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“Spectators of Power: Aristotle on Epideictic”
Jonathan Pratt (Reed College, Portland)

In his discussion of the audiences appropriate to the three types of rhetoric (dicanic, symbouleutic, and epideictic), Aristotle remarks that “the spectator [of epideictic speech] decides concerning power” (? ?? ??? ??? ???????? [??????] ? ??????, Rhetoric 1.3, 1358b5-6). This statement has troubled critics because it seems inconsistent with Aristotle’s definition of the ????? ??????????? on two levels. First, the description of the audience as spectators of power – meaning, apparently, the speaker’s power – suggests that one might include in the epideictic genre speeches that lack the formal characteristics definitive of that genre (in particular, its advancement of ?? ????? through praise and blame: Rhetoric 1.3, 1358a36-1359a5). Second, by making the individual speaker rather than the subject-matter of his speech the focus of the audience’s attention, Aristotle threatens to undermine the production of social cohesion that is the epideictic genre’s chief function. In a concerted response to these two problems, I will argue that Aristotle’s inclusion of a “display of power” as a necessary feature of the epideictic genre neither overrides the genre’s formal parameters nor undermines its larger purposes. On the latter score, contemporary examples of epideictic speech – encomium, funeral oration, and festival panegyric – all suggest that the speaker’s self-display, while potentially at odds with an epideictic speech’s beneficial social effects, is also essential to producing those effects. Thus the very fissures in Aristotle’s definition of the epideictic genre reflect tensions important to epideictic practice – and public speech in general – in the fourth century.

(The organizers apologize for not knowing how to get the Greek to render correctly. Come hear the talk instead!)

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