Created by numerous individual contributions, such as Trapezuntius’s incorporation of Greek rhetoric, Valla’s critique of Aristotelian logic, Agricola’s use of the topics to analyze classical literature, and Erasmus’s exercises in the possibilities of expression.
Themes of Renaissance Rhetoric
The consequences of greater knowledge of ancient literature and the classical world; the place of rhetoric in education; the impact of ideas from dialectic on rhetoric and vice versa; and the adaptation of the tenets of classical rhetoric to a changed world.
Pupils were taught letter-writing and the tropes and figures before any other part of rhetoric. Logic remained far more important to the university syllabus than rhetoric but there is strong evidence for some teaching of rhetoric at most universities. Late antique theories of the division of knowledge and medieval university syllabuses meant that at the higher level rhetoric was always studied alongside dialectic (equivalent to logic).
Genres of Renaissance textbooks
Rhetoric, dialectic, the handbook of tropes and figures, the letter-writing manual, and an extensive group of preaching manuals.
Diffusion and Reception of Classical Rhetoric
The most successful rhetoric text remained the Rhetorica ad Herennium, which was generally attributed to Cicero. Because it was so well-established and because it gave a complete account of the subject, Rhetorica ad Herennium provided 15th and 16th readers with their understanding of the structure of rhetoric and its principal doctrines. It outlined and then described the 3 genres of rhetoric established by Aristotle (judicial, deliberative, and epideictic), the 5 skills which the orator had to master (invention, disposition, style, memory, and delivery) and the 6 parts of the oration (exordium, narration, division, confirmation, refutation, and conclusion). Because renaissance scholars read Aristotle’s Rhetoric within a discipline already framed by his Roman successors it can be difficult for us to appreciate their understanding of his role.
-The three kinds of persuasion—logos, ethos, and pathos—were absorbed in Cicero’s later works as a result of his reading of Aristotle. So there are ways to incorporate Aristotle’s Rhetoric within the Ciceronian scheme.
Italian rhetorical works of the 15th century introduced: a close critical reading of Cicero’s orations to understand his tactics and his methods of achieving his aims (particularly in Loschi, Guarino, and George Trapezuntius); the attempt to teach boys to achieve an acceptable classicism of expression, leading at a more advanced level to the ability to handle the full resources of the Latin language in an elegant way (Barzizza, Guarino, and Valla); bringing the gains of Greek rhetoric (especially Hermogenes) over into Latin (George Trapezuntius); a new understanding of the relationship between rhetoric and dialectic (Bruni, Valla, and George Trapezuntius); and taking advantage of the textual discoveries, especially Quintilian (Valla).
His version of Hermogenes’s Ideas of Style, Rhetoricorum libri V, provides Latin readers with a new and impressive resource. He fills out Hermogenes’s advice on the thoughts, approaches, and stylistic features appropriate to each of the 21 types of style. George deserves a place of honor in this history as the first renaissance author of a textbook teaching the whole of rhetoric, for his contribution to making Hermogenes’s doctrines of status and ideas of style available to the Latin world, for the innovative way in which he combined Latin and Greek sources, and for his thoughtful choice of and commentary on Cicero’s orations.
The foremost Italian humanist of the first half of the 15th century.
For the 16th century, he was the revered author of the Elegantiae linguae Latinae, the authoritative guide to Latin usage, and the first humanist to work on the text of the New Testament.Valla demands that logic concern itself with the practicalities of arguing in natural language. He rejects Aristotle’s attempt to restrict argument to a few semi-formalized sentence-types. Valla developed a rhetoricized approach to logic. Logic aimed to teach ways of persuading people. Following Quintilian the first step was to use the topics of invention to discover arguments suited to the question at issue.
