After many years as a Romantic ruin, rhetoric has once again become established as a fundamental element in the exploration of Greek and Roman culture. The study of ancient rhetoric and, in particular, the sophistic rhetoric of the classical polis and of the Second Sophistic has made a remarkable recovery in the last few years, during which there have been a string of important studies which have re-established the ancient discussions of the workings of language—and the ancient displays of words in action—at the very heart of Greek and Roman society, where so many ancient writers placed them. In part, this is a product of what Richard Rorty called the twentieth-century’s ‘linguistic turn’. Recent heirs of Nietzsche, most notably Paul de Man and Jacques Derrida, not only have made the nature of language itself the key question of their writing, but also have turned back to ancient rhetorical formulations and texts for their working materials. Roland Barthes, whose most famous studies analyze Balzac and Greta Garbo’s face, taught a lengthy course on ancient rhetoric, and published its prospectus. This modern interest has had a slow but steady influence even among classicists. In separate areas of expertise, the turn to language itself has produced remarkable critical steps. Jean-Pierre Vernant’s discussion of tragedy as a genre dedicated to exploring the ‘tensions and ambiguities’ in civic language has been perhaps the most influential of post-war critical developments in ancient theatrical criticism. More recently, Josh Ober’s Mass and Elite has become in a very short time a paradigm for treating the performance of oratory in Athenian institutions as a fundamental exercise in the formation and negotiation of civic identity. Nicole Loraux’s L’Invention d’Athènes (translated as The Invention of Athens) brilliantly investigates an institution and genre of epideictic oratory, the Funeral Oration, and shows why and how this was an integral part of Athenian self-projection. The opposition of philosophy and rhetoric has been subject to exhaustive critique, and permanently central works like Plato’s Phaedrus have been anatomized with increasing sophistication (e.g. G. Ferrari Listening to the Cicadas) and the more marginal, the Rhetoric itself, for example, returned to the centre stage (e.g. Essays on Aristotle’s Rhetoric ed D. Furley and A. Nehemas). There are a host of recent books looking at the history of rhetoric that go far beyond the recapitulation of formalistic models for the production of speeches: I mention exempli gratia only what is on my desk at the moment of writing this review: J. Swearingen Rhetoric and Irony; S. Jarratt Rereading the Sophists; B. Vickers In Defence of Rhetoric; T. Poulakos (ed.) Rethinking the History of Rhetoric; T. Cole The Origins of Rhetoric; and the several new or increasingly influential journals ( Rhetorica: Philosophy and Rhetoric; PRE/TEXT; Rhetoric Review [and so forth]). Even Christians have joined in with e.g. P. Brown Power and Persuasion. The field has indeed grown so rapidly that to be a Professor of Rhetoric once again can mean a lot more than director of Freshman Writing Programs. Rhetoric, it seems, is back.
The four books under review here show very different responses to this sea-change. They range from work heavily influenced by the Nietzschean heritage to a style and content familiar to generations of classical scholars; from the articulation of tropes to the study of the face. Together they testify to a field undergoing rapid change, and to the excitement and retrenchments that mark such change.
One author referred to by all the works cited above is George Kennedy. His three volumes The Art of Persuasion in Greece, The Art of Rhetoric in Ancient Rome and Greek Rhetoric under Christian Emperors are extremely well known. They each summarize in clear and intelligent formulations the major ideas of central figures from the ancient world who write about rhetoric, and look briefly at some examples of rhetoric in action especially in the law-court and Assembly or Senate or Imperial Court (rhetoric’s influence on other forms of writing, and other writings’ influence on rhetoric is scarcely treated despite the first volume opening with Homer and tragedy). The panoptic vision, the reliable accounts, and deeply conservative view of what constitutes rhetoric and rhetorical theory have justly made these books standard for classicists and other disciplines. Kennedy’s A New History. of Classical Rhetoric, therefore, raises fascinating prospects with the bold adjective ‘new’. How ‘new’? In one sense, at least, especially with regard to the rapidly changing field, this volume is very far from ‘new’, since it offers an abridged compilation of the three already published volumes. Often with the same chapter headings, and with similar discussions (especially in the later sections), there is a sense of a boat sailing serenely on in the well-charted waters of classical appreciation of rhetoric. Needless to say, many of the qualities admired in the three volumes are transferred elegantly to the briefer format. There are few scholars who could construct such a compilation—a project which in itself recalls so many ancient anthologies and repetitions of rhetorical precepts from generation to generation. The briefer scope does have a definitely cramping effect, however. There is no room for much extended reading of any text; often the reader is advised by a footnote to consult the earlier volume; and there is a distinct sense of unease in the author’s own rhetoric, as he is forced to apologize, for example, for trying to treat the corpus of Libanius—his extant 51 declamations, 96 progymnasmata, 64 orations, 1600 letters, and the collection of hypotheses to Demosthenes—in just under three pages. A lot of the scholarly apparatus has been removed, which is perhaps justified in such a general introduction, but the entries in reduced form become too close to encyclopaedia articles. There is little sense of an overall history, and no engaging narrative. It is rather a roll-call. A run through of greatest names. So we get 15 pages on Demosthenes, Lysias and Aeschines, with some of the good points readers will remember from The Art of Persuasion in Ancient Greece; but insufficient framework to help the student understand where and why such speeches were being delivered, what was at stake in being an orator in Athens, what the power games and social manoeuvres were. This makes for very dry reading indeed, and I imagine few students or scholars would want to sit down and read this cover to cover. It is a starting point, to be used with care. Useful as a book for a library, but unlikely to turn any student towards the institutions and practices of rhetoric with excitement and relish.
