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Poetic Speakers, Sophistic Words


The relationship between poetically mediated myth and the emerging discipline of formal rhetoric in fifth- and fourth-century Athens has received little scholarly treatment, in part because of a paucity of texts that encompass both myth and formal rhetoric. This article sheds light on the relationship by examining four generically hybrid model speeches: Gorgias' Defense of Palamedes, Antisthenes' Ajax and Odysseus, and Alcidamas' Odysseus. I argue that these speeches represent a rare confluence of the Archaic poetic tradition with the inclination towards technique-based modes of discourse among the sophists. This innovative didactic strategy, whereby rhetoric appropriates the appeal of poetic storytelling and characterization, has affinities with a broader societal and literary trend toward mixing genres.