An Outline of Classical Rhetoric
by Jonathan Ausubel, Ph.D.


What is Classical Rhetoric?
What are the "branches" (i.e. purposes) of Classical Rhetoric?
What are the "parts" (i.e. devices) of Classical Rhetoric?
Where can I learn more about Classical Rhetoric?

  What is Classical Rhetoric?
In ancient Greece and Rome, relatively few people could read and write, so politicians, lawyers, educators, and gadflies relied on speeches to reach their audiences.
This reliance on speech meant that orators had carefully to craft their words in order to be effective.  To help themselves accomplish their ends (and to keep teachers employed), these orators (in particular, Aristotle) developed a system of public speaking called rhetoric.  So effective is this system at accomplishing diverse ends that it  persists today, having been adapted to writing once literacy became wide spread.
Today, the word "rhetoric" is often used pejoratively, as in, "Politicians' rhetoric has earned them nicknames such as 'Slick Willy' and 'Tricky Dick.'"  However, Classical Rhetoric carries with it none of this negative connotation--instead, it is simply a way of arguing and of persuading an audience.

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  What are the "branches" (i.e. purposes) of Classical Rhetoric?
 
Name of branch Purpose of branch Example(s) of branch
"judicial" or "forensic" Establish truth accusation (prosecution), defense
deliberative Move audience to action exhortation, dissuasion
"demonstrative" or "epideictic" Establish responsibility (blame, praise) panegyric, encomium, eulogy

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What are the "parts" (i.e. devices) of Classical Rhetoric?
 
Name of part Description of part
Arrangement/organization The "arrangement" is just that:  a standard list of the pieces of a speech or of a writing in a set order.  The orator uses this organization for two main reasons:  1) it is convenient, a pattern that can be followed to produce an effective speech or essay; 2) the audience knows it and so a speech or essay delivered with this arrangement finds fertile and receptive ground in the audience's mind.
Invention/proof "Invention" is not simply evidence, but the entire mindset of choosing and interpreting support for an argument.  The speaker must know the audience well, for different audiences will be receptive to different kinds of evidence.
Style The Classical idea of "style" is analogous to the modern meaning of the word.  Style is the way in which something is said or expressed; it is the combination of distinctive features of  expression characterizing a particular person or group.  Like all the other parts of Classical Rhetoric, style is often so deeply established that the audience may not even realize a particular style is being used. 
Memory "Memory" is the art and practice of improving mental retention so that a speaker need not rely on notes or (heaven forbid!) read his speech.  Effective memory frees the speaker to focus on delivery (see below) and to establish full contact with the audience.  It includes such things as the modern idea of "memorization" as well as mnemonic devices.
Delivery "Delivery" is the art of speaking well.  It entails mastery of theatrical movement, body language, intonation, enunciation, and the other elements of effective public speaking.
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  Arrangement
Note that these pieces are NOT equal in length and that speeches and writings often exclude some pieces depending on their purposes and audiences.
Chronological piece of a speech or writing Description of its function
A. Introduction, proem Makes audience receptive to speaker’s ideas
B. Narration Makes a short statement of the facts of the case
C. Proposition States the concerns of the speech
D. Division Outlines the speech
E. Confirmation or proof Carries out main arguments (see below)
F. Refutation Answers any objections
Sometimes digresses or offers an anecdote
G. Conclusion, peroration Sums up the main points
Emphatically states the speaker’s opinion
Appeals to audience

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  Invention
Note that invention includes both kinds of evidence and methods of investigation
Genus Species Description of function Modern examples
A. Inartificial affidavit
deposition
physical evidence
Inartificial inventions seek to establish "absolute" or "universal" truth by presenting "hard" facts--evidence that seems irrefutable.. sworn statements in court
DNA testing
finger prints
B. Artificial ethos--ethical appeals
pathos--emotional appeals
logos--logical appeals
Artificial inventions rely much more overtly on an audience's opinions and beliefs.  Like inartificial inventions, they also seek to establish truth, but they do so by presenting opinion rather than hard fact. character references
celebrity endorsements
"Feed the Children" ads
collection agency letters
C. Topics -- Topics rely on the audience's acceptance of the type of evidence as "tested and approved." Specifically, much inartificial invention is thought to be a topical invention. DNA testing
finger prints
lie detector tests
palmistry
psychic counseling
D. Commonplaces -- Commonplaces are general or reiterated propositions. Drugs are bad.
Blondes have more fun.
Looking someone in the eye means you're telling the truth.

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  Style
 
Style Description
low/plain Plain style seeks to speak in the voice of "the masses."  This does not necessarily mean that plain style sounds uneducated, but instead that it wraps its smarts in the talk of the home town crowd.
middle Middle style seeks to speak to a wide audience, mediating between "the masses" and the "upper crust."  This means that middle style sounds educated and that it puts its ideas into the voice of the six o'clock news.
high/grand Grand style seeks to speak to the "elite" of a group, whether that group is the educated, the righteous, or the superior  This does not necessarily mean that grand style sounds educated, but instead that it chooses its words, places its ideas, and conveys its message with the beliefs of its listeners firmly in sight.

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Where can I learn more about Classical Rhetoric?

Any library will have general hand books with information on persuasive argumentation.  Many libraries will have books on the topic of rhetoric.

I offer a few suggestions:
 

Aristotle.  Rhetoric. (Available in dozens of translations).
Group m [Mu] [Dubois, J., et al.].  A General Rhetoric.  Trans. Paul B. Burrell and Edgar M. Slotkin.  Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1981.
Lanham, Richard A.  A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms:  A Guide for Students of English Literature. Los Angeles:  U of California P, 1969.


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Content of this page was last updated on August 19, 2005