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Lecture: Aristotle and Rhetoric

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1Lecture: Aristotle and RhetoricMonday, September 24, 20012:55 - 4:20Aristotle is still a presence in anydiscussion of Rhetoric as an art after 2300years. Aristotle is still a presence in manyfields – ethics, politics, literary criticism,metaphysics, psychology, logic, even biologyand physics, but what you may learn today isthat you should be surprised that Aristotlelooms so large in the field of Rhetoric. Thereis said to be an ancient quarrel betweenphilosophy and rhetoric. Certainly, Plato andSocrates, the first philosophers, are accountedpeople who saw no good in Rhetoric. ButAristotle was Plato’s foremost pupil, and atthe same time also the author of an analyticalhandbook on Rhetoric that is still a marveland treasure chest today. That handbook,which I will refer to as The Art of Rhetoric,was the earliest detailed treatise to gather and2explain what, still today in the 21st century, arethe central doctrines of rhetoric. It is the firsttheory of rhetoric.My talk will have three unequal parts. First, Aristotle, the man, his works, and hisimpact. Second, The Art of Rhetoric in large,as it were, its size, general structure,preservation, and impact through thecenturies. Finally, I will get down todiscussing what I regard as the heart of theArt of Rhetoric, the introductory chapters inwhich Aristotle explains the nature andstructure of the art of Rhetoric, with suchclarity and force that his ideas and languagehave seeped, in one form or another, into theentire rhetorical tradition although, in thepedagogical practice of that tradition, Aristotleplayed only a secondary role; teachers ofrhetoric, generally speaking, have relied onHermagoras of Temnos as the inventor ofstaseis and Cicero and Quintilian and theirsuccessors.3What I say in praise of the Art ofRhetoric only means that, for us looking back,Aristotle gives elegant and enlighteningexpression to what had become the stock intrade of many; he himself says as much, heshaped rather than invented rhetoric althoughbefore his time it was, as it were, withoutvoice, since instruction for the most partconsisted in close study of a master’s works,as if, Aristotle says, one were to teachshoemaking by throwing down a heap ofshoes in front of the students and asking themto study the shoes. But Aristotle not onlyprovides classic statements of widelyrecognized rhetorical elements, he also gives aforceful and coherent statement of a theory ofrhetoric in which he arranges these elementsinto a whole that possesses great force andintegrity.I. Aristotle the Man, his Works and theirHistory4Aristotle the man (384-321 BC) was borninto a family of hereditary physicians (at atime when the fruits of Hippocrates’revolution in medicine were available) in asmall polis, city-state, in northern Hellas –Stagiros. He came to Athens to study withPlato when he was 17 (367), formed lastingfriendships and agreements there (Plato calledhim the mind or insight of the Academy), andstayed for 20 years until Plato’s death asstudent and teacher. During this period as he matured hebegan to give lectures on, among othersubjects, Rhetoric. The lectures on Rhetoricwere said to have been delivered in theevening because they were popular andattended by many.After Plato’s death he was drawn awayfrom Athens for a dozen years, but wasalways in the company of friends from theAcademy. For two years he resided at the5court of Philip of Macedon and had somehand in the education of Alexander the Great. He was always known in Athens, to which hereturned in 335, as sympathetic to Macedonianhegemony and a close friend and advisor ofAntipater, the Macedonian commander inEurope at that time.After Alexander’s death in 322 Aristotleleft Athens and went to Chalcis, a couple daysdistant, for fear of Athenian reaction againstthe Macedonians. ‘I do not want Athens tomake the same mistake twice,’ he is supposedto have said referring to Athen’s regrettedexecution of Socrates.Except for the last year of his life inChalcis, he lived and worked in Athens after335 BC. These were busy years. Heorganized a congenial group of colleagues andstudents, a school, in the shadow of a templeof Apollo the Wolf-like (the Lyceum). Therehe lectured and studied, picking up the6threads of his former stay in Athens. Heenergetically organized large expeditions togather information and documents aboutother forms of government ( Constitution ofAthens) and biological specimens (officiallyattached to Alexander’s triumphant marchthrough Egypt, the Middle East, the Persianterritories and Western India). This was workhe had already begun years before.But his real work in these years wascompleting his huge oeuvre – 23 volumes inthe Loeb Library edition and comparable inscope and size to St. Thomas’ Summae oreven today’s Encyclopedias – but reallyunique because the work consisted primarilyof his analysis; and his was the first attempt toelaborate a departmentalization of knowledge,but he also sought to cover, in his own works,all those departments.In character these works of Aristotlehave always been dismissively contrasted with7the dialogues of Plato as ‘lecture notes.’ They are spare, allusive, deeply passionate,often witty, and difficult reading. They musthave been so to the ancient Athenians, andthey are doubly so for us today covered overby many palimpsests of translation andinterpretation. It makes the clarity of the Art of Rhetoricdoubly amazing. Aristotle’s works from theLyceum (he wrote some dialogues during hisearlier stay in Athens, but only stray quotesfrom them are preserved) are all in the formof treatises or lectures (thus the lecture notecharacterization). Like all ancientmanuscripts, it is anyone’s guess how manyhands were employed in creating the text, but – despite many modern interpreters’ ill-fatedattempts to peel away the text into many layersof interpolations by ‘other hands,’ an effortincreasingly abandoned by scholars today —most of the works have sufficient internalcoherence to stand on their own feet for the8patient reader. But it takes some work!Most of the works of Plato and Aristotleare preserved, as compared to the generaldestruction of the work of other ancients ofwhose works only a small part has comedown to us. They owe that preservation totheir intrinsic value and, for many centuries,to the work of the educational institutionsPlato and Aristotle left behind. The Lyceumhad as one of its most main


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