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8 1 Theory, Validity, and the Historiography of Classical Rhetoric: A Discussion of Archaeological Rhetoric Richard Leo Enos All these are questions which we cannot answer; the facts were known to the writer of the tablet, and he did not expect it to be read by anyone who did not have the same knowledge; just as many of us make jottings in our diaries which convey a clear message to us, but would be meaningless to a stranger ignorant of the circumstances in which they were written. This problem is still with us, and will always remain; we cannot know all the facts and events of which the tablets are an only partial record. We have to examine them as minutely as we can, to compare them with similar documents elsewhere, to check them against the archaeological evidence. —John Chadwick, The Decipherment of Linear B Introduction: Cognitive and Physical Contexts as Historical Evidence The above epigraph—purposefully taken out of context for reasons that will become clear before this introduction is over—is John Chadwick’s observation of the contextual factors that had to be accounted for when his colleague Michael Ventris was laboring toward what would become a monumental achievement: the decipherment of one of the earliest forms of Greek, Linear B. It would be tedious to repeat the number of times Ventris and Chadwick remarked on how knowing the context of the writing played a major role in the decipherment of the clay tablets that had puzzled scholars for decades. Of course, “context” is the critical term in fully appreciating the insight of Chadwick’s statement, because he meant that accounting for not only the physical but also the cognitive conditions would yield a better understanding of the discourse than would merely attempting to decipher Theory, Validity, and Historiography 9 the scratch-marks on the clay tablets alone and in isolation. Knowing the circumstances is no less critical for historians of rhetoric than it is for cryptographers and philologists. Without knowledge of the situation, we too are doomed to make limited observations about the rhetoric of the past. It is reasonable to think, as Ventris and Chadwick did in their own work, that the recent evidence of archaeological findings would be as illuminating to us as historians of rhetoric as it was in their work. To me, this point is so obvious that it hardly bears elaboration. However others in my field disagree, for an abundance of research on rhetoric’s history is undertaken with scant (often superficial) attention to the historical context and, in far too many cases, a total disregard for recent archaeological evidence or, for that matter, any evidence whatsoever that falls outside the narrow domain of traditional “literary” sources. The purpose of this essay is not to pour scorn on the textual criticism of rhetoric. Rather, my intent in revealing the inherent limitations that come from traditional research methods in the history of rhetoric is to argue that such methods can be enriched considerably by assimilating such nontraditional resources as archaeological evidence into our research. The focus of this discussion is on my own area of emphasis, classical rhetoric, but the benefits of extending the parameters of our range of primary resources should apply to other periods in rhetoric’s history. Without a context, the observations in the epigraph of this essay would be, if not meaningless, a challenge to understand. This principle holds for our approach to historiography as well. The point of archaeological rhetoric is not only to discover and reconstruct physical artifacts that provide insights to the context within which rhetoric took place, but also to reconstruct the mentalities of the culture that produced such discourse. In these two senses, archaeological rhetoric is more than a mere search for observable, empirical evidence; it is also an effort to construct the epistemic processes that invent rhetoric. It is this effort to reconstruct the physical and the cognitive that will enhance our current methods of research in classical rhetoric. One of the primary points of reflection in seeking to evaluate the limitations of conventional scholarly procedures should be a reconsideration of our preference for research methods. Our traditional avenue for knowledge of classical rhetoric has been the descent of manuscripts passed along from antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, and from modern periods of the book tradition. Yet classical rhetoric also is enriched annually by new information that is not from the “book” tradition but from such diverse areas as archaeology, epigraphy...


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