University of Leeds, England
“Invention”means “discovery”. In rhetoric it designates the discovery of the resources for discursive persuasion latent in any given rhetorical problem. This process of discovery was extensively theorized by ancient rhetoricians. But rhetoric is in essence a practical discipline, and its precepts are tools to be applied in practice. The rhetor's students would not be judged by their ability to articulate a body of theory, but by their ability to compose and deliver speeches and declamations which satisfied the expectations of contemporary audiences. Theory did not exist for its own sake, but as a framework to give guidance in the acquisition and exercise of a particular set of skills. This chapter will therefore emphasize application; following the precedent of ancient handbooks it will use a hypothetical worked example to illustrate the processes and principles of invention in practice.
To identify a suitable theme for our illustration, we may turn to an incident crucial in ancient rhetoricians' perception of the history of their craft. In II. 3:203—24 the Trojan elder Antenor recalls the embassy of Menelaus and Odysseus before the onset of hostilities, when the Greeks offered peace if the Trojans would return Helen; he contrasts the two envoys' rhetorical styles.1 In the fourth century AD, Libanius composed declamations representing the speeches of Menelaus and Odysseus; an anonymous declamation of uncertain (but later) date replies to Menelaus in the person of Paris; and (striking evidence of the long life of the classical rhetorical tradition) the beginning of the fifteenth century yields a fragment of a reply to Odysseus
1 On ancient perceptions of Homeric rhetoric, see L. Radermacher, Artium Scriptores
(SB Vienna, 227.3; 1951), pp. 3–10; G. A. Kennedy, “The Ancient Dispute over
Rhetoric in Homer”, AJP 78 (1957), pp. 23–35; M. Heath, “Ixrioiq-theory in Homeric
Commentary”, Mnemosyne 46 (1993), pp. 356–63.