Born in 384 b.c.e., Demosthenes (dih-MAHS-thuh-nees) was the greatest of the Greek orators, an Athenian patriot who used his skill at declamation to arouse the citizens of Athens to regain their civic pride and to resist the efforts of Philip II of Macedon to conquer Greece.
When Demosthenes was seven his father, who bore the same name, died. His mother, Cleobule, was left with very little money to care for him and his sister, since the executors of the estate embezzled most of it. Demosthenes was an awkward child, with little strength, and he was handicapped by a speech defect that he later overcame (although probably not by putting pebbles in his mouth, as legend has it). He received a good education of the standard sort and special instruction in rhetoric. He then went on to the study of law with a famous probate lawyer of the time, Isaeus (Adams, p.195).
Aristotle laid the foundation of rhetorical study. His Rhetoric established the three essential categories of proof: the appeal to reason (logos), the appeal to emotion (pathos), and the ethical appeal, exemplified in the character of the orator (ethos).
Among other great classical rhetoricians were Cicero, who broadened the scope of rhetorical study to embrace a wide range of knowledge, and Quintilian, who insisted that the rhetorician must be a person of strong moral character. In the fourth century, St. Augustine adopted rhetorical theory to emphasize its instructional as well as its persuasive function, the "rhetoric of the sermon."
In the Renaissance the most influential figure in rhetoric was Erasmus, whose textbooks dominated rhetorical education for two hundred years. The other significant figure of the era was Peter Ramus, a French scholar who argued that the categories of Invention and Arrangement should be taught as subdivisions of Logic, thus reducing the significance of rhetorical study. The Ramist doctrine helped contribute to the decline of rhetoric's prestige in favor of scientific (allegedly a-rhetorical) discourse.
The 18th century produced two notable rhetoricians, the Scotsmen George Campbell and Hugh Blair. Campbell's Philosophy of Rhetoric (1776) and Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783) attempted to stem the anti-rhetorical tide ushered in with the triumph of science. But by the 19th century, the study of rhetoric had declined into a concentration on figures of speech (George, p.15-25).
In the 20th century, the field was revived by two important major redefinitions, Kenneth Burke's Rhetoric of Motives (1950) and Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca's The New Rhetoric (1969). Burke's method incorporates his theory of dramatism and the process of identification with one's audience. The New Rhetoric explores the interaction of audience and arrangement in the fashioning of an argument. The postmodern adaptation of rhetoric has been spurred by the example of Burke, who took literary criticism out of its traditionally narrow confines into the wider context of human discourse.
Cicero was the eldest son of a well-to-do landowning family of Roman citizens of the knightly class at Arpinum in Volscia. Nevertheless, he did not belong to the class of hereditary ...