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 6
Between Grammar and Rhetoric: Composition Teaching at Oxford and Bologna in the Late Middle Ages

Martin Camargo
University of Missouri

When historians of rhetoric speak of the decline, decadence, and disintegration of rhetoric during the Middle Ages they proceed from certain assumptions about what a healthy, pure, and whole rhetoric is (or was). For modern scholars, that authentic, premedieval rhetoric was, in George Kennedy's words, "'primarily' an art of persuasion; it was primarily used in civic life; [and] it was primarily oral."1 It was also bound up with certain institutions, such as the Roman law courts and the Roman schools, and with the ideal of what it meant to be a Roman citizen. When the institutions and ideals that sustained this rhetoric were lost, so the official story goes, rhetoric lost its identity. And that identity was not recovered until the Renaissance, when rhetoric was reintegrated into something resembling its original institutional context. Between the fall of Rome and the rise of humanism, rhetoric did not so much cease to exist as retreat from the center to the margins; or, to use a different metaphor, rhetoric fragmented and then fused with several related disciplines more central to medieval life. Insofar as rhetoric was concerned with methods of discovery and proof, it was swallowed up by dialectic; insofar as it was concerned with verbal ornament, it was swallowed up by grammar and poetry; insofar as it was the culmination of the ideal citizen's training, it was swallowed up by moral theology and homiletics. As a distinct and practical art rhetoric either ceased to exist or endured in one of those

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1
George A. Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times ( Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980) 4.

-83-

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