200 | CCN: 40958

Classical Rhetorical Theory and Practice

Texts and Contexts

Instructor: Ramona Naddaff,

In the recent past. Ancient Greek and Latin rhetorical theory has witnessed an impressive rejuvenation, extending its research methods and topics to the center of debates in both the social sciences and the humanities. Once the exclusive terrain of philological investigation, ancient rhetorical theory has become a site to explore crucial questions about not only theories of democracy, language, and the arts. Interpreted from an interdisciplinary framework, classical rhetorical theory has also been incorporated into contemporary psychoanalytic, gender, cultural, and post-colonial studies.


In the first instance, this seminar proposes to read the seminal texts in classical rhetorical theory. Complementing close textual readings with recent scholarship in the classics, this seminar aims to understand the changing contexts and perspectives from which these canonical texts have been read. How, for example, has Plato’s Gorgias, once a revered anti-rhetorical diatribe, become a “sourcebook” for learning about the seductive, violent and mimetic powers of rhetorical language? Finally, drawing on recent scholarship from classicists, historians, philosophers and literary critics alike—for example, Jean-Pierre Vernant, Marcel Detienne, Nicole Loraux, Judith Butler, Barbara Cassin, Daniel Boyarian, David Cohen, Jacques Derrida, James Porter, Martha Nussbaum, Michel Foucaul—this seminar revisits ancient questions and quarrels about orality and literacy, the relation between soul and the body, myth and philosophy, tragedy and democracy, poetic logic and sexual orientations. Enrollment limited to first-year Rhetoric Graduate students.


All texts are in translation. Students who wish to read in the original source language are encouraged to do so.