Aristotle's "Art of Rhetoric"

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For more than two thousand years. Aristotle’s “Art of Rhetoric” has shaped thought on the theory and practice of rhetoric, the art of persuasive speech. In three sections, Aristotle discusses what rhetoric is, as well as the three kinds of rhetoric (deliberative, judicial, and epideictic), the three rhetorical modes of persuasion, and the diction, style, and necessary parts of a successful speech. Throughout, Aristotle defends rhetoric as an art and a crucial tool for deliberative politics while also recognizing its capacity to be misused by unscrupulous politicians to mislead or illegitimately persuade others.

Here Robert C. Bartlett offers a literal, yet easily readable, new translation of Aristotle’s “Art of Rhetoric,” one that takes into account important alternatives in the manuscript and is fully annotated to explain historical, literary, and other allusions. Bartlett’s translation is also accompanied by an outline of the argument of each book; copious indexes, including subjects, proper names, and literary citations; a glossary of key terms; and a substantial interpretive essay.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226591629
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 02/15/2019
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 403,473
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Robert C. Bartlett is the Behrakis Professor of Hellenic Political Studies at Boston College. He is the author or editor of many books, including The Idea of Enlightenment and Sophistry andPolitical Philosophy and cotranslator of Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics.”

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Rhetoric is a counterpart of dialectic. For both rhetoric and dialectic are concerned with those sorts of things that are in a way commonly available to the cognizance of quite all people and that do not belong to a distinct science. Hence all people do in a way share in both rhetoric and dialectic, for everyone to some extent attempts both to scrutinize an argument and to maintain one, and to speak in both self-defense and accusation. Now, some among the many do these things at random, others through a certain facility stemming from a characteristic habit. But since both ways are possible, it is clear that it would be possible also to carry out these things by means of a method. For it is possible to reflect on the cause of the fact that some hit the mark as they do through a certain facility, while others do so by accident, and all would surely agree that such reflection is the task of an art.

As things stand, those who have composed arts of speeches have written of just a small part of it, for only modes of persuasion are a technical matter (the rest being [merely] supplementary); but about enthymemes, which are in fact the body of a mode of persuasion, they say nothing, whereas they concern themselves to the greatest extent with what is extraneous to the matter at hand. For slander and pity and anger, and such passions of the soul, do not pertain to that matter but relate rather to the juror. As a result, if all judgments were rendered as they are now in some cities, at least, and in the well-governed ones especially, [authors of technical treatises] would have nothing whatever to say. For quite all people suppose that the laws should make such declarations, but some even put the laws to use, and so forbid speaking about anything extraneous to the matter at hand, just as in the Areopagus — their belief about this being correct. For one must not warp the juror by inducing anger in him or envy or pity: this would be just as if someone should make crooked the measuring stick he is about to use.

Further, it is manifest that it belongs to the litigant to establish only that the matter at issue is or is not so, or did or did not happen. But whether the matter is great or small [in importance], or just or unjust — in all such cases as the legislator did not offer a clear definition, it is surely the case that the juror himself must form a judgment and not be instructed by the litigants. It is especially appropriate, then, for correctly posited laws to define all those things that admit of being defined and to leave the fewest possible matters for the judges. This is so, first, because it is easier to find one person or a few people, rather than many, who are prudent and able to legislate and adjudicate. Second, acts of legislation arise from examinations conducted over a long time, whereas judgments are offered on the spot, and the result of this is that it is difficult for judges to assign what is just and what is advantageous in a noble manner. But the greatest consideration of all is that the legislator's judgment is not partial but instead concerns future events and is universal, whereas the assemblyman and the juror judge matters that are at hand right now and are definite. In their cases, friendly feeling and hatred and private advantage have often intervened, such that it is no longer possible to contemplate what is true in an adequate way. Instead, private pleasure or pain clouds their judgment. As for the other considerations, just as we are saying, one should make the judge authoritative over the fewest of them as possible; but as to whether something has happened or has not happened, or will or will not be, or is or is not so, this is necessarily left to the judges: it is impossible for the legislator to foresee these things.

