Sunday, January 23, 2011

Rhetoric For Sundays

Periodically on my blog I comment on church marquees.  I find them hilarious, but also endlessly frustrating in the banality of their messages, and sometimes in the fact that they often communicate messages that are harmful to Christianity in general.  Here is the latest that I saw on my way to church this morning.

 I mean really, do we really want to communicate that whatever comes in the afterlife is to be compared with a decent retirement package? 

And even more, this emphasizes the common evangelical misunderstanding that what really matters in this life is getting souls into heaven.  This life, what Jesus preached most about is of little meaning, only saving souls, getting them their "fire insurance," or in this case, their "retirement benefits." That is what really matters, right?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

ηθοποιία, προσωποποιία or characterization and personification

ηθοποιία/προσωποποιία is the eleventh of the classical progymnasmata and is the exercise of characterization, or more specifically, for creating a fictional speech for a character.

Theon defines prosopopoiia as,
"the introduction of a person to whom words are attributed that are suitable to the speaker and have an indisputable application to the subject discussed." (Theon 115, Kennedy).
Key here are the two qualifications, namely that this speech should be "suitable to the speaker," and that the speech "have an indisputable application to the subject."

Theon then gives several examples, from very general to very specific.  For example, "What words would a man say to his life when leaving on a journey?  Or a general to his soldiers in a time of danger?"  Or, more specifically, "What words would Cyrus say when marching against the Massagetae?" 

As you can see, one can create a variety of persons and situations and then create a speech to be given by that person on that occasion. 

The Greek historian Thucydides, recording the way in which he reconstructed historical speeches, admitted that he took some liberties, and essentially recreated the speeches according to the rules laid out by the preliminary exercise of prosopopoiia. Thus, even in Greek History, it was acceptable to take some liberties in recreating historical speeches.  Thucydides writes:
And as for things that they each said by way of argument, either when they were about to go to war or when they were already at war, it was difficult to carry the precise details of the things that were said word for word in one’s memory. This was the case both for me, where I heard them myself, and for those who reported them to me from various sources; but they have been rendered in the way it seemed to me likely that each speaker would indeed have said what was needed concerning the present circumstances on each occasion, while sticking as closely as possible to the general ideas behind what was actually said. (Emphasis in bold is mine. Thucydides, Hist. 1.22.1-2).
There are many speeches in the New Testament.  Many have speculated about the speeches in Acts and to what degree Luke was reporting the actual speech, or rather, engaging in prosopopoiia, creating a speech in line with the character of the speaker and in line with the needs of the situation.

One good example of prosopopoiia in the gospels comes from Jesus' parable of the rich fool.  Jesus creates a speech for this rich fool, as the rich fool actually has a conversation with himself.  Here is the relevant section from Luke 12:
Luke 12:17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’
Luke 12:18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
Luke 12:19 And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’
 Creating this speech in character creates a liveliness to the parable.  The implied question behind this parable for which the Lukan Jesus creates a speech is, "what would a rich man say if he had a surplus crop."  Then comes this speech where the rich fool has a conversation with himself. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Political Rhetoric

It has been a banner week for the word rhetoric.  If one listens to the news or browses news stories on the internet, it seems that rhetoric is the buzz word of the day.  All of this in the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Arizona, apparently directed at congress woman Gabrielle Giffords, but hitting 18 other people in the process, killing 6 so far.  In the wake of this horrific tragedy, the rhetoric is flying.

From the left, there are accusations that this shooting was promoted by right wing inflammatory rhetoric.  From the right, there are defenses against these accusations, and accusations of equally inflammatory rhetoric from the left. 

From a Google news search for "rhetoric," here are a sampling of of the headlines:

A Time to Cool the Rhetoric

Leahy: 'Seething rhetoric' has gone too far

Polls: Shooting spree not due to rhetoric

Extremist Rhetoric, Violence, and American History 

Maybe we should stop with the rhetoric for a moment and actually find out why Loughner went on this rampage.  Let the rhetorical jets cool, don't turn this tragedy into a political battleground, at least not until we know more about what happened and why it happened.  Once that is established, and the truth be made known, then by all means, let the rhetoric fly in defense of the truth, but out of common decency, let's let those who have lost loved ones grieve, and those still fighting for their lives, actually have some peace. 



