Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Craig A. Gibson
Recently many scholars have drawn attention to the meta-rhetorical nature of the competitions between Aeschines and Demosthenes, as each attempts to point out and condemn the rhetoric of the other. This concept of the "rhetoric of anti-rhetoric" has yet to be fully explored in Aeschines' three speeches. Aeschines' speeches depend for their structure and persuasive power on the interplay between Aeschines' self-representation as an idiotes (private citizen) and his anti-rhetorical attacks against the rhetor (politician) Demosthenes. When viewed in this way, the speeches of Aeschines manifest not only a beauty of structure but also a persuasiveness rivaling even Demosthenes' great oratory. This goes far toward explaining why Aeschines defeated Demosthenes in two of their three encounters.
The purpose of my dissertation is to show that Aeschines, though considered a famous Athenian rhetor, represents himself as an idiotes in his speeches. Aeschines' self-representation as an idiotes requires a fresh look into the Athenian social perception of the distinction between rhetor and idiotes. How can Aeschines, a skilled speaker, argue that he is not a rhetor? To answer this question, we must take what Aeschines says about himself in his speeches seriously, namely, that he does not make a habit of prosecuting in the courts and that he goes long stretches without addressing the Assembly. Next, we need to measure these historical facts against the definition of rhetor in common use in fourth-century Athens, i.e. a continuous speaker before the Assembly and courts. Insofar as the term rhetor was socially and relatively defined, Aeschines could and did, by a persistent self-characterization as an idiotes, convince the majority of his audience that he was not in reality a rhetor. Secondly, my dissertation shows that much modern criticism of Aeschines' oratory as pedantic, legalistic, or unstructured arises from an insufficient consideration of Aeschines' insistent appeal to his status as idiotes. Aeschines' constant attack on Demosthenes' rhetoric throughout his three speeches depends for its persuasive effect on his self-representation as an idiotes. In fact, all of Aeschines' speeches are structured around the idea of the rhetor's threat to the people as well as to Aeschines himself. Aeschines is able to identify with the audience members even as he makes his opponent a threat to them. Aeschines' skill and versatility in deploying the art of anti-rhetoric teach us the potential and limit of this rhetorical convention at the same time as they illustrate the ambivalence of the Athenian people toward their political leaders.
Copyright 2012 Christian Abraham Preus
Preus, Christian Abraham. "The art of Aeschines: anti-rhetorical argumentation in the speeches of Aeschines." dissertation, University of Iowa, 2012.