The Rhetoric, Aristotle
The Rhetoric
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Aristotle's Rhetoric (Ancient Greek: Ῥητορική, romanized: Rhētorikḗ; Latin: Ars Rhetorica) is an ancient Greek treatise on the art of persuasion, dating from the 4th century BCE. This book is 1818 translation by Thomas Taylor. Aristotle is generally credited with developing the basics of the system of rhetoric that "thereafter served as its touchstone", influencing the development of rhetorical theory from ancient through modern times. The Rhetoric is regarded by most rhetoricians as "the most important single work on persuasion ever written."

The Rhetoric


Translated by
Thomas Taylor


The three treatises of which the present volume consists, have been deservedly considered by the ancients as ranking in the first class of the most exquisite productions of human wit; and even in the present frivolous age they maintain so high a degree of reputation, as to be studied at the University of Oxford. Indeed, so much penetration and profundity of thought are displayed in the composition of each, that the reader by whom they are thoroughly understood, will immediately subscribe to encomium given to the Stagirite by the great Syrianus, that he was the most skilful and the most prolific in his conceptions of all men, (δεινότατος και γονιμωτατος;) and also to the assertion of another of the ancients, which may be considered as the ne plus ultra of eulogy, that he dipped his pen in intellect.

I. With respect to Rhetoric, which forms the first of these treatises, it is very nearly allied to dialectic properly so called, and which is the subject of the Topics of Aristotle; and, therefore, in order to explain the. nature of rhetoric, it will be requisite to compare it with dialectic, and see in wbat they both agree, and in what they differ.

Dialectic then is denominated from disputing, and is the art of disputing; but rhetoric derives its name from speaking, and is the art of speaking. The art of disputing, however, consists in the ability of arguing on and defending each side of a proposed question. But the art of speaking consists in the ability of persuading the hearer to assent to either side of a question.

From this definition, it may be inferred that the subject of dialectic is every thing, so far as it is disputable with probability on each side; and that the subject of rhetoric is every thing so far as it can be influenced by persuasion.

In the second place, it may be inferred that dialectic and rhetoric agree in this, that each discusses every thing; that each discusses both sides of a question; and that each proceeds not from what is true, but from what is probable. For of the two parts of a problem contradictorily opposed to each other, the one is necessarily false; but dialectic and rhetoric discuss and defend each part of a problem. Hence they not only prove and defend what is true, but also what is false. As what is false, however, cannot be proved and defended from true, but only from probable assertions, rhetoric and dialectic do not procced from true but from probable arguments. They also agree in this, that each does not proceed from things that are proper or peculiar, but from such as are common. For if it were requisite that they should discuss any proposed problem from peculiarities, they would be confounded with all sciences. To which it may be added, that they ought to use principles adapted to discuss the proposed problem, in each part, and that common principles alone possess this adaptation. Another reason is, that they ought to discuss things from principles known to all men, and known even to those who are ignorant of particular sciences.

Again, dialectic and rhetoric agree in this, that it is the business of each to deliver certain common places, or principles, from which we may be able to dispute on any proposed problem, or speak in a manner adapted to persuade on each side of a question. They likewise agree in this, that they are not sciences, but certain powers and faculties. For sciences neither prove, nor persuade to the assent of, each part of contradiction but that part only which is true, and is, therefore, demonstrable; but the power of effecting this is possessed both by dialectic and rhetoric. Hence, they are not sciences, but powers and faculties; for those things are properly said to be powers, which are equally affected to opposites.

Dialectic and rhetoric, however, differ in this, that it is the business of the former to dispute with probability before those who are partially wise; but of the latter, to speak in a manner adapted to persuade the multitude. And because it is usual to dispute with those who are partially wise, about universal problems, abstracting from particular circumstances of persons, places and times, &c.; but to dispute with the multitude about moral or political subjects and about problems restricted to particular persons, places and times; hence dialectic for the most part discusses universal, and rhetoric restricted problems. They also differ in this, that dialectic employs a strict and contracted form of arguing; rhetoric a more ample and dilated form. And they differ in the third place in this, that dialectic employs arguments alone in proof of what it wishes to establish; but rhetoric for the purpose of persuading not only employs arguments, but likewise manners and passions, as Aristotle copiously evinces in the course of this treatise.

II. With respect to the Poetic, the next of the treatises, it is requisite to observe, that poetry is the art of imitating in measured diction so as to produce delight. The proximate genus, therefore, of poetry is, that it is an imitative art; and the difference, through which it differs from other imitative arts, is the mode of imitating. For as the other imitative arts imitate in different modes, poetry imitates by metre, or measured diction alone.

From this definition, explaining the nature of poetry, it may be briefly inferred what the subject of it is, and what its employment and end. The subject of poetry are things, so far as they can be imitated in measured diction and produce delight. The employment of poetry is, the imitation itself. And the end is, the delight produced by the metrical imitation of things. Hence it follows that poetry ought especially to imitate those things, the imitation of which is most delightful. But the imitation of admirable and probable deeds is most delightful, and which, therefore, poetry ought principally to imitate. In order, however, to imitate these, it is requisite, in the first place that it should devise admirable and probable deeds; and in the next place, that it should express them in admirable diction, such as is the metrical. Hence the labour of poetry ought especially to be conversant these two things; first, in the invention of the fable, viz. of admirable and probable deeds; and secondly, in expressing such deeds in a measured diction which is eminently adapted to them, or in other words, which is eminently imitative of the several particulars.

