Early Music and Historically Informed Performance Practice

The Nature of Rhetoric



Classical Rhetoric 101.

Primary Rhetoric (Functional Rhetoric) — the art of persuasion — aims to produce emotion and is the core of a communication. This is the main concern of the Performer as Orator.

Secondary Rhetoric (Decorative Rhetoric) — the art of speaking or writing well — aims to produce admiration and is concerned with the surface of a communication.

The Precepts of Rhetoric deal with:

  • Invention;
  • Arrangment;
  • Styel or Expression;
  • Memory; and
  • Delivery (Performance).

This is a draft of Chapter 2 from The Performer as Orator: Rhetoric and Historically Informed Performance by Greg Dikmans.

In every discussion, my dear boy, there is one and only one way of beginning if one is to come to a sound conclusion; that is to know what it is that one is discussing; otherwise one is bound entirely to miss the mark.

Now most people are unaware that they are ignorant of the essential nature of their subject, whatever it may be. Believing that they know it, they do not begin their discussion by agreeing about use of terms, with the natural result that as they proceed they fall into self-contradictions and misunderstandings.

— Plato (427–347 BC): Phaedrus

In no subject does Socrates’ injunction to Phaedrus need more to be followed than in the subject of rhetoric itself. Studies in ‘musical rhetoric’, in particular, often use the term ‘rhetoric’ loosely or narrowly (by focusing on its technical aspects) and without a full knowledge of its essential nature. As Brian Vickers has noted in the preface to his In Defence of Rhetoric, ‘[s]ome people are aware of the importance of rhetoric, but have never bothered to find out how it works, and are content to let someone else do it for them’ (Vickers: vii).

Socrates also tells us that for a speech or a piece of writing to be ‘scientific’ the orator or author ‘must be able to define [the subject] generically, and having defined it to divide it into its various specific kinds until he reaches the limit of divisibility’ (Plato 2: 100). Let us therefore begin with some definitions followed by various divisions of the subject (1).

We first need to define the distinction between the two terms ‘rhetoric’ and ‘oratory’. In general usage they are virtually synonymous. However, a distinction can be made: rhetoric is taken to denote the theoretical art of speaking, and oratory is its practical application. A rhetor was originally, at Athens, a public speaker in the ecclesia (2), what we would call a politician. Later, at Athens and Rome, a rhetor was a teacher of public speaking, a rhetorician; rhetoric was the art they taught.

Rhetoric: generic definitions

Initially it is instructive to examine briefly the definitions of ‘rhetoric’ in a general reference such as The Macquarie Dictionary (3rd edition). It gives five definitions:

  1. the art of all specifically literary uses of language in prose or verse, including the figures of speech;
  2. the art of prose in general as opposed to to verse;
  3. the use of exaggeration or display in speech or writing;
  4. (originally) the art of oratory; and
  5. (in classical oratory) the art of influencing the thinking of one’s audience.

The three definitions it gives of ‘rhetorical’ are also worth noting:

  1. belonging to or concerned with mere style or effect;
  2. having the nature of rhetoric; and
  3. over-elaborate, bombastic in style.

Several of these definitions reflect a negative view of rhetoric that is commonly held today, a view that has been addressed by a number of writers on rhetoric in recent times: for example, Vickers states that the goal of his In Defence of Rhetoric is ‘to remove the misapprehensions and prejudices that still affect our appreciation of rhetoric’ (Vickers: vii).

The definitions pertinent to this study are that in the past (originally) the term ‘rhetoric’ denoted the art of oratory, the art of influencing the thinking of one’s audience, and that something is ‘rhetorical’ if it displays or has the nature of rhetoric, that is, if its intention is to influence the thinking of one’s audience. A point that will be elaborated later and that features even in these general definitions, is the inclusion of the ‘audience’.

To narrow our focus somewhat, we can consult a more specialised reference such as The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, which defines rhetoric as the theoretical art of speaking so as to persuade, and notes that it is oratory reduced to a system which can be taught. This introduces another point to be elaborated later: the place of rhetoric in (Greco-Roman and later) education.

Rhetoric is a form of communication with a purpose, and that purpose is usually described as persuasion, the desire to affect the thought, actions or emotions of an audience (3).

Indeed, almost all communication is rhetorical to varying degrees (4).