Yet there is one further and important sense in which this is a new history. For the first section of the book which rewrites The Art of Persuasion in Ancient Greece, is indeed a new history, considerably redrafted and rethought in interesting ways. Now Kennedy offers the term ‘metarhetoric’ to express the object of his study—that is, the explicitly didactic and explanatory material about formal speech making. He feels forced to make this change because ‘there is no such thing as nonrhetorical discourse’ (a conclusion he attributes to ‘linguistic, philosophical and critical studies in the twentieth century’). Indeed, ‘epideictic rhetoric is best regarded’, he writes, ‘as any discourse that does not aim at a specific action but is intended to influence the values and beliefs of the audience’. So broad a definition of one of the three basic elements of ‘metarhetoric’ allows no discourse to escape the ‘metarhetorical’ net, and threatens to collapse the distinction Kennedy started from. This new, theoretically charged, opening is regrettably not followed through, although the sections on Greek rhetoric from the fifth and fourth centuries are largely redrafted. A new methodological sophistication is hinted at, but scarcely developed. The remainder of the book follows largely the well-trodden path of accounting for technai and philosophical oppositions to rhetoric. The fear of stepping outside these boundaries is palpable. There is not even a place for Isocrates’ telling arguments that training and rules may help hone a speaker, but could never replace native wit and experience: rhetoric is not, he argues, to be treated ‘by analogy ( paradeigma) as an art with hard and fast rules ( tetagmenên tekhnên)’ [ Against the Sophists 12]. One wonders what a history of rhetoric would look like that seriously developed the worry that all language was rhetorical, and looked at e.g. the rhetoric of rhetoric manuals, or at the rhetoric of modern writers about rhetoric, or, say, at the novel in the Second Sophistic as much as the handbook, the Gospels as well as St. Augustine.
The jacket offers the book as a ‘comprehensive history of classical rhetoric, one that is sure to become a standard of its time’ and as a ‘broad and engaging history’. Caveat emptor. The volume has much of use in it, and many signs of the honed judgement of someone so steeped in the tradition of ancient writing on rhetoric, but, regrettably, it cannot match up to such a billing. Because of the rewriting of The Art of Persuasion in Ancient Greece, the New History will take its place on the shelves next to the three volume history, but 1 expect it will still be those three volumes which will be the first port of call for most scholars and students.
Glen Bowersock, like George Kennedy, has been toiling for many years with immense distinction in a field which has suddenly caught fire and become as trendy as trendy can be. His Greek Sophists in the Roman Empire of 1969 is a standard and pathbreaking study, and, in a string of articles and more recent books such as Hellenism in Late Antiquity, he has shown a mastery of the complex sources of late antiquity, and a gift for compelling narratives within the period. Fiction as History, as its title suggests, marks a departure. It does not engage in the rhetoric-led analysis of historiography pioneered by Hayden White; nor does it opt for the engaging, if intellectually superficial, attractions of Simon Schama’s story-telling history in Dead Certainties (first published in Granta). Rather, he wants to use the fictions of the second sophistic to explore its cultural history, and in particular to make the startling claim that the novels and other writing less often treated by historians from the period are influenced by the growth of Christianity in very particular ways. The book consists of six short chapters which were delivered as the Sather lectures in 1991, annotated with notes and appendices. The book is very slim (the text itself is well under 150 pages of large print), each chapter has clear signs of its lecture origin in being a snap shot of an area rather than a fully worked out and developed thesis, and the content and tone of the whole, which barely constructs a continuous argument, especially in contrast with Bowersock’s earlier work, smack of a holiday in California. It is simply much harder to use fiction for cultural history than Bowersock allows.
