Rhetoric Chapter uri icon

Book Title

  • Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Literature


  • Rhetoric was—or is, and the uncertainty here is to the point—an unstable but hegemonic assemblage of categories, practices, doctrines, and institutions that endured from classical antiquity through to modernity. Rhetoric underwent radical transformations over this period of nearly three thousand years, entering into complex relationships with its discursive and educational others, including literature, philosophy, theology, and science. Rhetoric has variously been the pragmatic art of verbal action; the teachable (and so saleable) skill of persuasive speaking; an elite training in literary forms and genres inherited from ancient Rome and Greece; a set of protocols governing textual production and reception; the antiquarian collection of ornate and artificial modes of phraseology; a transcendent spirit of linguistic articulation and creation; and a branch of instruction in professional communication. This article presents five scenes—sometimes more tightly focused, sometimes more diffuse—drawn from the long history of rhetoric: a moment of rhetoric’s inception, in Syracuse in 466 bce; of its Christianization, in Milan, 387; of linguistic productivity, in Cambridge, 1511; of rhetorical transcendence, in Basel in 1872; and of social composition, in Minneapolis, 1968. In each of these moments, rhetoric’s conceptual, discursive, and institutional relations with literature were transfigured. They were scenes in which rhetoric was retied, so to speak, into a series of new knots with literature and philosophy. Other scenes and other itineraries would no doubt generate different stories—other knottings of rhetoric and its others.

publication date

  • October 29, 2020