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Rhetoric & Public Affairs 4.2 (2001) 340-341

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Book Review

Rhetoric in the New World: Rhetorical Theory and Practice in Colonial Spanish America

Rhetoric in the New World: Rhetorical Theory and Practice in Colonial Spanish America. By Don Paul Abbott. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996; pp. vii + 135. $34.75 cloth.

In this thorough, well-written study, Don Paul Abbott attempts to fill a gap in the knowledge of the history of rhetoric by outlining how the art was adapted to the circumstances and needs of Spanish Colonial America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Abbott begins his book by discussing how the study of rhetoric throughout history has required in-depth knowledge of a variety of philosophical, pedagogical, literary, and theological issues. In the New World, knowledge of the art was even more complicated because it was intermingled with evangelization, imperialism, anthropology, and ethnography. Because of this intermingling, in previous studies of the period rhetoric has been subordinated to other topics. As Abbott says, "This is especially true of rhetoric's rhetoric's role in the Spanish campaign to convert indigenous peoples to Christianity. Yet rhetoric, the ancient art of persuasion, provided a rationale and a direction for accomplishing this enormous evangelical endeavor" (2).

Abbott's study outlines how rhetoric has been adapted in a variety of cultural and political systems throughout its history. Although the art was conceived in Greece, it was successfully adapted to the needs of Rome, Christianity, and the Renaissance. He illustrates how the adaptation of rhetoric to the needs of the people of the New World occurred at a significant moment in history because many classical texts had recently been rediscovered. Those discoveries led to a revival of the art, an art that could now build on the complete works of classical authors like Cicero and Quintilian. Even though writers had the complete works, they faced the difficult task of adapting the art to a new world.

In the book, Abbott takes on an enormous subject and its evolution over an extended period of time. Because of the enormity of the subject, he limits the focus to the role of rhetoric in New Spain (Mexico) and in Peru. The study covers the period from the beginning of Spanish colonialization in the early sixteenth century to its consolidation in the seventeenth century. The book, by focusing on significant authors and their works, illustrates how the art of rhetoric evolved over that period of time.

The book is composed of six chapters, each of which focuses on a distinct period of time. Abbott then analyzes significant works to illustrate the state of the art during that period. Chapter one sets the context of the study. Rather than outlining the entire history of Spanish Renaissance rhetoric, Abbott uses the works of Luis de Granada (1504-1588) as representative of the period. The chapter analyzes two works by Granada: one a traditional Ciceronian rhetoric meant for a European audience and the other a book on the conversion of the natives in Asia and America. Granada's works illustrate "how Spanish rhetoricians attempted to alter or adjust ancient concepts to accommodate the New World"(3). [End Page 340]

Chapter two outlines the "attempts of Europeans to preserve and analyze the preconquest discourse of Mexico"(3). The chapter focuses on the works of Franciscan missionaries, especially Bernardino de Sahagun (1499?-1590), who collected the speeches of Indian people at the time of contact with Europeans. The collected documents provide an insight into the speeches of a non-European people.

Chapter three discusses the works of a native of Mexico, Diego Valades (1533-1582?). Abbott argues that Valades wrote what is probably the first American rhetoric. As a native of the New World, he adapted European rhetoric based on his own experiences.

Chapter four examines the works of two missionaries, Jose de Acosta (1540-1600) and Bartholomew de las Casas (1474-1566). The two missionaries had radically divergent views on the natives and expressed those views in their writings. Las Casas...


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