Aristotle, Art of Rhetoric

LCL 193: xviii-xix

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INTRODUCTION

(4.1, 121a35–36). Perhaps Aristotle never found the time to revise this chapter of the Rhetoric in accordance with his detailed treatments of pleasure in the Ethics.

After the chapters on the emotions, there follows a brief discussion of character as the third means of persuasion. Here Aristotle points out that most of the material has already been covered: for the qualities that give the impression of a good character in the section on epideictic speeches, and for the emotions in the preceding section. So he adds only brief chapters about the typical characters of different age groups and about those who enjoy the benefits of fortune, such as noble birth, wealth, or power.

Clearly, emotions and character will have an influence in all three kinds of rhetoric; only the arguments require special collections of plausible opinions for their respective subject matter. So at this point Aristotle adds a section about argumentative patterns and strategies that can occur in every kind of speech, as well as refutations of fallacious arguments. Here we find a wealth of quotations, not only from speeches but also from earlier “Arts of Speaking” and poetry from Homer to Euripides as illustrations.

At the end of Book 2, the program outlined at the beginning seems to have been completed: Aristotle has dealt with all the means of persuasion for each of the three kinds of speeches. But then a single sentence leads on to a subject that had not been mentioned before: “It only remains to speak of style and arrangement.” It has long been recognized that Book 3 had probably been a separate treatise: Aristotle begins to address the reader in the second person, and there are frequent references to the Poetics for details. Also, the list of Aristotle’s books in Diogenes Laertius’ biography of Aristotle mentions only two books on

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INTRODUCTION

rhetoric, but also two books on style (Diog. Laert. 5.24). Perhaps this book had been a kind of complement for prose composition to the Poetics. Style, organization, and delivery of speeches are not themselves means of persuasion, but they can contribute to the persuasiveness of a speech, such as by keeping the attention of the listeners, while a boring speech or a monotonous voice may put them to sleep. Indeed, the parts of speech and style had been treated in detail in earlier “Arts”—more detail than Aristotle found necessary. Aristotle himself places the greatest emphasis on clarity, a language that is appropriate to the subject, and the vividness of metaphors that can put a scene as it were before the eyes of the listener—all those things that may make a speech easier to understand and to remember. There is then no reason to think that it was not Aristotle himself who decided to add this book to the Rhetoric.

It is obvious that Aristotle’s work went far beyond what could be found in earlier manuals of rhetoric. Yet in antiquity it did not have much of an influence—in part no doubt because it was not written for publication. But the main reason for the development rhetoric took in the following centuries was probably that after the end of the Athenian democracy rhetoric no longer had the important role in political life that Aristotle had envisaged. His successor Theophrastus still taught rhetoric in the Lyceum, but later Peripatetics do not seem to have had an interest in it, and besides, Theophrastus had left his library, including most of Aristotle’s school treatises, to his nephew Neleus, who took them with him to Asia Minor.

Apart from trial speeches, rhetoric developed into an art of prose writing, of which Isocrates’ epideictic orations

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