Sex Talk And Ancient Rhetorical Theory

Success as an orator, Aristotle observed, demands three capabilities: the capacity to reach logical conclusions, the ability to observe closely characters and virtues, and, thirdly, an understanding of the emotions (Rh. 1356a). Logical argument is only one element of an effective speech; sensitivity to the attitudes of the audience and familiarity with the virtues are equally important. This is the case for each of the three types of rhetoric that Aristotle identifies: deliberative (au|mPoul£WiKO~), forensic (8iKaviKO~), and epideictic (eni8eiKiiKO~). This threefold categorization was largely maintained in later Greek and Latin rhetorical theory. Virtue was said to be the primary topic of epideictic oratory, speeches that take as their subject praise

(enaivo~) or blame (yogo~), yet considerations of virtue and character are central to all three. In forensic oratory, rhetoric intended for the law courts, the ability of the orator to rouse the emotions of the jury by demonstrating that he is true (a1h0h~) and good (aga0o~) while the opponent is false (yeu8h~) and bad (kakO~) was understood to be an essential task (Rh. 1419 b). So too, when offering a deliberative speech before the assembly, one must be cognizant of both virtue and emotion. Virtue, Aristotle insisted, is essential to happiness, and happiness is the aim of both city and citizen (Rh. 1360a).18 Therefore, one needs to be familiar with the virtues when composing any speech, whatever the type of speech or its occasion. Furthermore, the moral character of the orator himself is fundamental to the ability of a given speaker to persuade. A good man makes a good orator (Rh. 1356a).19

Cicero, writing in Rome several centuries later, agreed in many respects with Aristotle's assessment of the importance of virtue and emotion to good oratory. The excellence of the orator is demonstrated by his ability to "rouse men's hearts to anger, hatred, or indignation" or to recall them from these passions, a task that is impossible without an understanding of the human character (De or. 1.12.53). Therefore, though philosophers claim that the discussion of the virtues is their exclusive domain, orators must be able to discuss them with an even greater eloquence (De or. 1.13.56). Additionally, successful persuasion requires that the audience approve of the character, principles, and lifestyle of both the orator and, in the case of forensic oratory, the person whom the orator is defending. Cicero offered advice on how to appear trustworthy and virtuous while describing the upright, modest character of one's client, if at all possible (De or. 2.43.182-87).

Quintilian went further, arguing that the positive formation of moral character is the most important accomplishment of a proper rhetorical education (Inst. 1.9-10).20 As a result, Quintilian averred, his subject matter (oratory) demanded that he frequently speak of the virtues courage (fortitudo), justice (iustitia), and self-control (temperantia). "In fact," he wrote, "scarcely a case comes up in which some one of these virtues is not involved" (Inst. 1.12). An anonymous Greek contemporary agreed, claiming that the true purpose of good education (naiSeia) is moral excellence (apeth) and happiness (eu8ai|movia; [Plutarch] Mor. 5c), yet this author warned against paying attention to the "nonsense of ostentatious public discourse," the purview of many false orators who know only how to please audiences ([Plutarch], Mor. 6a-d). Rhetorical education has its place but must be given with caution. This advice echoes the earlier concerns of Plato, who persistently argued that the tools of rhetoric are dangerous when placed in the wrong hands (Plato Prt. 318E-319B; Grg. 451D. See also Soph., esp. 232A).21

Even this brief survey of the "art of rhetoric" as presented by Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian reveals that a comprehensive understanding of virtue, morality, character, and the emotions was viewed as essential to the success of the orator. Orators took this advice to heart; appeals to emotion and character pervade the speeches that have been preserved from this period and beyond.22 Rhetorical appeals to character were remarkably constant, including the terms and behaviors offered as examples of exemplary or reprehensible conduct; indeed, a rather fixed repertoire of virtues and vices said to reveal the good or bad man emerged. Perhaps the repetitive nature of moral categories was the result, in part, of the type of education students of rhetoric received. As part of their rhetorical training, students were expected to master sets of commonplaces designed to describe the character of the person or people they were discussing.23

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