Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


In dealing with prejudice, one class of argument is that whereby you can dispel objectionable suppositions about yourself. It makes no practical difference whether such a supposition has been put into words or not, so that this distinction may be ignored. Another way is to meet any of the issues directly: to deny the alleged fact; or to say that you have done no harm, or none to him, or not as much as he says; or that you have done him no injustice, or not much; or that you have done nothing disgraceful, or nothing disgraceful enough to matter: these are the sort of questions on which the dispute hinges. Thus Iphicrates replying to Nausicrates, admitted that he had done the deed alleged, and that he had done Nausicrates harm, but not that he had done him wrong. Or you may admit the wrong, but balance it with other facts, and say that, if the deed harmed him, at any rate it was honourable; or that, if it gave him pain, at least it did him good; or something else like that. Another way is to allege that your action was due to mistake, or bad luck, or necessity as Sophocles said he was not trembling, as his traducer maintained, in order to make people think him an old man, but because he could not help it; he would rather not be eighty years old. You may balance your motive against your actual deed; saying, for instance, that you did not mean to injure him but to do so-and-so; that you did not do what you are falsely charged with doing-the damage was accidental-’I should indeed be a detestable person if I had deliberately intended this result.’ Another way is open when your calumniator, or any of his connexions, is or has been subject to the same grounds for suspicion. Yet another, when others are subject to the same grounds for suspicion but are admitted to be in fact innocent of the charge: e.g. ’Must I be a profligate because I am well-groomed? Then so-and-so must be one too.’ Another, if other people have been calumniated by the same man or some one else, or, without being calumniated, have been suspected, like yourself now, and yet have been proved innocent. Another way is to return calumny for calumny and say, ’It is monstrous to trust the man’s statements when you cannot trust the man himself.’ Another is when the question has been already decided. So with Euripides’ reply to Hygiaenon, who, in the action for an exchange of properties, accused him of impiety in having written a line encouraging perjury-

My tongue hath sworn: no oath is on my soul.

Euripides said that his opponent himself was guilty in bringing into the law-courts cases whose decision belonged to the Dionysiac contests. ’If I have not already answered for my words there, I am ready to do so if you choose to prosecute me there.’ Another method is to denounce calumny, showing what an enormity it is, and in particular that it raises false issues, and that it means a lack of confidence in the merits of his case. The argument from evidential circumstances is available for both parties: thus in the Teucer Odysseus says that Teucer is closely bound to Priam, since his mother Hesione was Priam’s sister. Teucer replies that Telamon his father was Priam’s enemy, and that he himself did not betray the spies to Priam. Another method, suitable for the calumniator, is to praise some trifling merit at great length, and then attack some important failing concisely; or after mentioning a number of good qualities to attack one bad one that really bears on the question. This is the method of thoroughly skilful and unscrupulous prosecutors. By mixing up the man’s merits with what is bad, they do their best to make use of them to damage him.

There is another method open to both calumniator and apologist. Since a given action can be done from many motives, the former must try to disparage it by selecting the worse motive of two, the latter to put the better construction on it. Thus one might argue that Diomedes chose Odysseus as his companion because he supposed Odysseus to be the best man for the purpose; and you might reply to this that it was, on the contrary, because he was the only hero so worthless that Diomedes need not fear his rivalry.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: Rhetoric

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Rhetoric

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Aristotle, "15," Rhetoric, trans. W. Rhys Roberts Original Sources, accessed March 29, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DB2G3R2GLA87ZSA.

MLA: Aristotle. "15." Rhetoric, translted by W. Rhys Roberts, Original Sources. 29 Mar. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DB2G3R2GLA87ZSA.

Harvard: Aristotle, '15' in Rhetoric, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 29 March 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DB2G3R2GLA87ZSA.