Thu, 29 October 2015
Welllllcome to Meeeeere Rhetooooooooric!
Ooooh, it’s Halloween week, which means here at Mere Rhetoric, we bring you a spoooooky story. Last year we explored the dark side of anonymous peer review and this year we get to talk about another scary aspect of the academic life: writing prompts. Writing prompts are, as genre theory has informed us, their own weird genre, with better and worse practices. Generally speaking, giving students a clear sense of direction in what to write while empowering them to pursue their own objectives for writing gives them a chance to become independent writers. Give them busy work and, usally, they’ll resent you and even writing. In the worst cases, though, they may produce something far worse… As M. R. James illustrates in his classic tale “A School Story.”
TWO men in a smoking-room were talking of their private-school days. "At our school," said A., "we had a ghost's footmark on the staircase. What was it like? Oh, very unconvincing. Just the shape of a shoe, with a square toe, if I remember right. The staircase was a stone one. I never heard any story about the thing. That seems odd, when you come to think of it. Why didn't somebody invent one, I wonder?"
"You never can tell with little boys. They have a mythology of their own. There's a subject for you, by the way--'The Folklore of Private Schools.'"
"Yes; the crop is rather scanty, though. I imagine, if you were to investigate the cycle of ghost stories, for instance, which the boys at private schools tell each other, they would all turn out to be highly-compressed versions of stories out of books."
"Nowadays the Strand and Pearson's, and so on, would be extensively drawn upon."
"No doubt: they weren't born or thought of in my time. Let's see. I wonder if I can remember the staple ones that I was told. First, there was the house with a room in which a series of people insisted on passing a night; and each of them in the morning was found kneeling in a corner, and had just time to say, 'I've seen it,' and died."
"Wasn't that the house in Berkeley Square?"
"I dare say it was. Then there was the man who heard a noise in the passage at night, opened his door, and saw someone crawling towards him on all fours with his eye hanging out on his cheek. There was besides, let me think---- Yes! the room where a man was found dead in bed with a horseshoe mark on his forehead, and the floor under the bed was covered with marks of horseshoes also; I don't know why. Also there was the lady who, on locking her bedroom door in a strange house, heard a thin voice among the bed-curtains say, 'Now we're shut in for the night.' None of those had any explanation or sequel. I wonder if they go on still, those stories."
"Oh, likely enough--with additions from the magazines, as I said. You never heard, did you, of a real ghost at a private school? I thought not, nobody has that ever I came across."
"From the way in which you said that, I gather that you have."
"I really don't know, but this is what was in my mind. It happened at my private school thirty odd years ago, and I haven't any explanation of it.
"The school I mean was near London. It was established in a large and fairly old house--a great white building with very fine grounds about it; there were large cedars in the garden, as there are in so many of the older gardens in the Thames valley, and ancient elms in the three or four fields which we used for our games. I think probably it was quite an attractive place, but boys seldom allow that their schools possess any tolerable features.
"I came to the school in a September, soon after the year 1870; and among the boys who arrived on the same day was one whom I took to: a Highland boy, whom I will call McLeod. I needn't spend time in describing him: the main thing is that I got to know him very well. He was not an exceptional boy in any way--not particularly good at books or games--but he suited me.
"The school was a large one: there must have been from 120 to 130 boys there as a rule, and so a considerable staff of masters was required, and there were rather frequent changes among them.
"One term--perhaps it was my third or fourth--a new master made his appearance. His name was Sampson. He was a tallish, stoutish, pale, black-bearded man. I think we liked him: he had travelled a good deal, and had stories which amused us on our school walks, so that there was some competition among us to get within earshot of him. I remember too--dear me, I have hardly thought of it since then--that he had a charm on his watch-chain that attracted my attention one day, and he let me examine it. It was, I now suppose, a gold Byzantine coin; there was an effigy of some absurd emperor on one side; the other side had been worn practically smooth, and he had had cut on it--rather barbarously--his own initials, G.W.S., and a date, 24 July, 1865. Yes, I can see it now: he told me he had picked it up in Constantinople: it was about the size of a florin, perhaps rather smaller.
