"For the word 'person' seems to be borrowed from a different source, namely from the masks (personae) which in comedies and tragedies used to represent the people concerned...The Greeks, too, call these masks 'prosopa' from the fact that they are placed over the face and conceal the countenance in front of the eyes: 'para tou pros tous opas tithesthai' (from being put up against the face). But since, as we have said, it was by the masks they put on that actors respresented the individual concerned in a tragedy or comedy - Hecuba or Medea or Simo or Chremes, - so also of all other men who could be clearly recognized by their appearance the Latins used the name 'persona', the Greeks 'prosopa'."
    (Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, Contra Eutychen, III).

The word person originated in and was borrowed from theater. It could have been the Greek prosopon for mask which was derived from the Etruscan phersu that may be connected to Persephone that created the foundations for this word. One etymologist notes: “An interesting etymology of persona is from 'per' and 'sonare' (= to sound through) referring to the theatrical wooden mask in which the mouth was made to strengthen the sound of the voice.”

The Romans used persona to describe a mask worn by an actor. The plural is usually personae and some derivatives are: character, personal, personality, and personify. In the later expansion of the term, the Biblical scriptures played a role as a third source. Interactions of the “late Judaic and Hellenic cultures,” says one expert, “appeal was made to the notion of personification in order to interpret passages in the bible, especially those referring to Sophia (prosographic exegesis). The Septuagint translators of the Hebrew bible into the Greek used the term prosopon, as the sounding mask through which the Lord spoke ("out of the mouth of the Lord,"). The Latin translators naturally enough rendered that word as persona, so that both the Greek and Latin usage converged to introduce the term respectively into the Eastern and Western European languages.”

Over time several Latin words lost their original meanings as they were incorporated into English and it was Boethius, a sympathetic sixth century observer of Christianity who may have been the first to observed that the English word person is the Latin persona, which contribute to an etymology with the Greek prosopon. . The earliest known date for the word found in print is 1909 meaning an assumed personality that masks one's true thoughts and feelings.

By 1917, persona took a new twist as a contruct of Jungian psychology word meaning an "outward or social personality." Later by 1958 it came to express the concept of a "literary character representing voice of the author." However the principal meaning of Latin persona remains 'a mask, especially as worn by actors' indicated 'a character in a play, a dramatic role', and '(with no idea of deception) the part played by a person in life, a role, character'.

The term as a referent to literary criticism was coined by Ezra Pound in 1901 in an essay called Personae, where it has since fixed upon the meaning of an ‘assumed identity or fictional "I"...assumed by a writer in a literary work: thus the speaker in a literary poem, or the narrator in a fictional narrative' (C. Baldick, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms 1990).

Persona took off on another tangent in the twentieth century; by 1917 it was an expression in Jungian psychology to mean 'the set of attitudes adopted by an individual to fit himself or herself for the social role seen as his or hers; the personality an individual presents to the world' (Oxford English Dictionary, slightly paraphrased).

In academic literary writings, the two threads of connotation are on the whole kept firmly separated. To clarify here are some illustrations from several sources of literary criticisms on how use the word in context appears:

    To this extent, Lewis Eliot is, as it were, a convenient and comfortable persona for his author
    -The Times Literary Supplement, 1958.

    Whether or not the actual Kipling persona is present, the narration is often forceful as well as vivid
    -M. Pafford, 1989.

    The outstanding example is Burns, whose ability to assume different poetic personae...is one of his most individual characteristics
    -The Times Literary Supplement, 1989.

In Jungian sense:

    We are born individuals. But to satisfy our needs we have to become social persons, and every social person is a bundle of rôles or personæ
    -Transactions of the Philological Society, 1935.

    The stiff upper lip, the persona of the English gentleman, is a particularly appropriate mask for the schizoid person to adopt.
    -A. Storr, 1968.

    He can be a pompous, contentious man, yet his private persona sometimes contrasts sharply with his more abrasive public image.
    -Observer, 1972.

    When he speaks on the subject, you can hear all three of his personas, as he answers with equal aplomb as fan, participant and TV exec.
    -Tennis, 1987.

    Despite his assertion that he is merely a machine, Warhol constructs a carefully-crafted persona that he markets relentlessly.
    -Modern Painters, 1989.

Additionally, it is essential to note that in the realm of religious address; for example when mankind is spoken to as a universal and all-encompassing divine sense (not when what is being taught a religious precept or social law), the "person" addressed is not the psychological, social or historical persona. Instead the persona that is being addressed is the true, historical and combined essence of humanity.

Today, the words mask and persona both suggest a facet of a person that is presented to the world for its approval. Both mask and persona parley the place between public and private selves where who we are collides with who we think we ought to appear to be. Their association with artificiality and falsity – the deliberate misrepresentation of oneself, one’s emotions, and one’s thoughts, taints our perceptions of the words mask and persona.

Kind of a complicated word with its beginnings as a mask used by the actosr and priests in social rituals to symbolize characters, much like the intricate masks of the great Athenian tragic custom. From there, the word came to depict the likeness that a person projected of himself to the rest of the world - in a sense; dignity, it's the way in which a person wishes to be seen.


A Humanists Critique of the Mask:

The Findings:
www.bridgeoflove.com/bookstore/icke/magazine/ vol12/articles/findings5.html

The New Fowler's Modern English Usage, Oxford University Press 1968.

Towards A Contemporary Anthropology of the Person:


Persona is medieval recreation slang for who one is with regard to the medieval environment. It does see some use at Renaissance Faires as well very common usage within the SCA

In the Rennie sense, it may be used to refer both to what role each bit of paid help has as well as who patrons who come in garb are.

Within the Society for Creative Anachronism, things are more complex. To an extent, everyone is expected to have a persona, usually the following as a minimum:

Within the SCA, much of what one does will tie in with your persona. This includes the clothing you wear, the utensils you use to eat, and even how you act in response to royalty.

There are several suggestions about where to start with a persona. Some say you should first look for a form of costume you can stand wearing quite a bit, and then find out where and when it is from. Others suggest you start looking at your ancestors. Others yet suggest you find a culture you like, and pick their time.

Once this is done, you can sketch out the persona's past, the deeds that they have done, their social class, and other things to your heart's content. Warning: Some people feel that the persona allows for too much roleplaying, allowing one to claim having done things that the real person could not -- for instance, great skill in battle. I would say that it wouldn't hurt to be modest.

A few web sites that get into it a little further:
On the Renaissance Fair side: http://www.atthefaire.com/persona.html
From the SCA perspective: http://www.ealdormere.sca.org/persona.html, http://www.interaktv.com/HISTORY/SCApersona.html

Persona is also a series of games by Atlus, part of the Shin Megami Tensei series, they are complex and interesting console RPGs.

There are 2 Persona games in the US for Playstation, plus some for Gameboy Color. In Japan, there are 3 Persona games for Playstation: Persona, Persona 2: Innocent Sin, and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. Persona 2: Innocent Sin has not yet come to the US, and Atlus USA isn't being clear on whether or not it is likely to (11/2001)

The two Persona 2 games form a single continuous plot (although each has its own resolution), both have nearly identical gameplay, although there are some changes. Unfortunately for US gamers, Innocent Sin is the first of the two games, so if it ever comes out here, large portions of the plot will have been spoiled for anyone who has played Eternal Punishment first.

Per*so"na (?), n.; pl. Personae (#). [L.] Biol.

Same as Person, n., 8.


© Webster 1913.

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