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Aristotle, W. Rhys Roberts

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Aristotle, W. Rhys Roberts

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One of the seminal works of Western philosophy, Aristotle's Rhetoric vastly influenced all subsequent thought on the subject — philosophical, political, and literary. Focusing on the use of language as both a vehicle and a tool to shape persuasive argument, Aristotle delineates with remarkable insight both practical and aesthetic elements and their proper combination in an effective presentation, oral or written. He also emphasizes the role of language in achieving precision and clarity of thought.
The ancients regarded rhetoric as the crowning intellectual discipline — the synthesis of logical principles and other knowledge attained from years of schooling. Modern readers will find considerable relevance in Aristotelian rhetoric and its focus on developing persuasive tools of argumentation. Aristotle's examinations of how to compose and interpret speeches offer significant insights into the language and style of contemporary communications, from advertisements to news reports and other media.

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Chapter 1

IN making a speech one must study three points: first, the means of producing persuasion; second, the style, or language, to be used; third, the proper arrangement of the various parts of the speech. We have already specified the sources of persuasion. We have shown that these are three in number; what they are; and why there are only these three: for we have shown that persuasion must in every case be effected either (1) by working on the emotions of the judges themselves, (2) by giving them the right impression of the speakers’ character, or (3) by proving the truth of the statements made.
Enthymemes also have been described, and the sources from which they should be derived; there being both special and general lines of argument for enthymemes.
Our next subject will be the style of expression. For it is not enough to know what we ought to say; we must also say it as we ought; much help is thus afforded towards producing the right impression of a speech. The first question to receive attention was naturally the one that comes first naturally—how persuasion can be produced from the facts themselves. The second is how to set these facts out in language. A third would be the proper method of delivery; this is a thing that affects the success of a speech greatly; but hitherto the subject has been neglected. Indeed, it was long before it found a way into the arts of tragic drama and epic recitation: at first poets acted their tragedies themselves. It is plain that delivery has just as much to do with oratory as with poetry. (In connexion with poetry, it has been studied by Glaucon of Teos among others.) It is, essentially, a matter of the right management of the voice to express the various emotions—of speaking loudly, softly, or between the two; of high, low, or intermediate pitch; of the various rhythms that suit various subjects. These are the three things—volume of sound, modulation of pitch, and rhythm—that a speaker bears in mind. It is those who do bear them in mind who usually win prizes in the dramatic contests; and just as in drama the actors now count for more than the poets, so it is in the contests of public life, owing to the defects of our political institutions. No systematic treatise upon the rules of delivery has yet been composed ; indeed, even the study of language made no progress till late in the day. Besides, delivery is—very properly—not regarded as an elevated subject of inquiry. Still, the whole business of rhetoric being concerned with appearances, we must pay attention to the subject of delivery, unworthy though it is, because we cannot do without it. The right thing in speaking really is that we should be satisfied not to annoy our hearers, without trying to delight them: we ought in fairness to fight our case with no help beyond the bare facts: nothing, therefore, should matter except the proof of those facts. Still, as has been already said, other things affect the result considerably, owing to the defects of our hearers. The arts of language cannot help having a small but real importance, whatever it is we have to expound to others: the way in which a thing is said does affect its intelligibility. Not, however, so much importance as people think. All such arts are fanciful and meant to charm the hearer. Nobody uses fine language when teaching geometry.
When the principles of delivery have been worked out, they will produce the same effect as on the stage. But only very slight attempts to deal with them have been made and by a few people, as by Thrasymachus in his ‘Appeals to Pity’. Dramatic ability is a natural gift, and can hardly be systematically taught. The principles of good diction can be so taught, and therefore we have men of ability in this direction too, who win prizes in their turn, as well as those speakers who excel in delivery—speeches of the written or literary kind owe more of their effect to their direction than to their thought.
It was naturally the poets who first set the movement going; for words represent things, and they had also the human voice at their disposal, which of all our organs can best represent other things. Thus the arts of recitation and acting were formed, and others as well. Now it was because poets seemed to win fame through their fine language when their thoughts were simple enough, that the language of oratorical prose at first took a poetical colour, e.g. that of Gorgias. Even now most uneducated people think that poetical language makes the finest discourses. That is not true: the language of prose is distinct from that of poetry. This is shown by the state of things to-day, when even the language of tragedy has altered its character. Just as iambics were adopted, instead of tetrameters, because they are the most prose-like of all metres, so tragedy has given up all those words, not used in ordinary talk, which decorated the early drama and are still used by the writers of hexameter poems. It is therefore ridiculous to imitate a poetical manner which the poets themselves have dropped; and it is now plain that we have not to treat in detail the whole question of style, but may confine ourselves to that part of it which concerns our present subject, rhetoric. The other—the poetical—part of it has been discussed in the treatise on the Art of Poetry.

