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The Challenges of Reconstructing Ancient Greek Rhetoric

A workshop on the history of Rhetoric, from classical Athens to the Renaissance.

University of Warwick, June 6, 2014


On the occasion of Dr. Frédérique Woerther (CNRS, Paris)’s visit to the UK as a fellow of the Warburg Institute, we will be gathering at Warwick for an exceptional workshop and look at some of the latest developments in the history of ancient Greek rhetoric. No other classical discipline or ‘art’ (technè) has been as permanently and thoroughly in use in Europe, from Classical Athens to our day, under a variety of guises. Yet for all its permanence, rhetoric as a skill and practice underwent constant changes and transformations, adapting itself to innumerable users, contexts and audiences. The following papers will delve into some aspects of the plasticity of ancient Greek rhetoric from antiquity to early modern times, such as the conditions of its delivery (ὑπόκρισις; actio), the problems arising from reconstructing an author’s theory from fragmentary evidence, the complex relationships between historiography, rhetoric and philosophy, and textual transmission and adaptation in new cultural contexts.

Organisation and contact: Dr. Caroline Petit. Email:


12.00 Registration and welcome.

Session 1: Chair: Simon Swain (Warwick)

12.30-13.00 Mike Edwards (Roehampton): Reconstructing Ancient Greek Rhetoric: Delivery

13.00-14.00 Lunch

Session 2: Chair: David Lines (Warwick)

14.00-14.30: Frédérique Woerther (CNRS, Paris/Warburg Institute, SAS, London): Reconstructing Hellenistic Rhetoric : The example of Apollodorus of Pergamum and Theodorus of Gadara.

14.30-15.00: Nicolas Wiater (Saint Andrews): Historiography, Rhetoric and Philosophy: Polybius' criticism of the speeches in Timaeus

15.00-15.30: Caroline Petit (Warwick): Hermogenes vs. Priscianus: The intriguing story of the Progymnasmata ascribed to Hermogenes, from antiquity to early modern times

16..00 drinks reception


Mike Edwards (Roehampton):Reconstructing Ancient Greek Rhetoric: Delivery

Scholars have traditionally concentrated on three of the five parts of classical rhetorical theory (invention, arrangement and style). In recent times more attention has been paid to the other two parts (memory and delivery), and in my paper for this workshop I propose to discuss a question connected with delivery: what (if anything) do the speeches in the surviving corpus of Attic oratory that were not delivered by professional speakers like Demosthenes tell us about the delivery techniques of ordinary speakers? A comparison of the speeches composed by professional speech-writers such as Lysias and Isaeus, and indeed Demosthenes himself as logographer, with the speeches of Aeschines and Demosthenes as litigant/politician (the latter, i.e. Dem. 18 and 19, Aesch. 2 and 3, formed the subject of a recent PhD thesis by Andreas Serafim of UCL) may suggest that certain techniques were common features of delivery which were not used at random but were carefully organised by the logographer. The techniques suggested by our written sources, which involve managing the jurors in order to secure their support (the so-called ‘constructed audience’), are, for example, addresses to the jurors (the civic – o andres Athenaioi, judicial – o andres dikastai, and descriptive – o andres modes of address); addressing the opponent (apostrophe); hand gesture (deixis) probably indicated by the text; emotional appeal (exploiting the pathos that is a key element of persuasion for Aristotle); and vivid description (ekphrasis). This may in turn give us some additional insight into the services logographers provided their clients, that is, advice on delivery as well as the text of the speech itself.

Frédérique Woerther (CNRS) Reconstructing Hellenistic Rhetoric :The example of Apollodorus of Pergamum and Theodorus of Gadara.

The aim of this paper is to present some of the problems posed by reconstructing Hellenistic Greek rhetorical theories, which have come down to us only through testimonies and fragments scattered in later treatises. I shall take as examples the edition of the Fragments and Testimonies of Apollodorus of Pergamum and Theodorus of Gadara, two Greek rhetors who lived around the Christian era. After introducing briefly the historical and cultural context in which their theories came to light, I will expose and justify the principles I used as a basis for my edition (2013), which are similar to those I defined in my earlier edition of the Fragments and Testimonies of Hermagoras of Temnos (2012). Examining some of the testimonies preserved about Apollodorus and Theodorus will allow me to challenge some of the widespread prejudice against Hellenistic Greek rhetoric. I will examine briefly to what extent it is licit to go beyond the ‘school rhetoric’ label that is usually applied to that period, using the example of Apollodorus, and will present two unpublished testimonies about Theodorus of Gadara that confirm the Aristotelian filiation of that rhetor.

Nicolas Wiater (Saint Andrews): Historiography, Rhetoric and Philosophy: Polybius' criticism of the speeches in Timaeus

In book 12 of the Histories, Polybius criticizes Timaeus' incompetence as a historical writer. He singles out the speeches as particularly significant evidence for the lack of truth of Timaeus' work. In the same chapter, Polybius directs a similar criticism at philosophers and their speeches (theseis and hypotheseis on abstract philosophical problems). This paper examines the relationship between rhetoric, philosophy and historiography in Polybius' thought with special reference to the role of speeches as means of examining and presenting the truth.

Caroline Petit (Warwick): Hermogenes vs. Priscianus: The intriguing story of the Progymnasmata ascribed to Hermogenes, from antiquity to early modern times

This paper will examine the unusual fate of a Greek rhetorical treatise designed for teaching, the Progymnasmata ascribed to Hermogenes. One of four similar works on ‘progymnasmata’ or ‘preliminary exercises’ that have come down to us from antiquity, this small book has had a paradoxical fortune. A Latin translation/adaptation made in late antiquity and attributed to Theodorus Priscianus soon eclipsed the Greek original. Shorter and less elaborate than Aphthonius’ work of the same title, the Pseudo-Hermogenian Progymnasmata nevertheless made it into various rhetorical collections throughout the middle ages in Byzantium. But in the Renaissance, the Latin text inspired by the pseudo-Hermogenian work gathered more attention and recognition, to the point that the Greek work became left out from most rhetorical corpora. In my paper, after a brief account of the textual transmission of the treatise, I will examine the relationship between the two texts, and the reasons why a Latin version could be preferable to the Greek original.

N. B. : Venue: Ramphal Building, room R 1.03


The event is free, but please use the form below to register!

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