context. All three authors recognised the communicative power of metaphors and their effect on the inculcation of specific emotional behaviours. For that reason, they consciously chose each of their metaphors to provide their congregation with a particular perspective for seeing and additionally experiencing anger or envy.
Date of Award1 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMichael Trapp (Supervisor) & Ioannis Papadogiannakis (Supervisor)

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