Welcome to the Class
Tonight we will get to know each other and find out the course goals and requirements. I will go over the syllabus first, which will only be located online. I have been told by the University to conserve resources, so I will not print or photocopy anything for this class. We will use the Web and Moodle to communicate course material.
After we go over the syllabus, I’ll highlight some important dates and assignments to come. Then, we’ll get to know our classmates.
We’ll most likely do this after break (usually 7:30-7:45).
I want us to get to know one another briefly tonight. Usually, I pair you up with a neighbor and have you answer the following questions, but, tonight, if you haven’t done so already, hop onto Canvas and answer these questions for Weekly Discussion Post #1. Then, each of you will report back to class about yourself.
- Year (don’t put 2022–year in the program)
- Degree and Concentration
- Job/Future Job
- Favorite Book (or most recent)
- Favorite TV Show
- Favorite Movie
- What do you expect in ENGL 6166?
- What do you want to know about Rhetorical Theory?
- What are your educational plans?
Freewrite on “Rhetoric”
What is rhetoric? For the next 5 min, please freewrite. Consider popular and academic definitions you’ve encountered. Where do you find rhetoric, and how has it been characterized? There’s no right or wrong here.
Asimov’s “A Cult of Ignorance”
Let’s discuss the article you read for tonight. Areas to start or get to…
- Right to know
- Credibility and trust
- Reading scores
- Drop in magazine readership
- Ignorance, willful ignorance, celebrating ignorance…
- “true concept of democracy”
- “Why not trust the experts? Also, what’s wrong with highway signs having pictures instead of words?
Gorgias’ “Encomium of Helen”
I prefer the George Kennedy translation of this speech (pp. 251-256), but Brian R. Donovan’s translation is good enough. When discussing the speech, please refer to line and section numbers to orient the class.
This speech is most likely a refined oratory used for didactic purposes, a class lesson. Observing the structure is obvious (especially in the Kennedy translation with the subheadings), so let’s consider what makes it persuasive. Thinking forward to your rhetorical analyses, how is meaning built into this speech? What might be a priori, and what might be a posteriori? Additionally, if this is an example of how one prepares a speech, what are some features you recognize?
Consider Gorgias’ views on the following:
- The Gods
- Persuasion (good, bad, beautiful)
This speech is an often anthologized work from the 5th century B.C.E., so it’s a major work of Western Civilization. Did Gorgias just argue that no crime of passion should be seen as unjust? After all, love etches itself on the soul and may shape an individual’s actions. Can one really be to blame if they commit a crime of passion, such as murder?
From Kennedy’s translation:
- p. 251: Kennedy notes “Paris had been promised the most beautiful woman in the world as a bribe for choosing Aphrodite, goddess of love, when he judged a beauty contest between her, Hera, and Athena.”
- Divine intervention…
- , p. 252: “for it is equal error and ignorance to blame the praiseworthy and to praise the blameworthy.”
- What type–think structure–of argument is Gorgias making?
- , p. 252: “[Helen] possessed godlike beauty, which getting and not forgetting she preserved.”
- We should compare this to Isocrates’ praise of chastity (, pp. 44-45, esp. note 56).
- , p. 253: “Speech is a powerful lord that with the smallest and most invisible body accomplishes most godlike works.”
- , p. 254: “…the two arts of witchcraft and magic are errors of the soul and deceivers of opinion.”
- So Harry Potter is evil.
- , p. 254: “…on most subjects most people take opinion as counselor to the soul. But opinion, being slippery and insecure, casts those relying on it into slippery and insecure fortune.”
- If we haven’t already, let’s discuss these:
- If we haven’t already, let’s discuss these:
- , p. 255: “If love, a god, prevails over divine power of the gods, how could a lesser one be able to reject and refuse it?”
Isocrates’ “Encomium of Helen”
I prefer the David C. Mirhady and Yun Lee Too translation of this speech (in Isocrates I, pp. 31-48), but J. A. Freese’s translation is good enough. When discussing the speech, please refer to line and section numbers to orient the class.
From Mirhady & Too’s Translation:
- After a lesson or 20 in Greek mythology, Isocrates gets to his argument about Helen…
- , p. 41: “…it was already clear to all that she would be the object of armed struggle.”
- , p. 43: “They thought it was nobler for them to die fighting for the daughter of Zeus than to live and not face danger on her account.”
- What might we learn from this observation about the rhetoric of dying for the motherland?
- , p. 44: “[Helen] had the most beauty, which is the most venerated, most honored, and most divine quality in the world.”
- Bless her heart…I’m being 100% sarcastic here.
- , p. 44: “We distrust those who are foremost in intelligence or anything else, unless they win us over by treating us well every day and compelling us to like them. But we have goodwill toward beautiful people as soon as we see them…”
- It’s a good thing we’re not as shallow as the Athenian demos!
The Speeches’ Contexts
As mentioned in the course description on the syllabus, “Critiquing the nearly all male, Eurocentric canon is greatly encouraged and an assumed goal for the course.” Biesecker provides excellent contexts for these speeches, using Pericles’ citizenship law (451 or 450 B.C.E) to explain them in regard to the status of women in Athens…well, Athenian women, and we will discuss the subtle difference in those two phrases: “women in Athens” as opposed to “Athenian women.” Think citizenship.
- p. 100: “women’s status worsened with the transformation of Athens from an aristocratic to a more democratic society.”
- “the exclusion of women from the public sphere can be explained as a symptom of a psychic dynamic in the male Athenian collective unconscious.”
- Most important aspect of this article for tonight (p. 102):
“by stipulating the necessary condition for citizenship the law made possible disputes over questions of citizenship. Put more concretely, the law provided a legal standard (two parent citizenship) by which litigants could and more than likely did contest or defend an individual’s claim to citizenship in a court of law.”
- p. 103: “the law opened up the possibility for contesting women’s subjugated status with respect to citizenship by making no gender distinction.”
- p. 104: “Gorgias’ speech was written sometime in the last quarter of the fifth century, a time notorious for the widening of political access; Isocrates wrote his encomium around 370 B.C.E., a moment in which democratization was being contested.”
- p. 105: “Gorgias’ Helen, at least implicitly, entertains alternative versions of the status of women in society.”
Isocrates on MAGA (Make Athens Great Again)
- p. 106: “Isocrates…advocate[d]…controlled democracy…a form of government which, in its most extreme form, amounts to monarchy, and which benefits the few rather than the many. Isocrates’ educational program, then, is conservative in its socio-political agenda: it seeks a return to a time before the democratization of Athens.”
- Helen’s patrilineage is valued, therefore, she’ll produce great sons
“Isocrates praises Helen for her patrilineage because it guarantees that she will reproduce more members of the aristocratic class.”
- p. 107: “if Pericles’ law did in fact create an opening for contesting women’s exclusion from the public sphere, Isocrates’ speech would shut it, if only by not attending to it.”
Biesecker provides an analysis for how Pericles’ law acknowledges matrilineage and how “Gorgias’ and Isocrates’ speeches can be read as having responded, however implicitly, to questions concerning gender relations…” (p. 107, italics added).
We’ll continue our online class meeting next week, and I hope that’s our last one ever, but something tells me I shouldn’t hold my breath. You’ll have a longer reading for next week, but it’s a classic! The bookstore should have Plato’s Phaedrus, the preferred translation, but you may also read it here.