Ian Worthington (ed.), Persuasion: Greek Rhetoric in Action. Routledge: London and New York, 1994. Pp. x + 277. ISBN 0-415-08139-4. UKú12.99.
Cecil W. Wooten
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
This book is a collection of essays. Its aim, announced in the preface, is quite ambitious, especially for a book that has fewer than three hundred pages: 'Greek rhetoric and its effect on both its contemporary context and modern times are the scope, and justification for, the present book' (p. viii). Like almost all collections of this sort it presents certain problems inherent to the genre. First, some of the essays are better than others. Secondly, they do not always cohere very well. Some of them seem fairly elementary and tend to summarize previous scholarship; others break new ground. Some seem to be aimed at students; others at scholars in Classics. Some are very theoretical; others, historical. Consequently, one often wonders exactly what audience the book envisions. Because of the differing nature of these essays I think that it will be better to deal with them individually.
The first chapter, entitled 'From Orality to Rhetoric,' by Carol G. Thomas and Edward Kent Webb (pp. 3-25), is a clear discussion of many basic ideas about the development of Greek rhetoric. My problem with it, indeed, with much of this book, is that it is really not much more than a recapitulation of ideas already easily accessible.[] The emphasis in this chapter, however, is slightly different from previous scholarship in that the importance of writing is stressed almost to the exclusion of any other factor. This idea, however, is not illustrated very fully. Moreover, political reasons, such as the development of democracy, which made it necessary for citizens to be able to speak clearly, are hardly mentioned.
The second chapter, 'Rhetorical Means of Persuasion,' by Christopher Carey (pp. 26-45), is a very clear account of the arguments from pathos and ethos, with many good examples drawn from fifth- and fourth-century oratory. (There is surprisingly little about logical argumentation.) I do not see, however, that this chapter breaks any new ground, except in the number of examples given. Moreover, there is almost no reference to secondary works that deal with many of the same topics treated here (e.g. the use of detail in Lysias, the influence of forensic on deliberative oratory).
Chapter 3, 'Probability and Persuasion: Plato and early Greek Rhetoric,' by Michael Gagarin (pp. 46-68), begins by surveying the criticisms of rhetoric seen in Aristophanes and Plato. Next he examines the argument from probability in an attempt to prove that, contrary to Plato's claims, Greek orators did not consider probability to be more credible than facts and relied on it only when direct evidence was lacking. The rest of the chapter surveys other positive contributions that fifth-century orators and sophists made to Greek thought, in spite of Plato's negative assessment of them. The latter part of the chapter thus covers, somewhat more judiciously, I think, some of the material dealt with in Chapter 1.
The problem of audience is patent in Chapter 4, 'Classical Rhetoric and Modern Theories of Discourse,' by David Cohen (pp. 69-84). This is a lot of material to cover in thirteen pages, and in spite of the fact that the presentation is clear I would imagine that it would be fairly incomprehensible to someone who doesn't already know a fair amount about theorists such as Derrida and Foucault. On the other hand, someone like that probably would not find this chapter very interesting.
The uneven nature of these essays is illustrated very well by the juxtaposition of the chapter discussed above and the one that follows. Josiah Ober's essay 'Power and Oratory in Democratic Athens: Demosthenes 21, Against Meidias,' which comprises Chapter 5 (pp. 85-108), deals with historical, legal, and sociological questions. It is well done and interesting, but quite jolting next to the very theoretical essay that precedes. One wonders how many readers are going to be interested in Foucault's relationship to ancient rhetorical theory and legal concepts of hubris in fourth century Greece.
Chapter 6, 'History and Oratorical Exploitation,' by Ian Worthington, who edited the entire collection (pp. 109-129), develops an interesting thesis: 'a complex structure . . . highlights error and/or fabrication' (p. 126). The problem with this argument is that there are very few places in Greek oratory where we have an unimpeachable source with which we can compare the passage in question. Moreover, it seems to me that one could argue that the complexity of a section is determined by its importance to the orator's overall argument rather than by whether it is true or false.
Chapter 7, 'Law and Oratory,' by Edward M. Harris (pp. 130-152), sets out to accomplish three goals, first, to examine the importance of law in the Athenian courts, secondly, to look at Aristotle's view of the role of arguments based on law in oratory, and, thirdly, to analyze the legal arguments in Demosthenes and Aeschines in the trial of Ctesiphon. The author does quite a good job in dealing with these three topics. He is quite right to stress, as is often not done, the importance of law in oratory. Most of the criticism of the lack of attention given to legal arguments comes, as the author points out, from the philosophical tradition or from writers who were not practicing orators. But what is probably most interesting in this essay is the analysis of legal arguments in Aeschines and Demosthenes in the case on the crown. It is usually assumed that from a purely legalistic point of view Aeschines had the stronger case. Harris, however, argues, quite convincingly, that Demosthenes's case was not as weak as is generally assumed.
