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

By George A. Kennedy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Greek Rhetoric in the Middle Ages

Knowledge of classical rhetoric survived through the Middle Ages, precariously at times, both in the East in the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire and in western Europe, where Latin remained the language of religion and scholarship. Until the Renaissance, Greek scholars very rarely had any knowledge of Latin and western scholars were equally ignorant of Greek. The two traditions are somewhat different: in the East it is largely the sophistic strand that was strongest, with some philosophical influence from Neoplatonism. Public address was an important factor in the cohesion of the state, and orators were held in honor. Many speeches were published for the reading public. Writing about rhetoric largely took the form of commentaries on earlier treatments. In the West, the handbook tradition of Latin rhetoric was continued in new works and handbooks of letter writing, poetry, and preaching were eventually produced, a development less evident in the East. Western writers composed prose panegyrics and encomiastic poetry, but no leading role in society was granted the orator as it was in the East.

Some reasons for the difference between East and West are clear. Sophistry and philosophy were much more strongly established in the Greek portion of the Roman Empire than in the West. The serious application of epideictic to Christianity began in the East, as seen in orations of Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom, and continued throughout Byzantine history. In contrast, epideictic was somewhat less practiced in the West, where interest in rhetoric was traditionally connected with the study and practice of law and civil procedure. In the East, Roman government was a continuity, with the result of greater

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