A modern view, which is consistent with notions of rhetoric held by classical rhetoricians and orators such as Isocrates, Cicero and Quintilian, is that the genus of rhetoric includes dialectic, philosophy, religion, literature, history, economics and even science (Kennedy 3: 284).

Music can also be seen as a species of rhetoric. It is a commonplace of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century music treatises that the musician (composer and performer) should be like an orator. For the musician, theorist and connoisseur of the seventeenth and much of the eighteenth centuries, for example, music’s primary function (and its source of pleasure) was to move the affections of the listeners (that is, affect their emotions of) and so captivate them (Gordon-Seifert: 374-75).

‘Traditional’ or ‘natural’ rhetoric

Rhetoric occurs in all societies and cultures, past and present. In some it is used consciously but has not been conceptualised, in others there are varying degrees of conceptualisation. George Kennedy calls this ‘traditional’ or ‘natural’ rhetoric (5). Rhetoricans have done little work on traditional rhetoric in non-Western cultures today, though anthropologists could provide an account of the subject from the large amount of information collected in the many studies of social or political structures and functions in various societies which form part of their discipline (Kennedy 1: 6-7).

A highly conceptualised rhetoric is one where it has become a ‘separate discipline with a fully developed theory, its own logical structure, and a corpus of pragmatic handbooks’ (Kennedy 1: 7). This type of rhetoric appears to have evolved only in the West, in the classical Greek and Roman world, where it first appeared in the fifth and fourth centuries BC alongside other forms of conceptualisation, such as philosophy, grammar, logic and poetics (Kennedy 1: 7).

The conceptualisation of rhetoric

A theory of rhetoric (or metarhetoric) may be induced or deduced. We have already noted that anthropologists could induce a theory of rhetoric as found in a particular society by systematically and objectively describing its traditional practice (6). A deductive theory of rhetoric is one based on certain principles or concepts which form the basis of a logical system of rules. It is therefore highly conceptualised, using principles from another system of rhetoric or derived from philosophical or psychological assumptions (Kennedy 1: 8).

Some classical writers on rhetoric (Plato, for example) believed that it was originally induced from trial-and-error experiment (7). However, it is clear to us that classical rhetoric was in fact deduced. Corax and Tisias, traditionally described as the ‘inventors’ of rhetoric, and certain Greek sophists based their oratory on the concept or principle of argument from probability, which then became the basis of a detailed and systematic theory. It was this underlying principle that later critics of rhetoric attacked.


Kennedy has proposed the following general definition:

[Classical rhetoric] is that theory of discourse developed by the Greeks and Romans of the classical period, applied in both oratory and in literary genres, and taught in schools in antiquity, in the Greek and western Middle Ages, and throughout the Renaissance and early modern period (8).

This definition is clear in as far as it goes and Kennedy notes that problems do arise when we try to define the characteristic contents of such a theory (9). Indeed, the whole of his Classical Rhetoric is ‘an attempt to define classical rhetoric and its tradition by examining the various strands of thought which are woven together in different ways in different times’ (Kennedy 1: 3).

Before discussing these ‘strands’ in more detail, there are some further fundamental concepts relating to classical rhetoric that must be addressed. These are the opposing concepts of ‘primary’ or ‘functional’ rhetoric and ‘secondary’ or ‘decorative’ rhetoric (10).

Primary or functional rhetoric

Because classical rhetoric is ultimately based on the concept of argument from probability, it is primarily concerned with persuasion (what the French of the neoclassical period called l’art de persuader), an end outside itself. It is primarily oral: it is discourse, and, as such, there is no text. Oratory, the practical application of rhetoric, is the ‘speech act’, which occurs on a specific occasion to a specific audience. The context is thus usually civic.

The primary function of rhetoric is the production of emotion. The orator attempts to move and convince the audience by presenting relevant arguments, but more importantly, by appealing to their emotions. This is a fundamental fact of classical rhetoric throughout its history: in the Greek and Roman periods, in the early Middle Ages, in its revival in renaissance Italy and in the neoclassical period of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in France, England and America (Kennedy 1: 4-5 and France: 24-25).

Primary or functional rhetoric is natural, direct and simple, and conceals the presence of an author. These characteristics in combination with the appeal to the emotions suggest a close link of functional rhetoric with what the seventeenth century knew as the sublime (11).

