The Art of Rhetoric

Today we’re going to go back in time…kinda.

We’re going to take a look at the rhetorical tradition of communication theory, in which communication is seen as artful public address. This is the first theory I’ve seen that’s humanistic, so of course I’m over the moon!

This tradition is characterised by a conviction that humans are distinctly different from animals because we can talk. It’s no wonder Wilbur in that movie Charlotte’s Web was so excited about being able to talk! (Sorry Wilbur, that doesn’t make you human).

Image result for wilbur charlottes web

Anyways, like I said before, this tradition is all about public address. That means it deals a lot with speech-giving and a speaker addressing a large audience. It also means that oratorical training is of paramount importance. It posits that the beauty of language lies in the ability to elicit emotional response and to persuade people.

The spoken word poet in me is so happy about this.

Historically speaking, the study and practice of rhetoric was male-dominated (Thank God that’s changing). The best known definition of rhetoric comes from Aristotle. I bet you’re wondering when we would get to time travel, but we’re not quite there yet.

Essentially, rhetoric was used for very specific means. It was a vehicle for information relay and precedence setting – basically walking talking newspapers; and it functioned to inform, persuade and entertain. A rhetorician’s audience was always present as receivers to his message and there was no technology that could potentially impede the communication process, particularly since we’re talking about Ancient Greece. And here we are, a couple thousand years ago!

For this tradition, it helps to understand Aristotle’s three persuasive audience appeals:


Logos refers to appeals to logic, ethos to appeal to ethics, and pathos to emotional appeals. Understanding theseĀ appeals gives a little more context about the specific type of communication to which the rhetorical tradition occurs.

Persuasion, persuasion, persuasion.

It also gives us a little more room to look at changes in affects to rhetoric – like technology, and how technology use affects the process of artful communication.Ā The Romans then gave us the five canons of rhetoric:

  1. Invention, which entails how the speech substance is developed.
  2. Arrangement, which entails how the speech is organised or ordered.
  3. Style, which entails verbal embellishments within the speech itself.
  4. Delivery, which entails the verbal and nonverbal aspects of giving the speech.
  5. Memory, which refers to how the speaker recalls information for the speech.

To put it all in a neat little box of smaller words and gift it to the 21st century dwellers like you and I, this tradition is specifically all about persuasion and public speaking (not to mention every poet’s dream world, seriously I’m beginning to think this was made for me).

Cyndi, the Traditionalist
(who’s seriously thinking about a poetry stage name ‘The Rhetorician’)


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