Andrew Riggsby

in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199211524
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History


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The term ‘rhetoric’ can be profitably approached in somewhat different ways depending on whether one adopts a classical or modern frame of reference. As for the former frame, the formal definition of rhetoric was highly contested in antiquity. The problems, however, have mostly to do with attempts to write into those definitions positions on issues that are not clearly definitional (for example, the ethics or the learnability of persuasive speech). This article uses ‘rhetoric’ in contrast to ‘oratory’. Oratory is the practice of public speaking; rhetoric comprises the various theories – instructional, evaluative, taxonomic, and so on – overtly devised to direct, evaluate, and/or shape oratory (though the actual importance of rhetoric extends beyond the world of oratory). Most of the ancient texts may be divided into two categories: manuals of instruction and works that include a meta-rhetorical component, touching on the philosophy and/or sociology of rhetoric and oratory. The article examines rhetoric as the art of decorum and discusses attempts to naturalise terms that are important for certain modern modes of analysis, including gender, class, and nationality.

Keywords: rhetoric; oratory; class; gender; decorum; nationality; manuals of instruction; philosophy; sociology

Article.  6451 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical History

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