"Well, the first odd thing that happened was this. Sampson was doing Latin grammar with us. One of his favourite methods--perhaps it is rather a good one--was to make us construct sentences out of our own heads to illustrate the rules he was trying to make us learn. Of course that is a thing which gives a silly boy a chance of being impertinent: there are lots of school stories in which that happens--or any-how there might be. But Sampson was too good a disciplinarian for us to think of trying that on with him. Now, on this occasion he was telling us how to express remembering in Latin: and he ordered us each to make a sentence bringing in the verb memini, 'I remember.' Well, most of us made up some ordinary sentence such as 'I remember my father,' or 'He remembers his book,' or something equally uninteresting: and I dare say a good many put down memino librum meum, and so forth:
but the boy I mentioned--McLeod--was evidently thinking of something more elaborate than that. The rest of us wanted to have our sentences passed, and get on to something else, so some kicked him under the desk, and I, who was next to him, poked him and whispered to him to look sharp. But he didn't seem to attend. I looked at his paper and saw he had put down nothing at all. So I jogged him again harder than before and upbraided him sharply for keeping us all waiting. That did have some effect. He started and seemed to wake up, and then very quickly he scribbled about a couple of lines on his paper, and showed it up with the rest.
As it was the last, or nearly the last, to come in, and as Sampson had a good deal to say to the boys who had written meminiscimus patri meo and the rest of it, it turned out that the clock struck twelve before he had got to McLeod, and McLeod had to wait afterwards to have his sentence corrected. There was nothing much going on outside when I got out, so I waited for him to come. He came very slowly when he did arrive, and I guessed there had been some sort of trouble. 'Well,' I said, 'what did you get?' 'Oh, I don't know,' said McLeod, 'nothing much: but I think Sampson's rather sick with me.' 'Why, did you show him up some rot?' 'No fear,' he said. 'It was all right as far as I could see: it was like this: Memento--that's right enough for remember, and it takes a genitive,--memento putei inter quatuor taxos.' 'What silly rot!' I said. 'What made you shove that down? What does it mean?'
'That's the funny part,' said McLeod. 'I'm not quite sure what it does mean. All I know is, it just came into my head and I corked it down. I know what I think it means, because just before I wrote it down I had a sort of picture of it in my head: I believe it means "Remember the well among the four"--what are those dark sort of trees that have red berries on them?' 'Mountain ashes, I s'pose you mean.' '
I never heard of them,' said McLeod; 'no, I'll tell you--yews.' 'Well, and what did Sampson say?' 'Why, he was jolly odd about it. When he read it he got up and went to the mantel-piece and stopped quite a long time without saying anything, with his back to me. And then he said, without turning round, and rather quiet,
"What do you suppose that means?" I told him what I thought; only I couldn't remember the name of the silly tree: and then he wanted to know why I put it down, and I had to say something or other. And after that he left off talking about it, and asked me how long I'd been here, and where my people lived, and things like that: and then I came away: but he wasn't looking a bit well.'
"I don't remember any more that was said by either of us about this. Next day McLeod took to his bed with a chill or something of the kind, and it was a week or more before he was in school again. And as much as a month went by without anything happening that was noticeable. Whether or not Mr. Sampson was really startled, as McLeod had thought, he didn't show it. I am pretty sure, of course, now, that there was something very curious in his past history, but I'm not going to pretend that we boys were sharp enough to guess any such thing.
"There was one other incident of the same kind as the last which I told you. Several times since that day we had had to make up examples in school to illustrate different rules, but there had never been any row except when we did them wrong. At last there came a day when we were going through those dismal things which people call Conditional Sentences, and we were told to make a conditional sentence, expressing a future consequence. We did it, right or wrong, and showed up our bits of paper, and Sampson began looking through them. All at once he got up, made some odd sort of noise in his throat, and rushed out by a door that was just by his desk. We sat there for a minute or two, and then--I suppose it was incorrect--but we went up, I and one or two others, to look at the papers on his desk.
