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

By George A. Kennedy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
Classical Rhetoric in the Twentieth Century

Classical rhetoric has continued to influence the study and teaching of rhetoric in the twentieth century. New editions, translations, commentaries, and studies of the classical texts have been published, with significant advances in understanding of their contents and influence, and the classical tradition throughout western history has been explored in greater and greater detail. An Institute for the Classical Tradition now exists at Boston University, sponsoring congresses, a journal, and other publications. Two major changes mark the role of classical rhetoric in modern thought: a shift from the practical to the theoretical, and from focus primarily on public address to a wide variety of oral and written genres of discourse. But both of these changes have met with some resistance.

From the earliest handbooks of rhetoric in Greece until the Renaissance, classical handbooks and treatises on rhetoric were studied directly as practical aids to oral and written composition. This is particularly evident in reliance on the handbooks On Invention and Rhetoric for Herennius in western Europe, and on the Hermogenic corpus in Byzantium. For a thousand years these were authoritative textbooks on which teachers in schools and universities lectured and wrote commentaries and that provided the rules for composition practiced by students and applied in speaking and writing later in life. Even in the early modern period, when Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian, and other classical authorities were studied as supplementary sources of skills for public speaking, lectures on rhetoric continued to refer frequently to classical sources for practical advice, and the new rhetoric texts that were published were

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