Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity through the Renaissance

Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity through the Renaissance

Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity through the Renaissance

Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity through the Renaissance


After explaining how and why women have been excluded from the rhetorical tradition from antiquity through the Renaissance, Cheryl Glenn provides the opportunity for Sappho, Aspasia, Diotima, Hortensia, Fulvia, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Margaret More Roper, Anne Askew, and Elizabeth I to speak with equal authority and as eloquently as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Augustine. Her aim is nothing less than regendering and changing forever the history of rhetoric.

To that end, Glenn locates women's contributions to and participation in the rhetorical tradition and writes them into an expanded, inclusive tradition. She regenders the tradition by designating those terms of identity that have promoted and supported men's control of public, persuasive discourse -- the culturally constructed social relations between, the appropriate roles for, and the subjective identities of women and men.

Glenn is the first scholar to contextualize, analyze, and follow the migration of women's rhetorical accomplishments systematically. To locate these women, she follows the migration of the Western intellectual tradition from its inception in classical antiquity and its confrontation with and ultimate appropriation by evangelical Christianity to its force in the medieval Church and in Tudor arts and politics.


Alcibiades and Aspasia, the nineteenth-century print that serves as the frontispiece for this book, was depicted in beautiful detail by French artist J.-L. Gérôme, best known for transfusing his journeys to the East with an exotic and erotic charm. Gérôme presents us Aspasia of Miletus reclining seductively on Alcibiades, her hand cupping his breast, her head suspiciously near his stomach and wide-spread legs, while Alcibiades looks away from her and reaches out to clasp Socrates's hand. Thus, Aspasia comes down to us an odalisque, while Alcibiades, the object of Aspasia's attention, comes to us wreathed in laurel. According to Gérôme, then, the woman I refigure as Our Mother of Rhetoric, lifelong companion of Pericles and influential colleague of famous men, is the harem girl to Alcibiades, the arrogant, dissolute, untrustworthy love object of Socrates.

For the past twenty-five hundred years in Western culture, the ideal woman has been disciplined by cultural codes that require a closed mouth (silence), a closed body (chastity), and an enclosed life (domestic confinement) (Stallybrass 127). Little wonder, then, that women have been closed out of the rhetorical tradition, a tradition of vocal, virile, public--and therefore privileged-- men. Men have acted in the polis, in the public light of rhetorical discourse, determining philosophic truth, civic good, the literary canon, and the theories and praxes of rhetoric. Meanwhile, women have been circumscribed within the seldom-examined idios, the private domain; women have been designated idiots who sustain family, friendships, and their public-discoursing men from within the oikos, the household. As enclosed bodies, the female sex has been both excluded from and appropriated by the patriarchal territory of rhetorical practices and displays.

Rhetoric always inscribes the relation of language and power at a particular moment (including who may speak, who may listen or who will agree to listen . . .

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