Wrote the most original textbook on writing of the 15th century and the first modern rhetoric which can be placed among the classics of the subject, alongside Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian. De inventione dialectica: the fruit of his Italian experiences. His work is notable for the way he used Latin literary texts to show how dialectic contributes to all aspects of persuasion. Many of the innovations of Erasmus, Melanchthon, and Ramus develop from Agricola’s contribution. His plan for De inventione dialectica is straightforward but highly original. Book 1 is concerned with the topics of invention; book 2 with the subject-matter of dialectic (the question), its instrument (exposition and argumentation), and training; book 3 with moving, pleasing, and disposition.The text’s original synthesis of elements from rhetoric to dialectic caused some problems for teachers. It plays several different roles in the university syllabuses which include it. Sometimes it functions as a humanist introduction to the whole Aristotelian logic syllabus, sometimes it replaces or introduces Aristotle’s Topica, something’s it seems to be the dialectic element within a training which is primarily literary, and sometimes it acts as a rhetoric textbook. His originality is founded on a deep understanding of rhetoric, logic, and Latin literature. Following Erasmus’s lead several 16th century rhetoricians recognized Agricola as a pioneering figure and his works were widely circulated.
He rose from unpromising beginnings to become the most publically prominent European intellectual of the early 16th century. May have been the first northern humanist to exploit the possibilities of printing to ensure wide circulation of new works and editions. His De copia, which combined an understanding of the tropes and figures with knowledge of a wide range of authors and an acute adaptation of dialectical techniques, defined and established the centrality of amplification for the next 80 years. His work on letter-writing directed the attention of students of rhetoric back to the crucial question of the audience.De copia is extremely focused and practical, providing a range of well-explained methods of varying a pre-existing text, together with examples of the practice of variation and collections of alternative expressions for many much-used phrases. Erasmus sets our four main advantages of copia: exercise in varying phrases will assist pupils to acquire a good style; it will help them avoid repetition; it will enable them to express themselves with a variety which will delight their audience; it will be of great assistance in commenting on authors, translating, and writing poetry.
He was much occupied with Bible commentaries, theology, educational reform, and attempts to unite to Protestant churches in the 1520s, but late in the decade he decided to write more comprehensive introductions for dialectic. He regarded rhetoric and dialectic as closely connected. Dialectic is concerned with teaching, which for Melanchthon always remains the most important function of language.
He organized his treatment of rhetorical invention according to the genres of rhetoric rather than the parts of the oration. He added a fourth genre, the didascalic, which he linked to invention of simple themes through a short series of questions. He divided the figures of rhetoric into three types (grammatical, thought, amplification; the latter section was subdivided according to the topics of inventions) and added a new section on imitation.
Shared Melanchthon’s commitment to bringing out the connections between dialectic and rhetoric and to using both subjects to analyze classical texts.
His school syllabus gives great importance to Greek and keeps returning to four key authors: Cicero, Virgil, Homer, and Demosthenes. Sturm’s two most successful books both appeared first in two book versions, with two further books being added in 1543 (dialectic) and 1545 (rhetoric)—In partitiones oratorias Ciceronis.
Peter Ramus and his colleague Omer Talon revolutionized the study of logic and rhetoric by linking the two subjects together and reducing the core teaching of both to a very small number of doctrines. Ramist dialectic comprised a short version of the topics, the proposition, the syllogism, and method, while rhetoric was reduced to four tropes, prose rhythm and poetic metre, twenty figures, and delivery. Ramus can be though of as inspired by Melanchthon’s programme, but Ramus took simplificiation much further than Melanchthon had. In spring 1543 he published Dialecticae partitiones, in which, after a preface attacking Aristotle’s logic for poor organization and for straying outside the bounds of the subject, he presents a simplified form of logic in three parts: invention, judgment, and practice. Ramus’s Aristotelicae animadversiones advances the ideas of the previous work’s preface into a broader attack on the traditional Aristotelian teaching of logic.At the core of Ramus’s system is the requirement that rhetoric and dialectic be studied together. For a pedagogically oriented reformer like Ramus the textbooks have to be interpreted in the light of the audience and syllabus the writer had in mind. His main focus is on teaching people to argue effectively using the full resources of the Latin language and on showing them how to recognize and analyze argument in the classical texts they read. For Ramus, dialectic is the art which teaches discussing well.
