Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period : 330 B.C.-A.D. 400

By Stanley E. Porter | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16
DRAMA AND RHETORIC

Ruth Scodel

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA

Drama may reflect rhetoric in three general ways. In style, dramatists often borrow figures from rhetoric. Often, though, it is hard to distinguish tricks of style that genuinely come from rhetorical practice from those that belong to poetic tradition, since all ancient drama is in verse. The devices that elevate style originated in verse, and rhetoric created rules for using them in prose. Nonetheless, sometimes it is clear that rhetorical style has influenced poetry. When Sophocles combines a sharp antithesis with end-rhyme and isocolon, as in Ant. 555

the similarity to Gorgianic rhetoric is too strong to ignore. Secondly, the dramatists sometimes borrow and develop the commonplaces and arguments of the rhetoricians; not only language but content can have a rhetorical tone. These influences are often easier to identify. Sometimes dramatic characters even deliver speeches fully organized according to the rules for orations. Finally, drama directly represents and critiques rhetoric as such. Characters directly comment on each others' ways of speaking, or on their own, or on the power of rhetoric; dramas depict characters in the process of trying to use or resist rhetoric. Furthermore, the limits on how dramatists use rhetoric are themselves revealing, showing how dramatic and rhetorical decorum intersect.

Influence, however, is not all one-sided. From the fifth century onward, drama and rhetoric were deeply intertwined, each affecting the other. In the tragedy of the early fifth century, before the development of sophistic rhetoric, civic speech is a positive force. Although Aeschylus also represents personified Persuasion in the style of archaic poetry, as a dangerous divinity closely associated with Aphrodite, when the King speaks to his people in Aeschylus's Suppliants, and Athena mollifies the Erinyes in Eumenides, public speech serves as a force of

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