Of course I thought someone must have put down some nonsense or other, and Sampson had gone off to report him. All the same, I noticed that he hadn't taken any of the papers with him when he ran out. Well, the top paper on the desk was written in red ink--which no one used--and it wasn't in anyone's hand who was in the class. They all looked at it--McLeod and all--and took their dying oaths that it wasn't theirs. Then I thought of counting the bits of paper. And of this I made quite certain: that there were seventeen bits of paper on the desk, and sixteen boys in the form. Well, I bagged the extra paper, and kept it, and I believe I have it now. And now you will want to know what was written on it. It was simple enough, and harmless enough, I should have said.
"'Si tu non veneris ad me, ego veniam ad te,' which means, I suppose, 'If you don't come to me, I'll come to you.'"
"Could you show me the paper?" interrupted the listener.
"Yes, I could: but there's another odd thing about it. That same afternoon I took it out of my locker--I know for certain it was the same bit, for I made a finger-mark on it and no single trace of writing of any kind was there on it. I kept it, as I said, and since that time I have tried various experiments to see whether sympathetic ink had been used, but absolutely without result.
"So much for that. After about half an hour Sampson looked in again: said he had felt very unwell, and told us we might go. He came rather gingerly to his desk, and gave just one look at the uppermost paper: and I suppose he thought he must have been dreaming: anyhow, he asked no questions.
"That day was a half-holiday, and next day Sampson was in school again, much as usual. That night the third and last incident in my story happened.
"We--McLeod and I--slept in a dormitory at right angles to the main building. Sampson slept in the main building on the first floor. There was a very bright full moon. At an hour which I can't tell exactly, but some time between one and two, I was woken up by somebody shaking me.
It was McLeod, and a nice state of mind he seemed to be in. 'Come,' he said,--'come there's a burglar getting in through Sampson's window.' As soon as I could speak, I said, 'Well, why not call out and wake everybody up? 'No, no,' he said, 'I'm not sure who it is: don't make a row: come and look.' Naturally I came and looked, and naturally there was no one there.
I was cross enough, and should have called McLeod plenty of names: only--I couldn't tell why--it seemed to me that there was something wrong--something that made me very glad I wasn't alone to face it. We were still at the window looking out, and as soon as I could, I asked him what he had heard or seen. 'I didn't hear anything at all,' he said, 'but about five minutes before I woke you, I found myself looking out of this window here, and there was a man sitting or kneeling on Sampson's window-sill, and looking in, and I thought he was beckoning.'
'What sort of man?' McLeod wriggled. 'I don't know,' he said, 'but I can tell you one thing--he was beastly thin: and he looked as if he was wet all over: and,' he said, looking round and whispering as if he hardly liked to hear himself, 'I'm not at all sure that he was alive.'
"We went on talking in whispers some time longer, and eventually crept back to bed. No one else in the room woke or stirred the whole time. I believe we did sleep a bit afterwards, but we were very cheap next day.
"And next day Mr. Sampson was gone: not to be found: and I believe no trace of him has ever come to light since. In thinking it over, one of the oddest things about it all has seemed to me to be the fact that neither McLeod nor I ever mentioned what we had seen to any third person whatever. Of course no questions were asked on the subject, and if they had been, I am inclined to believe that we could not have made any answer: we seemed unable to speak about it.
"That is my story," said the narrator. "The only approach to a ghost story connected with a school that I know, but still, I think, an approach to such a thing."
* * * * *
The sequel to this may perhaps be reckoned highly conventional; but a sequel there is, and so it must be produced. There had been more than one listener to the story, and, in the latter part of that same year, or of the next, one such listener was staying at a country house in Ireland.
One evening his host was turning over a drawer full of odds and ends in the smoking-room. Suddenly he put his hand upon a little box. "Now," he said, "you know about old things; tell me what that is." My friend opened the little box, and found in it a thin gold chain with an object attached to it. He glanced at the object and then took off his spectacles to examine it more narrowly. "What's the history of this?" he asked. "Odd enough," was the answer. "You know the yew thicket in the shrubbery: well, a year or two back we were cleaning out the old well that used to be in the clearing here, and what do you suppose we found?"
"Is it possible that you found a body?" said the visitor, with an odd feeling of nervousness.
"We did that: but what's more, in every sense of the word, we found two."
"Good Heavens! Two? Was there anything to show how they got there? Was this thing found with them?"
