Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student

Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student

by Edward P. J. Corbett, Robert J. Connors
Publisher: Oxford University
4th Edition, ©1998, ISBN: 9780195115420
Hardcover, 562 pages
Current Retail Price: $79.95
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Rhetoric is the art of using language to influence people. Argument, arrangement and style are the rhetorician's primary tools, which he uses to manipulate audiences. Traditionally a part of every student's curriculum, rhetoric was gradually abandoned in the 19th century, though Edward Corbett and Robert Connors suggest it's as worthy of study now as it was when first introduced as a formal study in Classical Greece. Their textbook, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student retains the important elements of classical rhetoric while including more recent additions to the field.

The text begins with a full-color ad for a computer printer. Students are led through a close reading of the ad, and immediately after read a selection from The Iliad which is similarly analyzed. The approach is similar to that used in foreign language immersion programs, in which students are confronted from the beginning with more information than they can process (including technical terminology) and only later allowed to sort it out. From these initial analyses, the authors present the basics of classical rhetoric, its "five canons," and the relevance of rhetoric in the contemporary world.

Three main sections follow—Discovery of Arguments, Arrangement of Material, and Style—combining explanation, source document examples, and careful analysis of each text. Logic is pretty much a prerequisite for studying rhetoric, and while you could read Classical Rhetoric on its own, a thorough study of formal logic beforehand will yield much better results. It is assumed by Corbett and Connors that students are able to reason well, and the main emphasis of the text is the proper composition of argumentative and influential literature.

Section five contains a series of writing assignments based on the Progymnasmata (the Classical progression for composition instruction), covering everything from narrative to legislative pieces. The final section offers a survey of rhetoric, which is basically a history of rhetoric and its study from its Greek and Roman inception to its current marginalization. Important shifts are illuminated, and students will get a good sense of why the once-essential study fell out of favor, as well as how possibly to restore the third element of the Trivium.

Corbett and Connors are both excellent writers, though they have a tendency toward wordiness and inflation. Their perceptions are excellent, and the close readings of included texts would be equally beneficial for students interested in serious literature study. Don't try to use this before high school, and preferably not till the last one or two years. While plenty of students could get through it with plenty of intellectual elbow-grease, if they aren't really ready it will likely lead simply to frustration. Still, this is one of the few books of its kind, and remains the modern standard for all others in the field.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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FLAWS: Sometimes dense prose
Summary: THE modern textbook for teaching and learning the art of rhetoric, style, and clarity of thought.

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