Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

SUCH is the pace of change in the hysterical world of modern technology that we shall soon all possess computing shoelaces that can also handle phone, television, video, fax, e-mail, the Web, tele-conferencing, radio, corporate messages and heaven knows what else; none print-based, all aural and visual. It sounds a ghastly prospect, but the Elder 'Destroy Carthage' Cato (234-149 BC) is on hand to offer words of hope.

When the ancient Greeks began formalising the rules of rhetoric in the fifth century BC, they effectively invented the communications industry. No society, they thought, could call itself democratic if the power of effective public persuasion, before one's peers in the assembly, was in the hands of the few and not the many. If some people were born effective speakers, others could be made, and the purpose of teaching rhetoric was to pass on 'communication skills' to those who did not possess them. Handbooks were produced, and the whole field was superbly analysed and summarised by Aristotle in his influential An of Rhetoric, still the best introduction to the topic. Not all Greeks, however, were excited about these new skills. Plato, for example, regarded them as positively corrupting, since they enabled the better case to appear the worse, and vice versa. …

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