Secondary or decorative rhetoric

Rhetoric is secondary or decorative when used as an end in itself, something set up for our admiration or pleasure. Persuasion is no longer the primary goal, the focus is shifted to narration (what the French of the neoclassical period called l’art de bien dire). The speech act is no longer central, being replaced by a text that can be read (and admired) on any occasion by any audience.

Secondary rhetoric is a shift from discourse to literature (including poetry) and the context is no longer civic but personal. Secondary rhetoric embraces all the techniques and devices of rhetoric when they are used decoratively: for example, the commonplaces, figures of speech and thought, and tropes when used in elaborate writing.

Secondary rhetoric is used to produce the varying patterns of emphasis on the surface of a communication (an important and rhetorically significant function), thus maintaining the interest of the audience and helping to highlight the important points of the communication.

Literature, art and music can all be decorated with secondary rhetoric, and, when used excessively, this may be seen as a mannerism of the historical period in which it is produced.

Secondary or decorative rhetoric is artificial, indirect and ostentatious, and reveals the presence of an author. Indeed, it allows the author to demonstrate his education, eloquence or skill and make him acceptable to an audience.

Secondary rhetoric can be the death of rhetoric in its original sense (the art of persuasion) and is what many people today understand rhetoric to be (that is, insincere or exaggerated speaking or writing designed to impress). It is what critics throughout history have attacked as ‘false’ rhetoric (Kennedy 1: 5 and France: 24) (12).

Table 2.1 summarises the preceding discussion in the form of two opposing poles or extremes. It should be remembered, however, that such a dichotomy is artifical and that good rhetoric (like good taste) will have a mixture of the two (13).

Table 2.1: Primary and Secondary Rhetoric
Primary rhetoricSecondary rhetoric
L’art de persuaderL’art de bien dire
Concerned with persuasion
(an end outside itself: to overpower the audience)
Concerned with narration
(an end in itself: to speak or write well or agreeably)
Aims to produce emotion:
to move or to convince
Aims to produce admiration:
to please or to impress
Oral discourse:
the speech act
Written discourse:
literature and poetry
Civic contextPersonal context
The core of a communicationThe surface of a communication
(patterns of emphasis)
Natural, direct and simple
Artificial, indirect and ostentatious
Conceals the authorReveals the author
(education, eloquence and skill)

Letteraturizzazione: the move from primary to secondary rhetoric

Kennedy calls the tendency of rhetoric to move from primary to secondary forms letteraturizzazione (‘literaturisation’) and states that it is a persistent characteristic of classical rhetoric in almost all phases of its history (Kennedy 1: 5). It is important to note that Kennedy does not consider the letteraturizzazione of rhetoric a characteristic of the seventeenth century. In seventeenth-century France, for example, the move towards neoclassicism can be seen as a move back to an emphasis on primary rhetoric in reaction to late renaissance mannerism.

There are two reasons for the phenomenon of letteraturizzazione. The main reason is the place of rhetoric in education, where the emphasis was on teaching the more accessible technical aspects of rhetoric (the parts of a speech, commomplaces, figures, tropes and so forth) to children by rote (14). The other reason is the lack of practical opportunities in certain periods, usually because of the political situation, to use primary rhetoric in its civic context. Letteraturizzazione is not a characteristic of the neoclassical period (seventeenth century) because public speaking re-emerged as a major force in church and state (Kennedy 1: 5).

The three strands of classical rhetoric

The metaphor of three strands of thought provides a useful means for describing and classifying the main features of classical rhetoric and hence its nature. It will also be useful in then understanding how rhetoric can be and was applied to other arts such as music. The strands can be treated under the following headings:

  • technical rhetoric,
  • sophistic rhetoric,
  • philosophical rhetoric.

Each strand places emphasis on different aspects of rhetoric and they can to some extent be related to the three factors or elements in the speech situation:

  • the speech itself,
  • the speaker,
  • the audience;

and the three species of rhetorical speech:

  • judicial,
  • epideictic,
  • deliberative,

first identified by Aristotle.

By the end of antiquity classical rhetoric was a standard body of knowledge, which, once fully developed, remained essentially unaltered. It was, however, constantly revised and adapted, and often made more detailed. Each strand made its distinctive contribution to this development and at different stages more, or less, emphasis was placed on each strand.


