103A | CCN: 20393

Approaches and Paradigms in the History of Rhetorical Theory I

Instructor: James I. Porter,

4 Units

In the days before tweets and sound bites, there was the sound of the voice, pure and simple. Ancient Greece and Rome were oral cultures: the spoken word was the primary means of communication, and even books were made to be read aloud rather than silently and in private. To understand rhetoric, the theory and practice of speaking, was to understand human behavior. To control it was to control human behavior. To use it was to enter into a community of speakers and to cultivate communal values, whether through agreement or disagreement. Thus, the art of rhetoric was at once a powerful tool and a threat. As a result, rhetoric could be respected, feared, and disparaged.
This course will offer an overview of the shifting attitudes to the powers and limits of rhetoric in antiquity, while keeping one eye on the question, What value does rhetoric have for us today? The readings will progress historically, starting with Homer, the first theorist and practitioner of rhetoric, then turning to the Golden Age of rhetoric in fifth- and fourth-century Athens (Thucydides, Euripides, the sophists, Plato, Aristotle, the orators, the Cynics), then to Republican and imperial Rome (Cicero, Tacitus, Longinus, Dio Chrysostom, Lucian), and ending in late antiquity (Augustine and the development of Christian rhetoric). Brief secondary readings in Classics and in more contemporary theory (Auerbach, Arendt, Derrida, and Foucault) will supplement the primary texts.
Requirements: attendance/participation in lectures and sections, short writing assignments (blogposts), midterm, final essay (ca. 5 pages).