Scholia Reviews ns 5 (1996) 22.

Ian Worthington (ed.), Persuasion: Greek Rhetoric in Action. Routledge: London and New York, 1994. Pp. x + 277 ISBN 0-415-08139-4. UKú12.99.

Clive Chandler
Department of Classics, University of Cape Town

Students of rhetoric are fond of repeating the litany that their subject is enjoying something of a renaissance in all branches of the humanities, and Classics as a discipline derives considerable kudos from the fact that the principle exponents of this `science' are located within its borders: Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian. This collection of essays provides a useful benchmark of the present state of knowledge of rhetoric in Ancient Greek culture and indicates the approaches which have been adopted in recent study of the subject.

The subject of the cover of this book is cunningly chosen: Phryne presented to the Areopagus (an a)te/chnos pi/stis?).[[1]] The anecdote concerning Phryne deserves a study of its own, unfortunately not forthcoming in this collection (in fact she does not even appear in the index!).

I shall give a brief summary of the essays in this volume and comment on aspects of those that caught my attention. The brevity of my treatment of a particular essay should not be taken as a negative evaluation. Carol G. Thomas & Edward Kent Webb `From orality to rhetoric: an intellectual transformation' (pp. 3- 25)

This essay deals with issues which lie at the very heart of any understanding of how and why rhetoric developed as a discrete endeavour at all. The essay includes a review of the scholarship of Kennedy, Havelock and Cole (the latter acknowledged but refuted) and proceeds from the assumption that the categorical division between poetry and prose is an anachronistic notion since the archaic poets were concerned more with the effect of their speech than techniques of making speech `poetic' (pp. 9- 10). In the opinion of Thomas and Webb, a consciousness of prose speech was only developed later, and the contribution of the sophists to this process was crucial (p. 11). It was not writing alone but its application which changed attitudes to speech, and the context for this application is illustrated by the traditional tale of Teisias and Corax (pp. 12-13). Thomas and Webb are essentially promoting what I would regard as a fairly orthodox account of the development of rhetoric: a gradual realisation (aided by literacy) that speech can be `owned' by one person (epic authorial anonymity versus the way the `lyric' poets stamp their names and personality on their poems) coupled with the socio-political context of the fifth century.

Thomas and Cole present an admirably clear and plausible account of a difficult problem: the emergence of rhetoric. I feel, however, that their essay does not reveal how speculative any account of this process must remain and how many questions are left unanswered. Generally, people persist, with few disclaimers, in seeing a revolution in the way language was viewed in the fifth century. I would not disagree with this in substance but we must beware of over-generalisations. The evidence from Homer leaves no doubt that even the preliterate Greeks felt (intuitively?) that some speeches were `better' (i.e. more plausible, more true, more pleasant?) than others, but it is difficult to ascertain precisely how they reached these appraisals. One is tempted to speculate whether there exists such a thing as a syntax of elegant speech, which is more or less the same in all languages, in some way analogous to the grammar and syntax which have been identified to supervene on the `wiring' in the brains of all speakers of all languages. Y. Gitay and W. Hallo, for example, have argued that texts from the ancient Hebrew and Babylonian traditions can be usefully analysed with the aid of traditional Greek rhetorical categories.[[2]] Why this should be so remains something of a mystery; but one answer could be found in the notion that all three languages, though apparently unrelated, are structured discursively along the same lines. If this is the case, then the distinction we draw between poetry and prose, between non-rhetorical speech and rhetorical speech, are blurred even more than Thomas and Webb suggest. In this view, the Greek contribution to rhetoric would lie in a particular way of describing, classifying, and eventually codifying that very discursive structure, a structure which preliterate poets seem (somehow) to exploit with particular conspicuousness. In effect the rhetoricians transpose most of the rhetorical features found in poetry to discourses from another context (speeches for law courts, speeches for assemblies) while they exclude other features (metrical conformity, certain lexical and dialectical peculiarities). Why this happened and why it happened at a certain time are questions which remain unsolved. Christopher Carey, `Rhetorical means of persuasion' (pp. 26-45)

Carey examines the way two of the three proofs listed by Aristotle (Rhetoric 1356a), pathos and ethos, are used in the Attic orators. As one might expect, Aristotle's theoretical prescriptions and the actual practice of orators who precede him do not always cohere. Michael Gagarin, `Probability and persuasion: Plato and early Greek rhetoric' (pp. 46-68)

