Christopher Lyle Johnstone, ed. Theory, Text, Context. Issues in Greek Rhetoric and Oratory. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997. viii + 196 pp. $54.50 (cloth), ISBN 0-791-43107-x; $17.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7914-3108-5.
Reviewed by J. D. H. Amador (Santa Rosa Junior College)
Published on H-Rhetor (May, 1997)
This is a collection of works by major historians of Greek rhetoric which focuses upon the origins and development of Greek rhetorical practice in the centuries leading up to its codification in Aristotle's work. The importance of the collection lies in the complexity and diversity of issues which these scholars bring to the question of the early stages of Greek oratory and education.
Johnstone, in the introductory article entitled, "The Origins of the Rhetorical in Archaic Greek," nicely sets the stage for the ones to follow by tracing what he suggests are the formative factors leading up the development of the art of public discourse in Classical Greek. These factors include: 1) the Greek oral tradition and its impact upon a culture whose members thereby become "sophisticated consumers of speech" (p. 5), which in turn was aided by the development of writing and its subsequent objectification of speech; 2) the political transitions of the fifth century which "gave rise to public speaking as a mode of political activity [preceding] the Classical Era by a century, if not more" (p. 9); and 3) the shift from myth and poetry to cosmology and analytic prose wrought by Presocratic philosophers and Sophists which allowed for probabilistic argumentation and deductive reasoning. As Johnstone points out, "Classical rhetoric may have been an invention of the fourth century, but it was invented using tools and materials that had been crafted during the preceding two hundred and fifty years" (p. 16).
The next article, by the late Fr. Grimaldi, "How Do We Get from Corax-Tisias to Plato-Aristotle in Greek Rhetorical Theory," traces the impact and importance of the early Sophists as philosophers and educators upon the works of Isocrates, Plato and Aristotle, arguing that "the differences between the rhetorical theories of [these three] and those of the earlier, intervening technai (as we can gather from the criticism of them by all three men) indicates to me the active presence of the sophists' thought (both the philosophers' and rhetoricians') to these fourth-century thinkers, and this thought influenced heavily the formation of their rhetorics" (p. 43).
John Poulakos, in "Extending and Correcting the Rhetorical Tradition: Aristotle's Perception of the Sophists," also indicates Aristotle's debt to these early theorists and practitioners of rhetoric. On the one hand, Aristotle treats them with the respect due to his forebearers and as pioneers of a tradition, correcting and supplementing their efforts with his own contributions. On the other hand, as a philosopher and logician, Aristotle follows in his teacher Plato's footsteps, condemning the Sophists for dwelling on accident over necessity, appearance over reality, faulting them for fallacious reasoning, their love of paradox, and their improper use of language.
Edward Schiappa, in "Toward a Predisciplinary Analysis of Gorgias' Helen," suggests that if we do not adopt late fourth-century rhetorical theory and the distinction between philosophy and rhetoric, but instead appreciate Gorgias' speech within its own 'predisciplinary' context, we can see the extremely important contribution it makes to the question of the nature of the relationship of logos to the mind. Gorgias' contribution to philosophy may not be found in the specific ideas he develops in the speech, but in the processes of questioning fundamental assumptions, defining terms, seeing connections that hadn't been seen before, processes anticipating the kind of discourses on philosophy and theory to take place in the century following his. 0 "Agency, Performance, and Interpretation in Thucydides' Account of the Mytilene Debate," by Michael Leff, explores the interesting issue of the nature and limits of agency with reference to Thucydides. Through the context of the debate between Cleon and Demosthenes concerning the death sentence imposed upon the males of Mytilene in retaliation for their rebellion against Athens, Thucydides seems to suggest that circumstances so constrained the rhetors that an erosion of agency in the deliberative process took place, one leading to its eventual demise. To quote liberally, "there are real and unavoidable limitations on the power of free deliberation, since it is circumscribed by social history and extra-verbal reality. When the limits of this power are not respected, arrogance replaces prudence, and the self-constituting rhetorical medium becomes increasingly vulnerable to the forces that operate beyond deliberative control. Ultimately, the fragile balance needed to maintain the role of democratic agency breaks apart, and deliberative agents yield to necessity and chance" (p. 96).
Christopher Johnstone reemerges with an interesting article on "Greek Oratorical Settings and the Problem of the Pnyx: Rethinking the Athenian Political Process." Here he applies findings on the projective properties of the human voice to the reconstructed setting of fifth century Pnyx and concludes that "under the best possible [emphasis his] conditions, perhaps one fifth of the audience could not have heard well enough to have understood more than about 85 percent of what was said" (p. 122), and asks us to reconsider our reconstructions of the deliberative processes in the fifth century Athenian assembly which could not have had as much to do with eloquence or reasoning as we once thought.
Donovan Ochs's article on "Demosthenes: Superior Artiste and Victorious Monomachist" suggests that the overwhelming presence of personal vituperation directed at Demosthenes' rival Aeschines can be understood as part of a strategy which the audience understood as discursive battle analogous to the pankration, a one-on-one battle to the death between two rivals. Rather than condemning these attacks on the basis of our context of ethical humanism, they are best understood as an important contributing factor to Demosthenes' eventual success, as the audience understands his ad personam attacks within an aesthetic which appreciated his verbal skill and its necessary ferocity.
In "Aristotle's Accounts of Persuasion through Character," William Fortenbaugh revisits his thesis concerning Aristotle's conception of persuasion through character and its difference with Cicero's account of winning goodwill by noting a complexity to Aristotle's notion. Specifically, he offers a close reading of a heretofore unnoticed difference of the account of persuasion-through-character found in Rhetoric 1.2 and 2.1.
Finally, George Kennedy in "Reworking Aristotle's Rhetoric" offers some reflections arising from his recent translation of that work. These include musings on the prevalence of visual metaphors, the impact of popular versus scholarly audiences, trajectory of composition, the lack of clarity of term "topics" and its relationship to the species of rhetoric, as well as a suggestion concerning the potential direction of a reworking of modern rhetorical theory.
All in all, the work is a satisfying read. Each author is clear, concise, and offers a number of insights and suggestions concerning a particular aspect of early Greek oratory. Particularly interesting is the reassessment and appreciation of the impact of the Sophists upon early oratory and education. While the back jacket blurb entirely overstates the importance of this work (I am not exactly sure how anything here could be considered a "bone-crushing confrontation", nor do I see how the book could even remotely be called "passionate ... full of satyrs rather than philosophers ... innovative and bold"), it will prove to be a beneficial collection to historians of rhetoric, classicists, and biblical rhetorical critics.
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J. D. H. Amador. Review of Johnstone, Christopher Lyle, ed., Theory, Text, Context. Issues in Greek Rhetoric and Oratory.
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