It is much to be regretted that this treatise, which was perhaps originally only the first of three books written by Aristotle on poetry, is all that is left of a work, the whole of which was doubtless as admirable as the part that remains. And the loss of the second and third books is particularly to be regretted, because there can be no doubt of Aristotle having treated in one of these books of the purification of the mind from depraved affections, and of the correction of the manners, as the principal and proper end, according to the antients, of right poetical imitation. I say this loss is particularly to be regretted, not only on account of the importance of the matter, and the very able manner in which it was discussed, but because an elucidation of the mode in which the mind is to be purified from depraved affections, would have fully solved a difficulty which occurs in the present treatise, and which has been insuperable to modern commentators. The difficulty l allude to is the assertion of Aristotle, that the terror and pity excited by tragedy purify the spectator from such-like passions. For, according to the modern commentators on this treatise, the meaning of Aristotle is, that the terror and pity excited by tragedy, purify the spectator from terror and pity. The reader, however, will find in a note on this passsage in the following translation, that this cannot be the meaning of Aristotle; as it contradicts what he asserts in his Ethics; and I also trust that he will subscribe to the opinion of the translator, that Aristotle meant to say, that the terror and pity excited by tragedy purify the spectator from those perturbations which form the catastrophe of the tragedy. Thus in the Ajax of Sophocles, the terror and pity excited by the catastrophe, purify the spectator from anger and impiety towards divinity; and in a similar manner purification is effected in, other tragedies.

Notwithstanding, however; the loss sustained by the want of the 2d and 3d books of the Poetic of Aristotle, I rejoice that there is still extant a most admirable account of the different species of poetry by Proclus, the coryphæus, next to Plato and Aristotle, of all true philosophers, whose honour will grow with increase of time, and whose fame will swim over the vast utent of ages, when those, by whom he has been defamed will be utterly forgotten. This account is extracted from his EXPLANATION OF THE MORE DIFFICULT QUESTIONS IN THE REPUBLIC OF PLATO, printed at the end of his Commentaries On the Timæus of Plato, which Fabricius, the best of all modern critics, calls OPUS ADMIRABLE; and the translation of it is as follows:

“There are three lives in the soul, of which the best and most perfect is that according to which it is conjoined with the gods, and lives a life most allied, and through the highest similitude united to them; no longer subsisting from itself but from them, running under its own intellect, exciting the ineffable impression of the one which it contains, and connecting like with like, its own light with that of the gods, and that which is most uniform in its own essence and life, with the one which is above all essence and life. That which is second to this in dignity and power, has a middle arrangement in the middle of the soul, according to which, indeed, it is converted to itself, descending from a divinely-inspired life, and placing intellect and science as the principle of its energy, it evolves the multitude of its reasons, surveys the all-various mutations of forms, collects into sameness intellect and that which is the object of intellect, and expresses in images an intellectual and intelligible essence. The third life of the soul is, that which accords with its inferior powers, and energizes together with them, employing phantasies and irrational senses, and being entirely filled with things of a subordinate nature.

“As there are, therefore, these three forms of life in souls, the poetic divigion, also, supernally proceeds together with the multiform lives of the soul, and is diversified into first, middle, and last genera of energy. For of poetry, also, one kind has the highest subsistence, is full of divine goods, and establishes the soul in the causes themselves of things, according to a certain ineffable union, leading that which is filled into sameness with its replenishing source; the former immaterially subjecting itself to illumination, but the latter being incited to a communication of light; thus, according to the Oracle, ‘perfecting works, by mingling the rivers of incorruptible fire.’ It also productes one divine bond, and a unifying mixture of that which is participated and the participant, establishing the whole of that which is subordinate in that which is more excellent, and preparing that which is more divine alone to energize, the inferior nature being withdrawn, and concealing its own peculiarity in that which is superior. This then in short is a mania better than temperance, and is distinguished by a divine characteristic. And as every different kind of poetry subsists according to a different hyparxis, or summit of divine essence, so this fills the soul energizing from divine inspiration, with symmetry; and hence it adorns its last energies with measures and rhythms. As, therefore, we say that prophetic fury subsists according to truth, and the amatory according to beauty, in like manner we say that the poetic mania is defined according to divine symmetry.

“The second kind of poetry, which is subordinate to this first and divinely-inspired species and which has a middle subsistence in the soul, is allotted its essence according to a scientific and intellectual habit. Hence, it knows the essence of things, and loves to contemplate beautiful works and reasonings, and leads forth every thing into a measured and rhythmical interpretation. For you will find many progeny of good poets to be of this kind, emulous of those that are truly wise, full of admonition, the best counsels, and intellectual symmetry. It likewise extends the communication of prudence and every other virtue, to those of a naturally good disposition, and affords a reminiscence of the periods of the soul, of its eternal reasons and various powers.

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