Saturday, May 16, 2009

Epic and Rhetoric: Speech-making and Persuasion in Homer and Apollonius

This article is a bit tough to read but I found it worthwhile. It is Epic and Rhetoric:Speech-making and Persuasion in Homer and Apollonius and was written by Peter Toohey. It was published in ARACHNION. A Journal of Ancient Literature and History on the Web back in 1995. The journal appears to have died.

From the article:

The topic, in a sense, is a bogus one — speech-making and persuasion in Homer and Apollonius. There are speakers and speeches enough in Greek epic, but, at least in Homer and Apollonius, there is little recognizable rhetorical elaboration of the classical kind. This, of course, is understandable in the case of Homer: he was writing before rhetoric was invented. Yet, in the case of the Alexandrian writer of epic, Apollonius of Rhodes (composing after Aristotle and the major orators), the absence of speech-making, thus the absence of "primary" rhetoric is striking. In this paper I intend to look, selectively, at several of the speeches in Homer and in Apollonius. My concern, above all, will be to isolate some of the major contrasts between the speech-making habits of Homer and of Apollonius. We will see, I hope, how "rhetorical" Homer can be. We will also see — and this is perhaps the crux of my paper — why Apollonius may have shown so little taste for primary rhetoric.

For the sake of clarity I ought to anticipate here some of my larger conclusions. I will argue above all that Homer's speeches are exteriorized, that they are positive, outwardly directed, and expectantly ameliorative. Apollonius' prominent speeches, on the other hand, reflect an interiorization typified by hesitancy, inwardly turned anger, guile, and passivity. I believe that this difference (registering shared human attitudes, separated in time, which value the "outer", in Homer's case, or the "inner", in Apollonius' case) exemplifies a basic distinction between the two authors. This is a distinction which can also be detected in other fundamental aspects of their compositions: in their attitudes to heroism and the heroic, to women, to eros, and so forth. I believe that Apollonius' text, as we will see it in its speech-making and persuasion, embodies a change in the "discourse" of epic. It may also embody a change which has overtaken the shared Hellenistic mentalite.