Rhetoric and Pedagogy: Its History, Philosophy, and Practice: Essays in Honor of James J. Murphy

By Winifred Bryan Horner; Michael Leff | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Teaching the Tropes in the
Middle Ages: The Theory of
Metaphoric Transference in
Commentaries on the Poetria nova

Marjorie Curry Woods
The University of Texas at Austin

In a plenary lecture at the 1983 Fourth Biennial Conference of the International Society for the History of Rhetoric, Brian Vickers argued that we should stop studying medieval rhetoric: C. S. Baldwin had been right in his condemnation of this confused and confusing field 50 years earlier.1 Time spent on medieval rhetoric and poetic could, according to Vickers, be spent more profitably on the history of rhetoric during other periods.

There are many who agree with Vickers and Baldwin, although few are so bold as to say so. Those of us in the academy who, following James J. Murphy's example, began to work on medieval rhetoric because it was there must provide

____________________
1
Vickers' lecture was entitled "The Fragmentation of the Rhetorical Tradition". A revised version has appeared as a chapter, "Medieval Fragmentation" (214-253), in his book, In Defence of Rhetoric ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1928). In the book, Vickers relies less overtly on Baldwin, but his discussion of medieval rhetoric hardly lives up to the promise in his preface "to remove the misapprehensions and prejudices that still affect our appreciation of rhetoric" (vii). Indeed, those scholars trying to accomplish this goal for medieval rhetoric are dismissed by Vickers as "overly respectful towards the authors and topics they study, as if any criticism of them might reflect badly on themselves" (233).

I have taken up the issue of fragmentation in Marjorie Curry Woods, "The Teaching of Writing in Medieval Europe", A Short History of Writing Instruction From Ancient Greece to Twentieth-Century America, ed. James J. Murphy (Davis, CA: Hermagoras Press, 1990) 80; and I will do so in greater detail in the future. What I wish to emphasize here is the devastating effectiveness and longevity of Baldwin's assertions so many academic generations ago; see Charles Sears Baldwin, Medieval Rhetoric and Poetic [to 1400] Interpreted from Representative Works ( New York: Macmillan, 1928).

-73-

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