BMCR 2000.09.07

Glossary of Greek Rhetorical Terms connected to Methods of Argumentation, Figures and Tropes from Anaximenes to Quintilian

, Glossary of Greek rhetorical terms connected to methods of argumentation, figures and tropes from Anaximenes to Quintilian. Contributions to biblical exegesis and theology 24. Leuven: Peeters, 2000. 130 pages ; 23 cm.. ISBN 9042908467. 600 BEF, 15 Euro.

This book is not intended to replace Ernesti’s Lexicon technologiae Graecorum rhetoricae (1795), which is still indispensable. For quick reference to rhetorical terms and passages where they occur, one may look, but often to one’s disappointment, in LSJ, or in Martin’s Antike Rhetorik (1974). Lausberg’ Handbuch der literarischen Rhetorik (now also available in an English translation, published by Brill, Leiden 1998) is a great help also but often confusing for the reader because of its own systematisation. Otherwise one has to consult indices to editions of individual authors, commentaries, or specialised studies, such as the very rich book of Geigenmüller.1 Therefore, a new glossary of Greek rhetorical terms is very welcome. As the title shows, the author has used as his sources Greek and Roman texts from not later than the first century A.D. — with the exception of Alexander, De figuris, which is placed in the second century. This restriction in time has to do with the birth of this glossary: it is a by-product of his Ph.D. thesis, Ancient Rhetorical Theory and Paul.2 The aim of the glossary is to help “those attempting to use and apply Greek rhetorical methods of argumentation, figures and tropes to literature of the Hellenistic and early Imperial period, … particularly the documents of the Greek New Testament” (pp.5-6). Another restriction concerns the decision to leave out terminology specific to στάσις. “Methods of Argumentation”, then, looks at specific methods, “which were often rather generally classified among the stylistic figures” (p. 6). All lemmata are in Greek but very often Latin equivalents are also given, because the Rhetorica ad Herennium best preserves Greek school rhetoric.3

The chronological restriction in tool sources, namely the decision not to use treatises from later than the end of the first century A.D., is related to the restriction in literature the study of which may be helped by this tool, that of the Hellenistic and early imperial period. The inclusion of earlier treatises, such as Aristotle’s Rhetoric, is defended for reasons of offering to the user a historical perspective, for much of Aristotle’s terminology underwent serious changes in meaning throughout the centuries and is no longer relevant to rhetorical analysis of documents of the early imperial period. On the other hand, Anderson fails to discuss his selection of terminology connected to methods of argumentation, figures and tropes, and, consequently, the exclusion of vocabulary related to other aspects of rhetorical theory, such as the doctrines of virtutes dicendi, genera dicendi, and genera compositionis.4

To understand the reasons for these restrictions and inclusions one has to consult Anderson’s major work on Paul’s Letters and ancient rhetorical theory, referred to above. There one finds their justification. Anderson agrees with many other New Testament scholars that Paul probably had no knowledge of rhetorical theory nor that he was directly influenced by the more specific methods of school rhetoric (254). In order to get a better understanding of Paul’s writings it is, however, important to set them off against the background of the Graeco-Roman culture in which he lived and worked. In that area oratory was of fundamental importance, and many contemporary readers of his letters would react to them from a rhetorical point of view and notice their different character. This major work also contains a critique of modern approaches to the question of rhetoric and Paul’s writings. Thus Anderson discusses the advantages and shortcomings of the New Rhetoric of Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, which had a great impact on biblical studies, and does the same for Kennedy’s 1984 book on New Testament Interpretation, another influential study.5

This very short survey of some chapters of Anderson’s major book is not a review in disguise but was necessary to elucidate some principles of the glossary under review here.

Anderson (6-7) lists three reasons why στάσις theory “cannot be considered helpful in terms of analysing documents retrospectively from the perspective of ancient rhetorical theory”. (1) The theory was nowhere standardised — but the same can be said about the theories of figures and tropes, DMS; (2) the στάσις theory did not generally concern itself with the kind of methods of argumentation incorporated in this glossary—circular reasoning, DMS. The methods discussed in the glossary are those such as ἐπιχρήματα and ἐνθυμήματα, not lists of τόποι with ready-made arguments suited to the particular kind of judicial controversy as targeted by the στάσις theory. The third reason is that the τόποι of στάσις theory were specifically related to judicial disputes and as such have little relevance to documents outside of judicial speeches themselves. Notwithstanding this decision, under the lemma τόπος one meets with many references to general στάσις theory. Anderson’s decision is regrettable and to my mind founded on too little knowledge of the applications of this theory in ancient literature. Moreover, Kennedy 1984 (see above) has shown the profit one may have from using the stasis theory in analysing the speeches in the Acts. The theory may be of little help in understanding Paul’s letters and is therefore not used in the major study, but this glossary is intended as help for the interpretation of the whole New Testament.

After discussing matters of origin and general character of this glossary let us look at the lemmata themselves. They are very informative, lucidly written and useful for any student of ancient rhetoric. One can learn a lot from these but I can imagine that beginners of the study of rhetoric will come away from them with much confusion in her/his mind. They will get the impression that there was no uniform ancient theory of argumentation or of figures and tropes. Indeed, there was not, and in this way Anderson’s glossary will be a healthy antidote to books suggesting the opposite.

The lemmata sometimes just give brief information on a particular figure: explanation, reference and, sometimes, an example. Others are extensive surveys of what the ancient sources tell us, for instance the lemma τόπος, or those on ὁμοίωσις and θέσις. In those cases the development in meaning is duly noted and discussed, such as in the long lemma on ἐνθύμημα or περίοδος (the longest one, of over seven pages). These items are a definite improvement on Ernesti, and scholars will use them with much profit.

There are some misprints, most of them of no interest, except at p. 7 read ἐπιχειρήματα, and under ἀλληγορία p. 16 read σκώματα. Under ἀλλοίωσις II read “because of”.

I disagree with listing μιμητικόν in Demetrius, On Style 226 under figures. There is no connection here with this group. Demetrius 102 should be mentioned under αἴνιγμα; under ἔκφρασις Demetrius 165 ἐκφράζειν is missing and σχημαστισμός also occurs in Demetrius 298.

Under μεταφορά Anderson rightly discusses Aristotle’s theory as expounded in his Poetics, not only its application in his Rhetoric. But why does he not mention the development known from Pap. Hamb. 128, a text from the second cent. B.C. (cp . ZPE 97, 1993, 67-80)?

Notwithstanding my criticism of matters of selection I expect this glossary to be useful for students of rhetoric and biblical studies.


1. P. Geigenmueller, Quaestiones dionysianae de vocabulis artis criticae, Leipzig: Noske 1908.

2. R. Dean Anderson Jr., Ancient Rhetorical Theory and Paul (Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology 18). Kampen: Kok Pharos 1996. Revised edition Leuven: Peeters 1998 (I have not seen this latter edition).

3. What about Demetrius On Style as a source for Greek school rhetoric? See my article in Rhetorica 18, 2000, 29-48.

4. In several lemmata, however, some knowledge of these theories is taken for granted.

5. Resp. La nouvelle rhétorique: Traité de l’argumentation (English transl. Notre Dame: University Press 1969) and New Testament Interpretation Through Rhetorical Criticism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 1984.