Joannes Piscator (1546-1625), professor of theology in Herborn, supplemented his successful editions of Ramus’s dialectic and Talon’s rhetoric with excerpts from their work and Ramist commentaries on Cicero’s orations and books of the Bible. One indicator of Ramus’s success is that in the 1580s and 1590s even writers who are critical of central elements of his teaching set their manuals out as versions of his, with additions and reservations.
Between 1545 and 1580 textbooks of rhetoric and dialectic continued to be produced which did not follow Ramus’s innovations: Cornelius Valerius (1512-78) Tabulae totius dialectices and In universam bene dicendi rationem tabula; he follows Melanchthon’s order and Agricola’s influence. Matthaeus Dresser (1536-1607), humanist and doctor, professor at Erfurt and Leipzig, composer of Rhetorica inventionis, dispostionis et elocutionis; teaching was mostly based on Melanchthon.
Imitation and Ciceronianism
Italian writers made highly influential contributions to debates about imitation and Ciceronianism. Cortesi took the view that imitation was a universal principle in the arts and that Cicero, although not the only model, was the best one to choose. Replying in 1513, Bembo regarded imitation as central to all forms of human activity; one cannot obtain ideas about writing except by reading and one cannot write except by modeling oneself on earlier writers.
Wrote De arte rhetorcia libri tres (1562) which was the most successful rhetoric textbook of the second half of the 16th century and the most published textbook of the whole of rhetoric produced in southern Europe during the renaissance. In its composition and its earliest circulation, De arte rhetorica was associated with the Jesuit schools which were established throughout Europe and in many overseas missions. De arte rhetorica was intended for use as a summary of rhetoric in the humanities class (4th year).
The 4th year, or humanities class, was intended to complete pupils’ knowledge of the properties and richness of the Latin language and prepare for rhetoric. The aim of the 5th year or rhetoric class was perfect eloquence in oratory and poetry. De arte rhetorica served as an introduction to a very broad course on rhetoric, including the most important classical authorities and several examples of the classical precepts in use.
Revival of Scholastic Dialectic: Fonseca
The Institutionum dialecticarum libri octo, by Portuguese Jesuit philsopher Pedro da Fonseca, presents a clear exposition of the whole syllabus of scholastic logic, leavened with occasional quotations from Cicero. Fonseca’s 8 books centre on Aristotelian syllabus but include many of the medieval accretions which humanist Aristotelians had rejected.
New Syntheses 1600-20: Keckermann, Vossius, and Caussin
3 large textbooks of the whole of rhetoric produced the first two decades of the new century, which redirected the work in rhetoric.
Keckermann used Greek rhetoric to enrich a Ciceronian framework and an approach based on the ideas of the major northern rhetoricians, Agricola, Erasmus, and Melanchthon. Vossius added an account of style which combined Latin and Greek authorities to 3 books based on Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Caussin enriched an essentially Ciceronian structure and approach with lessons derived from his wide reading in the theory and practice of oratory before arguing that Chrysostom offers an appropriately magnificent model for a revival of Christian eloquence. All insist that style and the emotions are central to rhetoric; all absorb Aristotle’s teachings and Greek rhetoric more generally. All emphasize prose-rhythm and the periodic sentence. All 3 describe the Attic or Senecan style, though all prefer Cicero as a model. All teach genres of expression better suited to 17th century context for writing than the classical 3 genres, basing their teaching on the manuals of letter-writing and preaching, or on Vives. They demonstrate the successful assimilation of a wealth of textual recoveries, Greek rhetoric, and deepened knowledge of the ancient world.