The insights (or ‘rules’) of classical rhetoric were deduced from the concept or principle of argument from probability by the Greeks in the fifth and fourth centuries BC and later developed by the Romans. Peter France notes that ‘[t]he aim of rhetoric is to make persuasion easier by providing a body of time-honoured rules; these rules are not arbitrary but a codification of ‘nature’, of the natural means of persuasion’ (France: 16).

In its fully developed form (as in the works of Cicero and Quintilian), the theory of classical rhetoric was divided into five parts that taught how to plan and deliver a speech:

  1. Invention (Gk. heuresis, Lat. inventio)
  2. Arrangement (Gk. taxis, Lat. dispositio)
  3. Style or Expression (Gk. lexis, Lat. elocutio)
    [Vickers calls this ‘expressivity’]
  4. Memory
  5. Delivery (Lat. pronunciatio or actio)

1. Invention: what to say

There are two tasks involved in invention:

  1. to identify the question(s) to be answered (in Latin called the stasis of the speech), and
  2. to identify the available means of persuasion (Aristotle uses the term pisteis).

[For the application of stasis to music see Daniel Harrison, ‘Rhetoric and fugue: an analytical application’, Music Theory Spectrum 12.1 (1990): 1-42. This is one of the only accounts in the musical literature to deal with music and rhetoric using the approach argued in this thesis—it is concerned with analysis rather than performance practice.]

Aristotle divided the means of persuasion into two types: non-artistic or extrinsic and artistic or intrinsic. This division, and the subdivisions to be described below, became a standard part of classical rhetoric.

Non-artistic means of persuasion

These are those means dictated by circumstance. Because they pre-exist, they are not created by orators but are exploited by them. They include laws, witnesses, contracts, evidence of slaves and oaths.

Artistic means of persuasion

These are those means created by orators and are divided into three types or species:

  1. Logos (logical argument) comprises the modes (or tools) of persuasion by real or apparent demonstration. They are different from the strict, logical and detailed reasoning of dialectic (non-specialist audiences—non-philosophers—were considered unable to follow such reasoning), but involve informal reasoning that is more easily understood. The modes of logical persuasion include the example, the maxim and the enthymeme (the syllogism of probability).
  2. Ethos (the speaker’s character) deals with the way speakers (or writers) present themselves, apparently unintentionally, as good and trustworthy people who are consequently more likely to be believed.
  3. Pathos (the emotion a speaker can awaken in the souls of the audience) deals with persuasion derived from appeals to the emotions of the audience.

Peter France, in discussing rhetoric in seventeenth-century France, offers an apt summary of the use of pathos:

A knowledge of the passions as they are described in Aristotelian or Cartesian psychology is useful in two ways; first, to enable the orator to describe passions in the course of his narration, and secondly, to arouse the passions of his audience, so as to sway them in his favour. This is done largely by displaying or simulating these passions oneself, and this in turn depends on the figures which are described in the third section, elocutio [my emphasis] (France: 17).

[See Geminani’s discussion of the passions that can be aroused by various ornaments (‘figures’) and the different ways they can be expressed (performed) in An Introduction to Good Taste in Musicke].

Because orators use informal reasoning, many of their proofs (arguments) will be based on ‘topics’ (Gk. topoi, Lat. loci) (15), in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France called the lieux communes or lieux oratoires. These are general arguments or lines of reasoning applicable to all subjects that the orator can adapt to the question at issue and then amplify. They include ethical and political premises that can be used in enthymemes, logical strategies (such as arguing from cause to effect) and techniques of amplification (such as by division and definition). Some topics can be used to gain the trust or the interest of an audience.

[See George J. Buelow, ‘The Loci Topici and Affect in late baroque Music—Heinichen’s practical Demonstration’, Music Review 27 (1966): 161-176; and Daniel Harrison’s article (mentioned above).]

2. Arrangement: how to organise what you say

Arrangement deals with how to arrange one’s material in a logical, and therefore easily comprehensible and persuasive, order. It teaches how to organise a speech into parts and sometimes also deals with the ordering of the arguments themselves.