The first chapter looks at the types of fiction circulated in the Empire, and finds four major types: ‘fantastic tales, Homeric revisionism, tragic or romantic novels, and comic or satiric novels’ (categories which can, of course, overlap). The argument is that this explosion of fiction is quite new, and that a new relation is being forged between truth, lying and writing. A surprising hero emerges in the figure of Ptolemaeus Chennus, Ptolemy ‘the Quail’, who collected stories of the quaint, bizarre and miraculous (who has been one of my favourites ever since I discovered he wrote that Odysseus was called outis because he was a big-ears ( otis), something not picked up by the many psychoanalytical writers on the Cyclops episode). The agenda to this account is that the stories of the miraculous that are integral to the growth of Christianity emerge in a particular context, a context where miraculous fictions are part of the lingua franca. Bowersock does not really consider the reception of, say, Odysseus’ tales over the years, or the Platonic tradition of the noble lie (which emerges from a contemporary discussion of ‘deception’ as the forthcoming work of Jonathan Hesk demonstrates), or Aristophanic fantasy; but his central point that Christian narratives emerge in a culture which privileges certain types of narrative, is a good starting point for further work.
The second chapter, entitled ‘Other People, Other Places’ looks at the interest in the bizarre—the other—in Empire writing, and notes the strong interest in the fantastic which he sets against the perception of a unified paideia of the educated classes. Despite this excellent framework as a starting point, this is the least successful chapter, which barely scratches the surface of a huge topic. Lucian, we are told, completely rejects ‘the Hellenic standard’ in his Toxaris because the ‘Greek Mnesippus in the end accepts the idea that the Scythians have a culture just as advanced and civilized as the Greek’. Here and elsewhere the drastic oversimplification of fiction, especially Lucian’s fictions, debilitates the argument. Lucian’s multiple personae and his ironies are ignored; the engagement with a fictional Greek expressing ideas in a dialogue is reduced to a simple didactic message; the positioning of the foreigner within a culture as commentator on the culture is left unanalyzed. Consider a text that Bowersock fails to mention, the de dea Syria. Here, Lucian, himself from Syria, writes in the language and style of Herodotus on a Syrian deity, but introduces the narrator, in the first person, as a Syrian, but refuses to name the narrator. Unlike the Herodotean (self-) definition of Hellenismus through his trips around the other (as Hartog and Gould would put it), Lucian writes as an insider, a Syrian, commenting for the educated Greek reader, as if he were an outsider. In the Empire all are insiders, but some are more insiders than others, and Lucian negotiates a complex self-positioning. What is more, it is crucial that Herodotus begins his history with his name and provenance: the de dea Syria refuses to name its narrator, and, indeed, ends by saying you can find his name ritually inscribed in the shrine of the goddess, but again doesn’t tell us what it is. Lucian is playing with the identity of the historian as commentator. So we find a whole series of plays with the narrative voice of Lucian, and with what Bracht Branham calls the ‘serio-comic’—a writing style that constantly plays with its own claim to seriousness, and makes its own jokes serious. This writing cannot be processed so transparently into an ‘absorption … in alien customs’. There may indeed be ‘new standards of otherness’ emerging in this period, and a new sense of the Hellenic standard, but it will need a far more careful and far-reaching study to trace such developments adequately.
The third chapter looks at Dio’s reading of Philoctetes—the three versions by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides—and traces how different writers responses to suffering are articulated. Is it proper for Philoctetes to be represented as broken and screaming with pain? This leads to the claim that ‘Philoctetes provides a polytheistic mirror for the Christian passion’. The argument is provocative, but contains the excellent point that responses to ancient tragedy, works of art, and the Gospel and martyr narratives depend on a complex discourse of self-control and physicality—the rhetoric of pain. It remains a provocative point here, true to the lecture style. A similar strategy is seen in chapter 5 which looks at stories of resurrection from Protesilaus to Jesus and sees an influence of the Gospel stories in the prevalence of Scheintod narratives in the novels. So ‘an unmistakable echo’ of the Gospels is found in Lucian’s Peregrinus when the narrator is told of Peregrinus’ resurrection by an old man ‘garbed in white and crowned with olive’, since in Mark, Mary Magdalen finds a young man dressed in white in the tomb of Jesus. This is rather strained. The leuke stole of what is probably an angel in a tomb with its associations of death might possibly have some connection with an old-man’s festive garb, leuke esthes, (and note the garland) at a feast at the Olympic games, but when there are so many reasons and times for dressing in white robes, to call this ‘an unmistakable echo’ is desperate. There are many tales of apparent death in the fiction of the Empire (as there are many tellings of Iphigeneia’s apparent sacrifice in an earlier time): but there are many elements beyond a ‘reflection of the remarkable stories that were coming out of Palestine’ that should be part of an account of this narrative strategy. And what does ‘reflection’ really mean in that sentence? That the Scheintod story in, say, Plutarch’s Amatorius or in Chariton is a ‘reflection’ of the Gospels?
