BMCR 2008.02.15

A Companion to Greek Rhetoric

, A companion to Greek rhetoric. Blackwell companions to the ancient world. Literature and culture. Oxford: Blackwell Pub, 2007. 1 online resource (xvi, 616 pages).. ISBN 1405171936 £85.00.

Table of Contents

Ours is an age of Companions. To ponder the fact that Companions at this juncture have become so popular with publishers and public alike and to comment on the scholarly and pedagogical aspirations informing the various series and individual volumes have become commonplaces with reviewers. According to the publisher’s blurb, Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World series, to which this volume belongs, offers “sophisticated and authoritative” overviews of chosen areas in chapters written by scholars within their area of specialization “in a clear, provocative, and lively manner, designed for an international audience of scholars, students, and general readers”. The editor of the volume under review, Ian Worthington, in a disarming “Preface: For Readers — and Reviewers” (p. x-xi) explains that, while he hopes that even specialists in the field will find relevant chapters stimulating and beneficial, the chapters, in accordance with the publisher’s brief, are written primarily for those approaching the topic for the first time, or for scholars working in adjacent fields of study. To forestall criticism, the editor further explains that he has sought to impose a certain uniformity on the various chapters, encouraged contributors to communicate with each other, and asked them not to grind a particular axe, but wherever possible to ask new questions.

The editor is to be congratulated on the result. With his team of first-rank scholars, he has provided us with a fresh overview of important areas of Greek rhetoric in chapters that bristle with information and insight. This fat volume is a treasure trove that every student and scholar of Greek rhetoric will wish to own. Inevitably, however, a reviewer will find amongst the contents items of somewhat varying weight and value.

After a brief note on technicalities, a short list of abbreviations, and a numbered list of the speeches of the Attic orators (p. xii-xvi), the body of the book falls into five parts consisting of thirty-five chapters all together. The chapters are mostly identical in structure: the main text is helpfully articulated in subsections with subtitles; then follow a bibliographical essay of half a page or so, and finally the notes.1

Part I is “Setting the Scene”, a task the editor has entrusted to E. Schiappa and J. Hamm and to T. Poulakos. Schiappa and Hamm call their introductory chapter “Rhetorical Questions” and begin by asking Why Study Greek Rhetoric? They point to the twin purposes of historical reconstruction and contemporary appropriation, familiar from recent debate especially on the sophists and especially in North America. The authors usefully sort out the different concepts of rhetoric that are more or less explicitly in play in ‘Greek rhetoric’ and in the Companion, and chart recent trends in research on Greek rhetoric. Their last section answers the question What is this Blackwell Companion to Greek Rhetoric about? by way of saying a few words on each of the thirty-four chapters that follow. I was somewhat puzzled by the fact that they sometimes write rather like reviewers (or ‘axe-grinders’): “Interestingly enough, only a few contributors … explicitly define ‘rhetoric'” (4); “[t]he bibliographical essays … provide an excellent resource for students and scholars” (6). The presentation of individual chapters is sprinkled with evaluative adjectives for a select few. Thus the author of the chapter following theirs is said to give a “useful” overview and a “sophisticated” charting; while Worthington, the editor, is credited with “a succinct narrative” and D. Konstan with “an erudite discussion” (12f). T. Morgan, however, “provides what Schiappa has described (and critiqued) elsewhere as the standard account of early Greek rhetorical education, but such a narrative is valuable, particularly for students, since no complete counter narrative has yet been generated” (13). The authors also take exception to T. K. Hubbard’s identification of the ‘sceptical’ positions of Schiappa ( Beginnings of Rhetorical Theory) and T. Cole ( The Origins of Rhetoric) and take him to task for overestimating the status of a technical vocabulary of rhetorical theory in the fifth century (15, n. 9). The brief concluding chapter by T. Poulakos on “Modern Interpretations of Classical Greek Rhetoric” offers some further overarching perspectives on Greek rhetoric, centred on ideological critique and human agency, which are designed to pin down the rhetorical context of the Companion, i.e., the state of Greek rhetorical studies. Since the rest of the book is firmly tilted towards historical and textual scholarship, some readers may doubt the relevance of these wide-ranging introductory chapters, but some may deem them all the more called for.