"It was. Amongst the rags of the clothes that were on one of the bodies. A bad business, whatever the story of it may have been. One body had the arms tight round the other. They must have been there thirty years or more--long enough before we came to this place. You may judge we filled the well up fast enough. Do you make anything of what's cut on that gold coin you have there?"
"I think I can," said my friend, holding it to the light (but he read it without much difficulty); "it seems to be G.W.S., 24 July, 1865."
Wed, 21 October 2015
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, terms and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren, Samantha’s in the booth and we have a brand new episode here for you. If you like new episodes, or if you have an episode to suggest, you can email me and tell me. The email is just firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be thrilled to hear from you. Here’s the thing, though, today’s episode isn’t on rhetoric.
It’s on rhetoricality. Psych! What, you may ask, is the difference between rhetoricality and rhetoric? Well, John Bender and David E Wellbery wrote this article in 1990 titled “Rhetoricality: on the modernist return of rhetoric” where they argue that for too long rhetoric had been deeply misunderstood and maligned and it was time to dust off rhetoric for the last 20th century.
They start with a metaphor about architecture to describe their plans. Imagine a Classical building of, say, Athens. You’ve got your triglyphs, you’ve got your stylobates. But then history keeps happening and architectural fashions change and no one is doing stylbates anymore. Then classical architecture is dusted off--literally--, and people say, “wow--let’s do that.” But don’t do that, not really, because things have changed. They have to alter the classics in order to fit a modern aesthetic. This is the difference between rhetoric and rhetoricality.
Bender and Wellbery argue a project of a Modernist reconciliation of rhetoric, as opposed to the Enlightenment and Romanticism hostility that characterized much of history. It’s funny that you don’t usually think of the philosophies of the Enlightenment and Romantic eras of having much in common: one group parades about in powdered wigs, says “what-what” and writes comedies of manners and constitutions while the other falls in love with consumptive prostitutes, wanders the lake district and dies young. But they’re both sort of anti-rhetorical. As Bender and Wellbury put it “Foundational subjectivity--be it the subject as res cogitans or as creative origin, as unique individual personality or as disinterested free agent within the political sphere--erodes the ideological premises of rhetoric” (12). So whether you’re a free spirit at the whims of the muse or a cog-like actor in the machine, there’s no place for the socially constructed work of rhetoric.
Five factors went into of the death of rhetoric, according to our authors:
During this time, rhetoric, Bender and Wellbery argue, has been “contracted” (6) from its original form because “much of the terrain over which [rhetoric] held absolute sway during … 2 millennia [...] has now been appropriated by other disciplines: linguistics, information theory, stylistics, literary criticism, sociology, communications, marketing, public relations… To classical rhetoric ...belonged the description and theorization of all aspects of discourse not comprehended by the more delimited formulations of grammar and logic, the other two divisions of the so-called trivium” (6). Rhetoric has been poached upon. What is the point and purpose of modern rhetoric, then?
But if you’re looking at that list I gave earlier, you may notice that these factors are no longer such a part of our lives any more. Because the “new cultural and discursive space is fashioned that it is no longer defined by objectivism, subjectivism, liberalism, literacy and nationalism” (23). For instance, consider point 4--the rise of print. There’s no denying that more people are literate than in Cicero’s time, but we’re beyond literate in print text. Bender and Wellbury point out the rise of television and radio and we might, rolling our eyes at the old technology of the nineties, point to the advent of internet gifs, YouTube videos and podcasts. The conditions of classical and enlightenment thought have changed. We aren’t going back to oral speeches in the forum, but neither are we dominated by only print media.
And the modernist reinterpretation of rhetoric isn’t going to resemble rhetoric of ancient origins any more than the architecture is doing to resemble the posts and lintels of greek architecture.
The past isn’t ignored, though. Rhetoric, say Bender and Wellbury is “Not just “rarified speech” but “groundless, infinitely ramifying character of discourse in the modern world” and “Rhetoric is no longer the title of a doctrine and a practice, nor a form of cultural memory; it becomes instead something like the condition of our existence” (25). The condition of our existence! Heavy stuff that. Instead of calling something rhetoric, rhetoricity is now big rhetoric, pervasive and spurred by the conditions of modern life.