If, then, these things are so, it is manifest that all those technical writers who define other matters treat what is extraneous to the subject — for example, what the preface and narration [of a speech] should contain, and each of the other parts of it, for they do not concern themselves in this with anything other than how to make the judge be of a certain sort — but about the technical modes of persuasion they establish nothing. Yet it is from just this that someone could become skilled in enthymemes. It is for this reason that, although the same method pertains to both speaking in the public assembly and judicial speech, and although what concerns speaking in the assembly is nobler and more characteristic of a citizen than what concerns private transactions, about speaking in the public assembly [the technical writers] say nothing, whereas when it comes to pleading a case in court, all attempt to write in a technical way. This is so because, when one speaks in the assembly, it is less to the purpose to speak about things extraneous to the subject; and speaking in the assembly is less pernicious than judicial speech because it deals to a greater degree with common concerns. For in the political assembly the judge judges about his own affairs, so that nothing else is needed than to demonstrate that what the advisor contends is so. But in judicial matters this is not sufficient; rather, it is to the purpose at hand to win over the listener. For here the judgment concerns the affairs of others, so that, while they examine them in relation to their own concerns and listen for their own delight, they give themselves over to the litigants but do not really judge. Hence in many places, just as we said before, the law forbids speaking outside the matter in question. But in the assembly the judges themselves keep an adequate watch over this.

Since it is manifest that the technical method is concerned with modes of persuasion; and the mode of persuasion is a demonstration of a sort (for we give credence to something especially when we suppose it to have been demonstrated); and a rhetorical demonstration is an enthymeme (and this is simply authoritative, so to speak, among the modes of persuasion); and the enthymeme is a certain sort of syllogism (it belongs to dialectic, either to the whole of dialectic or to some part of it, to see what concerns every syllogism alike), it is clear that he who is especially able to reflect on this — from what things and how a syllogism comes to be — would also be especially skilled at enthymemes, because he has at his disposal the sorts of things the enthymeme is concerned with and the respects in which it differs from logical syllogisms. For it belongs to the same capacity to see both what is true and what resembles the truth; at the same time, human beings have a natural competency when it comes to what is true, and for the most part they do hit upon the truth. Hence being able to aim at the generally accepted opinions belongs to one who is similarly skilled also as regards the truth.

That the others, then, write in a technical way about matters extraneous to the subject, and why they have inclined more toward the pleading of judicial cases, is manifest.

But rhetoric is useful because what is true and what is just are by nature superior to their opposites, such that, if the judgments [rendered in a given instance] do not accord with what is proper, it is necessarily the case that they are defeated on account of their opposites [i.e., by falsehood and injustice]. And this is deserving of censure.

Further, in the case of some people, not even if we should Have the most precise science would it be an easy thing to persuade them by speaking on the basis of it. For an argument that accords with science [amounts to] teaching, but this is impossible [in their case]; it is necessary, rather, to fashion modes of persuasion and speeches through commonly available things, just as we were saying also in the Topics concerning engagement with the many.

And, further, one must be able to persuade others of opposites, just as is the case also with syllogisms, not so that we may do both — for one must not persuade others of base things — but so that it not escape our notice how the matter stands and how, when someone else uses arguments unjustly, we ourselves may be able to counter them. Now, none of the other arts forms syllogisms of opposites: dialectic and rhetoric alone do this, for both are similarly concerned with opposites. Yet the underlying subject matters are not similar; instead, what is true and what is better by nature are always more readily established by syllogistic reasoning and are more persuasive, to put it simply.

In addition to these considerations, it is strange if it is a shameful thing not to be able to come to one's own aid with one's body but not a shameful thing to be unable to do so by means of argument, which is to a greater degree a human being's own than is the use of the body. And if someone using such a capacity of argument should do great harm, this, at least, is common to all good things — except virtue — and especially so in the case of the most useful things, such as strength, health, wealth, [and] generalship. For someone using these things justly would perform the greatest benefits — and unjustly, the greatest harm.

That rhetoric, then, does not belong to some one, definite subject matter, but is in this respect like dialectic, and that it is useful, are manifest. Manifest, too, is the fact that its task is not to persuade but rather to see the persuasive points that are available in each case, just as in all the other arts as well. For it does not belong to medicine to produce health but rather to advance health to the extent that a given case admits of it: even in the case of those unable to attain health, it is nonetheless possible to treat them in a fine manner.

In addition to these points, it is manifest also that it belongs to the same art [i.e., rhetoric] to see both what is persuasive and what appears to be persuasive, just as in the case of dialectic, too, which sees what is a syllogism and what appears to be a syllogism. For sophistry resides not in the capacity but rather in the choice involved [in how one puts that capacity to use] — except that here, [in rhetoric], one orator will act in accord with the science, another in accord with his choice, whereas in dialectic the sophist acts in accord with his choice, [and] the dialectician acts not in accord with his choice but in accord with the capacity in question.

But let us at this point attempt to speak about the method itself, both how and on the basis of what we will be able to attain the objectives proposed. Once we have defined again, as if from the beginning, what it is, let us state the points that remain.


Let rhetoric, then, be a capacity to observe what admits of being persuasive in each case, for this is the task of no other art. Each of the others is an art of teaching and persuading about whatever underlies it — for example, medicine is concerned with the things productive of health and illness; geometry, with the characteristics accruing to magnitudes; arithmetic, with numbers; and similarly as regards the other arts and sciences. But rhetoric seems to be the capacity to observe what is persuasive concerning any given matter, so to speak. Hence we assert that its technical skill is not concerned with any particular, definite class.

