this paper explores aspects of pity or compassion in homer (especially iliad 24) and aristotle (especially the rhetoric). of the cluster of terms that refer to compassionate responses to others’ suffering, it is eleos that looms largest not only in greek literature (e.g. homer) but also in greek literary and rhetorical theory (e.g. aristotle). indeed, eleos is perhaps the most salient among all the emotions to which greek literature appeals, just as it is in ancient literary theory. literature (broadly conceived) provides our best evidence for the dynamics of ancient greek eleos, at it does for most emotions – it regularly gives us their eliciting conditions, the appraisals and evaluations that they entail, their phenomenology, their symptoms and expressions, and the characteristic patterns of behaviour with which they are associated. literary/rhetorical theory both generalizes from and informs literary/rhetorical practice, and in the particular case of eleos raises some of the questions that we shall need to answer if we are to understand the concept. this paper is not a lexicographic study but looks also at other terms from the same general wortfeld as eleos, examining the phenomena of compassion as well as the ways in which they are labelled and conceptualized.