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The Art of Rhetoric (1560).

Heinrich Plett organized a colloquium on Renaissance rhetoric at the University of Essen in June 1990, now published in a well-printed if inordinately expensive volume, which includes an index but no details of the authors' institutions or addresses. Of the nineteen contributions, ten are in German, seven in English, two in French. The editor announces that "Im Gegensatz zu fruheren Publikationen wird hier nicht Italien als das Ursprungsland der europaischen Kulturgeographie einseitig favorisiert," and that the central figure in his volume is Erasmus. He duly prints essays on rhetoric in the Netherlands, Spain, France, and the Slavonic countries, together with papers on rhetoric and music, rhetoric and the visual arts. However, it seems to be the case of - to torture Horace's celebrated tag - "Italiam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret," for his contributors subsequently acknowledge the centrality of Italy in transmitting the rhetorical tradition. As Dietrich Briesemeister shows, Spanish Renaissance rhetoric derives largely from Italian sources, with a cultural time-lag. Jiri Kraus shows that humanist rhetoric reached Bohemia via the visits of Petrarch and Cola di Rienzi in the late fourteenth, and of Eneo Silvio Piccolomini in the fifteenth century. Earlier still, at the end of the thirteenth century, a Bolognese rhetorician set up a school for notaries in Prague, and prepared the first manual of rhetoric in Bohemia, called Epistolare dictamen (1278). In Poland, at Cracow University (founded 1364), the ars praedicandi and ars notaria were taught, also derived from Italy. The importance of Italian sources in the visual arts and music during the Renaissance is obvious, and is well documented in the papers by Gotz Pochat and Klaus Wolfgang Niemoller respectively. So Italy can hardly be kept out.

As for Erasmus being the central figure, it is true that his name is mentioned in several essays, but often only in passing, and the single essay he receives, by Richard J. Schoeck, "'Going for the Throat': Erasmus' Rhetorical Theory and Practice," is unsatisfactory in several respects. His title is a quotation from Quintilian (, and refers to the adversarial tactics of Roman forensic oratory, where the orator was supposed to destroy the opposing side by whatever means available. Schoeck, however, thinks it can refer to the techniques of varying described in De copia, and with the modern concepts of "overkill or information overload," which seem totally different. Trying to cover the major rhetorical works of Erasmus a page at a time, Schoeck hardly gets beyond superficial summaries, with profuse quotations from other writers. His own style is clumsy, at times ungrammatical, and would have been improved by copy-editing. (The editor should also have corrected the anonymous English translation of Marijke Spies's useful essay on sixteenth-century Dutch poetics, which contains some elementary errors - "vocals" for "vowels," for instance.) Nor is Erasmus well treated in Thomas O. Sloane's "Rhetorical Education and Two-Sided Argument," where he is credited with the wish "to rhetoricize inventio" by applying to it both "the rule of reason and the moving of the will." What is already a part of rhetoric can hardly be "rhetoricized," and of course the injunction to move the affections at every stage of the rhetorical process is an integral part of classical rhetoric. Sloane seems to have difficulty expressing his thoughts clearly. On one page he defines "a common thread in humanism" as "the abhorrence of scholastic disputation and its displacement by rhetorical - that is, personalized - debate," but on the facing page we read that "Disputation - a lingering medieval practice whose implications for rhetoric we have slighted - was the major instrument of Renaissance pedagogy." Perhaps this is what he means by "two-sided argument"?

The editor also claims his volume as representing "Interdisziplinaritat," but the linguistic boundaries that separate scholars are still very strong. P.L. Schmidt, in "Zur Rezeption von Ciceros politischer Rhetorik im fruhen Humanismus," gives a useful survey, but is ignorant of John O. Ward's work on the Ciceronian commentaries, a huge oversight. F.R. Hausmann, on "Franzosische Renaissance-Rhetorik," doesn't refer to works in English, such as the books by Peter France, Alex Gordon, and Robert Griffin. Debora Shuger's survey of "Sacred Rhetoric in the Renaissance" (acknowledged as a digest of her 1988 monograph) discusses the Erasmus Ecclesiastes but still doesn't know the massive study by Jacques Chomarat (1981). Other German scholars displaying a lack of knowledge of major secondary literature in English include D. Briesemeister (Spanish rhetoric), G. Pochat (visual arts), and K.W. Niemoller (music). However, they are all very well informed on German secondary sources; indeed the main value of this book lies in its updating of German bibliography, which will make it useful to librarians.

Otherwise, it suffers from all the defects of international conferences: a group of scholars summoned together who share little basic knowledge or assumptions, ask (if at all) very different questions, apply quite different methods, and write in a bewildering range of styles (P. Galand-Hallyn with an old-fashioned French explication de texte; W. Schmidt-Biggemann with a densely elliptical philosophical German). There is no dialogue, obviously enough, among the contributors, but the reader can't set one going either, the diversity of approaches being so great. It would have been better to send each contributor a questionnaire in advance, setting out some main issues on which to focus. Whatever the notional benefits of variety, they are dissipated by differences that defy coordination. This collection contains one exemplary essay by Judith Rice Henderson on Renaissance epistolography, which defines its project clearly and carries it through. Some of the essays will be useful to specialist historians of rhetoric; everyone else would be better off reading a single unified study, such as John Monfasani's outstanding essay on "Humanism and Rhetoric" in Albert Rabil's three-volume collection, Renaissance Humanism: Foundations, Forms and Legacy (Philadelphia, 1988).

Peter Medine's edition of Wilson's Art of Rhetoric can be welcomed almost unreservedly. He gives an accurate text of the 1560, revised edition, useful notes, and an admirable glossary, including lexicographical detail supplementing the OED. On every head it scores over the rival edition by Thomas J. Derrick (Garland, 1982), which is an elaborate old-spelling edition, based on the 1553 text, and, being set from type-script, is bulkier (663 pages) and more expensive. The only strange features of Medine's edition are in the introduction, where his account of classical rhetoric relies too much on the somewhat dated authority of Friedrich Solmsen, and where George of Trebizond and Melanchthon are taken as paradigmatic for Renaissance rhetoric. Given that Wilson translates two substantial chunks of Erasmus in his text, and is constantly indebted to other Erasmian treatises (as the notes testify) one might have expected him to receive special attention. Otherwise this edition is most welcome: let us hope that it will be followed by comparable editions of Fraunce, Peacham, and many other as yet under-studied Renaissance rhetoricians.

BRIAN VICKERS Centre for Renaissance Studies, ETH Zurich
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Author:Vickers, Brian
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1996
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