A New History of Classical Rhetoric

By Bartsch, Shadi | Style, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

A New History of Classical Rhetoric


Bartsch, Shadi, Style


George A. Kennedy.A New History of Classical Rhetoric. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994. xii + 301 pp. $54.95 cloth; $19.95 paper.

For scholars of rhetoric today, George A. Kennedy might well take Aristotle's place in Dante asmaestro di color che sanno. He is the author of four seminal volumes on the history of classical rhetoric and its Christian tradition (not to mention other works on Quintilian, the New Testament, and ancient literary criticism), the first of which, The Art of Persuasion in Greece, came out over thirty years ago. Kennedy's influence on this growing field of study has been correspondingly formative, and in many respects he first laid the groundwork for the contemporary revival of interest in a field once largely the province of departments of speech and communication. The accessibility, clarity, and intelligence of these volumes have made them a standard in the bibliography of any scholar engaging with the history and theory of classical rhetoric.

Kennedy has now come out with a new volume on rhetoric and rhetorical theory, an "extensive revision and abridgement" (iii) of the three earlier works on classical rhetoric: TheArt of Persuasion in Greece, The Art of Rhetoric in the Roman World, and Greek Rhetoric under Christian Emperors. The title of the present volume, with its reference to anew history of classical rhetoric, suggests that it is revision rather than abridgement that is the engine behind the publication. However, readers familiar with the earlier volumes will find that the changes are comparatively limited. For the most part, Kennedy has summarized the contents of these volumes in chronological order, and while the original volume on Greek rhetoric has been rewritten and rearranged, it offers substantially the same treatment of the texts. Some notice has been taken of new work since the 1960s-the bibliography includes, for example, Peter Brown' s Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity, Nicole Loraux's The Invention ofA thens, and The Recovery of Rhetoric, edited by R. H. Roberts and J. M. M. Good. Aside from updating the bibliography, Kennedy also evokes some new critical terminology in his preface, where he reformulates part of the book's project as the history of the development of "metarhetoric," theoryabout rhetoric, throughout the Greco-Roman period. (I discuss this further below.) For the most part, however,A New History of Classical Rhetoric is new because it offers three volumes in one, not because Kennedy has altered his original interpretations.

This caveat aside, it would be ungenerous to take Kennedy's book to task for being exactly what it promises to be: a denser and more compact version of several volumes important to any student of rhetoric. And a student reader, as Kennedy himself points out, is precisely the projected audience for his book. To this end, Kennedy has removed most of the original scholarly notes and other material that would appeal to the specialist and often provides a brief description of social and political features of ancient society that a student reader might not be familiar with. The rapid pace of the discussion, and its broad coverage, renders the book almost encyclopedic: a reference work that will answer basic questions and offer sketches of crucial rhetorical texts, all without necessitating the purchase of three separate volumes. This single book comprises some thirteen chapters that span the range from "Persuasion in Greek Literature before 400 B.C." (chapter two) and "Greek Rhetorical Theory from Corax to Aristotle" (chapter three) through the Attic orators, Hellenistic rhetoric, early Roman rhetoric, Cicero, the Augustan and Silver ages, Greek rhetorical treatises under the Empire, and the Second Sophistic, to "Christianity and Classical Rhetoric" (chapter twelve) and "The Survival of Classical Rhetoric from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages" (chapter thirteen).

Such a format necessarily has both advantages and disadvantages. …

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