We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Homeric Speech and the Origins of Rhetoric

Rachel Ahern Knudsen

Publication Year: 2014

Traditionally, Homer's epics have been the domain of scholars and students interested in ancient Greek poetry, and Aristotle's rhetorical theory has been the domain of those interested in ancient rhetoric. Rachel Ahern Knudsen believes that this academic distinction between poetry and rhetoric should be challenged. Based on a close analysis of persuasive speeches in the Iliad, Knudsen argues that Homeric poetry displays a systematic and technical concept of rhetoric and that many Iliadic speakers in fact employ the rhetorical techniques put forward by Aristotle. Rhetoric, in its earliest formulation in ancient Greece, was conceived as the power to change a listener’s actions or attitudes through words—particularly through persuasive techniques and argumentation. Rhetoric was thus a “technical” discipline in the ancient Greek world, a craft (technê) that was rule-governed, learned, and taught. This technical understanding of rhetoric can be traced back to the works of Plato and Aristotle, which provide the earliest formal explanations of rhetoric. But do such explanations constitute the true origins of rhetoric as an identifiable, systematic practice? If not, where does a technique-driven rhetoric first appear in literary and social history? Perhaps the answer is in Homeric epics. Homeric Speech and the Origins of Rhetoric demonstrates a remarkable congruence between the rhetorical techniques used by Iliadic speakers and those collected in Aristotle's seminal treatise on rhetoric. Knudsen's claim has implications for the fields of both Homeric poetry and the history of rhetoric. In the former field, it refines and extends previous scholarship on direct speech in Homer by identifying a new dimension within Homeric speech: namely, the consistent deployment of well-defined rhetorical arguments and techniques. In the latter field, it challenges the traditional account of the development of rhetoric, probing the boundaries that currently demarcate its origins, history, and relationship to poetry.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (100.0 KB)
pp. i-vi


pdf iconDownload PDF (98.9 KB)
pp. vii-viii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (61.8 KB)
pp. ix-xii

This book would not have come into being without the infl uence and assistance of numerous individuals. First among them are the teachers whose guidance set me on the path to this endeavor: Margaret Ahern, who provided a home/school bursting at the seams with books; Fritz Hinrichs, who introduced me to the Great...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (272.5 KB)
pp. 1-14

From ancient times to the present, rhetoric has been recognized as essential to the discourses of politics, advertising, law, education, and interpersonal relations. Definitions of rhetoric from the ancient Greek and Roman world attest to its deep significance. According to Plato, rhetoric is “a way of directing the soul by...

Part I: Rhetoric in Homer

read more

1. Reconsidering the Origins of Rhetoric

pdf iconDownload PDF (365.2 KB)
pp. 17-37

Although modern accounts of the history of rhetoric (Kennedy 1963, 1994; Cole 1991; Schiappa 1999; and Pernot 2005 being primary examples) vary in emphasis and approach, all of them generally agree on the role of Homeric poetry in their histories. In their view, Homer is innocent of any systematic craft of rhetoric...

read more

2. Investigating Homeric Rhetoric

pdf iconDownload PDF (442.8 KB)
pp. 38-76

A central tenet of this investigation is that rhetoric is, in the classical Greek conception, a technê. It is a skill— learned, taught, and employed with calculation and intention. The first step in any act of rhetoric is gathering information: information about human nature and its points of susceptibility to persuasion...

read more

3. Patterns of Aristotelian Rhetoric in the Iliad

pdf iconDownload PDF (329.0 KB)
pp. 77-88

From the preceding survey and analysis of the Iliad’s rhetorical speeches, it is possible to observe several patterns, both among rhetorical techniques used and among speakers who employ these rhetorical techniques. Certain speakers emerge from this analysis as the most “successful” rhetoricians in the Iliad...

Part II: The Genealogy of Rhetoric from Homer to Aristotle

read more

4. Explaining the Correspondence between Homeric Speech and Aristotelian Theory

pdf iconDownload PDF (222.0 KB)
pp. 91-103

The remarkable points of correspondence between the techniques of persuasion used in Homeric speech and those appearing in Aristotle’s Rhetoric raise the question of how this correspondence might have arisen— a question made more intriguing because it seems to have gone largely unacknowledged by Aristotle...

read more

5. Rhetoric in Archaic Poetry

pdf iconDownload PDF (431.6 KB)
pp. 104-134

If indeed Homeric speech is a significant (and largely unacknowledged) source for later rhetorical theory, how was a system of rhetorical persuasion transmitted from Homer to Aristotle— crossing lines of time, genre, and medium (oral to written)? Did it find its way into other forms of Archaic literature along the way?...

read more

6. From Poetry to Theory

pdf iconDownload PDF (331.7 KB)
pp. 135-156

The fi fth century BCE saw a burgeoning variety of literary and societal practices interacting with each other in Greece, and particularly in Athens. Competing with the Archaic poetic tradition were the new poetic forms of tragedy and comedy, the new prose forms of historiography and oratory, and the emerging disciplines...

read more

Appendix. Analysis of Remaining Iliadic Rhetorical Speeches

pdf iconDownload PDF (424.6 KB)
pp. 157-192

In addition to the catalogue of 19 speeches analyzed in chapter 2 (including Odysseus’ speech at 2.284– 332, used as a “model passage”), I have identified 39 other speeches in the Iliad that exhibit rhetorical argumentation. These speeches, along with my analysis of their rhetorical techniques, are presented...


pdf iconDownload PDF (327.0 KB)
pp. 193-212


pdf iconDownload PDF (227.2 KB)
pp. 213-224


pdf iconDownload PDF (561.3 KB)
pp. 225-230

E-ISBN-13: 9781421412276
E-ISBN-10: 1421412276
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421412269
Print-ISBN-10: 1421412268

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 3 line drawings
Publication Year: 2014