Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period : 330 B.C.-A.D. 400

By Stanley E. Porter | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
HISTORICAL SURVEY OF RHETORIC

George A. Kennedy

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA


I. DEFINITIONS OF RHETORIC

The Greek word

first occurs in Plato's Gorgias, probably written in the second decade of the fourth century BC. The term is there used by Socrates, and accepted without protest by the sophist Gorgias and his follower Polus, to describe a or art, of public speaking which Gorgias practiced and taught to others and about which Polus had published some written work. In Grg. 453a2 Socrates attributes to Gorgias, and Gorgias accepts, a definition of rhetoric as the “worker of persuasion”. Since Socrates initially speaks of “what is called rhetoric” (448d9), the usual view has been that the term was current, if not at the dramatic date of the dialogue in the last quarter of the fifth century, at least by the time of its composition. The word does not occur, however, in any surviving fifth-century Greek text, and even in the fourth century it is found almost exclusively in the writings of Plato and Aristotle. A more common term in the fifth and fourth centuries was the “art of words, speech, or discourse”. It has been argued that Plato coined “rhetoric”,1 which might be thought to have some negative connotations because of its derivation from “speaker”, often implying “politician”. If so, the development of the arts of language, speech, and reasoning by sophists in the fifth century should be viewed as a wider interest in forms of discourse that did not differentiate political rhetoric as a specific area of study,2 and Plato's use of the word—including Socrates' definition of rhetoric as a form of flattery and a counterpart of cookery, and his claim that it is no true

1 Schiappa 1990; cf. Cole 1991:2.

2 Cf. Schiappa 1991:64—85.

-3-

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