A Synoptic History of Classical Rhetoric
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A Synoptic History of Classical Rhetoric

James J. Murphy, Richard A. Katula, Michael Hoppmann

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eBook - ePub

A Synoptic History of Classical Rhetoric

James J. Murphy, Richard A. Katula, Michael Hoppmann

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Continuing its tradition of providing students with a thorough review of ancient Greek and Roman rhetorical theory and practices, A Synoptic History of Classical Rhetoric is the premier text for undergraduate courses and graduate seminars in the history of rhetoric. Offering vivid examples of each classical rhetor, rhetorical period, and source text, students are led to understand rhetoric's role in the exchange of knowledge and ideas. Completely updated throughout, Part I of this new edition integrates new research and expanded footnotes and bibliographies for students to develop their own scholarship. Part II offers eight classical texts for reading, study, and criticism, and includes discussion questions and keys to the text in Part I.

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Part One

Theories of Rhetoric

Chapter 1

The Origins of Rhetoric in the Democracy of Ancient Greece

Whoever does not study rhetoric will be a victim of it.
Ancient Greek wall inscription

Introduction: The Urge to Study Rhetoric in Ancient Greece

It may be said that rhetoric is the handmaiden of democracy. Whether in the courtroom, the legislature, or the public forum, free and intelligent speaking and writing are the lubricants that keep the gears of democracy running smoothly. Instruction in the arts of discourse affords each one of us the opportunity to participate in the public debate and thus to feel invested in the decisions that are made. In his treatise On Rhetoric, Aristotle notes four advantages to studying this practical art for citizens living in a democracy: (1) to help truth prevail in the world of human affairs; (2) to help us understand how people are moved to action through speech; (3) to help us see both sides of an issue; and (4) to help us defend ourselves against the arguments of others. To understand democracy, then, as a lively exchange of ideas among the people living in it, one must understand rhetoric; and to understand rhetoric, one must understand democracy. This chapter details how democracy emerged as a form of government and how the art of rhetoric facilitated the practices that allowed it to flourish in ancient times, especially in Athens.

