Ancient and MedievalRoman Imperial Rhetoric
In the Roman Empire (31 B.C.E. to c. 476 C.E.), rhetoric reached its full development as a technical system useful for lawyers and advocates (most eloquently and grandly put in the twelve-book Institutes of Oratory by the Spanish orator Quintilian who lived in the first century C.E.) in court situations, especially the centumviral courts (concerned in the main with civil law, particularly inheritance), which spawned a set of manuals that formed a large part of what has come to be known as "the minor Latin rhetoricians." Rhetoric was most eloquently and grandly described in the twelve-book Institutes of Oratory by the Spanish orator and advocate Quintilian who lived in the first century C.E. The art also served as a civilized code of shared behavior supposed to unite the elite court, curial (that is, related to the town councils of the Roman Empire), civil service, and rural aristocratic class of the empire with their rulers in pursuit of common cultural goals and parameters; as a code of ornate, ceremonial praise and blame in prose for the articulation of official values of the imperial autocracy (panegyric) and the proper celebration of important moments in elite life (see Menander Rhetor for the epideictic writings of Menander of Laodicea c.300 C.E.) and as a code of poetic and prose expression suited to the elaboration of elite perspectives on life, politics, and art. The best surviving late antique rhetor/orator is Libanius of Antioch (314–c.394), for whom some 51 declamations, 96 progymnasmata (see below), 64 orations, and 1600 letters have survived.
Christianity broke into this interlocking, mutually reinforcing complex in the course of the fourth century C.E. by stressing the dichotomy "truth versus ornate expression" and emphasizing new techniques of communication—sermons and homilies, together with a training in argumentation useful for the doctrinal polemics that characterized early Christian history. Although ultimately destined to absorb and make over much of the classical rhetorical and hermeneutic tradition (Copeland), Christianity initially set itself against the elite preceptive communications system and (St.) Augustine himself (354–430) in his celebrated Confessions enshrined for later generations the difficult process of transition from this elite classical preceptive tradition to the new language of Christian discourse: "humble speech" (sermo humilis). Augustine focused on imitation of the supposed language of Christ speaking to ordinary people, and taking as a universal model biblical passages replete with moral and behavioral worth fitted to Christian doctrines and beliefs, and full of eloquence of an adapted sort.
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