The fourth chapter is on dreams, and takes Foucault and Winkler to task for misrepresenting Artemidorus as a guide to everyday concerns (he calls it ‘one of the most serious, if well-intentioned, misrepresentations of antiquity that the modern world has yet beheld’). For Bowersock, Artemidorus is an exception, not a paradigm, and he takes the regular use of dreams in the novel to indicate a very different sense of how dreams function. Not only is there quite insufficient analysis of the generic and sociological differences involved in such a comparison, but also the reading of many of the dreams in the novels is perverse. In Achilles Tatius, Pantheia dreams, according to Bowersock, that her daughter is sliced in two, which, he says, ‘since the daughter survives … could hardly be called predictive’. Bowersock quite ignores that the bandit actually inserts a sword into the girl’s vagina, and the dream happens at the very moment her lover is about to have sex with her in the next room, and the mother’s scream prevents the penetration violently imaged in the dream. It is typical of Achilles Tatius to play with the idea of prediction and with the imagery of violence to the female body. To say the dream is not predictive (as Artemidorus would have it) because the girl is not killed simply misses all the jokes. If this is how historians are going to read fiction it will make for very unsatisfying cultural history.
The final chapter looks at the imagery of cannibalism in the Eucharist and tries to find a context for this very ‘new’ testament. Again, the material is provocative, but mired with bizarre judgements (in ‘Achilles Tatius’ novel … parody is an element hard to find’). It is a pity that Heliodorus, the novelist who appears to ‘be the latest and to have the most strongly ‘religious’ narrative does not receive more attention and a stronger contrast with the earlier novels (which might test the claims of development); it is a pity that Daphnis and Chloe and almost all poetry gets no mention; it is a pity that the history starts with the Empire: Hellenistic wonder tales and collections of stories; Xenophon’s prose; the Exagoge of Ezekiel (with its evidence of Alexandrian Jewish adoption of early literary forms): all have contributions to make to the history of fiction (and the fiction of history). In this book, Bowersock has emphasized the need for two very important issues to be set firmly on the agenda: the interplay of cultural traditions in the Empire, especially around the growth of Christianity, and the role of fiction for understanding the culture of the past as a culture. It is to be hoped his book will lead to more and to more developed attempts to explore these fascinating problems.
Maud Gleason’s Making Men straddles the same period as Bowersock, but not only looks at quite different texts, but also utilizes quite different methodological concerns and sensitivities. This book focuses on the interrelations of gender definition and rhetorical practice in the Second Sophistic, as mediated through rhetorical treatises and biographies, with a specific interest in physiognomics, and, most excitingly to me at least, voice training. It too is a slim volume, elegantly written, with a host of interesting examples, and in the chapters on speaking exercises it opens an area that, to my knowledge, has scarcely been treated in English, even in technical works on rhetoric, and certainly not with the sophistication and flair that Gleason brings to the subject. It shows up with stunning clarity issues wholly ignored by Kennedy’s history, and the constitutive and damaging partiality that grounds his claim to comprehensiveness.
There are six chapters: the first and last are concerned with the life, or more correctly, with the biographical fictions, of the first-century public-speaker and super-star Favorinus. As a ‘Gaul who spoke Greek, a eunuch prosecuted for adultery, and a man who quarreled with the emperor and was still alive’, to quote Philostratus’ account of his own paradoxical self-description, Favorinus was a bizarre figure, good—or hard—to think with. He flaunted his own precarious position within gender, class, and racial categories, and this very flaunting means that the descriptions of Favorinus both by himself and by others are extremely revealing of the categories he puts under such strain.
