ENGL607 - Readings in the History of Rhetorical Theory to 1900

This course will introduce you to what we think of as the foundational texts of rhetoric as a discipline, i.e., those texts from Greek and Roman antiquity – as well as their creative appropriation in Middle Ages and Renaissance – which claim to define the nature, function, goals, substance, tools, and teaching of rhetoric. We will begin with the accounts of the Older Sophists about the civilizing power of the spoken word, then move on to Plato and Isocrates’ conflicting ideas about the character and goals of rhetoric. Isocrates’ views and pedagogical attitudes toward rhetoric will lead us to Aristotle’s attempt to “correct” the shortcomings of his predecessors, define rhetoric as a discipline, and build a comprehensive philosophy of its substance and methods.

Moving into the Roman imperial and early medieval period, we will discuss the transformations and modifications of the traditions of classical Greek rhetoric in selected texts by Cicero, the author of the Ad Herennium, Hermogenes and Pseudo-Hermogenes, and especially as a continuation of the pedagogical tradition of Isocrates, which aimed at producing a “good person speaking well,” i.e., a person deliberating publicly on a number of ethical, civic, and philosophical issues and expressing them cogently and forcefully.

With Augustine, Boethius, John of Sicily, Michael Psellos, Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Ramus, and Erasmus we will explore the medieval and Renaissance response to ancient theory and practice, as well as the subsequent shift in epistemology, exemplified by a “divorce” between rhetoric and dialectic in the west as well as a heightened attention to style and figurality.

Finally, with Vico and Blair we will look at the Enlightenment appropriation of the classical rhetorical tradition and transformation into an epistemic philosophy, which anticipate modern rhetorical theory.

One of the premises behind the course is to look at the history of rhetoric as a history not only of rhetorical theory but also of pedagogical goals and attitudes. I have also tried to give you a somewhat comprehensive overview of ancient, late antique, and medieval rhetorical theory, designed to serve you in your own teaching practice. And finally, our journey through the texts will touch upon some of the scholarly controversies and research that informs our readings.



Robin Waterfield, tr. Plato: Phaedrus (Oxford: 2002), ISBN 0-19-280277-1

George Norlin, tr. Isocrates, vol. 2 (Harvard: 1992 (Loeb Classical Library)), ISBN 0-674-99252-0

George Kennedy, tr. Aristotle on Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse, 2nd ed. (Oxford: 2006), ISBN 978-0-19-530509-8

H. M. Hubbell, tr. Cicero: On Invention; Best Kind of Orator; Topics (Harvard: 1949), ISBN 0-674-99425-6

Quintilian, Institutio oratoriae (online source, available at http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Quintilian/Institutio_Oratoria/home.html)

Malcolm Heath, ed. Hermogenes on Issues, translation and commentary (Oxford: 1995), ISBN 978-0198149828

Boethius, De topicis differentiis, with translation and commentary by Eleonor Stump (Cornell: 2004), ISBN 978-0801489334

Margaret Nims, tr. Poetria Nova of Geoffrey of Vinsauf (Toronto: 1967), ISBN 0-88844-255-6

D. King, tr. Erasmus: On Copia of Words and Ideas (Marquette UP, 2007), ISBN 0-87462-212-3  R. P. H. Green, tr. Augustine: On Christian Teaching (Oxford: 2008); ISBN 978-0-1-9954063-1. Otherwise, please use the online resource at http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/augustine/ddc.html or http://www.ccel.org/a/augustine/doctrine/

Giambattista Vico, Institutiones oratoriae, tr. Pinton, G. and Shippee, A. (Amsterdam: 1984), ISBN 978-9051839159

Hugh Blair, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, ed. Ferreira-Buckley and Halloran (2010), ISBN 978-1147451313

Selected texts by Pseudo-Hermogenes, Dio Chrysostom, Aelius Aristides, John of Sicily,  Psellos, and Ramus, as well as secondary literature on ELMS.