Part II, “Rhetoric: A Brief History” takes us in 125 pages from before the Sophists well into Byzantium by way of ten chapters highlighting some of the most interesting epochs and protagonists of Greek rhetoric. Widely different though the chapters are, they seem to me largely to offer the kind of presentation and probing into problems which is called for. M. Gagarin on “Background and Origins” starts with Homer and offers a critical discussion of the traditions about Corax and Tisias; the author at the outset declares his sympathy with those who have challenged the traditional account, which locates the birth of rhetoric in fifth-century Sicily. J. Bons on “Gorgias the Sophist and Early Rhetoric” is good on the individual works, on argumentation, and on apatê, and I commend his translation of Plato’s peithous dêmiourgos as “producer of conviction” (and not of persuasion). But here as elsewhere in the volume rather scant attention is being paid to stylistic and linguistic features and figures. (That the index to the volume has only one reference to “figures of thought and speech” [to p. 131 in the chapter on Hellenistic rhetoric], and one to the teaching of figures [to p. 311 in the chapter on Education] is indicative.) Important things are said about Gorgias elsewhere in the volume as well, especially in the chapters on epideictic oratory and on language; indeed, Gorgias seems to be coming into his own. M. Edwards on Alcidamas and T. L. Papillon on Isocrates are models of conciseness and comprehensiveness; although Alcidamas gets only a relatively short chapter, he would have been pleased with his inclusion here and with a presentation which considers also the less rhetorically relevant aspects of his work. P. Chiron on “The Rhetoric to Alexander” is another account that fills a gap and which will no doubt be much consulted; it is only appropriate, then, that it smacks of the handbook. J. Vanderspoel handles well the overwhelming topic of “Hellenistic Rhetoric in Theory and Practice”, making the cultural environment come to life; small wonder the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric cannot be treated in depth. H. Yunis on Plato and W. W. Fortenbaugh on Aristotle are magisterial discussions. The former begins with the assertion that “[a]ny account of Plato’s contribution to rhetoric must overcome the traditional view of Plato as the unyielding partisan of philosophy and inveterate opponent of rhetoric in the foundational dispute between the two domains” (75) and continues accordingly with a fresh and balanced account; I found his section on Plato’s political rhetoric especially in the Republic and the Laws particularly rewarding; it is good to have rhetoric in Plato treated beyond Gorgias and Phaedrus. Fortenbaugh presents what he calls the doctrine of Aristotle’s rhetoric, giving pride of place to Argument while also having important things to say on Character and Emotional Appeal, as is to be expected; he also reports on Delivery and Style, and Arrangement. The chapter has much to offer both the beginner and the specialist.

J. Connolly’s chapter on “The New World Order: Greek Rhetoric in Rome” is almost twice as long as most of the others, since she covers not only rhetoric in Republican times, which was her original assignment, but also the rhetoric of the Empire, which she took upon herself on short notice. Connolly is excellent on the reception of Greek rhetoric during Republican times. She argues stimulatingly that “the readiness of the Romans to adopt Greek rhetoric is best explained by viewing rhetoric as the imposer of limits, the arbiter of communal propriety, the source and guard of standards of rational communication across time and space, a universalizing adhesive for the social order that worked its effects through the disciplined mind, breath, nerves, and muscles of each speaker” (140), and even that “[r]hetoric is a discipline for the new world order Vergil describes” (141), are thought-provoking. What Connolly has to say on, e.g., Dionysius and on the Second Sophistic is more limited, but often provocative, for instance, when she brings in Foucault’s concern with the ‘care of the self’ to situate rhetoric within the cultural matrix. She concludes that rhetoric, which presented the world as a knowable ordered system, “became in that sense, a partner of empire, a key to the stability of imperial government” and that “Greek rhetoric at, in, and through imperial Rome offered a universal language of limits” (161).