The first chapter is concerned with his ‘Corinthian Oration’, a speech preserved under the name of Dio Chrysostom ([Dio] 37), in which Favorinus attacks the Corinthians for having taken down a statue of himself they had previously dedicated in his honour. Gleason sets this speech next to Plutarch’s near contemporary advice in ‘On Inoffensive Self-praise’ to explore how self-promotion and self-expression—’self-fashioning’, as Greenblatt influentially has put it—are the aims of rhetoric in process. This is an essential claim of the book: Gleason wants to move the study of rhetoric away from the cataloguing of rules, away from the Romantic or Marxist accusations of rhetoric as falseness or false consciousness, away from the slough of denigration into which the heyday of German Altertumswissenschaft cast it, towards a recognition of rhetoric’s essential place as a cultural process that policed not merely gender definition—how to be a real man—but also the claims of paideia, Graecitas, Romanitas, and the power games of status. In short, rhetoric as the fashioning of the self. Indeed, the vast collections of Roman rhetorical exercises are seen almost as playing the roles of ‘myth’ in earlier Greek culture, in that they provide the source of a culture’s telling stories, a space for the exercise of a culture’s imagination, and a central site for the parade of non-native messaging. (Gleason does not go far enough in exploring this line of argument, developed by Mary Beard in Colloquium Rauricum 3, Mythos in mythenloser Gesellschaft, ed. F. Graf (Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1993).) This central claim runs throughout the book and in its general form it marks a considerable development over a great deal of more traditional writing on rhetoric. Classics has been painfully slow to recognize, let alone account for or criticize, the immense influence of Romantic thought on the development of the discipline (for all the easy opposition of Romanticism to Classicism elsewhere), and this is nowhere more evident than in the study of rhetoric. It is still commonplace to see the dismissal of ancient remarks or whole speeches as ‘mere rhetoric’; and to find scholars who think that the recognition of a topos is the end of the critic’s task; and to see analyses that have no sense of rhetoric as a performative process integral to civic life. Gleason’s analysis sets out its stall against such approaches, and firmly and explicitly places itself under a modernist flag, citing Bourdieu, Goffman, Greenblatt, Herzfeld, and her much lamented predecessor at Stanford, Jack Winkler, as major influences. As such names would suggest, Gleason brings a largely anthropological or sociological perspective to bear—rhetoric as social process—and it is a most profitable view, from which many classicists will learn. Quintilian famously endorses the definition of an orator as ‘vir bonus et dicendi peritus’. Gleason reminds us that in the spheres of rhetorical practice above all, the category ‘vir bonus’ is inevitably and fiercely contested.
For all that her general position is powerfully and persuasively articulated, the first chapter leaves several areas insufficiently investigated. Gleason wants—quite rightly—to offer an account that situates her texts as paradigms of second-sophistic culture. Hence her readiness with parallels from Plutarch, Lucian and other Greek and Roman writers of the period. Yet there is scarcely any reference either to the classical period to which the Second Sophistic plays continual homage or to contemporary material beyond the restricted areas of rhetorical training and commentary. In Isocrates, for example, over four hundred years earlier there is a remarkable rhetorical paradigm of self-fashioning through fictions as well as a developed theory and exposition of paideia. (She could not have read Yun Lee Too’s very fine, just published study of Isocrates, The Rhetoric of Identity in Isocrates: Text, Power, Pedagogy (Cambridge, 1995).) It is in Isocrates’Antidosis after all that we have the most developed example of Plutarch’s advice on how to praise oneself by imagining an attack and defending oneself against it. The way in which Plutarch et al. are responding to the inherited models of self-presentation is a basic factor in their writing: e.g. Plutarch’s Platonicisms in the Amatorius; Lucian’s use of Heraclitus and Democritus. Indeed, she seems to think that the Second Sophistic age was the first to look back to the classical world with such longing: ‘the Hellenistic age did not know it was Hellenistic: it thought it was still classical’, she writes. Already in Isocrates, however, there is a repeated harking back to the lost days of Pericles; and in Theocritus and Callimachus and Apollonius there is a constant strategy of what Peter Bing calls ‘rupture and revival’, a sense of belatedness that informs their writing. The sense of tradition which is so strong in the Second Sophistic needs more careful expression. What is more, the variety of writing in the Second Sophistic would help greatly in tracing the place of rhetoric in an intellectual context. There is scarcely any mention of any poetry, of the ancient novel or other contemporary prose, or, say, of other sciences or technical philosophy or theology, of the period. Lucian is the writer above all who requires such a panoptic vision by his very output. But Favorinus too would benefit from an increased contextualization.
