Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


It should be observed that each kind of rhetoric has its own appropriate style. The style of written prose is not that of spoken oratory, nor are those of political and forensic speaking the same. Both written and spoken have to be known. To know the latter is to know how to speak good Greek. To know the former means that you are not obliged, as otherwise you are, to hold your tongue when you wish to communicate something to the general public.

The written style is the more finished: the spoken better admits of dramatic delivery-like the kind of oratory that reflects character and the kind that reflects emotion. Hence actors look out for plays written in the latter style, and poets for actors competent to act in such plays. Yet poets whose plays are meant to be read are read and circulated: Chaeremon, for instance, who is as finished as a professional speech-writer; and Licymnius among the dithyrambic poets. Compared with those of others, the speeches of professional writers sound thin in actual contests. Those of the orators, on the other hand, are good to hear spoken, but look amateurish enough when they pass into the hands of a reader. This is just because they are so well suited for an actual tussle, and therefore contain many dramatic touches, which, being robbed of all dramatic rendering, fail to do their own proper work, and consequently look silly. Thus strings of unconnected words, and constant repetitions of words and phrases, are very properly condemned in written speeches: but not in spoken speeches-speakers use them freely, for they have a dramatic effect. In this repetition there must be variety of tone, paving the way, as it were, to dramatic effect; e.g. ’This is the villain among you who deceived you, who cheated you, who meant to betray you completely’. This is the sort of thing that Philemon the actor used to do in the Old Men’s Madness of Anaxandrides whenever he spoke the words ’Rhadamanthus and Palamedes’, and also in the prologue to the Saints whenever he pronounced the pronoun ’I’. If one does not deliver such things cleverly, it becomes a case of ’the man who swallowed a poker’. So too with strings of unconnected words, e.g.’I came to him; I met him; I besought him’. Such passages must be acted, not delivered with the same quality and pitch of voice, as though they had only one idea in them. They have the further peculiarity of suggesting that a number of separate statements have been made in the time usually occupied by one. Just as the use of conjunctions makes many statements into a single one, so the omission of conjunctions acts in the reverse way and makes a single one into many. It thus makes everything more important: e.g. ’I came to him; I talked to him; I entreated him’-what a lot of facts! the hearer thinks-’he paid no attention to anything I said’. This is the effect which Homer seeks when he writes,

Nireus likewise from Syme (three well-fashioned ships did bring),

Nireus, the son of Aglaia (and Charopus, bright-faced king),

Nireus, the comeliest man (of all that to Ilium’s strand).

If many things are said about a man, his name must be mentioned many times; and therefore people think that, if his name is mentioned many times, many things have been said about him. So that Homer, by means of this illusion, has made a great deal of though he has mentioned him only in this one passage, and has preserved his memory, though he nowhere says a word about him afterwards.

Now the style of oratory addressed to public assemblies is really just like scene-painting. The bigger the throng, the more distant is the point of view: so that, in the one and the other, high finish in detail is superfluous and seems better away. The forensic style is more highly finished; still more so is the style of language addressed to a single judge, with whom there is very little room for rhetorical artifices, since he can take the whole thing in better, and judge of what is to the point and what is not; the struggle is less intense and so the judgement is undisturbed. This is why the same speakers do not distinguish themselves in all these branches at once; high finish is wanted least where dramatic delivery is wanted most, and here the speaker must have a good voice, and above all, a strong one. It is ceremonial oratory that is most literary, for it is meant to be read; and next to it forensic oratory.

To analyse style still further, and add that it must be agreeable or magnificent, is useless; for why should it have these traits any more than ’restraint’, ’liberality’, or any other moral excellence? Obviously agreeableness will be produced by the qualities already mentioned, if our definition of excellence of style has been correct. For what other reason should style be ’clear’, and ’not mean’ but ’appropriate’? If it is prolix, it is not clear; nor yet if it is curt. Plainly the middle way suits best. Again, style will be made agreeable by the elements mentioned, namely by a good blending of ordinary and unusual words, by the rhythm, and by-the persuasiveness that springs from appropriateness.

This concludes our discussion of style, both in its general aspects and in its special applications to the various branches of rhetoric. We have now to deal with Arrangement.


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Chicago: Aristotle, "12," Rhetoric, trans. W. Rhys Roberts in Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0 (Irvine, CA: World Library, Inc., 1996), Original Sources, accessed April 26, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DAWMBY1D9XIRDE5.

MLA: Aristotle. "12." Rhetoric, translted by W. Rhys Roberts, in Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0, Irvine, CA, World Library, Inc., 1996, Original Sources. 26 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DAWMBY1D9XIRDE5.

Harvard: Aristotle, '12' in Rhetoric, trans. . cited in 1996, Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0, World Library, Inc., Irvine, CA. Original Sources, retrieved 26 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DAWMBY1D9XIRDE5.