The Rise of Democracy in Athens

The transformation of institutions of government into democratic forms created the need for expertise in speaking and writing. Prior to the 8th century before the Common Era (BCE),1 ancient Greece was predominantly an oral culture.2 Although forms of writing with symbols (rather than with pictures such as in hieroglyphic writing) known as Linear A and Linear B existed in Minoan and Mycenaean times, the emergence of alphabetic writing on papyrus during the Homeric Age in the late 8th century triggered a significant advance in literacy, especially in Athens, the most progressive of the Greek city-states. By the 5th century, Athens had evolved from a mythic society created, ordered, and governed by gods into an oral and written culture characterized by its focus on logos, or the search for order in the universe through speech and rational argument.3 It was during this time that language came to be categorized and studied as a body of principles. Speaking and writing lessons soon became accessible to ordinary citizens in Athens, giving them the practical skills they would need to participate more effectively in the public institutions they had created. These two parallel developments, democracy and literacy in both spoken and written forms, created the need for, and the possibility of, an artful and strategic theory of communication: the art of rhetoric.
Democracy (from the Greek words demos, “the people,” and kratein, “to rule”) emerged as a response to changing conditions among the Greek people in the Attic, or southeastern, region of that country. During the period between approximately 3,000 and 850 BCE, kings such as King Minos in Crete and King Theseus in Athens ruled the various tribes throughout Greece. The king was considered a descendant of God, usually Zeus, and he ruled with omniscience. As Botsford notes:
His honor [the King] was from Zeus, lord of counsel, who cherished him, granted him glory, and furnished him even with thoughts. His sceptre, the sign of his power, was made in heaven, and given by a god to the founder of his dynasty. The people, therefore, prayed and hearkened to him as a god.4
Figure 1.1 Ancient Greece hand drawn set
Kings were commanders on the battlefield. Although during Minoan times there were long periods of peace, war remained a constant threat during these centuries, and kings were needed to order the troops into battle and to lead the defense of the villages when outside forces invaded. Thus, while the throne was inherited, kings remained in place to the extent that they were successful in preserving the peace and defending the tribe against enemies.
During these early periods encompassing the Minoan and Mycenaean Ages, people settled their disputes in various ways. According to the poet Homer in his Iliad and Odyssey, it was common for two men or two families to meet in a field and fight to settle a land dispute or a domestic feud, perhaps over a seduction or a property dispute. But the early Greeks also often preferred to talk out their differences, and they often consulted a third party who represented the voice of the community to sit in judgment of their arguments. These “istors” or “knowers” were the kings. Thus it was that kings became judges, because it was accepted that they alone knew what was right and they alone who could find the truth in competing stories.5 Rather than laws as we might think about them today, there emerged a “code” of customs and traditions rooted in myth, tribal history, and kingly decrees that provided guidance for daily living. While the king might consult tribal elders during his deliberations over disputes, his was the first and last word. Since writing had not advanced to the linear alphabetic script used by Homer, records were kept on clay tablets or walls when they were kept at all, and justice was often a capricious undertaking since precedents did not accumulate on record. Justice at the hands of a king was often justice denied.
3000–1400 The Minoan Age
1600–1150 The Mycenaean Age
900–700 Age of Homer
700ca Unification of Athens and the Attica region
650–500 Oligarchies overthrown by Tyrants
630 Dracon establishes written code of laws—The Laws of Blood
593 Solon reforms legal code
492–479 Persian wars
Defeat of Persians at Marathon, 490
Defeat of Persians at Salamis, 480
Defeat of Persians at Plataea, 479
462–429 Periclean Age, Golden Age of Athenian Democracy
462–322 The Classical Age
431–404 Peloponnesian War
Sparta destroys Athenian navy, 405
404–371 Spartan dominance of Greece
403 Democracy restored to Athens
377 Second Athenian Confederacy
Athens defeats Spartan navy, 376
359–336 Reign of Philip of Macedon
336–323 Reign of Alexander the Great
323–276 The Hellenic Age; last flowering of Athenian culture
276 The Roman Age; Greece conquered by the Roman Empire
Figure 1.2 The rise and decline of democracy in Athens: a chronological timeline
In civil affairs, the king was also supreme ruler. But during the Homeric Age councils emerged to administer the daily activities of the people and the king often deferred to the council in civil matters. The idea of the “state” began at this time as a crude institution. There were no administrators (bureaucrats) and the council of elders worked through the monarchy to maintain civil order. In matters of civil dispute, the king would often defer to an appointed magistrate. Legislative issues were usually discussed by a council of elders that submitted its decisions to the king for his approval or disapproval. Because the state did not function as an official intermediary in civil affairs, the family was the usual source of strength and support for the individual.
As groups of people settled into culturally distinct tribes and began to develop more involved forms of interaction with one another, civil affairs became more complex and kings by necessity were forced to heed the voice of their councils. Indeed, wise kings began to call councils into session regularly to seek their advice and respond to their needs. Some monarchies were actually close to aristocracies with a ruling class often holding sway in civil and military decisions, particularly when the king was weak. In matters of dispute, it became common for one of the disputants to make a speech in the presence of others, appealing for justice, we might say, by swaying public opinion. As MacDowell notes:
Appealing to public opinion is something different from appealing to the king. A king may have special expertise as a judge, from talent or experience or divine inspiration. The general public can hardly be said to have such special expertise. But what they do have, if they care to use it, is power.6
This power is the power to influence the decision-makers, even if with no other means than their “cheers” or “boos” for the speakers or the verdicts of the judges.
Monarchies eventually gave way to more popular modes of decision-making, councils became more dominant in civil affairs so that by the late 8th century a transition began to aristocratic forms of government, oligarchies. Oligarchies were either powerful families or groups of powerful individuals who seized control of a city by wresting power from the king. Oligarchies were not always oppressive, but they served predominantly the needs of those in power. Oligarchies began to fail during the later years of the 7th century because they began making political decisions on a purely economic basis; that is, those individuals who could make a contribution to the treasury were favored.
Considering the state of affairs during the Homeric Period, it is clear to see why the urge for democracy arose. Those who fought the battles desired a greater voice in military decisions. In matters of state, magistrates too often used customs and traditions for personal benefit. Even a shift from a pure monarchy to an oligarchy or an aristocracy resulted in an abuse of power. Oligarchies were soon replaced with tyrannies; that is, forms of government where one powerful person ruled with the power of the military. Tyrannies differed from monarchies because the tyrant ruled not by the divine grace of the gods, but by his own political and military power.
The Homeric Age witnessed, then, an evolution in forms of government from monarchy to oligarchy to tyranny, and shortly thereafter, as we will see, to democracy. These changes, while both subtle and complex, can be seen most clearly in the light of human nature; that is, the natural desire human beings have for freedom, justice, peace, and community.
As noted earlier, and especially from the Mycenaean Age forward, warfare was a constant reality for the villages and cities of Greece. The most famous of these wars was the ten-year-long Trojan War (the war fought over Helen of Troy) thought by archaeologists to have been waged during the 12th century. It was common, indeed, for city-states to be at war for years at a time until one either retreated or was conquered. Since the penalty for military failure was enslavement or death, governments existed principally to insure victory in war. Democracy, in fact, arose first in the Attic region when it became a form of government capable of insuring domestic tranquility through triumph on the battlefield. Its value as a mode of associated living among people, as we shall see, is a later occurrence.
It was during the waning years of the Mycenaean Age that Attica was unified. The powerful King Theseus brought the tribes that inhabited the area under one kingdom so that by 700 Attica was one nation with the city of Athens as its center. About the year 700, the last dynasty to rule Attica, the Medontidae, was deposed for failure to lead successful military campaigns. In its place, an Archon (usually an ordinary citizen) was appointed to lead the nation in war. The Archon ruled with the aid of magistrates, the Areopagus, originally appointed to ten-year terms by the Archon, but later, around 683, to appointments of one year, and beginning in 487 through yearly election. Later, the term of the Archon was reduced to ten years. Thus, by the middle of the 7th century Attica was ruled by an Archon who served for ten years and an annually appointed council of magistrates. The final transition from oligarchic to representative government occurred near the end of the 6th century with the fall of the tyrant Hippias (510) and the democratic reforms of his successor Cleisthenes who reorganized the citizenry of Athens into villages (demes), thus breaking ...

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