Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.06.06 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.06.06

Ed Sanders, Matthew Johncock (ed.), Emotion and Persuasion in Classical Antiquity.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2016.  Pp. 321.  ISBN 9783515113618.  €56.00.  


Reviewed by Amber J. Porter, University of Calgary (aj.porter@ucalgary.ca)

Table of Contents
[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The last two decades have seen an increase in the study of ancient emotions, from shame and pity to disgust and hope, and almost every emotion in between. Scholarship on emotion, rhetoric, and persuasion has also seen its fair share of attention, and the current volume aims to build and expand upon this previous research. Many of the standard emotions are addressed, but other, less-researched emotions, such as pride and fear, are included as well; there is an assortment of literary genres, but also non-literary genres (papyri and inscriptions) are present; and in addition to emotional arousal, rhetorical practice and performance is explored. While the volume cannot cover all ancient written literary and non-literary media, it wishes to provide “new thinking in areas of this subject that are currently commanding research (and growing public) interest.” (19) The main audience will be graduate students and instructors, and specialists in rhetoric or emotions in antiquity will find the collection particularly useful. The volume is the result of a conference at Royal Holloway University of London June 2013 and most (but not all) presenters are represented.

Including an introduction by Ed Sanders, the volume is divided into four sections (see the table of contents below.) Bibliographies are provided at the end of each essay, and a general index is found at the end.

The book is successful in its aim to look beyond the emotions, genres, and geography generally associated with the study of emotive persuasion. Even when many of the traditional genres and texts are addressed, new approaches are taken and there is a particular interest in practice and performance, not simply arousal of emotion. (20) The quality of the contributions is high, and several of the authors incorporate theoretical approaches from psychology, sociology, and linguistics, making for an engaging and interdisciplinary volume. These are essays that particularly stand out in the collection, and if any real faults can be found, it is that more of the contributions do not do the same.

In Part I, Chris Carey discusses the rhetoric of deliberative and forensic speeches in Athens, and how, through an evocation of nostalgia and comparison with the present, speakers appealed to envy, indignation, and shame to create hostility towards a powerful group or individual. This is present in rhetoric, but is also prefigured in Old Comedy, suggesting a recurring theme. Carey denies that nostalgia as a persuasive tactic lost its power over time, since “belief in a better past is again a recurrent and persistent factor.” Many would agree, I think.

Brenda Griffith-Williams considers emotional and rational persuasion in Athenian inheritance speeches (a type of forensic speech neglected by emotion studies), and whether you can distinguish between them. Using two cases from Isaeus (7 and 9) she determines that, although one may appear more rational and the other more emotional, they contain both types of techniques which are very difficult to tease apart. Griffith-Williams shows that Isaeus is not formulaic, but adapted his speeches according to the situation. Her close examination of the two texts is well-organized and convincing.

Ed Sanders differentiates between forensic and deliberative oratory, contending that while forensic speeches deal with the past (what has happened), deliberative speeches deal with more future-based emotions, such as fear, confidence, hope, shame, and pride. He looks to the Attic oratorical corpus (particularly Demosthenes’ Olynthics) and the speeches of Thucydides’ history to prove his argument. A table of emotions aroused or suppressed in Thucydides is included.

Guy Westwood looks at the persuasive strategy of nostalgia in Demosthenes’ Letters. He includes a short discussion of psychological and sociological research on nostalgia as a social emotion and makes some interesting connections to the Odyssey, but the bulk of the text is devoted to presenting letters 3 and 2 as case studies. This essay relates well with Carey’s essay (although Carey does not specifically use the term “nostalgia”) and with Sanders’ essay immediately previous, bookending Part I effectively.

The second part begins with Angelos Chaniotis who focuses on Greek epigraphy, examining inscriptions (both decrees and epitaphs) from the poleis of the eastern Mediterranean over a vast period, from 306 BCE to 408 CE. Citing Rosenwein’s work on “emotional communities”, he states that he wants to explore “emotional community” (in the singular) through inscriptions which have not received the same level of attention in emotion history as other sources. Chaniotis shows how an inscription on a monument may attempt to create an emotional community and how an epitaph uses strategies of emotional arousal to elicit empathy from the reader. An excellent analysis of often-neglected evidence creates an interesting foray into emotions in inscriptions.

Maria Fragoulaki discusses emotion in Thucydides, especially the presence or absence of kinship ties between cities. She identifies two levels of persuasion: internal (among the speaking historical actors) and external (between Thucydides and his audience.) Using the Plataian Debate and the Melian Dialogue, she investigates how intercommunal kinship is a powerful mechanism of political persuasion.