E. Jeffreys’ chapter on “Rhetoric in Byzantium” is a great boon to those venturing into Byzantium for the first time; its value for scholars is enhanced by the very generous annotation and bibliography.

Part III, “Rhetoric and Speeches” contains four chapters: M. de Brauw on “The Parts of the Speech” offers a good historical introduction to its subject matter; the author shows up the many varieties of actual oratorical practice in contrast to the rules and regulations of the handbooks. (One could have wished for a similar chapter on the five parts of rhetoric, especially on invention in relation to disposition.) We then get three excellent chapters on the three Aristotelian genres, by C. Cooper (Forensic), S. Usher (Symbouleutic), and C. Carey (Epideictic). Cooper makes a case for forensic oratory against Plato and Aristotle; he makes the world of the logographers come to life and makes many good points by way of analysis of Lysias’ defence of Euphiletus. Usher gives a lively impression of what is going on in a deliberative speech and illuminates interesting changes in the way political debates function in Thucydides and by Demosthenes. While the classical funeral oration is at the heart of Carey’s discussion of epideictic oratory, he explores the genre in both theoretical and historical terms.

Part IV, “Rhetoric: Political, Social and Intellectual Contexts” is a mixed bag, consisting of a series of chapters on “Rhetoric and….” in which the conjunction ‘and’ takes on quite different meanings. Simply put, a number of topics are treated with a view to their relevance for rhetoric, and vice versa. Worthington takes on politics and the rise of the rhêtores in a chapter that inevitably goes over some by now familiar ground, although the focus here is firmly on oratory in its social setting. A. Erskine on “Rhetoric and Persuasion in the Hellenistic World”, along with more familiar sources mines authors like Polybius and Strabo to illuminate oratory’s role in the civic life and in inter-state relations in the Hellenistic period. J.P. Sickinger on law will be read with particular profit with those in an interest in forensic rhetoric; his contribution also contains a good introduction to Andocides’ On the Mysteries and helpful comments on other texts. T. Morgan on Education is an ambitious historical survey of a topic that perhaps is too big for a single chapter. K. Dowden on Religion brings rhetoric to bear on Greek prayer, with additional remarks on hymns and procession, “some of the things that make Greek religion rhetorical” (331). Of the remaining chapters, those of A. López Eire on “Language”, T. Reinhardt on “Knowledge”, and D. Konstan on “Emotion” (NB always “Rhetoric and …”) are among the most incisive of the volume as a whole and contribute important insights into what rhetoric is about. While the three authors just mentioned may be said to deal with subjects that are intrinsic to rhetoric and have no “science” of their own, both J. Allen on Logic and J. M. Day on Ethics are faced with the problem of how much they should go into logic and ethics in general. Inevitably, perhaps, a chapter on logic will be of a more restricted and technical nature than one on ethics, which is relevant to rhetoric in so many different ways. J. Roisman on Rhetoric, Manliness and Contest discusses (manly) values in speeches, as well as oratory as a display of manliness; he authoritatively highlights an aspect of rhetoric that has attracted much attention lately. Like some of the other chapters in Part IV, this one, too, will no doubt become an item of reference.