Chapter 8, 'Epic and Rhetoric,' by Peter Toohey (pp. 153-175), the first of four chapters dealing with the impact of rhetoric on types of literature other than oratory, consists of an analysis of speeches from Homer and Apollonius of Rhodes. Most of the Homeric material in this fairly repetitious essay has been dealt with before (cf. Kennedy, 35-39). The discussion of why there is a relative lack of primary rhetoric in Apollonius, however, is quite interesting.
Chapter 9, 'Tragedy and Rhetoric,' by Victor Bers (pp. 176-195), is one of the most interesting in the book. Rather than dealing with the fairly obvious, and much discussed, influence of rhetoric on Euripides, Bers chooses his examples from Aeschylus and Sophocles. These examples are nicely analyzed, and the essay gives the reader a good sense of rhetoric as it appears in tragedy. At the end of the chapter there is an equally interesting, but much less extensive, discussion of the influence of tragedy on forensic oratory.
'Comedy and Rhetoric,' by Phillip Harding, which comprises Chapter 10 (pp. 196-221), is much less interesting. Harding sets out to examine the influence of comedy, particularly the old comedy of Aristophanes, on rhetoric. After some general considerations of theories of comedy, there is a discussion of the comic in the orators. His first substantial example is Lysias 24, which strikes me as being much more like new than old comedy. Harding makes a lot out of the title, On the Cripple rather than For the Cripple, without considering the possibility that these titles were not chosen by Lysias. The discussion of comic elements in Isocrates, which follows, is not very convincing, although I felt that it probably suffered from being too brief. A longer discussion may have been more plausible. For example, just because a topic such as 'the good old days' appears in Aristophanes it is not necesarily comic. Moreover, figures like para prosdokian can be comic, but they can also be used simply to gain attention (cf. Dem. 4.2, hardly a comic passage). Demosthenes is referred to as the 'master of the spoken word in all its moods' (210), including the comic. However, Harding does not deal with the tradition, persistent in the ancient world, that Demosthenes did not have a sense of humor. To back up his argument that there is humor in Demosthenes he essentially reproduces the argument made by Galen Rowe in his seminal articles.[] (In fact, summaries of these articles take up about one-third of the chapter.) The satiric, however, discussed so well by Rowe, is not always humorous or comic. It can be deadly serious and bitter, as it is in the First Philippic. To say that Demosthenes talks about the Athenians' creating a second Philip 'jokingly' (210) is to miss the whole tone of the speech. Moreover, even in the speech On the Crown where the comic techniques are more obvious one could argue that they are not used for comic purposes.
Chapter 11, 'Philosophy and Rhetoric,' by Stephen Halliwell (pp. 222-243), is a clear and judicious discussion of a topic that has been dealt with many times before. The bulk of the chapter consists of summaries of dialogues of Plato and the Rhetoric of Aristotle, with some discussion of their significance.
The book ends on a very positive note with Ian Worthington's essay 'The Canon of the Ten Attic Orators' (pp. 244-263). This is a very interesting discussion of the complex issue of when and why a canon of Attic orators was devised. It is very unlike the other articles in this section of the book, however, which is titled 'Contexts,' in that it doesn't deal with the relationship of rhetoric to some other genre of literature. It seems to have been put here somewhat arbitrarily, but I am glad that it was.
In sum, there is very little in this book that strikes me as bad. However, much of it seems to me to be quite thin on original contribution to scholarship. I would much rather read an essay which discusses a novel idea, even one with which I might disagree, than a rehash of what has already been done before. At least the former provokes thought. Although these essays are clear and informative, I cannot say that I found many of them very thought- provoking.
[] E.g., Thomas Cole, The Origins of Rhetoric in Ancient Greece (Baltimore, 1991); George Kennedy, The Art of Persuasion in Greece (Princeton, 1963).
[] Galen Rowe, 'The Portrait of Aeschines in the Oration On the Crown,' TAPhA 97 (1966) 397- 406; idem, 'Demosthenes' First Philippic: The Satiric Mode,' TAPhA 99 (1968) 361-374.