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date: 18 April 2024

Ancient Rhetoriclocked

Ancient Rhetoriclocked

  • Susan C. JarrattSusan C. JarrattDepartment of Comparative Literature, University of California, Irvine

Summary

In the Greek-speaking cultures of the ancient Mediterranean, effective and artful speech was highly valued: practiced and reflected upon from the time of Homer (ca. 8th-century bce), and conceptualized as “rhetoric” in the 5th and 4th centuries bce. At the moment of its emergence, rhetoric was bifurcated: the new discipline of philosophy denigrated it as a realm of mere opinion and potential deception while teachers and public figures began a process of building from its resources an elaborate edifice of training—a paideia—essential for success in political, legal, and cultural life. Consolidated as the queen of arts in the medieval curriculum, rhetoric was studied by European and Arabic scholars and remained at the center of elite learning for centuries, reaching a high point in the Renaissance, when significant texts of ancient rhetoric were revived. With the study of ancient Greek and Latin languages and literature at its foundation, this model of university education was adopted by colleges in the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries. The rise of modern science and the utilitarianism of the Industrial Age eroded this classical foundation in the late 19th century. The rediscovery of ancient rhetoric in 20th-century U.S. university departments of speech communication beginning in the 1920s and 1930s and a decade or so later in the adjacent fields of English and composition studies has brought ancient rhetorical concepts and debates under new scrutiny. A story dominated by readings of Aristotle’s Rhetoric for most of 20th century has been transformed by revisionist reinterpretations from the 1990s onward emphasizing, among other changes, (a) a sophistic line of influence running from classical Athens through the Roman imperial period, (b) a revaluation of epideictic (ceremonial) rhetoric with its wide range of genres, and (c) a shift in periodization to take in late antiquity and the Byzantine era. Twenty-first-century scholars draw on ancient sources to generate new rhetorical conceptions of time, space, energy, and imagination, putting visual and material as well as verbal texts under analysis in this dynamic field of study.

Subjects

  • Communication and Culture
  • International/Global Communication
  • Rhetorical Theory

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