They give the examples of how pervausive rhetoric is, citing Thomas Kuhn and the rise of a rhetoric of science, and a rhetoric of linguistics, psychoanalysis, and mass communication. Our man I.A Richards ushered in, according the Bender and Wellbury, the rhetoric of literary analysis, and Lakoff and Johnson--whose book we reviewed in another episode--describe a rhetoric of pragmatics. Everything it seemed, could have “rhetoric of” tacked on front because everything was rhetorical.
“We are dealing no longer with a specialized technique of instrumental communication,” Bender and Wellbury writing, “but rather with a general condition of human experience and action” (38). If rhetoricality is everything, “There can be no single contemporary rhetorical theory: rhetoricality cannot be the object of a homogeneous discipline” (38). This opens the way for all sorts of disciplines to enter into the rhetoricality bcause it’s a condition of being human.
As they say, “Modernism is an age not of rhetoric but of rhetoricality, the age, that is, of a generalized rhetoric that penetrates to the deepest levels of human experience” (25).
And that is quite the legacy for the Athenian rhetors.
If you have a favorite “rhetoric of” drop us a line at email@example.com or shout out to us on the twitter device, which are both, I guess, modes of literacy, modern and post modern and very different from the print media of the Enlightenment and Romantic eras.
Wed, 21 October 2015
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, ideas and movement that have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren and the University of Texas’ Humanities Media Project supports the podcast and
Today we’re doing a podcast on Dionysius of Halicarnassus, not least because it’s so fun to say his name. Some people just have the kind of name that makes you want to say it all out, in full. Say it with me: Dionysius of Halicarnassus. It’s lovely. Fortunately, we’ll lget to say Dionysius of Halicarnassus several times today.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, being of Halicarnassus, was Greek, but he wasn’t one of the 5th century golden age Greek rhetoricians--he lived around 50-6 BC during the Roman empire. Indeed, he studied in Rome and gave lessons there as part of the Greek educational diaspora. Dionysius of Halicarnassus could be seen as a great reconsiler between Roman and Greek thought, or he could be seen as a stoolie for the romans. He wrote of the Romans as the heirs of Greek culture and was always talking up the qualities of the Romans.
But he did love Greek rhetoricians. He writes admiringlyof Greek poets like Homer and Sappho of Greek rhetoricians Isocrates and Lysius, and even of Dinarchus, whom most people thought was kind of a lousy rhetor and even Dionysius of Halicarnassus admits was “neither the inventor of an individual style … nor the perfector of styles whcih others had invented” (1). He compiledhis thoughts on rhetoric into a more-or-less treatise known to us rather unimaginatively as the Art of Rhetoric. Not to be confused with all of the other Arts of Rhetoric, but the one by Dionyius of Halicarnasus. In the Art of Rhetoric and On Literary Composition, he offers in-depth analysis of many of the greatest Greek rhetors and rhetoricians, giving long examples in his text. As a matter of fact, much of the fragments we have from folks like Sappho comes from Dionysius of Halicarnassus, because he loved to quote big chunks of text and then go back and describe what was happening in those texts, even down to the level of the sounds of the vowels. that’s the level of analysis you get from dionysius of Halicarnassus.
And rather not surprisingly. Dionysius of Halicarnassus cited big chunks of text because he was a firm believer of imitation. Imitation,in this case, wasn’t the same as mimesis. Let me describe the differences: For Aristotle, Mimesis was about looking to nature and imitation from nature. So you see a bowl of grapes, and you get your teeny, tiniest paintbrush and you paint thos grapes so realistically that someone walking by might jam their finger reaching out to grab one. that’s mimesis. Dionysian imitation, though, is about imitating an author. Or authors. So now instead of staring at a bowl of grapes, you might stare at a poem about a bowl of grapes. Pedagogically, you might first emulate the poem, trying to recreate the poem as closely as you can, then adapt the poem, maybe now instead of a poem about grapes you make it a poem about plums. then you might rework and improve the poem, cutting back the long winded parts, or where the original author used a lame analogy or something. But then, in your own work, you continue this process with not just one poem, but dozens of poems, and not just by one author, but by dozens of authors. Through careful reading and analysis, you can identify the styles and methods most appropriate to your situation. This was popular for the Romans and it’s popular with us. If you’re going to write a love poem today, for instance, you might write a sonnet because of the successful love poems of Plutarch and Shakespeare, and you might find yourself using similar kinds of tropes and figures as Plutarch and Shakespeare, cataloging the beauty of your beloved, or comparing them to an animal or flower.this is all Dionysian imitation on your part. The Dionysian imitation caught on in a big way among Latin writers. Quintilian was a fan and included imitation of authors in his own pedagogy. Dionysius of Halicarnassus’ 3-volume treatise, known to us as--surprise--on imitation became a relative best seller. It makes sense considering the politics of greco-roman relations: if the Golden Age rhetors, Isocrates and Lysius, really are teh best, they can serve as models for Roman writers. these Roman writers, though, can exceed the Greek models. Just like how Dionusus of Halicarnassus thought that Romans were the literal descendents of later Greeks, he found a way that their writing could be descended from Greek style.