Monday, January 10, 2011

σύγκρισις or comparison

σύγκρισις is the 10th of the ancient progymnasmata and is the exercise in comparison.  Theon writes:
"Syncrisis is the language setting the better or worse side by side.  There are syncrises both of persons and things." (Theon, 112, Kennedy).
As with the exercises of encomium and invective, the topic lists derived from those exercises are also used for syncrisis.  For example,  there are external goods such as place of birth, occurrences at birth, nurture, upbringing, education. Goods of the body (health, strength, etc.).  Then there are internal goods such as goods of the mind (intellect, wisdom), virtues (justice, bravery).  Then there are actions and deeds (to which I would also add speech).  Finally, there is the manner of death and what happened after death. Whereas with encomium and invective, the student merely listed the goods or ills of a single person or thing.  With syncrisis, the student compares two subjects with regard to these topics.

Syncrisis can take many forms, comparing good with good (double encomium), good with bad (encomium/invective), and bad with bad (double invective).  One can also come to a number of conclusions.  For example, with a double encomium, one could find the two equally good, or might praise both, but find one slightly better.  Likewise, with a double invective, one might find the subjects equally bad, or that one is slightly more diabolical than the other.

I have dealt elsewhere with syncrisis in the Stephen episode in Acts 6-8.  Another example of syncrisis can be found in the book of Hebrews.  In chapter 3, the author of Hebrews compares Jesus to Moses as follows:
Heb. 3:3 Yet Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.
Heb. 3:4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.)
Heb. 3:5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later.
Heb. 3:6 Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope. 
Here, the author of Hebrews engages in a syncrisis between these two biblical figures, Jesus and Moses.  The comparison is a double encomium in that Moses is not found to be bad.  No, indeed, Moses was a faithful servant over God's house.  Yet, even though Moses is good, Jesus is better, not as a "servant" over God's house, but as a "Son."  Thus, the author of Hebrews has composed a double encomium syncrisis finding both subjects laudable, but finding Jesus superior as a Son. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Lucidity, Brevity, and Barth

I, like many others (see for others synchroblogging Barth's CD) will be blogging through Barth's Church Dogmatics over the next several years.  Thanks to Dr. Kirk for instigating this activity.

I will be blogging on Barth mostly on my other blog (, but periodically I will point out something with rhetorical implications here.

Charles Talbert, one of my mentors at Baylor, often cited Calvin in his call for "lucid brevity" in writing.  This concept of lucid brevity is one that Talbert has mastered well and that I seek to emulate.  Calvin called for brevitas et facilitas, yet he was not the first to do so.  Lucidity (clarity) was one of the four virtues of style called for by the classical rhetoricians, and brevitas was a figure of speech that conveyed dignity upon speech.

While Barth might be the theological descendant of Calvin, he unfortunately did not inherit his virtues of lucidity and brevity.  Barth is anything but brief, and struggles to find lucidity.  I envy the mind of Barth, but wish that his style were more in line with the virtues of clarity and brevity.

I call to mind what my native German speaking friend in seminary said to me when he claimed that he preferred to read Barth in English (his second language) because it made more sense.

The Friday Figure

This week's Friday Figure comes from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.  The figure (or more precisely, trope) used is that of metaphorMetaphor's are indispensable to a good communicator as they bring life and poignancy to language.
1Cor. 3:1  And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.
1Cor. 3:2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready,
By using the metaphor of milk as opposed to solid food, Paul brings the abstract concept of his teaching down to the every day life of his hearers.  He has brought in this metaphor, perhaps also a use of hyperbole, to drive home to his listeners their foolishness and infantile behavior.

More Church Marquee Humor

I have posted a few times about how church marquees often carry messages that the church would not want to communicate.  As a whole, I think church marquee messages are usually banal and ridiculous, but sometimes the humor that they carry are worth every penny.  See my posts here, here, here, and here for more church signage humor.

