Medieval rhetoric and civic identity

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Rhetoric has traditionally enjoyed a close connection with ideals of citizenship. Yet, the rhetorical traditions of the medieval period have generally been described as divorced from civic life, concerned instead

Rhetoric has traditionally enjoyed a close connection with ideals of citizenship. Yet, the rhetorical traditions of the medieval period have generally been described as divorced from civic life, concerned instead with theories of composition in specific genres (such as letters and sermons) and with poetics. This view is the product of historiographical approaches that equate rhetoric either theories and practices of speech and writing intended for state-sponsored civic forums, or alternatively with rules governing future speech or literary production. Consequently, the prevailing view of the medieval period in rhetorical studies is a simplified one that has not evolved with changing practices of analysis in the field of rhetorical studies. This dissertation contends that by employing alternative modes of historiography, historians of rhetoric gain a more accurate conception of medieval rhetoric’s civic roles, revealing the discipline’s role in shaping the individual and their relationship to civic and political institutions.

Organized around an introduction, a broad discussion of later medieval rhetoric and political thought (950-1390), four case studies, and a conclusion, this dissertation begins by identifying historiographical trends that have associated medieval rhetoric with technical treatises, minimizing connections to civic life. Challenging these assessments through a close reading of texts of rhetorical theory, political philosophy, and technical treatises, it contends that medieval rhetoric influenced activities such as grammatical education, didactic art, and political theory to inform practices of citizenship. Focusing specifically on representations of labor, this dissertation show that these venues idealized the political participation of manual laborers within an otherwise discursive theory of civic life that drew from both Aristotelian and Ciceronian sources.