The Genuine Teachers of This Art: Rhetorical Education in Antiquity

The Genuine Teachers of This Art: Rhetorical Education in Antiquity

The Genuine Teachers of This Art: Rhetorical Education in Antiquity

The Genuine Teachers of This Art: Rhetorical Education in Antiquity


Genuine Teachers of This Art examines the technê, or "handbook," tradition--which it controversially suggests began with Isocrates--as the central tradition in ancient rhetoric and a potential model for contemporary rhetoric. From this innovative perspective, Jeffrey Walker offers reconsiderations of rhetorical theories and schoolroom practices from early to late antiquity as the true aim of the philosophical rhetoric of Isocrates and as the distinctive expression of what Cicero called "the genuine teachers of this art."Through a study of the classical rhetorical paideia, or training system, Walker makes a case for considering rhetoric not as an Aristotelian critical-theoretical discipline, but as an Isocratean pedagogical discipline in which the art of rhetoric is neither an art of producing critical theory nor even an art of producing speeches and texts, but an art of producing speakers and writers. Walker grounds his study in pedagogical theses mined from revealing against-the-grain readings of Cicero, Isocrates, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Walker also locates supporting examples from a host of other sources, including Aelius Theon, Aphthonius, the Rhetoric to Alexander, the Rhetoric to Herennius, Quintilian, Hermogenes, Hermagoras, Lucian, Libanius, Apsines, the Anonymous Seguerianus, and fragments of ancient student writing preserved in papyri. Walker's epilogue considers the relevance of the ancient technê tradition for the modern discipline of rhetoric, arguing that rhetoric is defined foremost by its pedagogical enterprise, the project of producing rhetors capable of intelligent, effective, and useful civic engagement through speech and writing. This groundbreaking vision of the technê tradition significantly revises the standard picture of the ancient history of rhetoric with ramifications for the contemporary disciplinary identity of rhetoric itself.


In Greek and Roman antiquity, intensive and prolonged study of rhetoric was the key preparation for active civic life. in The Genuine Teachers of This Art, Jeffrey Walker explores, in four extended essays, the practice of rhetorical education from Isocrates to late antiquity, with intensive treatments of Isocrates, Cicero, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and the practice of declamation.

In his opening essay on Cicero’s dialogue De oratore, Walker argues that whereas the usual interpretation regards Crassus as speaking for Cicero in the dialogue, with Antonius as a mere foil, Cicero instead prompts us to read the dialogue as a genuine argument, thus rebalancing the scale between philosophical, Aristotelian rhetoric (represented by Crassus) and the rhetoric of Isocrates, often represented as the sophistic and handbook traditions (defended by Antonius).

The works of Isocrates that have come down to us represent his teaching as in contrast to the technical or handbook tradition of later rhetorical pedagogy. Walker speculates that Isocrates probably did write a technê, now lost, but known among his successors, and that it is possible to make useful conjectures about it and its influence on later teaching of rhetoric. and so, instead of seeing Isocrates as hostile to the handbook tradition, Walker suggests that Isocrates may very well have been its founder, thus providing a link between the philosophical and handbook traditions and in the process redeeming the handbook tradition as at least potentially legitimate mode of rhetorical pedagogy.

In Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Walker finds a teacher and scholar who employs a rhetorical perspective on literary criticism not as the application of prescriptive formulae and not simply to offer good examples for students, but as a means of extending the insights, understandings, sensibilities, and abilities of his students as practicing rhetors.

Professor Walker offers fresh and challenging perspectives on the continuity and variation of the pedagogy of ancient rhetoric, and of its coherence and contemporary relevance as an “art of producing rhetors.”

Thomas W. Benson

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