An excellent essay by Alexandra Eckert explores the strong feelings associated with memories of Sulla’s proscriptions and their persuasive power from the Late Republic to the 1st century CE. She uses psychological and sociological theories (specifically, Sherer’s process model of emotion and Alexander’s ideas of cultural trauma) to explore the emotional effect of Sulla’s action. The two theories work very well together, particularly the concept of ‘cultural trauma,’ demonstrating how this effect can be seen right up until the time of Pliny the Elder. Eckert clearly explains both theories (helpful, if the reader is unfamiliar with them) and uses them aptly to understand the emotional ‘echo’ of Sulla’s proscriptions in later literature.

Lucy Jackson looks at the fascinating concept of kinaesthetic empathy and non-verbal persuasion in the form of the Greek chorus. She makes use of modern theories of cognitive behaviour and performance theory, along with Plato’s discussion of choral performance in the Laws, to investigate how both the choral participants and the audience are ‘persuaded’ through mimesis and kinaesthetic empathy. She asserts that the chorus is the persuasive medium “par excellence.”

In Part III, Jennifer Winter focuses on Xenophon’s interest in emotions and their importance to leadership in the Anabasis and Hipparchicus. Winter effectively demonstrates how the passages in the Hipparchicus concerning arousing, allaying, and manipulating emotion as a successful leader find a corresponding example in the Anabasis. She covers the emotions of fear, confidence, calmness, desire, hatred, friendly feelings, and contempt in a step-by-step manner, showing how Xenophon engages with rhetorical theory in these texts. An appendix is also provided at the end of the essay with tables referring to specific emotions in Xenophon’s texts. The essay is well cross-referenced, linking her work usefully with the other contributors in the volume.

In the next essay, Jayne Knight draws our attention to anger, an emotion which is generally thought to be understood but which she sees as rather complex. She demonstrates this claim through an analysis of Roman literature wherein anger is used as a mechanism for social control. She agrees with Konstan (2006) that there was no real differentiation between ‘rational’ and ‘emotional’ for the Romans when it came to anger, and that anger was part of rational decision-making, and imperial anger had a persuasive function. Knight chooses three authors which she uses to discuss the persuasive strategy of anger: Ovid, Seneca, and Suetonius. She differentiates between ira and furor in Ovid, and using Suetonius’ biographies she contrasts Augustus’ use of anger with Tiberius’, asserting that Tiberius was not successful in his use of anger because he lacked the ‘emotional legitimacy’ and that this failure created his unpopularity. Although I do not believe this lack can be the only reason, Knight successfully argues for it as one of the main motives.

Judith Hagen explores the use of tears in Roman historiography, and particularly what Cicero had to say about tears in the courtroom and how they might be used to influence and persuade an audience. She examines how tears might have a different function when used by inferiors or superiors. Cicero asserts that the emotion must be truly felt and lack artificiality, but the use of tears is recommended in court to persuade the tribunal. Hagan asserts that emotions were considered factors in decision-making and are one of several tactics available to an orator who wishes to make a persuasive argument, which ties quite nicely to the previous essay by Knight regarding anger.

Matthew Johncock’s essay takes a look at the numerous failures of emotion to persuade in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. He makes a thorough examination of the relationships in each example and shows how relative superiority between speaker and addressee favours success or failure. The prevalence of unjust outcomes favouring the powerful suggests these passages might work as an analogy for Roman society whereby emotionally-charged persuasion fails in the face of imperial power. He suggests Ovid mirrors Augustus in the characters of Jupiter and Apollo, and his discussion of Jupiter’s ira provides a good complement to Knight’s essay. He also sees a certain pity for the ‘underdog’ emerging in Ovid’s text, creating anger towards the powerful. All of the examples are given in an Appendix so as not to interrupt the discussion in the text.

The fourth and final part of the volume begins with Eleanor Dickey’s examination of Greek papyri and the emotional language used therein for a persuasive purpose; essentially, it is an examination of politeness in Greek, and a fascinating one at that. She demonstrates how Brown and Levison’s theory of politeness does not really apply to Classical Greece, and how Terkouafi’s theory works better. In the Classical Period, requests are generally made using “bare, unsoftened” imperatives; however, papyri evidence suggest that things change somewhat in the Hellenistic Period and that superiors use imperatives to make requests of inferiors, whereas inferiors now use polite linguistic formulae, which she attributes mainly to the cultural influence of Egypt. Dickey confronts certain criticisms head on, such as the discrepancy in evidence (Classical literature versus Hellenistic papyri) which might be the reason for the differences; however, she maintains that we should at least see some indication in Classical literature if that were the case. An Appendix contains the Hellenistic papyri examples.

