Commonplace Virtue And Vice

Standard topics of praise (epainos, laudatio) or blame (psogos, vituperatio) were outlined in Greek rhetorical handbooks (progymnasmata) and in Latin oratorical treatises. In his handbook, Ap(h)thonius recommended that the following topics be addressed: family, nation, ancestors, livelihood, customs, prudence, beauty, manliness, and bodily strength, among other features (Prog. 8).24 In his De inventione rhetorica, Cicero offered an almost identical list. (177-78).25 An anonymous third-century c.E. teacher of rhetoric recommended that cities, emperors, and governors alike be praised, when possible, for their temperance (sophrosyne), justice (dikaiosyne), and wisdom (phronesis-- Men. Rhet. 364, 375, 380, 384).26 When praising or blaming cities, one should consider the amount of bad behavior (hamar-temata) evident there, especially whether or not citizens often commit adultery (364.1-2). When praising an emperor, one should note that, because of the emperor's good example, "marriages are chaste, fathers have legitimate offspring, spectacles, festivals and competitions are conducted with proper splendor and due moderation [sophrosyne^]" (376.5).

To Aristotle, a speech of blame (psogos) was intimately related to a speech of praise (epainos), and together they constitute the category epi-deictic oratory.27 Since vice (kakia) is the opposite of virtue (arete), when one knows the virtues, one can easily identify the vices.28 Virtues and vices reveal states of character; we can judge character by the relative amount of virtue or vice displayed in the voluntary actions each person undertakes (Eth. Nic. iio6ai7; iiioaio-iii2aii). The rhetorical handbooks largely shared this view and, when discussing the sources of encomium (a speech of praise) or invective (a speech of blame), outlined standard categories, applicable for both. Thus, for example, when offering praise, one could refer to the noble origin of the subject's family. If, on the contrary, blame was appropriate, one could discuss the servile, lowly origin of the subject and his family.29 According to the first-century c.E. rhetorician Theon, a student should consider the following categories when composing a speech of praise:

I. Exterior Excellences

A. Noble birth (eugeneia)

B. Environment

1. native city

2. fellow citizens

3. excellence of the city's government

4. ancestors and family

C. Personal advantages

1. education

2. friends

3. fame

4. public service

5. wealth

6. number and beauty of children

7. happy death

II. Bodily Excellences

A. Health

B. Strength

C. Beauty

D. Vitality

III. Spiritual Excellences A. Virtues

1. wisdom

2. moderation

3. courage

4. justice

5. piety

6. nobility

7. liberality

B. Actions following from the virtues

1. those following from their aims a. altruistic b. good c. acts in the public interest d. braves dangers

2. the circumstances of the virtuous actions a. timely b. original c. performed alone d. surpassed others e. received little help from others f. acted with wisdom beyond his years g. persevered against all odds h. at great personal cost i. done promptly and efficiently30

A survey of classical and Hellenistic Greek sources yielded the following set of recommended categories for the successful composition of a speech of blame:

(1) former life as a slave or slave ancestry

(2) non-Greek origin

(3) having to work for a living

(4) being a thief or behaving like one

(5) engagement in reprehensible sexual acts

(6) hating one's family and friends (being a misophilos) or one's city (being a misopolis)

(7) having a gloomy nature

(8) improper appearance, dress, or behavior

(9) military desertion

(10) bankruptcy.31

Note how closely this list follows the recommended outline for a speech of praise, with each of the outlined sections assigned an opposite disadvantage or vice: noble birth or slave origin, association with a noble

(Greek) city or non-Greek origin, education and wealth or having to work in a degrading occupation, self-control or reprehensible sexual behavior, beauty and health or improper appearance and dress, courage or military desertion, vitality or gloominess. A summary of Latin invective terminology yielded similar categories, with lowly origin, degrading occupation, improper appearance, criminality, sexual vice, and gluttony emerging as central topics.32

Clearly, when learning to compose speeches, especially those of the epi-deictic type, students were offered detailed advice on appropriate commonplaces, including those pertaining to sexual behavior.33 Accusations regarding improper sexual behavior were one of an arsenal of topics one could use to label an enemy as dangerous, incompetent, treasonous, or corrupt. By contrast, proper sexual behavior could demonstrate the praise-worthiness of a person or a city or even a king, at least according to ancient rhetorical theory. Furthermore, this repertoire of recommended topics was remarkably consistent across Greek and Latin rhetorical treatises, especially those concerning epideictic literature.34 As we shall see, the speeches of Attic Greek orators such as Isocrates and Demosthenes contained many of the standard topics;35 these speeches, in turn, became models for later orators who emulated many of the same themes. In this way, set commonplaces continued to inform moralizing discourse across several centuries.

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