The actual treatment of the ‘Corinthian Oration’ itself suffers from this restriction of scope, and, indeed, from its very briefness. Rather than offering an extended and detailed reading, Gleason moves quickly to Favorinus’ great rival, Polemo. Where Favorinus flaunts his uncertain categorizations, Polemo not merely sets himself up as ‘vir bonus’, but also, in his claim to physiognomic expertise, takes the position of judge and jury concerning the ‘manliness’ of others. Chapter two introduces Polemo and his writing on physiognomics and rhetoric; chapter three focuses on the ability of physiognomics to offer a semiotic system to regulate the claims of manhood. Some of this material is familiar from Gleason’s chapter in Before Sexuality (edd. D. Halperin, J. Winkler, F. Zeitlin), but it is a more extended discussion that benefits greatly from the sense of conflict between Polemo and Favorinus. Gleason develops well the sense that the public face of the citizen was being constantly scrutinized, attacked, defined and challenged. (‘Face to face’ society here has strongly violent and contestatory overtones.) She points out how Polemo attempts to defend himself against the pervasive threats of unmasking by his own rhetorical stance of unchallengable and aggressive authority; and how the signs of masculinity constantly slip and slide in the agonistic world of gender identity. Difficulties similar to those in the first chapter are well shown up, however, by contrasting Gleason’s discussion with Tamsyn Barton’s Power and Knowledge: Astrology, Physiognomics and Medicine under the Roman Empire (Michigan, 1994). Barton places physiognomics in a context of sophia framed by astrology and medicine, a contextualization that greatly helps in understanding the practice as a techne. Both Barton and Gleason refer to the pseudo-Aristotelian treatise on physiognomics, but Barton has a more developed treatment of how its logic and practice is related not merely to a range of philosophical concerns, but also, and most importantly, to ancient Greek ideas of ‘likeness’: the stylistic figure of ‘imago’ gives precision and nuance to the link between rhetoric and physiognomics. Barton is more concerned to link ancient and modern discussions of physiognomics. Gleason (whom Barton follows and acknowledges) is more interested in, and treats with skill, physiognomic deception and the relations of physiognomics to askesis, the training of the sell put on the agenda by Foucault. Barton provides an excellent complement to Gleason, and together they show the richness of this material for the analysis of second sophistic culture. If Gleason is more elegantly and wittily phrased, Barton’s depth of reference to technical writing in the ancient and modern world offers a far more nuanced frame for the physiognomic texts to be discussed.
The finest chapters of Gleason and the most novel are the two chapters on voice training and virility. She shows how there is an extensive debate about the proper sorts of training for the voice and how this training is an integral part of ancient ideas about exercise and becoming a man. Where Plutarch can recommend voice exercise as the perfect form of training for a gentleman, Cicero, in a blast of Romanitas, despises it as an actor’s craft. Nicest of all, the younger Seneca recommends riding in a litter so that the body can be jiggled up and down but so that you can still read—and academic’s anti-aerobics of the voice. Here, Gleason uncovers a set of ancient prescriptions, sets them persuasively in a context, and uses her anthropological concerns to brilliant effect in uncovering a cultural nexus that has been scarcely treated (though the article of Rousselle ‘Parole et inspiration’ in History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 5.2 (1983) is an important precursor and complement in its interest in the medical writers’ treatment of the physiology of voice production). The overlapping concerns of the body, training, and intellectual activity are here fascinatingly revealed. The final chapter refers us back to Favorinus, as seen by his enemies and friends, notably Aulus Gellius. Now Gleason expresses her belief that one should not expect a conclusive picture of a historical individual called Favorinus to emerge from the contrasting images of him, but rather that ‘it is naive to ask the real Favorinus to stand up’, and that we are always ‘inside the world of the text’. While this is perhaps an inevitable conclusion of the analysis of rhetorical self-fashioning, the arguments for it are somewhat too briefly explored. In earlier chapters, we are repeatedly offered details and anecdotes from biographies of sophists without any consideration of their textual status—of the fact that these anecdotes are already processed through the machine of ancient biographical fiction. We are told, for example, that the well-known story of Cleanthes’ discovering that a hairy macho man is really a cinaedus by his sudden sneeze, is a ‘vignette of a physiognomist in action’, which reveals the essence of physiognomic practice—rather than the common narrative pattern of sophia vindicated. We learn from Philostratus and Polemo that Favorinus’ voice was shrill and woman-like: this is offered as a central characteristic of the ‘real Favorinus’ throughout the book, without any great discussion of the role of insult and invective in ancient biographical fiction (and without a note of Isocrates’ self-confessed ‘weak voice’ as a precursor). This leads to a crucial problem in the conclusion. If masculinity was so prized and policed, asks Gleason, why did so many dare to adopt ‘the “effeminate” style’? Her answer, tentative and scarcely argued for, is that ‘there was something manly, after all, about taking risks’, even with one’s masculinity. This seems to me not to take adequate account of the rhetorical dismissal of femininity, and the role of such invective in the agonistic world of rhetorical contestation. (Even Favorinus, the limit case, proclaimed his masculinity in the prided prosecution for adultery.) For all the accusations of ‘effeminate style’ and the regret that such a style won over audiences, it is others who use the ‘effeminate style’, and for Gleason to ask ‘why this more androgynous style of self-presentation was so effective with audiences’ runs the risk of ignoring the way in which orators regularly accuse the audience it cannot persuade of corruption. Of a slide away from ‘real manliness’. Of susceptability to others’ femininity.