Manuals of Tropes and Figures
The tropes and figures were fully described in two of the most printed classical manuals of rhetoric, Rhetorica ad Herennium and Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria. Manuals of tropes and figures mainly copy from each other, but individual manuals innovate in 3 main ways: some aim to be more comprehensive than others; some aim to simplify the list, so as to make it easier for a pupil to memorize; some add subdivisions of particular tropes and figures, and advice on their use. In renaissance schools it seems that the tropes and figures were taught to students after they had learnt the basis Latin grammar and alongside their reading of middle-school texts, such as Cicero’s letters, Terence, and Virgil. Melanchthon introduced important changes to the presentation of the tropes and figures in his Institutiones rhetoricae (1521) and even more successful Elementa rhetorices (1529).
Latin letter-writing manuals were among the most printed renaissance works on rhetoric with about 900 editions of individual works published between 1460 and 1620. Letter-writing was a central feature of grammar-school education, beginning with the imitation of some of Cicero’s simpler domestic letters and moving on to several types of letter on subjects related to daily life or to the pupils’ reading in classical texts.
Preaching Manuals and Legal Dialectics
The medieval tradition of preaching, accompanied by a rich corpus of artes praedicandi, was challenged first by humanists, who wanted to make more use of classical forms and teaching, and later by Protestants, who emphasized understanding scripture and teaching a congregation, and Counter-Reformation Catholics, who demanded a fervent advocacy of basic doctrine and moral instruction. Renaissance preaching manuals tended to agree on the usefulness of rhetorical principles in exegesis and on the need to show that scripture and the church fathers employed rhetoric. The only substantial work on Christian preaching from the ancient world was St. Augustine’s De doctrina Christiana.
In the renaissance large numbers of rhetoric manuals in vernacular languages were written and circulated in print. The most frequently translated works were: Rhetorica ad Herennium, Aristotle’s Rhetoric, and Quintilian. The absorption of classical culture in writing in the European vernacular languages was one of the most significant and enduring changes brought about in the renaissance. Most 16th and 17th century readers and writers learned rhetoric through their Latin-based educational system, applying its lessons to their own writing and speech-making which largely and increasingly was conducted in the vernacular languages. Moreover, speakers of vernacular languages regarded the existence of rhetoric in that language as a sign of its maturity, less important than possessing a vernacular literature but thought of as a contribution to producing that literature.
Renaissance rhetoric recap
Renaissance rhetoric involved close reading of classical texts, in order to identify the ways in which Cicero, Virgil, and others used the resources of language identified in rhetoric. Renaissance rhetoric renewed the connection between rhetoric and dialectic.
Humanists reestablished the study of arousing emotion as an element in rhetorical training, partly as a result of giving new attention to Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Renaissance rhetorical training revived the study of disposition.
As a result of the success of Erasmus’s work, copia became an important element in renaissance edition. Under the influence of Erasmus, renaissance rhetorical training gave particular emphasis to collecting, composing, and using sententiae, proverbs, descriptions, examples, and comparisons. Another great importance is that which renaissance manuals give to style and particularly to the tropes and figures. Five common features of later renaissance rhetoric: First, several of the later textbooks, notably the works of Talon, but also the preaching manuals, give much more importance to delivery than we find in earlier renaissance rhetoric. Secondly, as Hardison, O’Malley, and Vickers have shown, later renaissance rhetoric puts much greater emphasis on epideictic oratory than there was in Roman rhetorical work. Thirdly, starting on the dialectical side, later manuals, especially by Melanchthon, Ramus, and Sturm, show much more interest in issues of method. Fourthly, rhetorical training and later rhetoric manuals become involved in the debate about whether or not Cicero is the only model in Latin prose and the question of the importance and correct manner of imitation.
Finally, in the 16th century vernacular rhetoric became much more prominent.
Ramus’ condensed rhetoric and dialectic and logic
Rhetoric: style (tropes: metonymy, irony, metaphor, synecdoche; 20 figures; prose rhythm, poetic metre) and delivery
Dialectic: (proposition, syllogism, method, topics)
Logic: invention judgment, and practice