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Although the most systematic formalization of rhetoric occurred in the West, first in Greece and then in Rome, its key practices and conceptions are universal. Ever since writing was invented in Mesopotamia and Egypt, people have recognized the power of professional writers. Examples of practices and precepts related to eloquence can be found in Egypt beginning with the second millennium B.C.E. and in the Book of Proverbs.

China, like Europe, wanted to separate the persuasive and expressive aspects of rhetoric, to distinguish between the rhetoric of public discourse and what is called literary or ornamental rhetoric. This can be seen throughout China's history in the many compilations of exemplary speeches, in the many treatises with a pedagogical aim, and in the long tradition of poetry and poetic commentary. India, which early on invented an argumentative epic literature, also had rhetorical competitions and later developed a practical and critical method for teaching rhetoric as well as a theory of poetry and drama.

Societies without writing sometimes recognize the authority of those gifted at speaking out. Hence we find the ethos of wisdom among Australian aborigines or that of venerable age and heroic deeds among Native Americans. European Americans recognized and appreciated the eloquence of Native Americans, who used irony or pathos. Thomas Jefferson, for example, compared the Mingo chief Logan to the Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero. Specialists have studied the verbal formalism typical of Aztec ceremonies, evidence of which was passed down by the conquistadores. A society without rhetoric is hardly imaginable, since rhetoric is necessary to all communication. And it is impossible to imagine how anyone could utter words without seeking ways to make language more effective.

Fields of application.

By definition, any human activity that explicitly or implicitly involves a quest for influence entails rhetoric in its broadest sense, whether or not that activity is grounded in verbal communication. Hence a multiplicity of rhetorics exists. Nothing prevents us from calling any field of interaction rhetoric, since it is precisely the field of interaction that defines the conditions for treating matters discursively, for arguing in one's own defense, or for choosing modes of expression. As a result, it is possible to speak of rhetorics of minorities and of majorities, rhetorics of sexuality, racism, and feminism, rhetorics of drugs, war, peace, exile, and so on. We may also speak of rhetoric in reference to nonverbal activities, assimilating them to one function or another of language to show their influence on the public. Every art form—music, painting, the figurative arts in general, architecture, and cinema—has its rhetoric, although it may lie at least as much in the manipulation of images as in the use of speech. There is, therefore, also a rhetoric of gestures, of mime, of public or religious gatherings, and of military parades, of all activities that are supposed to communicate a message or spread propaganda.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Revaluation of values: to Sarin Gas - History And Global Production Of SarinRhetoric - Universality, The Art Of Persuasion, Description, History, General Assessment, Bibliography