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

By George A. Kennedy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Latin Rhetoric in the Middle Ages

Although study of rhetoric triumphantly survived the victory of Christianity over paganism in the West as well as in the East, it almost succumbed to the collapse of its native environment as the cities of the empire were destroyed or depopulated in the face of barbarian attack beginning in the early fifth century. With the end of orderly civic and economic life not only did public support of education disappear, but the reasons for rhetorical education in its traditional form declined. Fewer councils remained in which an orator could speak, and legal procedures were disrupted; on the other hand, barbarian kings easily acquired a taste for being extolled in Latin prose or verse, even if they did not understand what was being said. Poverty, fear, and poor communications became endemic; libraries were destroyed; books disintegrated and were not recopied; and knowledge of Greek faded throughout the West.

But classical rhetoric did not die. A few private teachers of grammar and rhetoric could probably be found at most times in the cities of Italy and Gaul. In the mid-sixth century Cassiodorus introduced the liberal arts into monastic schools. The prose and poetry of the sixth and seventh centuries show some knowledge of classical rhetoric and occasions for persuasive speech. By the eighth century, the first glimmerings of a new civic life emerged in Italy: Venice in the relative safety of her lagoon had begun to elect her doges and manage her own affairs. In the ninth and tenth centuries Pisa, Pavia, Bologna, and other Italian cities became important commercial centers, and by the eleventh century the commune movement had created assemblies, councils, and courts of law with a jury system in many Italian municipalities. It was in this setting,

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