Topics in Classics: Premodern Rhetorics

CRN 29448 / Mo 2:00PM - 4:25PM / 116 Victoria Building
This course offers a broad cultural and historical survey of rhetorical handbooks from the ancient, late antique, medieval, and early modern periods. It will be useful to students from a variety of fields interested in the intellectual and institutional histories of rhetoric. We will begin with selections from the Sophists, from Plato, Isocrates, Antisthenes, and Aristotle, as well as from Cicero, Seneca, Quintilian, and Tacitus, with particular focus on the formation and development of a rhetorical discipline, the changing contexts for rhetorical performance, and the tension between rhetoric and philosophy. We will then consider late antique pagan rhetoricians (Themistius, Libanius) and Church Fathers (Tertullian, Augustine), with emphasis on the religious dimensions of their early Christian rhetorics and its potential as a tool for interpreting scripture. We will move on to medieval materials (Boethius, Cassiodorus, Isidore of Seville, Bede, Hugh of St. Victor, Aquinas, Petrarch, and Bracciolini), focusing on the enduring influence of the Ciceronian tradition, the place of rhetoric in monastic communities and church education, the Islamic readers of Aristotle’s Rhetoric, and its eventual rediscovery and reception in the Latin (and vernacular) West. We conclude with certain renaissance and early modern rhetorics (Erasmus, Philipp Melanchthon, Peter Ramus), with special attention given to the centrality of rhetoric to investigations of the passions, to early aesthetics, and to the development of civil philosophies (politics, psychology, law, literature). Throughout the term, we will also read and discuss modern treatments of rhetorical theory and of the “deep” history of rhetoric, and survey the major debates in the field. All readings will be accessible in English.

Number of Credits


Jacques A. Bromberg

Course Term


Course Category

Category B: Disciplines and Intellectual Movements

Course Year