Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.3.13


Malcolm Heath, Hermogenes On Issues. Strategies of Argument in Later Greek Rhetoric. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. Pp.ix, 274. $70. ISBN 0-198-14982-4.


Reviewed by Ian Rutherford, Reading University, I.C.Rutherford@reading.ac.uk.

In rhetorical theory a stasis is the issue on which a case hinges, for example whether something actually happened, or, granted that it happened, whether what happened was a crime, or, granted that it happened and that it was a crime, what degree of blame attaches to it. The system had been around since the Hellenistic period, invented supposedly by Hermagoras of Temnos (though its antecedents are to be seen as early as Gorgias), but it came to the center of the rhetorical curriculum in the period of the Empire, when it was a dominating force in the declamation schools. In its full complexity, it grew into an extremely complicated system: the theorists distinguished a large number of staseis, arranging them in a mind-boggling system of species and genera, and for each stasis recommending a distinct approach.

When ancient rhetoric is taught today, stasis-theory is generally not given a prominent place. There are three understandable reasons for this. We naturally stress features of ancient rhetoric that are already there in Aristotle, and ignore developments that seem to find a context only in the declamation schools of the Empire; we naturally hesitate before imposing on students the extreme technicalities of stasis-theory; and we lack an accessible translation of the canonical formulation of stasis-theory, the On Issues (Peri Staseon) of Hermogenes of Tarsus (2nd century CE). But the absence of stasis-theory from our curricula is lamentable, because from the Hellenistic period onwards it was not a bolt-on accessory, but arguably the very heart of the discipline. And if we need rhetoric to understand later Greek and Latin literature, and we do, then a fortiori we need stasis-theory.

If we consider the output of scholars in the last couple of decades, there is no doubt that stasis-theory is enjoying a minor vogue. There has been Donald Russell's Greek Declamation (Oxford, 1983), which sets the theory in its context within declamation; L. Calboli Montefusco's La dottrina degli status nella retorica greca e romana (Hildesheim, 1986), which dealt with the earlier history; and the massive contribution to understanding Sopater's Diaireseis Zetematon by Doreen Innes and Michael Winterbottom (BICS Supplement 48, 1988) (the book deserves to be brought to the attention of a more general public as perhaps the most substantial contribution made towards the understanding of a Greek text in recent times).

In all of this work, Hermogenes' On Issues has been largely left out of account. Calboli Montefusco stops just short of it; Innes and Winterbottom's focus is on what comes afterwards. To find out about the work, one's best recourse hitherto has been George Kennedy's generous treatment in Greek Rhetoric Under the Christian Emperors (Princeton, 1983). 1998 sees the appearance of Gertrud Lindberg's useful survey of Hermogenes in ANRW II.34.3 (first written in 1982), which devotes a section to On Issues (pp. 1988-2005). However, a comprehensive treatment was called for, because it was Hermogenes who gave the system of staseis its canonical form (he did the same for stylistic theory in the On Forms), setting out a grand total of thirteen issues, each of which is broken down into constituent topics ("Heads" in Heath's terminology).

Students of ancient rhetoric should be very grateful that Malcolm Heath, whose earlier publications were on Greek tragedy, Pindar, Aristophanes and poetics, has chosen to reinvent himself as an authority on rhetorical theory. Heath is well-endowed with the qualities required to make progress in this subject: philological acumen, a finely-tuned and methodical attention to detail, an almost heroic patience when coping with pedantry and a resilient faith in the utility of the subject. Hermogenes On Issues is only one outcome of these labours; he has also published a string of articles dealing with aspects of stasis-theory, for example on stasis-theory in Homeric commentary in Mnemosyne 46 (1993), 356-63.

Hermogenes On Issues is a thoroughly admirable book. There are four main sections: introduction, translation, commentary and illustrations. The introduction aims to explain not just stasis-theory and Hermogenes, but rhetoric as a whole, and it does a pretty good job. My only criticism is that Heath may have erred a little too far in the direction of concision; Hermogenes' system is only briefly discussed in the introduction (pp. 22-24), and not set out fully until the commentary (p.71), but perhaps the introduction was the place for it.

There follows the translation (surprisingly, such a daunting work ends up occupying a mere thirty-two pages; it feels much longer). Heath's is not the first translation of On Issues into English (there was a translation by Ray Nadeau in the specialised journal Speech Monographs for 1964), but it will become the standard one. It reads well, and it looks good, with plenty of subheadings and paragraph-breaks to ease the strain on the reader.

The commentary aims to interpret the rhetorical theory, and rarely, if ever, gets into the philological technicalities of what the Greek means, something which ought to make the book user-friendly for students coming to rhetoric from non-classical starting points, such as comparative literature or communication studies. Equally user-friendly are the handy diagrams by which Heath analyses the heads which fall under the individual issues. If in spite of this the commentary sometimes left me temporarily baffled, I always felt this to be the fault of the subject rather than the commentator.

After the commentary we have a fourth section, entitled Illustrations, consisting of translated declamations illustrating specific issues culled from Lucian, Choricius, Sopater, Libanius, and Aelius Aristides, at least some of them never before translated into English. The translations are prefaced by brief introductions setting out the rhetorical principles they instantiate. All in all, the illustrations of staseis occupy over seventy pages, over a third of the book, but it is absolutely right that they are there, since they effectively bridge the gap between rhetorical theory and the ways in which it is actually used by rhetoricians and other writers.

The book is completed with two indices: an extremely useful "Who's Who" of ancient rhetoricians (pp. 236-247; some of the entries are miracles of concise learning: e.g., that on Zeno), and a glossary of technical terms.

Translating the technical vocabulary of stasis-theory poses a special problem. This is a nightmare even in the Greek, particularly because some of the terms that are used for staseis have a second career as terms for the individual topics that make up the staseis. Heath decided to translate terms and avoid the Greek originals. He chooses a system of translation different from Russell's in Greek Declamation, acknowledging the awkwardness of this (see p.25, n.72: "Russell's 'plea' corresponds to my 'counterplea', but his 'counterplea' to my 'objection' [the first term is antilepsis, the second is metalepsis]). However one deals with the problem, one ends up with a Hydra-headed plethora of similar sounding terms; a glance through Heath's glossary threw up counter-representation, counteraccusation, counterdefinition, counterplea, counterposition, and counterstatement. For someone who knows the material through the Greek terms, this is especially confusing, though at least Heath includes a "Greek-English Key" (pp. 261-2) against which the terms can be checked. I would have tried to stick to transliterations myself, but the truth is that no strategy can avoid the portentous weight of the technical terms.

To reflect on the difficulties of the technical terms is to appreciate the scale of Heath's achievement. He is to be congratulated on a thoroughly worthy accomplishment. Teachers of ancient rhetoric will from now on have one excuse fewer for not including stasis-theory in their courses!