On Issues: Strategies of Argument in Later Greek Rhetoric

On Issues: Strategies of Argument in Later Greek Rhetoric

On Issues: Strategies of Argument in Later Greek Rhetoric

On Issues: Strategies of Argument in Later Greek Rhetoric


This is the only modern English translation with commentary in print of this important treatise by Hermogenes of Tarsus (AD C.160-225). The book makes sophisticated theories of argument developed by Greek teachers of rhetoric in the second century AD accessible both to specialist and non-specialist readers.


It's funny how many of the best ideas are just an old idea back-to- front. You see there have already been several programs written that help you to arrive at decisions by properly ordering and analysing all the relevant facts so that they then point naturally towards the right decision. the drawback with these is that the decision which all the properly ordered and analysed facts point to is not necessarily the one you want... Well, Gordon's great insight was to design a program which allowed you to specify in advance what decision you wished to reach, and only then to give it all the facts. the program's task... was simply to construct a plausible series of logical-sounding steps to connect the premises with the conclusion.

(Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (London 1987), 55)

The ancient world did not have computer programs, but it did have rhetoric, which was (one might say) just such a device as Douglas Adams describes: if you know what case you have to argue, then the theory of invention offers systematic guidance as to how that case may plausibly be argued.

My interest in this aspect of later Greek rhetorical theory and declamatory practice was first stimulated by Kennedy 1983 and Russell 1983. When I tried to go beyond these works and explore the primary sources, I found the lack of more detailed introductory aids frustrating; this book is meant to be something like the one that I would then have found useful. My primary aim is to make the theory of issues, a fundamental but complex and neglected component of mature Greek rhetoric, accessible to those who do not read Greek, and to those who do read Greek but are (as I was) baffled by the rhetoricians' formidable and often cryptically deployed apparatus of technical terms.

If I owe the initial stimulus to the work of Kennedy and Russell, the greatest debt I incurred in the writing of this book is to the students . . .

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