Three Medieval Rhetorical Arts

Three Medieval Rhetorical Arts

Three Medieval Rhetorical Arts

Three Medieval Rhetorical Arts

Excerpt

This volume presents three medieval treatises on speaking and writing—three “Arts” (books) designed by their authors to assist their colleagues in the preparation of poems, letters, hymns, sermons, or any other kind of composition.

The authors are of various nationalities, being Italian, French, or English, and their immediate subjects may appear equally varied to a modern reader. The three Arts also cover a considerable span of rime, from 1135 to 1322, yet there is remarkable agreement among them, especially in terms of their respect for order and for plan. All are, in other words, preceptive in nature—that is, they were written to give specific advice to future writers and speakers. As one might expect, each was written by a school master. Their underlying respect for planning, which is a heritage of ancient grammar and rhetoric, is perhaps best expressed by Geoffrey of Vinsauf in the opening passage of his New Poetics:

If a man has a house to build, he does not rush with a hasty
hand into the act itself: the work is first measured out with his
heart’s inward plumb-line, and the inner man marks out the
design beforehand, according to a definite plan; his heart’s
hand shapes the whole before his body’s hand does so, and
his building is a plan before it is a reality.

Robert of Basevorn, author of The Form of Preaching, castigates the theologians who attempt to preach without order “when they . . .

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