Gagarin elects to re-examine the impact Plato has made (and continues to make) on our understanding of early Greek rhetoric (c. 450-390 BC) in one aspect, that of `probability' (ei)ko/s). He shows that much of our view of the rhetoricians' and sophists' attitude to ei)ko/s, and their preference for it over fact or truth is owed to Plato's Phaedrus. He points out that despite what Plato says (Phaedrus 272d-273c), Teisias and Corax did not invent the ei)ko/s argument because it can be found in earlier authors, but rather developed a new form of this argument, which Gagarin terms the `reverse probability' argument (p. 51). He then proceeds to test whether probability arguments were used by early orators in preference to argument from facts. His study of Antiphon (pp. 52-53), Gorgias (pp. 54-55), Alcidamas and Antisthenes (p. 55), and Lysias (p. 56) suggests that this is not the case. Probability arguments are only exploited in significant quantities where the direct evidence is unknown or inconclusive.

Gagarin concludes that probability arguments become associated with the teaching of the rhetoricians and sophists because of their theoretical and paedagogical interest and general applicability (p. 56). One assumes that the rhetoricians found it unnecessary to expatiate in depth on how to use direct and conclusive evidence because that could be relegated to the realm of common sense.

David Cohen, `Classical rhetoric and modern theories of discourse' (pp. 69-82)

David Cohen provides a very useful summary and analysis of those modern literary theorists who have exploited ancient rhetorical theory. Perelman, Booth, Richards, Foucault, Derrida and Barthes are among the thinkers treated. Cohen's treatment is necessarily brief - one notices this especially in the one and a half pages devoted to Derrida's (in)famous `La pharmacie de Platon' articles,[[3]] but he does succeed in informing the reader of the general approach to rhetoric taken by each theorist.

Josiah Ober, `Power and oratory in democratic Athens: Demosthenes 21, against Meidias' (pp. 85- 108)

This illuminating essay takes up trends which can be discerned in earlier work by this scholar.[[4]] Ober views dicanic oratory as an instrument whereby the power of the individual Athenian was tested against the power of the demos. If this view is correct, the study of oratory at Athens should tell us something about how power worked in democratic Athens (p. 86).

Ober distinguishes two basic paradigms for the conceptualisation of power: (i) the coercion paradigm (associated with Hobbes and Locke), where power is centred in the state and represses behaviour which is felt to violate the social contract; and (ii) the discourse paradigm (associated with Foucault), where power is not centralised anywhere but rather produces social understandings of what is true and right by constant re-evaluation in discourse.

Given the open texture of much Athenian law and the importance of courts in establishing and revising social ideology, Ober considers the discursive paradigm more helpful for an understanding of the workings of power in Athenian democracy. Forensic orations can then be viewed as occasions which permit a dynamic interplay between the individual orator and the non-specific ideologies of the dh=mos. Rhetoric and oratory are thus given an essential role in the actual formation of the idea of the poli/s. As a test case, Ober analyses Demosthenes 21, where he shows that the orator attempts to focus the common but aimless assumptions of the dh=mos on a specific action, thus making inanimate law political action through the medium of speech (p. 104). Ian Worthington, `History and oratorical exploitation' (pp. 109-129)

Worthington sets out to investigate a number of issues which pertain to the historical material used by orators. Worthington calls into question the commonly accepted view that an Athenian audience was largely ignorant of history (p. 114) and argues that the orators selected their historical topoi with a view to an immediate rhetorical purpose (p. 113). Worthington builds on some earlier work of his own[[5]] to suggest that some of the more obvious historical falsifications are a product of the orator's literary revision of the speech after it had been delivered and may not have been included in the original (pp. 115-118). Worthington considers it likely that once rid of the immediate restrictions imposed by the context of delivery, the orator was free to incorporate historical falsehoods for compositional effect and to influence public opinion.