The last part (V) of the book, on Rhetoric and Literature, is less obviously a success than the preceding ones. That is not because of any lack of quality in the individual contributions, but because the contributions may be said to be less relevant to the study of Greek rhetoric. The eight chapters of part V would have justified inclusion in any Companion to the authors and genres concerned: Homer by H. M. Roisman, Hesiod by J. S. Clay, Hellenistic Epic by A. Mori, Tragedy by M. McDonald, Comedy by T. K. Hubbard, Lyric Poetry by W. H. Race, the Novel by R. Webb, and Historiography by M. Fox and N. Livingstone — the volume is rounded off like it started, with a co-authored contribution. Some of the chapter headings signal special aspects to which the author will pay special attention: Right rhetoric (Homer), Acts of Persuasion (Apollonius), Mass Persuasion, (Tragedy), relation to Development of Theoretical Rhetoric (Comedy). To revert to Schiappa’s and Hamm’s introductory essay, this part of the Companion contains “a series of studies of rhetoric and Greek literature. ‘Rhetoric’ is used in these chapters to denote a particular function of literature (the rhetoricity of literature), a subject of discussion within such literature, a set of specific strategic techniques employed by authors to gain a desired effect, and in some cases, even to describe an implicit theory of discourse and persuasion that can be abduced from literary texts” (14). Most rewarding for me was Clay on Hesiod, because he is still in need of rhetorical assessment, Hubbard on Aristophanes, because it connects so well with the main theme of the volume, and Fox and Livingstone, because of the way they treat both speeches in the historians and the historians’ narrative, for their generous inclusion of writers like Isocrates and Lucian, and because they make some very good observations, e.g., on the persuasive uses of the past.

The importance of Isocrates and in particular his Archidamus for the beginnings of biography is noted in passing by the authors of the last chapter (552). This is the only indexed reference to biography in the volume. One could think of other things that one would have liked to have more of: the method of speechmaking, orality and literacy, relation to “literary criticism”, the textual tradition. Nevertheless the volume admirably fulfils it aim, which according to Worthington, is “to be the most comprehensive treatment of Greek rhetoric within one set of covers” (p. xi).

The volume has been well edited. Misprints and mistakes are “seldom, if not at all” (97) to be found. One of the ambassadors to Achilles is not “the horseman, Phoenix” (303); the author must have mixed him up with Chiron, that other teacher of Achilles. The Phaedrus is said to have been written 470-450 (30), Isocrates to have lived 436-388 (196). There is, e.g., the odd Neimeyer for Niemeyer (6) suasioriae (67), logos epotreptikon for apotreptikos (153), eidexis for epideixis (238), Thuc. I.3.10 for 3.10 (223), p. 000 (250), Gettysberg Address (252), Acarnarnian (281), bellistoi for beltistoi (400), diagêsis for diêgêsis (438) For the most part, transliterations of Greek words and phrases indicate etas and omegas, but not consistently, not even within the same phrase, as in protos heuretês (103); in the phrase endekhetai kai allos echein the ô is really called for. The word enthymeme is familiar in modern parlance, but which Greek word does enthymêmê in the index and sometimes in the text (3, 486, 501) represent?

Pages 594-616 contain a useful index. Those interested may find the one place in the volume where Teos or Terence or Theodora respectively is mentioned, or Scylla and the Second Athenian League, or the dozen or so places in which there has been occasion to mention Alexander the Great. More importantly, starting from, e.g., “anger”, “courts”, ” diêgêsis“, “education”, “law/laws”, ” pistis/piesteis“, “philosophy”, or “women” (12 references) one may go back and scan the body of the book to see what it has to offer on such topics even outside the relevant thematic chapters. Sometimes the indexing is more than generous, if not necessarily helpful. For “aesthetics” we get nine references, one to p. 139 where the “stripped-down oratorical aesthetic known to Greeks and Romans in the first century as ‘Attic'” is mentioned; the others are to pp. 339, 340, 341, 342, 343, 344, 345, and 348, i.e., to the chapter on “Rhetoric and Language”. The computer has made it easy to make an index. Making a good index remains difficult.


1. Some chapters have no subsections, others no subtitles. The introductory chapter can do without the essay, only the second and the twenty-second have no notes; in the latter case, the bibliographical essay is not very generous either, which is much to be regretted as the author’s (A. López Eire’s) treatment of his topic — Rhetoric and Language — is both innovative and provocative. The generous footnotes elsewhere are a great boon to the scholarly minded reader.