Aristotle defends persuasion and poetry

The Rhetoric & The Poetics of AristotleThe Rhetoric & The Poetics of Aristotle by Aristotle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since I decided to incorporate rhetorical analysis in the courses that I teach, I figured that I needed to read the classic work on rhetoric. I picked up this edition a number of years ago at a rummage sale, and it had the Poetics as well. Reading these works and the introductory material helped me to see how integrated Aristotle’s ideas were across his works, since the Rhetoric related not only to the the Poetics but to his works on logic, ethics, and politics as well (I have not read these). The introductory material also pointed out Aristotle’s differences with his teacher Plato on rhetoric and imitative poetry.

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Over the summer, I have been and plan to read more about the discipline of rhetoric, and I hope to post my course materials on my blog toward the end of the summer.

Comparing translations of the Iliad

Several years ago, Daniel Mendelsohn looked at how four different translators rendered lines 795-800 of Book 13. After giving a phonetic rendering of the original Greek poetry, he writes:

Note, first of all, how the last words of the first, third, fifth, and sixth lines of this passage all end with the same sound combination, loaded with liquid “l”s (aellêi, “maelstrom”; polla, “many”: ep’ alla, “others hard behind,” ep’alloi, “others hard behind”): these liquid “l” sounds (with some explosive “p”s thrown in in the third, fifth, and sixth lines) beautifully evoke the sounds of the roiling waters, even as the insistent repetition of the “p-ll” sound cluster from line to line gives a sense of whitecaps breaking on the beach, one after another. (In other words, the near-rhyming words do what the waves do.) And, as if to make the analogy concrete, the sixth line—which reconnects the imagined world of the sea to the narrated world of the Trojans at war—repeats the “some before … others hard behind” language of the fifth: the waves are all’ … ep alla; the Trojans are alloi … ep’ alloi. So the sixth line is packed behind the fifth, imitating its sound cluster precisely the way in which the Trojan ranks, packed together in battle formation, are massed one behind the other.

Also of note is the way that the two adjectives in the fourth line—paphladzonta, the “roiling” waves, and polyphloisboio, the “greatly-roaring” sea—replicate each other’s consonants: the “p”s, the “ph”s, the “l”s, the soft “s”s and “z” sounds. If you repeat those languidly unspooling words, you’re making the noises of the surf.