It may sound weird to us to not value originality, but Romans were sort of world-weary, “nothing new to be said” sorts who recognized the long literary precedent of Greek and Egyptian writers. Dionysian imitation could give them a way to feel that they were taking this long history and improving on it. And that meant a lot to them.
If you, like Dionysius of Hallicarnassus, have a fun name to say, or if you know of a rhetorician who, like Dionysius of Hallicarnassus, has a fun name to say, why not drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org? Until next time, Dionysius of Hallicarnassus.
Tue, 13 October 2015
Welcome to Mere Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, ideas and movement that have shaped rhetorical history. Big thanks to the University of Texas’ Humanities Media Project for supporting the podcast. Today we get to talk about a rhetorician who may have influenced everyone, or may not have even existed.
Aspasia is one of the most historically elusive, even mythical rhetoricians. As with Socrates, we only have second-hand accounts of her life and work, but unlike Socrates, she was a woman, which meant that much of the accounts we have of her are fragmented and often disparaging.
Aspasia is one of the few women from classical Athens who is listed by name and certainly one of the first female rhetoricians we have record of. What kind of rhetorician she was and how she was able to leave such a legacy is shrouded in jealousy, lies, and accusations. Anything we think we know about Aspasia has to be tempered by the historical circumstances of 5th century bc Athens.
And these were the circumstances for women in Classical Athenian life. If you were an upper-class woman, your life was circumscribe from birth. You were living cloistered in your father’s home until you married, quite young, to an older man. There was no real expectation for passion in marriage, and no sense of equal partnership. Your education was entirely within the home and your whole life was to be “daughter of a citizen and a citizen’s daughter.” Things were difference, however, if you were on the fringes of Athenian society, as Aspasia was.
Aspasia was a foreigner, the daughter of neither a citizen or a citizen’s daughter, and as such, she was outside of the restrictions of typical Athenian women. In someways, this may have aided her education and development. She became a hetaera, which is sometimes translated as prostitute, but that’s doesn’t do the position justice. Hetaera were women who entertained men intellectually, socially and sexually. They were capable of witty conversation and knowledgeable. To get an idea of who the hetaerea were, you’d have something like a prostitute mixed with a well-trained geisha. You can imagine that although Greek men had to marry an upper-class citizen for a wife, they more interested in actually spending time with women who were educated and could spend time with them and their friends, instead of being secreted away in the women’s quarters.
One Greek man, Pericles, certainly thought a hetaera could be more interesting than a whife. Pericles thought Aspasia was tops, and spent all of his time with her instead of with his wife. As a matter of fact, in a move that was shocking to the Athenians, Pericles wasn’t just content to have Aspasia as his mistress—he had to go and make her his wife. He divorced his proper, home-kept Greek wife and lived with this foreigner, whom he loved so audaciously that he kissed her at the doorstep every time he went in and out of the home. Now that’s just sweet. And that made many of the comic writers nervous.