A clear sign of literary elaboration is ring composition, and Worthington scrutinises speeches of Aeschines and Dinarchus in this regard. The complex ring structures he finds in these examples suggest that the historical material has been interfered with for aesthetic effect. Ring structures in other orations may also indicate that the historical narrative should be questioned if other independent sources are lacking. Edward M. Harris, `Law and oratory' (pp. 130-150)

Harris' essay is a model of compression. He sets out to palliate the verdict passed by several in antiquity, and upheld with various modifications by many modern scholars, that Athenian juries were fickle and amateurish and that rhetoric was fundamentally incompatible with attention to legal issues, even inimical to the study of law itself. In a concise but persuasive review of the ancient evidence (pp. 132-137) Harris reminds us that respect for law and its operations pervaded every institution of democratic Athens. Harris also thinks that is no strong evidence to contradict the belief that the Athenians took their oath to judge in accordance with the laws very seriously. Furthermore, Athenian jurors probably had a more secure grasp of the laws of their society than those of many modern democratic societies. There follows a brief discussion of Aristotle's acknowledgement in his Rhetoric of the `open texture' of law and the importance of defining terms in order to establish the applicability of a general law to a particular case. The essay concludes with a case study: a re-evaluation of the Ctesiphon trial. In contrast to the view which prevailed in antiquity and still does, Harris finds Demosthenes' arguments more pertinent to the law at issue than those of Aeschines. And that, he suggests, is precisely what the Athenian jury thought too. Peter Toohey, `Epic and Rhetoric' (pp. 153-175)

Peter Toohey's observation (p. 154) that the speeches in Homer and Apollonius of Rhodes display little rhetorical elaboration of the classical kind (although they are not formless) leads him to analyse a selection of speeches from each poet. A study of Nestor's four major speeches in the Iliad reveals that the structure tends to the paratactic and that para/deigma often fulfils the function of pi/stis. The resulting compositional mode is the ring form. Only in Nestor's speech at Il. 11.656-803 is ring composition sacrificed to a sort of logic. Toohey suggests that oral composition provides the key to most of these rhetorical phenomena (p. 156). Apollonius, however, although he lives in an age when rhetoric has been discovered and perfected, is remarkably sparing with extended direct speech, and Toohey identifies only five of thirty lines or longer which actually aim to persuade (p. 162). The four which Toohey selects[[6]] are all pleas and conform to a simple procedure: introduction, plea, and reference to a benefaction (p. 167). Toohey suggests that Apollonius approach to direct speech reflects an interiorisation for which the transition to literacy is partly responsible. It may also signal a deliberate effort to avoid giving clues as to the motivation of his characters (pp. 167-169). Victor Bers, `Tragedy and rhetoric' (pp. 176-195)

Bers treats the relationship between the `rhetorical' elements in fifth century tragedy and their analogues in contemporary courts and assemblies. He complains that all too often `a simple continuity' is assumed to exist between the two (p. 179), and suggests that the relationship is far looser (p. 183). He is wary (rightly, I think) of attempts to identify a reference to the technical aspects of rhetoric every time a word like tekmh/rion occurs in a tragic text. A broader and more inclusive definition of what is `rhetorical' in tragedy will yield a superior understanding of how Peithw/ is an essential element in the representation of ambiguity, and it is this very ambiguity which lends tragedy its appeal. As Bers remarks, rather astutely, no one is going to be particularly interested in a tragedy where `the "truth" or "better cause" could, on its own, win all characters' immediate assent' (p. 185). In this view, the dramatic representation of the operations of Peithw/ accounts for a great deal of the fascination of tragedy. Bers concludes with some brief remarks on the imitation and citation of tragic poetry in forensic speeches (pp. 189-191). Philip Harding, `Comedy and rhetoric' (pp. 196-221)

No one would deny that humour has an important place in oratory, and so Harding begins his essay with an exploration of the way in which the components of traditional poetic invective or loidori/a (aischrologi/a, diabolh/) are adapted by the comic poets of the fifth century to create fictitious caricatures. This adaptation is adopted by orators so that assertions which might be construed as damaging or slanderous were now perceived as humour, even in a serious speech (p. 201). This is followed by a survey of orators and how their use of invective was influenced by the practices of the comic stage: Gorgias (p. 202), Lysias (pp. 202-206), Isocrates (pp. 206-209), and Demosthenes (pp. 210-218)

Stephen Halliwell, `Philosophy and rhetoric' (pp. 222-243)

