Rhetoric Ad Herennium

The rest of the coming week will be spend reading Quintilian’s Orator’s Education, Aristotle’s Poetics, and other such classical goodies.

But for Sunday, I finally got around to reading the Ad Herennium, the second-oldest Latin text around, and argubly the first “complete” rhetorical manual. It used to be attributed to Cicero (the Loeb edition I have has Cicero in brackets on the dust cover to represent this) but probably was written in rough parallel with Cicero’s De Inventione, around 86-82 BCE, by a youthful, even boastful lawyer/rhetor, perhaps mostly from class notes. In the 5th century, Jerome apparently rescued this text from obscurity and paired it with De Inventione as the “rhetorica secunda,” Cicero’s sequel to the more crude “rhetorica prima.” It’s possible Cicero and this fellow has the same teacher, because many of the posited examples for the various figures and part of rhetoric are identical or very similiar.

RAH (who I will call the anonymous author for lack of a better term) has an odd idea of authorship. The start of Book IV, on style, is a rant against Greek authors who dictate rules of rhetoric but provide examples from others; he thinks it better that authors on rhetoric compose their own examples to prove the validity of the precepts. A nice thought – too bad he doesn’t follow it himself, with at least half the examples in the treatise of Greek or some identifiable Latin origin. He also declares he is the first to deliniate the possible kinds of subtle introductions, as well as a theory of delivery, but both claims are highly dubious (De Inventione has the first, and Theophrastus had much older, if lost, treatises on delivery). At the very least, he was a very, very free borrower, and something of a hypocrite on authorship; but textbooks still steal glibly from each other even today. If this was a person-to-person composition, as it defines itself, one student helping another, then it is the equal of passing your notes along to the semester’s next batch of students – again, a common practice.

Those issues aside, it’s a very concise introduction to rhetoric, and very little of it has gone out of date, so to speak. His understanding of metaphor and many of the assorted figures is shallow, but his command of the judicial sphere suggests that like Cicero, he probably went on to be a pretty good lawyer. It would be interesting to further define who he was, but the sparse clues arrayed in Caplan’s intro suggest such an effort has yet to bear results. Perhaps I’ll learn more of this when I read Jerome.

Robert Reid’s 2005 use of RAH to suggest that Paul used the “complete argument” in Book II in 1 Cor seems less plausible to me now, given that Quintilian, born roughly at the time of the historical Jesus’s death, never refers to it (and he is pretty good, unlike RAH, at referring) and even claims, in his Book V, of the epicheireme that “the majority of sources” think, as he does, that it only has three parts – major premise, minor premise, conclusion – a sort of exploded deduction. Cicero says it has five parts in De Inventione, but his five parts are not the ones in RAD. But more on that later after I’ve finished rereading Quint.

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