In these two church signs (HT to Scotteriology), the humor comes from the figure of speech paronomasia, which is essentially a pun or play on words.  I will leave it up to you to figure out the play on words.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

ψόγος or invective

ψόγος (psogos) or invective is the ninth of the ancient progymnasmata and is linked with its opposite, encomium.  If encomium is "an exposition of the good qualities of a person or thing." (Hermogenes, 14, Kennedy), then invective is an exposition of the negative qualities of a person or thing.  Theon says that "these are the sources of praise (encomium), and we shall derive blame (invective) from the opposites." (Theon, 112, Kennedy).

The sources that Theon was talking about were the list of "topics" used for encomium: external goods such as place of birth, occurrences at birth, nurture, upbringing, education. Goods of the body (health, strength, etc.).  Then there are internal goods such as goods of the mind (intellect, wisdom), virtues (justice, bravery).  Then there are actions and deeds (to which I would also add speech).  Finally, there is the manner of death and what happened after death.  Therefore, while in encomium one would look for "goods" according to these topics, with invective one would look for negative traits according to these topics.

A good example of invective comes from Revelation and the numerous charges against "Babylon."  It is largely agreed that "Babylon" in the context of Revelation is code for "Rome."  Thus, in Revelation we get a nice invective against Rome.  Here is an example from Revelation chapter 18.
Rev. 18:2 He called out with a mighty voice,
    “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
        It has become a dwelling place of demons,
    a haunt of every foul and hateful bird,
        a haunt of every foul and hateful beast.
Rev. 18:3     For all the nations have drunk
        of the wine of the wrath of her fornication,
    and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her,
        and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxury.”
Rev. 18:4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,
    “Come out of her, my people,
        so that you do not take part in her sins,
    and so that you do not share
        in her plagues;
Rev. 18:5     for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
        and God has remembered her iniquities.
Rev. 18:6     Render to her as she herself has rendered,
        and repay her double for her deeds;
        mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed.
Rev. 18:7     As she glorified herself and lived luxuriously,
        so give her a like measure of torment and grief.
    Since in her heart she says,
        ‘I rule as a queen;
    I am no widow,
        and I will never see grief,’
Rev. 18:8     therefore her plagues will come in a single day—
        pestilence and mourning and famine—
    and she will be burned with fire;
        for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.”
 Among the many things that the author of Revelation has to say about Rome in this invective are that Rome is a dwelling place of demons and foul beasts, that the city/empire has committed fornication, that it has lived pridefully and has engaged in luxurious (and dishonest) financial policy.  All of these would fall under the topics of "deeds" in the list of topics given by Theon and the other progymnasmatists. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Holiday Whirlwind

It has been a crazy few weeks.  On the 17th of December Brooke and I left for Colorado and the odometer on my car read: 95580.  When we finally ended our holiday tour on Monday, my odometer read 98881.  Two weeks, 3,301 miles, three states, multiple beds, and Brooke and I are ready to finally be home for a while.  For a while it seemed like we were living out of our car.

It was a great holiday time for us.  We first went to Colorado for about a week and visited both of my parents.  We got to spend some great time with both sides of the family, spending our nights in my Mother's cabin in outside of Drake, Colorado.  It was gorgeous.  The weather was perfect, but not very Christmas-like.  No snow to speak of.  Just balmy Colorado winter days allowing for safe driving and gorgeous mountain views.

Then it was back to Waco for a short hiatus while Brooke worked two and a half days.  Then on Wed. December 29th it was off to Houston for the Texas Bowl featuring Baylor vs. Illinois (ughh, no comment).  Then, up early in the morning for a trip down to Brooke's family's ranch for New Years.  It was a great time in South Texas, 90 degree days, watching the wildlife.  I saw many white tail deer, some javelinas, and a gorgeous bobcat.

We ended the trip with a wonderful evening in the historical Gruene Mansion Inn in Gruene, TX on the Guadalupe River.  It was a nice end to a whirlwind couple of weeks.

Now, back in Waco, gearing up for the Spring semester.  I can't wait to get back to teaching, and blogging.

Happy New Year