Rhetoric before and beyond the Greeks

By Grettano, Teresa | Composition Studies, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Rhetoric before and beyond the Greeks


Grettano, Teresa, Composition Studies


Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks, edited by Carol S. Lipson and Roberta A. Binkley. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004. 267 pages.

In November 2004, Susan Miller delivered the inaugural English Studies Lecture Series address at Illinois State University. In "What's Love Got to Do With It: An Emotional History of Rhetoric, A Rhetorical History of Emotion," Miller discussed the "false and boring" rhetorical tradition many in the field present as our foundation and argued that rhetoric, despite how it has been represented in textbooks, did not start with Corax and Tisias arguing land disputes in Sicily; that in fact, communication and the study of how it can be done effectively had been taking place long before that. Much like the recent revisionist efforts of Cheryl Glenn, Andrea Lunsford, John Poulakos, Edward Schiappa, and others, Miller discussed the need to extend our understanding of classical rhetoric by studying and applying voices of those outside the ancient Athenian Greek canon-including those of women, people in socio-economic classes other than the elite, and other cultures. Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks is such an attempt to open the canon in what the editors' characterize as an effort to better understand "other ways of being, seeing, and making knowledge" (4).

The collection analyzes rhetorical practices from three of the six regions that are recognized as established civilizations during the period 5000-1200 BCE (the Middle East, Egypt, and China) and is divided into sections according to areas: Mesopotamian Rhetoric, Egyptian Rhetoric, Chinese Rhetoric, Biblical Rhetoric, Alternative Greek Rhetoric, and Cross-Cultural Rhetorical Studies. The editors recognize access to historical texts from this period is problematic due to the limited number of texts recovered and translated. They acknowledge that translation itself is problematic, lending to the skewing of ideas and contents, and are quick to point out that while their collection works within this problematic framework, the authors of the articles in the Chinese section are either fluent or conversant in the language, limiting the difficulties associated with translation.

Methodology in general is always a factor, and the editors understand that much work that has been done in relation to ancient cultures favors Western interpretations-skewing further the research in the area. They acknowledge the contributions made by George Kennedy's Comparative Rhetoric and Robert Oliver's Communication and Culture in Ancient India and China, as well as others, but claim the texts use Greek culture as the primary lens of comparison. While some articles in the collection follow this comparative methodology, others attempt the hermeneutical, anthropological approach suggested by Xing Lu which allows the texts to "speak for themselves" and recognizes the differences among and within cultures.

In addition to opening the canon of rhetoric, the editors hope to problematize or complicate our notions of the term itself. While "rhetoric" is largely understood as persuasion through argument in the field of rhetoric and composition, the collection illustrates that it did not mean this for all cultures at the time and did not mean it in the same way as it did in Athenian Greece (see articles in the collection by George Q. Xu, Yameng Liu, and Richard Leo Enos). The editors look to contemporary theories that approach rhetoric as the study of power relations and issues and offer alternative ways to understand rhetoric in these ancient contexts as discourse systems, communication norms, or principles of language use. Arabella Lyon, however, in her article "Confucian Silence and Remonstration: A Basis for Deliberation?", suggests that applying the term "rhetoric" to cultures whose values differ from ancient Greece (and particularly from Aristotle and Plato) violates the term. James W. Watts's "Story-List-Sanction" on the rhetoric of the ancient Near-East challenges the idea that rhetoric is situated discourse by showing the use of similar conventions and patterns through combinations of genres among different cultures. …

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