Now, of the modes of persuasion, some are non-technical, others technical. I mean by "non-technical" all those modes of persuasion that are not supplied through us but are instead available beforehand — for example, witnesses, [evidence gained by] torture, contracts, and all such things; by "technical" I mean all such modes of persuasion as can be supplied by a method and [hence] by us. The former of these, as a result, must simply be put to use, The latter discovered.

Of the modes of persuasion supplied by a speech, there are three forms: some reside in the character of the speaker; some in how the listener is disposed; and some in the argument itself, by establishing or appearing to establish something. [Modes of persuasion arise] through one's character, whenever the speech is stated in such a way as to render the speaker deserving of credence. For to those who are decent we give credence to a greater degree and more quickly concerning everything in general, but in those matters that are imprecise and leave room for doubt, we give credence to them even completely. And such credence should arise through the speech rather than on account of one's prior opinion that the speaker is a fellow of a certain sort. For it is not as some of the technical writers have it — that in the art of rhetoric the decency of the speaker contributes indeed nothing to the persuasion. Rather, character wields pretty much the greatest authority, so to speak, when it comes to persuasion.

[Modes of persuasion arise also] through the listeners, when they are led by the speech to a given passion, for we do not render similar judgments when we are pained and when delighted or when feeling friendly and when feeling hatred. It is with this [appeal to the passions] alone, we contend, that technical writers at present attempt to concern themselves. Now, what pertains to these things, each in turn, will be made clear when we speak about the passions. People also lend credence to something on account of arguments [logoi], when we establish what is true or what appears to be, on the basis of those things that induce persuasion in each case.

Since modes of persuasion arise through these things, it is manifest that grasping them belongs to someone capable of forming syllogisms; and of reflecting on what concerns characters and the virtues; and, third, [of reflecting on] the passions — both what each of the passions is and what sort of thing it is, and from what the passions come to be present and how they do so. As a result, it turns out that rhetoric is a sort of offshoot of dialectic and of the concern with characters, and this [latter] concern can be justly addressed as the political art [or science]. Hence rhetoric even slips in under the rubric of the political art [or science], as do those who lay claim to [a knowledge of rhetoric], partly through a lack of education, partly through boasting and other, characteristically human, causes. For rhetoric is a certain part of dialectic and is similar to it, just as we said when we began: neither rhetoric nor dialectic is a science concerned with how any particular subject stands, but they are instead certain capacities for supplying arguments. What concerns their capacity, then, and how they stand vis-à-vis one another, have for the most part been stated adequately.

As for those modes of persuasion that arise through establishing something or appearing to establish something, just as in dialectics there is, on the one hand, induction, and, on the other, the syllogism as well as the apparent syllogism, so too here, similarly, [in rhetoric]: the example is induction, on the one hand, the enthymeme a syllogism, on the other, and the apparent enthymeme an apparent syllogism. For I call an enthymeme a "rhetorical syllogism," an example "rhetorical induction." And everyone fashions the modes of persuasion that arise through positively establishing something by stating either examples or enthymemes, and not by anything apart from these. As a result, if in fact it is necessary in general to establish anything whatever either by means of syllogism or by means of induction — and this is clear to us on the basis of the Analytics — then each of the former two [that is, enthymeme and example] must necessarily be the same as each of the latter two [that is, syllogism and induction]. What the difference is between an example and an enthymeme is manifest on the basis of the Topics, for what concerns syllogism and induction was previously spoken of there: establishing that something is so, by reference to many similar instances, is, in dialectic, induction and, in rhetoric, example. But establishing that, certain [premises] being the case, something else results from those [premises] because of them, either universally or for the most part, alongside those premises by virtue of their being so — this in dialectic is called a syllogism, in rhetoric an enthymeme. And it is manifest also that some good belongs to each form of rhetoric, for what was said in the Methods holds similarly here as well: some rhetorical displays rely on examples, others on enthymemes, just as some orators rely on examples, others on enthymemes. Now, the speeches that proceed by way of examples are no less persuasive, but those characterized by enthymemes produce greater applause. As for the cause of these things, and how each should be used, we will speak about them later. But for now, let us define more plainly what concerns them.


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Table of Contents

Overview of the Art of Rhetoric
List of Abbreviations
Art of Rhetoric
Outline of Book 1
Book 1
Outline of Book 2
Book 2
Outline of Book 3
Book 3

Interpretive Essay
Key Greek Terms
Authors and Works Cited
Proper Names
General Index

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