The polemic between philosophy and rhetoric, the struggle for ownership of speech or lo/gos, has a long history, and is the subject of Halliwell's essay. With great clarity, Halliwell investigates the stance of Plato and Aristotle within this debate. All too often, scholars concentrate on one or two passages from the Gorgias and Phaedrus, but Halliwell also includes information from the Euthydemus, a work which acknowledges an art of rhetoric but indicates that the ethical standing of the art can only be determined from a vantage- point which is external to the art itself (pp. 227- 228). Halliwell's analysis of the Gorgias and Phaedrus reveals that for Plato the issue at stake in the debate between philosophy and rhetoric is objective knowledge versus subjective relativism, general reality versus particular prejudice (p. 233). Whether we agree with Plato or not, Halliwell remarks, we are surely forced to consider more than the purely formal aspects of the art. Passing to Aristotle, Halliwell is cautious in his depiction of the relation between the Rhetoric and Plato's works, but notes that both share a key assumption: rhetoric is observed from the vantage-point of philosophy (p. 235). This is not to deny that there are striking differences: Aristotle recognises rhetoric as an art and therefore as a rational discipline with a social function, and even sees a connection between rhetoric and dialectic in that both argue on the basis of common beliefs. But Aristotle is well aware that it is not enough to treat the formal aspects of the art, and so he also offers treatment of the ethical and political implications of the issues which arise in political and forensic contexts. Thus Aristotle seems to fulfil Plato's requirements for a philosophically respectable rhetoric, if only up to a point. For Aristotle, rhetoric is sufficiently competent within `common discourse'(p. 239). The essay concludes with a brief discussion of ancient efforts to collapse the distinction between philosophy and rhetoric (pp. 240-241). Ian Worthington, `The canon of the ten Attic orators' (pp. 244-63)

This last essay resembles a `stocking-filler', but it serves to round off the collection quite nicely as it deals with the issue of the canon of texts from which so many of the previous essays illustrated their theses. Worthington admits that the essay is speculative (p. 245) and that there has been no additional evidence as such since Douglas' classic article on the subject.[[7]] However, some benefit is derived from Worthington's re-examination of the topic as he seeks to reconsider the nature and rationale of the canon, and also to reawaken interest in a phenomenon which deserves more attention than it has received.

Worthington feels that we shall never know what led the compiler to exclude some orators and speeches and to include others (p. 248). He argues against the view that it was compiled in the third or second century BC because it does not explain why the newer `Asianist' orators were omitted, and Cicero does not seem to show any acknowledgement of a pre-existing a canon of ten orators (p. 250-51). This points to a later date. Worthington reviews the evidence from Quintilian, especially the remark sequitur oratorum ingens manus, ut cum decem simul Athenis aetas una tulerit (10.1.76). In opposition to Douglas (pp. 34-36) who believed that the canon was only laid down in the second century A.D., Worthington maintains that aetas need not mean `generation' here but could mean `age' in a broader context. He translates `There follows a vast host of orators, since in the time of the age of the orator Athens produced the ten'. Readers can decide for themselves, after careful scrutiny of Worthington's arguments (pp. 252-254), whether this is the most natural or plausible reading of the Latin. This reviewer is not sure it is.

Still, if his interpretation is accepted, it means that the canon was a well established entity before Quintilian but after Cicero. This, of course, makes Caecilius of Calacte a prime suspect (who else?), and the one that Worthington thinks most likely. He explains the awkward fact of Dionysius' silence on the subject by speculating that Dionysius was reluctant `to pre-empt the other's [sc. Caecilius'] treatise, simply out of friendship' (p. 256). If Caecilius is responsible for the canon, Worthington argues, we then have some idea of the rationale which lay behind the selection. Caecilius would have been anti- `Asianist' in outlook, in keeping with the intellectual trends of Augustan Rome, and so it should come as no surprise that Dinarchus is included, because he is the last of the true `Attic' orators (p. 258).

The collection as a whole is coherent and well edited. I should have liked some discussion of rhetoric in the Hellenistic period but I realise that it was necessary to enforce some sort of chronolgical limit on the scope of the collection. Many of the essays, and the assumptions on which they are based, could provide quite useful material for discussion in seminars.


[[1]] Something of a commonplace in discussions of whether `persuasion' is the goal of rhetoric. See Quint. 2.15.9, Sext. Emp. Math. 2.4.

[[2]] Unpublished papers delivered at The First African Symposium on Rhetoric, University of Cape Town, July 1994.

[[3]] Published in TelQuel 32 (1968) 3-48 and 33 (1968) 18-58.

[[4]] J. Ober, `The nature of Athenian democracy', CPh 84 (1989) 322-24, and his Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens (Princeton 1989).

[[5]] Ian Worthington, `Greek oratory, revision of speeches and the problem of historical reliability', C&M 42 (1991) 55-74.

[[6]] 3.320-366, 975-1007, 4.355-390, 783-832.

[[7]] A.E. Douglas, `Cicero, Quintilian, and the canon of ten Attic orators', Mnem 9 (1956) 30-40.