There are four basic divisions (some treatises / handbooks / rhetoricians give more subdivisions, e.g. subdividing the proof), each of which has its own function and characteristics (style). The four part division was usually associated with judicial oratory.

[See Patricia Ranum’s work on this with regard to French airs:
(1) Patricia M. Ranum, ‘Do French dance songs obey the rules of rhetoric?’, Fluting and Dancing, Articles and Reminiscences for Betty Bang Mather, ed. David Lasocki, (New York: McGinnis & Marx, 1992): 104-130;
(2) Patricia Ranum, ‘Audible rhetoric and mute rhetoric: the 17th-century French sarabande’, Early Music 14.1 (1986): 22-39;
(3) Patricia M. Ranum, ‘Les «caractères» des danses françaises’, Recherches sur la Musique française classique 23 (1985): 45-70; and
(4) Patricia M. Ranum, ‘Tu-Ru-Tu and Tu-Ru-Tu-Tu: Toward an Understanding of Hotteterre’s Tonguing Syllables’, The Recorder in the Seventeenth Century, ed. David Lasocki, (Utrecht: STIMU, 1995): 217-254.]

(1) Introduction

(Gk. prooimion, Lat. exordium). The subject of the speech is outlined in the introduction. The aim is to capture the interest and goodwill of the audience. [See Aristotle’s reference comparing the introduction to the preludes played by aulos players in the Rhetoric]. It should therefore not be too vehement. The ethos of the orator is also displayed in the introduction.

(2) Narration

(Gk. diegesis, Lat. narratio). The facts of a case and the background details are presented in the narration of a speech. It should be clear, brief and persuasive.

(3) Proof

(Gk. pistis, Lat. probartio). In the proof the orator presents the logical arguments in support of speaker’s position and also attempts to refute possible counter-arguments.

(4) Conclusion / Peroration

(Gk. epilogos, Lat. peroratio). The summing up, often divided into a recapitulation and emotional appeal to the audience. As opposed to the introduction,

the peroration should be passionate, sublime and full of bold figures, for here the orator, having set out the facts of the case as he wishes it to be seen, must try to sway his audience by appealing to their passions (France: 18).

3. Style: how to say it (good expression or expressivity)

Style deals with how to cast the speech in words (called diction) and sentences (called composition) appropriate to the occasion and the material (ideas and arguments) to be used. In doing this, orators were taught to understand and exploit periodic structure, prose rhythm and the figures of speech. Kennedy notes that

[i]t is characteristic of classical rhetoric to regard style as a deliberate process of casting subject into language; the same ideas can be expressed in different words with different effect’ (Kennedy 3: 5).

The section devoted to style in treatises/handbooks often also included precepts on the purity of language (grammar and usage), a description of the tropes, figures of speech and figures of thought (figures of passion), and remarks on the three styles that correspond to the three duties of the orator.

France notes that the general aim of style is to enable the orator ‘to speak correctly and agreeably, since rhetoric is, according to one definition, l’art de bien dire’ (France: 18). [See Cicero? and Quintilian: bene dicendi]. By speaking correctly and agreeably, the orator is more likely to move the audience (overpower their resistance). [See the discussion of secondary rhetoric, which relates directly to style.]

The four ‘virtues’ of style

(Gk. aretai). Theophrastus (a pupil of Aristotle) was the first to define what he conceived as the four virtues of style. Discussions of style in later treatises/handbooks were usually organised around these virtues:

  1. correctness (of grammar and usage)
  2. clarity (of expression)
  3. ornamentation: including
    • (i) tropes (substitutions of one word for another, such as the metaphor),
    • (ii) figures of speech (changes in the sound or arrangement of a sequence of words, such as anaphora or asyndeton), and
    • (iii) figures of thought (in which a statement is recast to stress it or achieve audience contact, as in the rhetorical question)
  4. propriety (appropriateness)

[The four virtures correspond almost exactly to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French notions of good taste; see also Quantz (who was influenced by French thought).]

The three styles and the three duties of the orator

Three different types or characters of style were generally recognised (some sources give four). They correspond to the three duties of the orator [see Cicero and Quintilian].

Table 2.2: The Styles and Duties of the Orator
1. plain / simple to instruct / educate
2. middle / mediocre to please
3. grand / sublime to move

4. Memory

Once a speech was prepared, its main points and their order had to be memorised before it could be delivered. A mnemonic system of backgrounds and images was developed for this purpose [see Quintilian].

