Monday, June 19, 2006

Rhetoric: Insight on the Training of Lactantius


Initially, the Greek term rhetor denotes a “public speaker.”[1] Classical writers apply the morpheme to judges, politicians, legal advocates (in the papyri) and the terminology later describes professors who teach others the art of elocutionary speech.[2]

Cole describes rhetoric (in part) as “the influencing and swaying of the mind through words”.[3] It constitutes a techne or art of public discourse.[4] In classical terms, rhetoric is the science of persuasive speaking or writing.[5] Aristotle himself defines this particular techne in terms of the employment of available means for the sake of persuasion as well as discerning “persuasive facts” in each case. Therefore, it seems probable that from a diachronic perspective, one can speak legitimately of rhetoric as “the written word attempting to do the work of the spoken word.”[6] Unfortunately, those who practiced the art of rhetoric in its primal manifestations lent an air of suspicion to the trade.[7] Hence, rhetoric continued to be a pejorative signifier until modernity.

In spite of the morpheme’s negative connotations, grammar and rhetoric became distinctive or stable elements of Greco-Roman education. Ancient professors of rhetoric usually delivered or read model speeches to their pupils.[8] Moreover, prospective rhetores were taught speech structure as well as how to vary the style or subject matter of formal discourse.[9] Additionally, those studying rhetoric learned the five venerable canons of well-formed speech, namely, invention, disposition, elocution, action, and memoria (expand). Pupils thus were obligated to construct periods (periodoi) in accordance with strict rules, then only quote or cite what could be demonstrated from constructed texts.[10] The outcome of this extensive training (idealistically) was the ability to speak ex tempore.

[1] Acharnians 38, 680. The extant documents of ancient Greece leads one to believe that rhetoric “bears every indication of being a Platonic invention.”[1] The term does not appear before the Gorgias (Cole 2; Kennedy in Rhetoric Handbook, 3). See Plato, Gorgias 453a, where the philosopher refers to rhetoric as “the artificer of persuasion” (Cole 2).

[2] LSJ: 1570.

[3] See Phaedrus 261a7-8.

[4] Kennedy, 3.

[5] Cf. Aristotle’s Rhetorica 1.2 1355b and 1.2.1356-57.

[6] Cole 1.

[7] Ibid. 159.

[8] Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity, 30.

[9] Hatch, ibid.

[10] Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas, 30.

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