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Classics & Ancient History   >   Classical Rhetoric

What is Rhetoric?

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Classical Rhetoric

In this course, Dr Henriette van der Blom (University of Birmingham) provides an introduction to classical rhetoric and oratory. We begin in the first lecture by thinking about what rhetoric actually is, including the distinction between rhetoric (the theory of speechcraft) and oratory (the actual delivery of a speech). In the second module, we trace the development of rhetorical theory in Greece and Rome, including the ideas of the parts of speech, the means by which an orator might develop his speech (the five canons of rhetoric) and the different genres of oratory (deliberative, forensic, epideictic). In the third module, we look in more detail at these three genres of rhetoric, before turning to the fourth module to what’s known as the five canons of rhetoric, i.e. what are the steps involved in constructing and delivering a speech? In the fifth module, we explore classical theories on how to structure a speech, as well as some of the most common rhetorical devices, before turning in the sixth and final module to the three Aristotelian ‘appeals’ outlined in his Rhetoric: ethos (appeal to character), logos (appeal to logical argument) and pathos (appeal to emotion).

What is Rhetoric?

In this lecture, we attempt to answer the question ‘What is rhetoric?’, focusing in particular on: (i) the negative associations of rhetoric; (ii) the work of Quintilian (c. 35-100 AD), particularly his Institutio Oratoria (c. 95 AD); (iii) the idea of rhetoric as the art of persuasion, and the importance to rhetoric of not just the words one uses, but also one’s gestures, one’s appearance, etc.; (iv) the distinction between rhetoric and oratory; (v) key texts from the ancient word on rhetoric, including Plato’s Phaedrus and Gorgias (early 4th century BC), Aristotle’s Rhetoric (mid- to late 4th century BC), Cicero’s De Inventione (91-88 BC), and the anonymous Rhetorica ad Herennium (late 80s BC); (vi) the misuse of rhetoric; (vii) Plato’s answer to the misuse of rhetoric.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

van der Blom, H. (2023, August 11). Classical Rhetoric - What is Rhetoric? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

van der Blom, H. "Classical Rhetoric – What is Rhetoric?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 11 Aug 2023,

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Dr Henriette van der Blom

Dr Henriette van der Blom

Birmingham University