Greek Terms (3)

This post adds two much larger terms to the series. There is no possibility that we can provide the range and depth the terms involve but may at least give you some brief references to two significant treatises by Aristotle.  And in the case of both, you will likely have some acquaintance with the particular elements below that fall under these terms, rhetoric and poetic. (A small hint: the stress in ‘rhetoric’ falls on the first syllable.) And most students are familiar with the rhetorical question.

First, Aristotle’s Poetics includes matters with which you may already have been made familiar through your classes on drama.  He discusses the Greek tragedy, who is likely to appear in it, and what a protagonist is likely to do as he (or she) faces choices made and their outcomes.  Students seem happy to include the Greek terms in their essays (‘hamartia,’ ‘catharsis,’ and the like), and so once we take a look at the Poetics we find a whole assembly of Greek terms that students are already using with variable degrees of precision.

We also find that the term ‘poetics’ or ‘poetic’ included – in Aristotle’s usage – three chief forms of poetry: tragedy, epic poetry and comedy. Some would say he also considers lyric poetry. Although his treatise might today be titled ‘Poetry,’ we can certainly see that his usage may differ in some respects quite a lot from contemporary usage.

A much longer work, Rhetoric, includes, again, a wide range of subjects. The place you may have encountered what he writes about here is either in your debate activities or in your close study of essays, where I have often seen students allude to ethos, logos and pathos. And in fact, Aristotle treats these in Book 1, Chapter 2 where he writes ‘Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.’  Then he goes on to explore the three terms above which, simply put, refer to the way persuasive speech can be constructed: ‘the three modes of persuasion.’  Simply put, the three terms refer to persuasion based on the speaker’s personal character (ethos), credibility based on logical proof (logos) and the ability to stir the emotions (pathos).  This discussion in Chapter 2 of the Rhetoric is very readable and you may want to check it out.

So: we started out with two large terms, rhetoric and poetic, and found they led us to others. There is a great, great deal more to be learned from these two treatises, and you might just be curious enough to explore them.  Just be aware that you will run into a large number of translations and interpretations of these two works.

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