In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Greek Rhetoric

  • Introduction
  • Rhetoric Ancient and Modern
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Encyclopedias
  • Handbooks and Companions
  • Collections of Articles
  • Translations

Classics Greek Rhetoric
Michael Gagarin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 October 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0060


Rhetoric was recognized as a discipline for the first time in Ancient Greece, probably by Plato, who was generally hostile to its practice in the form of oratory, especially forensic oratory. Plato’s hostility notwithstanding, his pupil Aristotle promoted the study of rhetoric, which soon came to dominate Greek and Roman education. The Romans drew heavily on the intellectual tradition of Greek rhetoric, so that in many ways classical rhetoric forms a single tradition. Therefore, some scholarship on “classical rhetoric” is included below.

Rhetoric Ancient and Modern

Greece gave birth to the study of rhetoric, but rhetoric maintained its preeminent position in Western education and culture until the 18th century, when it began to decline. The 20th century, however, saw a revival of interest in rhetoric, which continues to the present day. This revival is often traced to the formation of the National Association of Academic Teachers of Public Speaking (now the National Communication Association) in 1914. For teachers of rhetoric, works like Burke 1950, Booth 2001 (originally issued in 1961), and Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca 1969 (originally issued in 1958) opened up new approaches to the subject and broadened (sometimes beyond recognition) our understanding of what rhetoric is. The past fifty years have seen a renewal of interest in classical rhetoric, though there tends to be a broad division between the work of classical scholars, whose primary interest is an accurate historical reconstruction of ancient rhetoric, and rhetoric scholars, who take a more theoretical approach and seek the contemporary relevance of ancient rhetoric. Vickers 1988 is one of the few who bridge that division. Kennedy 1980 stops short of 20th-century developments. Fish 1990’s focus is the present, but as a continuation of the ancient quarrel.

  • Booth, Wayne C. 2001. The rhetoric of fiction. 2d ed. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    A very influential work that broadens the idea of rhetoric into a general tool for the critical understanding and appreciation of literature and not just for creating effective speech and writing. First edition published in 1961.

  • Burke, Kenneth. 1950. A rhetoric of motives. New York: Prentice Hall.

    An influential work broadening the scope of rhetoric to include all language and, more generally, the use of symbols.

  • Fish, Stanley. 1990. Rhetoric. In Critical Terms for Literary Study. Edited by Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin, 203-222. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    A wide-ranging overview of the “rhetorical” world-view of the Sophists and its continuing conflict with Plato’s anti-rhetorical “scientific” view from antiquity to the present.

  • Kennedy, George A. 1980. Classical rhetoric and its Christian and secular tradition from ancient to modern times. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

    A general account of the history of classical rhetoric from Antiquity to the end of the 18th century, focusing largely on individual figures (Antiphon to Hugh Blair).

  • Perelman, Chaim, and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca. 1969. The new rhetoric: A treatise on argumentation. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Univ. Press.

    A translation of the 1958 French original. A ground-breaking and very influential attempt to revalue the methods employed by rhetoric in arguing on the basis of likelihood and appearance and to escape from the Western philosophical tradition’s insistence on absolute truth and certainty.

  • Vickers, Brian. 1988. In defence of rhetoric. Oxford: Clarendon.

    A wide-ranging study of rhetoric from Antiquity to the Renaissance, followed by an appreciation of rhetoric’s role in art and literature.

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