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The word 'mimesis' - pronounced with the stress on the second syllable, mi-MEE-sis, IPA: /mɪ'miːsɪs/ - is a transliteration of the ancient Greek word ‚ μίμησις (mimesis). The central meaning of mimesis was 'imitation', but as well as being used in everyday contexts with this meaning, the word was also used in the discussion of art and literature by the philosophers Plato and Aristotle and their successors, and in these contexts 'imitation' does not always adequately convey the meaning of the word. (See further Mimesis in Plato and Aristotle.)

In the last few centuries the word 'mimesis' has been introduced into English and other European languages as a technical term. It has been used

  • in aesthetics and art criticism, to mean 'the imitative representation of a subject';
  • in medicine, to refer to a disease which displays the symptoms of another disease, or to features of a mental illness which mimic the symptoms of a physical illness; and
  • in biology, to refer to the resemblance which one species of insect or animal may bear to another species, a resemblance which it has developed in order to protect itself from predators. (This phenomenon is more commonly known as mimicry.)

The adjective from 'mimesis' is 'mimetic' - pronounced with a short -e- in the stressed second syllable, mi-MET-ik, IPA: /mɪ'mɛtɪk/.