[journal entry] on first part of Murphy’s “The Key Role of Habit in Roman Writing Instruction”

It’s amazing how influential Latin rhetoric was.  It makes me wonder if this influence was due mainly to its being so systematized and organized. It seems that is at least one reason Aristotle’s Rhetoric has been so influential: its breakdown of every aspect of rhetoric into learn-able parts.  (Of course Aristotle’s Rhetoric has also been influential simply because it was so groundbreaking.)  Another reason might be that the shift from the old Greek tutorial method to the classroom method enable Latin rhetoric to be more easily promulgated. It’s a lot like the shift from handcopying books to the Gutenberg press: distribution of ideas and influence is a lot easier. Of course, as Murphy speculates, perhaps these methods were so influential simply because they were so logical, so almost organic (44).

In discussing the move from the old mentor/tutorial (at some points similar to what we today would call an internship) educational model to a more systematic method, Murphy doesn’t get into how, I would think, this move would also end up leading to a more democratic or egalitarian educational model.  The “older, conservative program,” as he calls it, which included “home training, military service, then apprenticeship” (38) would naturally serve to maintain a hierarchical society, with only the privileged receiving an education. For, in order to be educated, one would have to be lucky enough to be born to a parent who could educated one and would have to be wealthy enough to be able to afford the time it takes to be apprenticed to a mentor.  But an approach which employed teachers of rhetoric could much more easily educate more people at a time and thus – sooner or later – move toward educating more segments of society.

The way Cicero and the Ad Herennium describe memory makes me wonder if, in the parallel world of writing, memory could be related to coherence and focus. It would seem that coherence and focus are part of arrangement. But if memory is “the firm retention in the mind of the matter, words, and arrangement” (41), it sounds like the ability of the writer to maintain her focus and coherence throughout the paper.  What else would we call it when an inexperienced writer gets to her third page and begins to go off topic? She is forgetting either her focus or how her next point relates to or follows upon the previous point.

In his discussion of Invention, I found Murphy definition of topics or commonplaces very helpful: “each of these [commonplaces] was considered a ‘region of an argument,’ a mental pathway that could lead the mind to find a useful line of argument” (42).  I almost wish commonplaces were called common methods or common pathways.

I can see that if only the last part of rhetoric – delivery – was considered an “exteriorization,” (43) that same model would later long influence the teaching of writing. The same thinking was applied to writing. One comes up with ideas, makes an outline, and only then begins to write. There was little or no writing in the invention stage.  This Roman model has been so influential, it’s taken centuries to loosen the framework up so that the writing process could include many iterations and a lot of pre-writing writing.

Finally, I appreciate Quintilian’s emphasis on rhetoric being part of a larger system of education.  He definitely seems to be correcting the views of those who over-emphasize the mechanics or the flourishes of rhetoric at the expense of the substance, but I also wonder if he is anticipating those who worry without a moral basis, the raw power of rhetoric may become too dangerous.

Anyway, I love Quintilian’s quote here, in response to other rhetorics: “these bare treatises on art, through too much affectation of subtlety, break and cut down whatever is noble in eloquence, drink up, as it were, all the blood of thought, and lay bare the bones, which while they ought to exist and be united by their ligaments, ought still to be covered with flesh” (qtd in Murphy 47).


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