Chapter 2

We may, then, start from the observations there made, including the definition of style. Style to be good must be clear, as is proved by the fact that speech which fails to convey a plain meaning will fail to do just what speech has to do. It must also be appropriate, avoiding both meanness and undue elevation; poetical language is certainly free from meanness, but it is not appropriate to prose. Clearness is secured by using the words (nouns and verbs alike) that are current and ordinary. Freedom from meanness, and positive adornment too, are secured by using the other words mentioned in the Art of Poetry. Such variation from what is usual makes the language appear more stately. People do not feel towards strangers as they do towards their own countrymen, and the same thing is true of their feeling for language. It is therefore well to give to everyday speech an unfamiliar air: people like what strikes them, and are struck by what is out of the way. In verse such effects are common, and there they are fitting: the persons and things there spoken of are comparatively remote from ordinary life. In prose passages they are far less often fitting because the subject-matter is less exalted. Even in poetry, it is not quite appropriate that fine language should be used by a slave or a very young man, or about very trivial subjects: even in poetry the style, to be appropriate, must sometimes be toned down, though at other times heightened. We can now see that a writer must disguise his art and give the impression of speaking naturally and not artificially. Naturalness is persuasive, artificiality is the contrary; for our hearers are prejudiced and think we have some design against them, as if we were mixing their wines for them. It is like the difference between the quality of Theodorus’ voice and the voices of all other actors: his really seems to be that of the character who is speaking, theirs do not. We can hide our purpose successfully by taking the single words of our composition from the speech of ordinary life. This is done in poetry by Euripides, who was the first to show the way to his successors.
Language is composed of nouns and verbs. Nouns are of the various kinds considered in the treatise on Poetry. Strange words, compound words, and invented words must be used sparingly and on few occasions: on what occasions we shall state later. The reason for this restriction has been already indicated: they depart from what is suitable, in the direction of excess. In the language of prose, besides the regular and proper terms for things, metaphorical terms only can be used with advantage. This we gather from the fact that these two classes of terms, the proper or regular and the metaphorical—these and no others—are used by everybody in conversation. We can now see that a good writer can produce a style that is distinguished without being obtrusive, and is at the same time clear, thus satisfying our definition of good oratorical prose. Words of ambiguous meaning are chiefly useful to enable the sophist to mislead his hearers. Synonyms are useful to the poet, by which I mean words whose ordinary meaning is the same, e.g. πoρε
εσθαι (advancing) and βαδ
ξειν (proceeding); these two are ordinary words and have the same meaning.

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Title Page
  2. Copyright Page
  3. Note
  4. Table of Contents
  5. BOOK I
  6. BOOK II
  8. INDEX
Stili delle citazioni per Rhetoric

APA 6 Citation

Aristotle. (2012). Rhetoric ([edition unavailable]; R. Roberts, Trans.). Dover Publications. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/110217/rhetoric-pdf (Original work published 2012)

Chicago Citation

Aristotle. (2012) 2012. Rhetoric. Translated by Rhys Roberts. [Edition unavailable]. Dover Publications. https://www.perlego.com/book/110217/rhetoric-pdf.

Harvard Citation

Aristotle (2012) Rhetoric. [edition unavailable]. Translated by R. Roberts. Dover Publications. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/110217/rhetoric-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Aristotle. Rhetoric. Trans. Rhys Roberts. [edition unavailable]. Dover Publications, 2012. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.