5. Delivery

Delivery deals with (1) control of the voice (volume, pitch etc) and (2) gesture (control of eyes and limbs, posture). The best discussion is in Quintilian.

Voice and gesture should be appropriate to the style (grand, middle or plain).

[In music it is therefore important for the performer to correctly identify the style of the composition.]

There is a story (in Cicero/Quintilian) about the famous Greek orator Demosthenes, who, when asked what is the most important thing in oratory, replied: “First is delivery, second is delivery and third is delivery.”

[Most of Quantz, C.P.E Bach and L. Mozart are about delivery.]

[See Gordon-Seifert’s call for more work in this area:
Gordon-Seifert, Catherine Elizabeth. The Language of Music in France: Rhetoric as a Basis for Expression in Michel Lambert’s Les airs de Monsieur Lambert (1669) and Benigne de Bacilly’s Les trois livres d’airs (1668). Diss. Uni. of Michigan, 1994. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1994. 9423190.]


Main Greek sources

SOPHISTS (Corax & Teisias) & TECHINICAL HANDBOOKS (5th century BC)

  • Emphasis on teaching technique necessary for winning over an audience
  • Nothing extant — references to handbooks in other sources (Plato and Aristotle)
  • Technical Rhetoric

GORGIAS of Leontini (c483-c385 BC)

  • Some speeches (fragments) extant
  • References and descriptions in other sources (Plato)
  • Most influential of the sophists — teaching of rhetoric based less on systematic treatment of subject matter and more on style
  • Gorgianic style — mannered, poetic + effective expression
  • Sophistic Rhetoric

SOCRATES (469-399 BC)

  • Nothing extant — see Plato’s dialogues

ISOCRATES (436-338 BC)

  • Student of Gorgias, Teisias + others (Prodicus, Theramenes)
  • Some speeches extant
  • Established school c392 BC that focused on the overall breadth of education of the orator:
    • emphasis on MORALS
    • method = effort and hardwork by pupils
  • Used rhetoric (rhetorical prose) to produce LITERARY WORKS OF ART
  • Sophistic Rhetoric — Emphasis on literary style
    • long, flowing sentences
    • complex, highly wrought periods (CLARITY sacrificed to FORM)
    • avoidance of hiatus + dissonance
    • ATTIC PROSE at its most elaborate
  • Very influential on literature (because of popularity of his school) until the time of Cicero

PLATO (427-347 BC)

  • Attacked Sophists — first to highlight the tension/opposition between RHETORIC (aims to persuade) and PHILOSOPHY (aims to know the truth)
  • GORGIAS (2nd period)
    • Rhetoric = the knack of persuasive speech
    • Allows the possibility of Philosophical Rhetoric
    • Rhetoric should have as its foundation a knowledge of the truth, which can only be obtained by those passionate in its pursuit
    • Arrangement — a speech has two parts / structure should be organic
    • Spoken word superior to written word (because it cannot defend itself and can therefore lead to misunderstanding)

ARISTOTLE (384-322 BC)

    • Practical aim = how to compose a good speech (Rhetoric is morally neutral = a tool, a counterpart to dialectic)
    • 3 kinds of rhetoric = JUDICIAL, DELIBERATIVE, EPIDEICTIC (prob. first to propose this division) each with own style
    • 3 factors in speech situation = SPEECH, SPEAKER, AUDIENCE
    • Means of pursuasion = LOGOS, ETHOS, PATHOS
    • Style = main characteristics: CLEARNESS + APPROPRIATENESS
    • Arrangement = 4 parts
    • Delivery = points to need for work on this
    • Philosophical Rhetoric

Other Greek sources

DEMETRIUS (3) (? 1st cent. BC)

    • Style (character) = treated under 4 headings: PLAIN, GRAND, ELEGANT + FORCEFUL (3 is more usual – see Cicero Orator)
    • Style in letter writing = a literary genre usually ignored by other ancient critics
    • Literary Criticism


  • Lived in Rome for many years from 30 BC
    • only surviving ancient work on word order + euphony
    • Literary Criticism

[psuedo-] LONGINUS (prob. 1st cent. BC)

