Friday, October 26, 2007

Lady-like Rhetoric

Can I say I really liked Diana's method of class discussion? I had never heard of this silent discussion before, but is very nice (and very much like low-tech blogging).

Here's the passage from Christine de Pizan's The Treasure of the City of Ladies I picked out to write about during class: "She [the princess] will show the reasons [to the prince], which she will understand thoroughly, and she will show how it is necessary for a prince, if he wishes to reign long in peace and glory, to be loved by his subjects and by his people."

This passage interests me because on the one hand, Pizan is arguing for the importance of a lady's rhetoric, but on the other hand, casting the lady solely in a supporting role. The princess listens to the subjects with a woman's patience and compassion, then explains everything to her husband rationally. That's actually quite nice--Pizan's princess will not merely make emotional appeals but will lay out the reasons so that her husband can understand.

But, of course, the lady's rhetoric here is used in a carefully limited ways. She uses rhetoric because she can't actually do anything. She can only ask her husband to do things. Although the princess is presumably perfectly intelligent (and I'm thankful for that), she nonetheless is limited by her social roles. She must maintain a perfect harmony where she never comes into conflict with either her husband or his subjects. And while that makes for an interesting rhetoric, I'm glad it's not a rhetoric that I'm forced to use.

Work Cited

de Pizan, Christine. From The Treasure of the City of Ladies. Trans. Sarah Lawson. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2001. 546-551.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

On Christian Oratory?

So when only two people in classed raised their hands as having read Augustine before, I was shocked. I read him in every class I ever took in medieval studies (but I suppose I never read him in any other classes). Confessions was one of the first things I read in college. I can't say On Free Will or City of God did quite as much for me although they were still interesting. But I'd never read On Christian Doctrine before, at least not the excerpt we read for class, so I was surprised at how much Augustine, the Christian philosopher, had to say about rhetoric.

Augustine has a lot of good advice when it comes to eloquence: content matters ("those who speak with wisdom are heard with profit" 459), don't go overboard with a incessantly grand style (478), and models of are more useful than rules (457). But when I try to examine Augustine's view of rhetoric, I'm drawn back to the title. On Christian Doctrine. And doctrine may not really be the best word here, even if it does look more like the Latin doctrina than the English teaching. The book was not called On Christian Oratory, and certainly not On Oratory. So how sure can I be that this is the extent of rhetoric for Augustine? Has he merely narrowed his scope to talk about the relevance of rhetoric to Christian teaching? Perhaps political speeches weren't common in his day, but what about courts?

I know Augustine is aware of courts, because he talks about them in City of God, which I don't even have a copy of to cite. I can't help wondering what Augustine might have said in On Christian Oratory. Would he still have said that Christian oratory is for instruction and persuasion in Christian doctrine? That although we sometimes find ourselves in legal trouble, we shouldn't spend too much time on these worldly concerns? I'd like to imagine that he would see a place for even Christian lawyers, but I don't think he would, as disillusioned as he was with the world.

Work Cited
Augustine. On Christian Doctrine. Trans. Therese Sullivan. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2001. 456-485.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Cicero is not a believer in specialism

It seems to me that Cicero really doesn't think there is such a thing as a good specialist. In De Oratore, Antonius argues that Crassus is quite silly in thinking that the orator must be educated in every subject. As Antonius puts it, Crassus "included, under the single vocation and title of orator, omniscience in every topic and every art" (311). On the other hand, Antonius thinks an orator simply is "a man who can use language agreeable to the ear, and arguments suited to convince, in law court disputes and in debates of public business" (311). Cicero knows that many people will find his ideas far-fetched, but I think he still backs Crassus on this one.

Take for instance, Cicero's argument elsewhere "that good men are always happy" ("Discussions at Tusculum (V)" 68). Where most people would think that the connection between moral goodness and happiness isn't that tight, Cicero sees the two as always co-occurring. If you really are a good person, you won't be distracted by a little thing like torture. And you wouldn't be happy deep down if you had your priorities completely out of whack. Likewise, while many would take Antonius's side here and say that oratory is about speaking, not about knowing everything about every subject, Cicero is less willing to divide the two. Oratory isn't a surface level knack for expressing yourself with eloquence. It's more inclusive and requires that you actually know what you're talking about and how to relate to your audience.

Works Cited

Cicero. "Discussions at Tusculum (V)." On the Good Life. Trans. Michael Grant. Middlesex, Eng.: Penguin, 1985. 49-117.

Cicero. From De Oratore. Trans. E.W. Sutton and H. Rackham. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Ties to the Present. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2001. 289-339.