Agora Speaker Series: Explorations in the History of Rhetoric

February 2, 2018 - 3:00pm to 5:00pm

“By Beauty Destroyed: Ancient Greek Anxiety Concerning the Fragility of the Stronger in Sophocles’ The Women of Trachis”

By Beauty Destroyed: Ancient Greek Anxiety Concerning the Fragility of the Stronger in Sophocles’ The Women of Trachis:  Even a cursory glance at Greek drama and myth shows that it was not only rhetoric which made the weaker the stronger and, by focusing on classical trepidation regarding the power of beauty to engender eros, we can use these parallels to trouble our conventional understanding of Rhetoric's relationship to power.  This talk will focus on the death of Heracles in Sophocles' tragedy The Women of Trachis, the epitome of strength in the classical world, and how he was undone by beauty.  This by no means shows or suggests that beauty is more powerful than strength, but it does imply a different and more fruitful conceptualization of power.  This analysis is part of a larger project which aims to displace the idea of rhetoric as kratos (power, strength, conquest) with rhetoric as dunamis (a much more complicated and nuanced idea of power as ability, faculty).

Location and Address

208B CL

Directions and Parking Information

Garage and street parking available

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Schedule of Events

“Oratory and writing in Vico’s early works: A reading of the transformation of rhetoric”

Within the field of Vichian studies, Marshall’s thesis of sublimation provides new insights into the idea that Vico’s commitment with rhetorical tradition is paradoxical, but at the same time it is able to transform its classical structure as relations between individuals in the feature of impersonality, as a new inquiry dealing with arguments. Marshall also describes the paradox of the transformation explaining it as a tension between the immediate publicity, outlined by the classic rhetorical structure in the “here and now” of individuals confront one another, and the mediate publicity suggested by the technologies of participation such as writing and reading which make the publicity virtual.

Focusing my analysis on the oration De nostri temporis ratione studiorum (1709), my claim is that the framework of Vico’s transformation of rhetoric can be developed also through the aspects of oratory and writing: with the former term I mean refer to the art of finding arguments defined by Vico according to the Ciceronian tradition; the latter will be conceived by Vico as the ability “to go through the elements of writing”, namely the capacity to connect different things in a way similar to the exercise of ingenium and rhetorical inventio.

In these regards, I will analyze the issue with the aim to achieve a twofold goal. Firstly, considering what many scholars of early modern rhetoric have defined as the phenomenon of letteraturizzazione, namely the development of the practice of writing rhetoric, to demonstrate that Vico’s challenge to conceive writing as a form of rhetorical performance can be considered as the attempt to go against this background, by pursuing the paradoxical effort to practice a form of mediated publicity and avoiding the loss of human expression. Secondly, to argue that the term “elements of writing”, which is part of the connection oratory and writing share, can be also referred to the single quotations of the Ciceronian sources. Comparing Vico’s usage of these sources in 1709 with the more conventional way presented in his first speeches (1699-1708), it can be possible to show how the figure of Cicero becomes theoretically crucial in Vico’s works.


Giuseppe Moro, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa