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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 with theories of composition in specific genres (such as letters

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.

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2017

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The Rhetoric of Reasonableness: Hóf in Civic and Legal Rhetoric of the Medieval Scandinavians

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Rather than being the lawless barbarian society that history and popular culture have painted it, medieval Scandinavian culture was more complex and nuanced. This dissertation interrogates the use of a rhetoric of reasonableness (hóf) in the medieval Nordic society to

Rather than being the lawless barbarian society that history and popular culture have painted it, medieval Scandinavian culture was more complex and nuanced. This dissertation interrogates the use of a rhetoric of reasonableness (hóf) in the medieval Nordic society to give voice to this silenced tradition. Specifically, this research focuses on the use of rhetoric in civic and legal settings to show that medieval Scandinavians were more interested in reasonable solutions than unreasonable ones.

Civic rhetoric among the medieval Nordic people relied heavily on hóf to keep civic practice manageable. Working in small towns and villages without central bureaucracies, reasonableness became important to the functioning of the village. Large scale disruptions could mean the death of all inhabitants in the area due to social disruption if violence occurred, so finding reasonable means of dealing with social problems was of paramount importance to the Norse. Using readings and analysis from the Icelandic sagas, I show the mechanisms of their rhetoric were used to manage civic life.

Legal rhetoric was also based on reasonableness. If civic actions became violent or potentially violent, then the courts needed a way to redress and maintain the peace in the area. The practice of law was heavily influenced by the rhetorical stance of hóf. The Scandinavian tradition of court cases appears in their early laws and in several sagas which allows a picture to be created of their rhetorical stance of reasonableness in the law cases. Analysis of historical data and saga manuscripts give evidence of a rhetorical tradition of reasonable redress in the legal system.

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2020