In the second essay, Irene Salvo carries out a “multi-layered analysis” of emotion in Greek erotic curses by examining the role that gender plays in curse tablets and the persuasion strategies employed towards both the deities and the intended beloved. Wishing to avoid the gendered powerful/powerless stereotype which can sometimes be read in these curses, Salvo instead focuses on the agent of power and argues that “both men and women experienced magic as an opportunity to control” their love lives. She then goes on to examine some of the cruel language used towards the targets in the curses, claiming that this constitutes emotional persuasion rather than coercion. Given the violent nature of the language used in the examples, however, this assertion requires more elucidation to be convincing. Finally, Salvo explores the different tactics taken towards deities both to elicit emotions in them and to persuade them to answer the request of the author of the curse. Overall, the essay provides a thorough examination of emotion in a genre often considered in persuasion studies.

Federica Iurescia explores the deliberate provoking of quarrels in ancient Roman literature as a strategy of persuasion – that is, exploiting the ‘negative’ emotions of anger and fear in order to manipulate the one who experiences them. She uses pragmatics to understand the linguistic techniques used to elicit these emotions in Roman comedy. As Iurescia herself states, a comparison of scenes where quarrels are not purposefully provoked would be a useful further study.

The final essay by Kate Hammond is an interesting look at Catullus’ use of “everyday rhetoric” and performative emotion in his poems. Hammond integrates many theories and ideas from other disciplines – discursive psychology, the psychological appraisal theory of emotions, social interactionist view of identity, Spir/Whorf hypothesis – which proves a bit overwhelming at times (perhaps the argument needs more “room to breathe” than an essay of this size can provide), but overall her contribution takes a deep and considered look into the interpsychic nature of emotion in Catullus.

This volume aims to move beyond the standard genres, texts, geography, time periods, and emotions previously examined by scholarship on emotional persuasion in the ancient world, and it certainly accomplishes this goal. One of the main strengths of the contributions is their engagement with psychological, sociological, and linguistic approaches, which enriches the volume. Each section of the book has been carefully considered, as several essays touch upon the same or similar ideas (but not so much as to be redundant). This means a reader will likely find useful material outside of the single essay that drew her to the collection. Extensive cross-referencing also helps to bring out connections across the volume, creating a sense of cohesion which is often the main criticism of collected essays.

Table of Contents

Introduction, Ed Sanders
PART I: Emotion in Classical Greek Oratory – New Directions
1. Chris Carey, Bashing the establishment
2. Brenda Griffith-Williams, Rational and emotional persuasion in Athenian inheritance cases
3. Ed Sanders, Persuasion through emotions in Athenian deliberative oratory
4. Guy Westwood, Nostalgia, politics and persuasion in Demosthenes’ Letters
PART II: Emotion and the formation of Community Identity
5. Angelos Chaniotis, Displaying emotional community – the epigraphic evidence
6. Maria Fragoulaki, Emotion, persuasion and kinship in Thucydides: The Plataian debate (3.52–68) and the Melian Dialogue (5.85–113)
7. Alexandra Eckert, ‘There is no one who does not hate Sulla’: Emotion, persuasion and cultural trauma
8. Lucy Jackson, Greater than logos? Kinaesthetic empathy and mass persuasion in the choruses of Plato’s Laws
PART III: Persuasive Strategies in Unequal Power Relationships
9. Jennifer Winter, Instruction and example: Emotions in Xenophon’s Hipparchicus and Anabasis
10. Jayne Knight, Anger as a mechanism for social control in Imperial Rome
11. Judith Hagen, Emotions in Roman historiography: The rhetorical use of tears as a means of persuasion
12. Matthew Johncock, ‘He was moved, but …’: Failed appeals to the emotions in Ovid’s Metamorphoses
PART IV: Linguistic Formulae and Genre-Specific Persuasion
13. Eleanor Dickey, Emotional language and formulae of persuasion in Greek papyrus letters
14. Irene Salvo, Emotions, persuasion and gender in Greek erotic curses
15. Federica Iurescia, Strategies of persuasion in provoked quarrels in Plautus: A pragmatic perspective
16. Kate Hammond, ‘It ain’t necessarily so’: Reinterpreting some poems of Catullus from a discursive psychological point of view
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