Gleason’s book makes a real contribution to the study of the second sophistic: it is constantly enjoyable to read, it offers new and potent insights, and opens up avenues for much further work. Above all, it takes rhetoric seriously as a process of self-fashioning, which will inevitably raise questions of the sell of gender, of how the normative forces of society function. John Poulakos, a professor of rhetoric at the University of Pittsburgh, also aims to take rhetoric seriously, and he aims first to set what he calls ‘sophistic rhetoric’—the first sophistic—in a cultural and historical context, and, secondly, to explore the reception of this rhetoric by three exemplary non-sophists, Plato, Isocrates and Aristotle. Their different controlling responses to the freedoms of sophistic rhetoric head Poulakos’ vision of intellectuals throughout history constantly attempting to remove the threat of sophistry’s oppositional and paradoxical tactics, the sophists’ sheer joy in the playfulness of language. Despite the recommendations from distinguished classicists on the jacket—itself a form awaiting rhetorical analysis—most classicists will be put off by the extremely naive social and intellectual history that informs this project, and by the huge gaps in exposition that undercut much of the argument. A book that claims to offer a history of the reception of rhetoric in the classical polis and fails even to mention Demosthenes, Aeschines, Isaeus et al.—rhetoric in practice—is unlikely to be able to nuance Aristotle’s Rhetoric, say, as a cultural product with much persuasion.
Poulakos’ first chapter aims to investigate ‘the circumstances’ of the sophists. For Poulakos, the sophists are a recognisable group, a movement, which develops a distinctive rhetoric (and theory to go with it), which can be opposed to philosophy. When Plato calls someone a sophist, that person is for Poulakos a sophist, it seems (and Socrates, most certainly, is not). These sophists are defined by Poulakos as ‘nomads’ (in Deleuze’s sense of the term) and ‘bricoleurs’ (in de Certeau’s sense of the term), by which he means that they are culturally marginal figures in terms of the power structures of society, and that they adapt and adopt their tactics opportunistically to the social and cultural positions in which they operate as marginals. All sophists taught rhetoric, he claims, and not only did they make rhetoric available thus to all for pleasure and profit, but this importantly serviced a rising middle class. Their rhetoric of opposition—both the ‘two sides’ of the dissoi logoi and the eristics and paradoxes of aggressive challenge—is to be seen as part of the agonistic structures of Greek society, just as the love of epideixis fits into Athenian commitment to spectacle as social event.
Poulakos develops each of these claims further than my bare summary allows, but each seems to me to need considerable qualification even as starting points for discussion. It is, in my view, quite misleading to think of sophists as a ‘movement’, especially one specifically linked to a shared teaching of rhetoric. Doctors, city planners, artists, politicians, competed for the title of sophos in the polis, and as G.E.R. Lloyd’s Revolutions of Wisdom has shown in great detail, the development of many technai, including rhetoric and philosophy, depends on a competitive and aggressive culture of claim and counter-claim about what is true sophia and what is to be denigrated as ‘mere sophistry’ (and its many denigatory synonyms). (Lloyd’s book is one of many absolutely central texts apparently unknown to Poulakos, both primary and secondary sources. From Moses Finley to Josiah Ober, almost all the most important contemporary works on the function and practice of rhetoric and politics in the polis are simply ignored.) The argumentative strategies that are used to distinguish ‘sophistic rhetoric’ are found throughout the writing of the fifth and fourth centuries. The idea that, say, an argument of possibility is something specifically ‘sophistic’ as opposed to one of the commonest turns from the middle of the fifth-century on, evident in medicine, history, tragedy, Plato, Demosthenes and so forth, is simply false. Plato’s definition of a sophist (especially but not only in the Sophist is an argumentative construction, and the fact that his Protagoras willingly confesses to being a sophist needs much more careful analysis than Poulakos can offer. Socrates, for all that Plato and others since have tried to free him of such a charge, cannot easily be separated from other intellectuals of the period simply by an appeal to ‘philosophy’, a term Plato develops as part of his own idiolect, in part, of course, to try to separate himself. The discipline of philosophy as a recognisable discipline cannot, with any historical rigour, be read back into the fifth century. That many sophists were wanderers from city to city is, of course, true. But it must not be forgotten that even Gorgias, who had neither family nor city in Isocrates’ portrait, came to Athens as an ambassador for Leontini; and sophists were chosen as law-givers and city planners for new cities—scarcely marginal or opportunistic roles. Socrates himself plays with the category of notoriety and public service—but is one of the best-known citizens of the fame-hungry age, well enough known to be the centre of a play of Aristophanes. Hippias, the sophist, wrote tragedies—another central civic role. The claim that sophists serviced a ‘rising middle class’ is also deeply misleading: ‘citizen’ is the central category of classical self-definition and a more complex picture would be necessary to take account of the facts that aristocrats like Callias were major patrons of ‘sophists’, that aristocratic writers complained of the rich but not highborn having access to the sophists, that everyone seems to have worried about ‘the young’ attending sophists, that there were different classes of ‘sophists’ from market-place epideixis -mongers to the state ambassador and tragedy writer. What is at stake in the city of words is the politics of paideia, that is, who has access to knowledge, and who has access to power, the ever-present questions of democracy. Finally, while it is true that the culture of the agon and the spectacle is fundamental to Athens, it is immensely dispiriting to see Poulakos base his view of the role of drama in the city primarily on the analysis of Grote (with a nod to Nietzsche and William Archer Butler). Once again the complete absence of relevant contemporary bibliography shores up the poverty of analysis. The image of a movement of like-minded sophists serving the rising middle classes of democracy offers more distortion than help for understanding fifth-century culture.
