Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.04.26

Schiappa on Friedrich on Crafton on Schiappa, The Beginnings of Rhetorical Theory in Classical Greece.   Response to 2001.04.16

Response by Edward Schiappa, University of Minnesota (

Rainer Friedrich's (F.) response is best read as a reaction to Crafton's (C.) review (BMCR 01.03.09) rather than to my book itself. F.'s complaints are halfway done before my book is engaged, and even then F. relies exclusively on glosses and quotations in C.'s review. Had F. read the book, he would know that I never use the terms postmodernism, deconstruction, or poststructuralism to describe my approach and that I rely on quite conventional methods of scholarship, including metrical analysis (85-113), formal logic (148-52), and a traditional philological emphasis on ipsissima verba (passim).

I explicitly reject tenets of poststructuralism that F. imputes to my work. In F.'s last paragraph he interprets passages about foundationalism clipped out of C.'s review. If he were to read these snippets in context, he would see that I criticize poststructuralists who imply that "anything goes" and who suggest that writing history is merely an expression of a Nietzschean will to power (56-65). F. does not want to think about historiographical questions regarding objectivity and facts. Fine. But many in the humanities do, which is why I try to describe historical argument in a manner that avoids the false dichotomy of Modern Absolutist versus Postmodern Relativist.

I concur with Lawrence Cahoone's observation that "postmodernism" as a label "has been attached to so many different kinds of intellectual, social, and artistic phenomena that it can be subjected to easy ridicule as hopelessly ambiguous or empty" (From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology [Blackwell, 1996], p. 1). That is part of the reason I avoid the term. I would be happy, however, to defend any of the substantive or theoretical claims I advance in my book--if F. wishes to offer a reasoned objection instead a parody of positions I do not hold.

If R. is interested in "argument and evidence," then he should read and engage my arguments and evidence in the chapters on Isocrates and Aristotle rather than lampooning C.'s glosses. For example, it is hardly a "self-indulgent game of deconstruction" to argue it is significant that Isocrates never uses the word rhetorike but often uses philosophia to describe his teaching. On the contrary, it is a sign of respect--and a punctilious philological tradition--to attend to an author's actual words rather than rely on hackneyed stereotypes.

Let me be clear for the benefit of those unfamiliar with my book: It is not, as F. implies, a scholarly pretext for another battle in the culture wars. Rather it is a serious reappraisal of the standard accounts of the origins of rhetorical theory in Greece. Focussing on the emerging technical vocabulary about discourse in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, I make a series of claims about the status of technical, sophistic, and philosophical rhetoric. I also reassess the historical role of certain writings of Gorgias, Isocrates, and Aristotle. While the substance of my claims may be unconventional, the evidence and forms of argument employed are not. I conclude by simply offering an invitation to those interested in early Greek rhetoric and philosophy to judge the book by taking the first traditional step--reading it.

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