Classical Rhetoric & Its Christian & Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times

By George A. Kennedy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Traditional and Conceptual Rhetoric

“Rhetoric,” and its cognates in other languages, is derived from the Greek word rhêkorikê, the art or technique of a rhêtôr, or public speaker. The word first appears in Plato's dialogue Gorgias, written in the second decade of the fourth century B.C., but dramatically set a generation earlier. In conversation with Socrates (453a2), Gorgias defines rhêkorikê as “the worker of persuasion.” “Persuasion” (peithô) was used in earlier Greek to describe what came to be called “rhetoric.” 1 Another Greek word often used of rhetoric is logos, literally “word,” but also meaning “speech, argument, reason.”

Rhetoric in Greece was specifically the civic art of public speaking as it developed under constitutional government, especially in Athenian democracy of the fifth and fourth centuries. This art was described and discussed in handbooks, speeches, dialogues, treatises, and lectures and was expanded and developed by teachers of public speaking, philosophers, and practicing orators to produce what we call “classical rhetoric,” social and political practices and a body of texts that describe or illustrate that practice. Classical rhetoric, in turn, was transmitted to the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the modern period, adapted to the needs of each era, but repeatedly drawing new inspiration from the major classical sources, especially from writings of Cicero, but at times from readings of Plato, Aristotle, Quintilian, or other Greek or Latin sources.

Rhetoric in the sense of techniques of persuasion is a phenomenon of all human cultures, and analogies to it are also found in animal communication. 2 All communication involves rhetoric. A speaker or writer

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