  • Second Sophistic
    • Written as a criticism of Caecilius of Calacte (1st cent. BC) because of the inadequate account of SUBLIMITY and failure in particular to attach sufficient importance on the EMOTIONAL ELEMENT of THE SUBLIME
    • Subject = what constitutes sublimity in literature
    • Identifies 5 constituents of sublimity:
    • (1) elevated thought
    • (2) strong emotion
    • (3) certain kinds of figures of speech and thought
    • (4) nobility of diction (word choice)
    • (5) composition (word-order, rhythm, euphony)
    • discusses the part played by IMAGINATION and various figures of speech in creating sublimity
    • faults to be avoided = turgidity, peurility, false emotion, frigidity
    • includes a wealth of quotations from earlier Greek sources (incl. Plato)
    • ‘This is a critical work of great importance; the writer is able to transcend the rhetorical tradition within which he worked and contribute to our understanding of true literary greatness.’ [Oxf. Companion to Classical Lit.]
  • Literary Criticism

Main Roman sources


    • 4 Books (modelled on Greek oratory)
    • 5 parts of rhetoric:
    • (1) invention
    • (2) style (diction) — oldest surviving treatment in Latin
    • (3) arrangement
    • (4) memory
    • (5) delivery

CICERO (106-43 BC)

  • DE INVENTIONE (c.84 BC) [On Invention]
    • early work — based on notes of Greek teacher (?)
    • deals with invention and arrangement
      - how to choose subject matter
      - how to arrange subject matter
      - division of speech into sections
      - kinds of treatment appropriate to each section
  • DE ORATORE (55 BC) [On the Orator]
    • 3 books set as dialogues
    • Bk 1 — Crassus discusses the qualification of a good orator = wide knowledge of sciences + philosophy + esp. civil law — Antonius disagrees because this is unattainable; the only requirement is the faculty of pleasing and persuading without special knowledge [= old debate – see Plato]
    • Bk 2 — Antonius discusses methods of conciliating, instructing and persuading judges — Caesar discusses the use of wit and humour
    • Bk 3 — Crassus discusses style, ornamentation and delivery
  • ORATOR (46 BC)
    • describes the ideal orator and outlines a scheme for his education
    • a good orator must master 3 styles: PLAIN, GRAND & MIDDLE — Demosthenes, Cicero’s famous Greek exemplar, was uniquely eminent in all 3
    • discusses the orator’s technical qualifications = INVENTION, ELOCUTION & STYLE
    • discusses the orator’s 3 functions/duties = to TEACH, to PLEASE, to PERSUADE [MOVE]
    • discusses the branches of knowledge to master = incl. PHILOSOPHY + PHYSICS
    • discusses euphony and rhythm (how they are persuasive)
  • BRUTUS (De claris oratoribus) (46 BC)
    • aimed to defend Cicero’s own oratorical practice
    • discusses 3 schools of oratory = ATTIC (plain e.g. Lysias), ASIANIC and RHODIAN
    • reviews past orators
  • DE OPTIMO GENERE ORATORUM [On the best kinds of orators]
    • an introduction to translations of Greek orations = De corona (Demosthenes) and Against Ctesiphon (Aeschines)


  • INSTITUTIO ORATORIA (c.AD 95) [Education of the Orator]
    • 12 books
    • discusses the education of the orator from birth to death
    • Bk 1 — early education etc.
    • Bk 2 — boy’s entry to school of rhetoric – general method and aim of a training in rhetoric – qualifications of a good teacher – need for moral character and wide knowledge
    • Bks 3–7 — technicalities:
      3 kinds of oratory: judicial, deliberative, epideictic
      parts of a speech: intro, narration etc
    • Bk 8-11 — style and delivery
      – Bk 10: famous discussion of suitable Greek and Roman authors to study with Q’s discussion of them
    • Bk 12 — summary of Q’s view of the ideal orator = not just a speaker, but a man of highest character, properly trained in morals and in taste; in the words of Cato: vir bonus dicendi pertius (‘a good man who knows how to speak’)

Other Roman sources

TACITUS (AD 56/57–after AD 117)

  • DIALOGUS DE ORATORIBUS (cAD 102) [Dialogue on Orators]
    • discusses the claims of oratory against other branches of literature and the reasons for its decline since Cicero (because of changed conditions in public life)