That the sophists need a cultural and historical framework as well as an intellectual one is well taken. (It has been made by several uncited scholars.) That the agon spectacle, and democracy are three determining points of that framework is also true. But Poulakos’ account is so flawed and unscholarly that it provides a very shaky basis for what follows. What does follow is four chapters. The first is on ‘Terms for Sophistical Rhetoric’ which argues, again in very general form, for a set of rhetorical strategies to distinguish sophistic rhetoric, in particular, ‘opportunity’, ‘playfulness’, ‘possibility’. It is interesting that to eikos finds no place here, nor does any technical device, such as the appeal to etymology or to redefinition. The one text to get a reading is the Encomium to Helen, and here the joke of the ending is drastically underexplored (as, incidentally, it is in Kennedy). To say that ‘Gorgias does not seem overly concerned whether his argument will ultimately unseat the arguments of his predecessors’, ignores the joke’s potential relations to the arguments about the seductive power of logos. Playfulness can be a very serious matter (as the history of relations between tyrants and humourists shows. What is the rhetorical force of ‘just’ in ‘just a joke’?). This is the briefest chapter, and it suffers from its lack of detailed exposition. The following three chapters, however, constitute a more weighty contribution. Each is concerned with the reception of ‘sophistic rhetoric’ by Plato, Isocrates, Aristotle. (It is nice to see Isocrates again, who is enjoying something of a revival. See, as well as Yun Lee Too’s book, A. Ford’s fine and lengthy study in T. Poulakos ed. Rethinking the History of Rhetoric.) Poulakos argues that Plato found sophistry morally unruly and dangerous; that Isocrates found its eristics damaging to his desired political unity; and that Aristotle found sophistry theoretically inconsistent. Each of these general points has some value (and is scarcely original). Each reading has some good points in passing, and develops a case through a range of texts. In each case, Poulakos tries to link the change to a social and political change in society, which is a bold and difficult case to make. In each chapter, as in the first, certain gross distortions distract from the better arguments. He decides not to try to link Plato’s dismissiveness of sophists to his other intellectual concerns (which bizarrely truncates Plato’s argumentation), and claims that ‘the sophists were trounced [by Plato] because their persuasive tactics lacked the concern for the moral improvement of the citizens’. What is left out here is the whole discussion of ‘can virtue be taught?’ that motivates so much of intellectual argument of the time. Whatever Plato claimed or however he thought he had ‘trounced’ the sophists, the teaching of virtue, ‘moral improvement’, remained a hot topic on which Plato and Platonists scarcely had a monopoly. Indeed, accusations of not really teaching virtue and not being a real philosopher continue to be thrown about right through the Hellenistic period into the Second Sophistic and beyond. ‘Thus the story comes to an end’, writes Poulakos after his discussion of Aristotle. Only if you don’t read on …
Poulakos has written an essayistic introduction to an exciting range of issues. He tries to take rhetoric seriously, and in his serious commitment to the rhetoric of the sophistic period his aim is one I share whole-heartedly. Yet as a reader of texts and as a writer of history, he repeatedly shows himself to be not merely the dupe of Plato’s rhetoric—a position most take up at sometime—but also a surprisingly naive analyst of the fundamental business of how rhetoric is part of self-promotion and projection, the self-fashioning that Gleason is so conscious of. The move through language to society and culture is far harder than this book would have it. The sense of ‘protocol’, ‘ruse’, and ‘strategy’ that so motivate Winkler’s writing (and have made it so influential), is worryingly absent from Poulakos’ analysis. It gives a very strange and unnuanced sense of what ‘rhetoric’ might mean and how it might function as a social process.
There is clearly much to be done with ancient rhetoric yet. Gleason and Bowersock show how constrained and constraining the history of Kennedy can be; Poulakos shows the need for the solid control of Kennedy, but also the requirement of thinking how the study of rhetoric involves the political definition of the citizen through paideia. We may not soon come back to the days in which Demosthenes and Cicero are part of every educated citizen’s paideia, but there is, as these books show, a growing case for reconsidering why for so many centuries rhetoric was the name for the central processes of education and becoming a citizen.