Rhetoric (Greek ‘rhetor’ – Speaker of the Assembly)

Rhetoric is the art of using Lang for persuasion, in speaking or writing; especially in oratory.  The classical theoreticians codified rhetoric very thoroughly.  A knowledge and command of it was regarded as essential.

In his Poetics the Greek philosopher Aristotle defined poetry as a mode of imitation-a fictional representation in a verbal medium of human beings thinking, feeling, acting, and interacting – and focused his discussion on elements such as plot, character, thought, and diction within the work itself.  In his Rhetoric, on the other hand, Aristotle defined rhetorical discourse as the art of “discovering all the available means of persuasion in any given case,” and focused his discussion on the means and devices that an orator uses in order to achieve the intellectual and emotional effects on an audience that will persuade them to accede to the orator’s point of view.  Most of the later rhetoricians of the classical era concurred in the view that the concern of rhetoric is with the type of discourse whose chief aim is to persuade an audience to think and feel or act in a particular way.  In a broad sense, then rhetoric can be described as the study of language in its practical uses, focusing on the persuasive and other effects of language, and on the means by which one can achieve those effects on auditors or readers.

Together with theology and grammar, rhetoric remained the dominant textual discipline for almost 2000 years.  Since ancient Greco – Roman culture treasured public speech, rhetonic compiled a no: of rules and techniques for efficient composition and powerful oratory.

Following Aristotle’s lead, classified theorists analysed an effective rhetonial discourse.  The rules for oral and written composition were divided into 5.  It offered guidelines for every phase of textual processes in a logical order:

  1. Invention – the discovery of the relevant material. (Selection of themes).
  2. Arrangement – organization of material into sound structural form.
  3. Style – the consideration of the appropriate manner for the matter and the occasion (eg: the grand style, the middle & the low or plain)
  4. Memory – guidance on low to memorize speeches (Technique of remembering the speech).
  5. Delivery – this section is devoted to / elaborated the technique for actually making a speech (delivery of the speech).

Rhetoricians also discriminated three main classes of oratory, each of which uses characteristic devices to achieve its distinctive type of persuasive effect:

  1. Deliberative –to persuade an audience (such as a legislative assembly) to approve or disapprove of a matter of public policy, and to act accordingly.
  2. Forensic – to achieve (for example, in a judicial trial) either the condemnation or approval of some person’s actions.
  3. Epideictic – “display rhetoric”, used on appropriate, usually ceremonial, occasions to enlarge upon the praiseworthiness (or sometimes, the blameworthiness) of a person or group of persons, and in so doing, to display the orator’s own talents and skill in rising to the rhetorical demands of the occasion. Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” is a famed instance of epideictic oratory. In America, it remains traditional for a chosen speaker to meet the challenge of the Fourth of July or other dates of national significance by appropriately ceremonious oratory.  The ode is a poetic form often used for epideictic purposes.

In addition to traditional editorial problems, today’s text-oriented schools focus primarily on aspects of form (textual & narrative structure, point of view, plot-patterns) and style (rhetorical figures, choice of words or diction, syntax, meter).  Altho’ rhetoric was mainly concerned with teaching effectively how to influence the masses, it soon developed – as did the interpretation of holy and legal texts – into a theoretical academic discipline.  In its attempt to classify systematically and investigate elements of human speech, rhetoric laid the foundation for current linguistics and history criticism.

Despite its prescriptive and practical inclination, rhetoric also introduced descriptive and analytical elements into textual studies.  Even in its earliest phases, rhetoric analysed concrete textual samples in order to delineate rules for the composition of a ‘perfect’ text.  In these theoretical investigations into textuality, structural and stylistic features – above all arrangement and style – eventually, surfaced as the most dominant areas of inquiry.  Today’s text-oriented literary criticism derives many of its fields from traditional rhetoric and still draws on its terminology.

Since the late 1950s, however, there has been a strong revival of interest in literature as a mode of communication from author to reader, and this has led to the development of a rhetorical criticism which, without departing from a primary focus on the literary work itself, undertakes to identify and analyze those elements within a poem or a prose narrative which are there primarily in order to effect certain responses in a reader.  As Wayne Booth said in the preface to his influential book The Rhetoric of Fiction (rev. 1983), his subject is “the rhetorical resources available to the writer of epic, novel, or short story as he tries, consciously or unconsciously, to impose his fictional world upon the reader.”

Since the 1960s there has also emerged a reader-response criticism which focuses upon a reader’s interpretive responses to the sequence of words in a literary text; most of its representatives, however, either ignore or reject the rhetorical view that such responses are effected by devices that, for the most part, are contrived for that purpose by the author.


An older term for the scientific study of the constitution and history of lang was philology.  Philology also includes the study.  More particularly now the scientific study of lang and linguistics of texts and their history.  It includes elements of textual criticism, trying to reconstruct an author’s original text based on variant copies of manuscripts.  This branch of research arose in Biblical studies and has a long tradition, dating back to Reformation Scholars have tried to reconstruct the original readings of the Bible from the manuscript variants.  This method was then applied to classical studies and to medieval texts as a way to reconstruct the author’s original work.

Thro’ the (19th, philology was mainly ‘comparative’.  (the analysis of similarities and differences within a fly of related langs) and “histerological” (the analysis of the evolution of a fly of langs, or of changes within a part: lang, over a long course of time).

As an empirical, fact-based study of lang, philology has often appealed to students of lit who seek to ground their enterprise on hard evidence, rather than what they consider to be subjective responses and judgments.  Several influential critics, including Paul de Man, Edward Said, and the medievalist Lee Patterson, in articles called a Return to Philology” argued that literary criticism needed to recover the discipline and rigor of traditional linguistic studies.  Such calls for what is often turned a ‘new philology’ have been especially strong in disciplines such as classics and medieval studies, where textual criticism has always been a central concern.  In these latter studies, the phrase “new philology” designates a movement to re orient philological study away from its traditional focus on establishing an authoritative text, to a concern with the effect on the reader of the material and verbal particularizes of each manuscript.  The movement known as “New Philology’ has rejected textual, criticism because it injects editorial interpretations into the text and destroys the integrity of the individual manuscript, hence damaging the reliability of the data.  Supporters of New Philology insist on a strict ‘diplomatic’ approach: a faithful rendering of the text exactly as found in the manuscript, without emendations (ie. Removing errors, before printing).




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