It’s possible that Aspasia was so close to Pericles because she was his intellectual equal and some of the fragmented stories we have about her say that Pericles loved her for her brain. Really. Plutarch’s biography of Pericles relates ““Aspasia, some say, was courted and caressed by Pericles upon account of her knowledge and skill in politics.” (qtd 183)
Aspasia may have been one of Pericles’ logographers. If you recall, logographers were the speech writers of ancient Greece, and having a female logographer may be considered an insult to Pericles. For example, the lengthy argument made in Plato’s Menexenus (men-uh-zeen-us) that Aspasia wrote the famous funeral oration. There’s no reason why Aspasia couldn’t had written it, especially if she was as well-educated and cultural astute as the stories about her suggest. But Socrates makes the logographer woman analogous to the whore. Just as a logographer will write any one who pays a speech, regardless of their clients’ political or legal position, Aspasia the prostitute has, in scholar Madeleine Henry’s words “Aspasia made speakers of many men. The fact that one is names and that this one is a man with whom she had a sexual relationship, delicately suggests that she had sexual relationships with the others as well and that they all speak with words she taught them” (35). The connection between the rhetor and the prostitute does not go unnoticed in Cheryl Glenn’s 1994 article recovering Aspasia’s contribution to rhetoric. ““the ideal woman,” she writes “has been disciplined by cultural codes that require a closed mouth (silence) and closed body (chastity) and an enclosed life (domestic confinement).” (180). Glenn sees that Pericles saw—that Aspasia was very different from the Greek wife in all these ways, even breaking domestic confinement to write and teach.
The rhetoric teacher is a hussy because she teaches others. And it wasn’t just Pericles who went to Aspasia. From Plutarch, again “Socrates himself would sometimes go to visit her, and some of his acquaintances with him; and those who frequented her company would carry their wives with them to listen to her” because she “has the repute of being resorted to by many of the Athenians for instruction in the art of speaking” (qtd on 183). If this is accurate, Aspasia had her own school, the same way the Sophists like Isocrates did.
For all of the Socratic irony in the Menexenus that tears her down, you may have noticed that the Romans connected Aspasia with Socrates. Henry says that in some ways it wasn’t that Aspasia was a female Socrates, but, since she came first, Socrates was a male Aspasia. Aspasia also could out-socratic method Socrates and some people think that she taught Socrates how to be socratic. Listen to this dialoge quoted by Cicero in On Invention:
Aspasia reasoned thus with Xenophon's wife and Xenophon himself: "Please tell me madam, if your neighbor had a better gold ornament than you have, would you prefer that one or your own?" "That one." "Well, now, if she had a better husband than you have, would you prefer your husband or hers?" At this the woman blushed. "I wish you would tell me Xenophon, if your neighbor had a better horse than yours, would you prefer your horse or his?" "His." "Now, if he had a better wife than you have, would you prefer yours or his?" And at this Xenophon, too, was himself silent. . . . "Therefore, unless you can contrive that there be no better man or finer woman on earth you will certainly always be in dire want of what you consider best, namely, that you be the husband of the very best of wives, and that she be wedded to the very best of men." (I. xxxxi.51-53)
Sounds an awful lot like the socratic method, doesn’t it? Some scholars think, incidentally, that this dialog is sincerely advocating that both spouses in a marriage should be equally engaged in the relationship, but after reading the Menexenus, it seems to me that there is an equally compelling argument here that Aspasia is saying, “go ahead and covet your neighbor’s wife or husband because you could probably do better.” So you see how Aspasia’s rhetorical contributions are always being read through the lens of her sexuality.
According to the later Greek text Deipnosophists—or, as I like to call them, “Insufferable Foodies of the Second Sophistic”—it was Aspasia that also taught Socrates how to find, pursue and win love.
So if Aspasia was all this, why did she fade from the rhetorical tradition? The easiest answer is to say that as a foreigner and a woman it was very difficult for her to remain in the tradition. During the 1990s, feminist rhetoricians like Cheryl Glenn and C. Jan Swearingen, Susan Jarratt and Rory Ong all set out to “recover” Aspasia from the fragments and jealousy of the classical sources. Strangely, though, interest in Aspasia seems to have waned. There hasn’t been much written on her lately, maybe because it’s hard to say anything about her than what the unreliable, male classical sources have said. Madeleine Henry’s book, for instance, sets out to create not Aspasia’s history, but her historiography, how she has been invoked since the earliest western tradition through the renaissance, Enlightenment and up to the 20th century. In someways, then, we can’t ever know Aspasia, but only know about her. She remains stubbornly elusive and slandered.