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Many handbooks on rhetoric during the Renais- sance, for example, provided numerous illustrations of hand gestures and postures intended to evoke specific responses from audiences.


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A counterpart of rhetoric was dialectic, or what is sometimes referred to as "philosophical rhetoric. Dialectic, however, was not pragmatic but rather sought to discover truth. Plato claimed that philosophical rhetoric would convince the gods themselves Phaedrus, e , and his Socratic dialogues are examples of dialectic.

Over the centuries, the understanding of both rhetoric and, especially, dialectic changed, gradually moving closer together.

By the time of the late Roman period, St. Augustine could declare in On Dialect De dialectica that "Dialectic is the science of arguing well" 1. By the Middle Ages, dialectic had changed again and was understood primarily as logic, which was considered a part of grammar. Both Plato and his student Aristotle wrote about grammar, but the first com- plete grammar book we know about was written around BC by Dionysius Thrax, a native of Alexandria who taught in both Athens and Rome.

His Art of Grammar Techne grammatike set the standard for all grammar books until the 20 th century. The following excerpt illustrates how his influence exists even to- day and should seem very familiar: "A sentence is a combination of words, ei- ther in prose or verse, making a complete sense. Of discourse there are eight parts: noun, verb, participle, article, pronoun, preposition, adverb, and conjunction" Dionysius, , pp.


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  4. As Rome grew in power and size, it assimilated numerous Greek customs and practices, including the educational system. Dykema noted that Romans, like the Greeks, believed that knowledge of gram- matical terms was fundamental to correct language use. Indeed, the influence of Greece ran throughout Roman education. Stu- dents studied both Greek and Latin poets, following the Greek tradition of basing grammar study on literary texts. The most influential grammars of the Roman period were written by Donatus Ars grammatica in the 4 th century AD and Priscian Institutiones grammaticae in the 6 th century AD.

    These writers were so popular that their texts became the basis for grammar study throughout the Middle Ages. One of the foremost teachers during the Roman period was Quintilian circa AD , who wrote The Education of the Orator Institutio de oratoria , a collection of 12 books on education from childhood through adulthood. Quintilian described an educational program that was clearly Greek in almost every respect, with grammar instruction in the early years, followed by logic and rhetoric. This three -part taxonomy came to be called the trivium. Educa- tion was not compulsory, but, as in Greece, nearly every child, regardless of sta- tus, attended school.

    In an age without electricity, all work, including school work, began at dawn and ended around 2 p. We know from Quintilian that students were expected to devote considerable time to homework, or "private study" , I. The length of the school year is uncertain, but we do know that classes began toward the end of March and may have ended around the time of the Saturnalia religious festival on December From ages 6 to 12, students studied the alphabet, reading, writing, and arith- metic.

    At the elementary level, students began studying Greek, and this study intensified at the secondary level. Educated people in Rome were expected to be bilingual.

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    The emphasis on grammar — both Latin and Greek — increased as a result, and Quintilian reported that the secondary teacher should be prepared to address the parts of speech, declensions, conju- gations, inflections, pronunciation, and syllables I. Quintilian was a strong advocate for correctness in language, and he argued that the study of grammar would enable students to produce error-free speech and writing.

    He described the ideal student as one "who is spurred on by praise, delighted by success, and ready to weep over failure" Rome, unlike Greece, allowed girls to attend grammar school, but they generally did not continue formal education beyond age 12 or Some women from wealthy families apparently did study with pri- vate tutors, however, and became quite well educated.

    When the Roman Empire collapsed around AD, the educational system that had been in place throughout the Mediterranean for a thousand years disappeared. Within two generations, near universal illiteracy replaced near universal literacy.

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    The significance of the Greco-Roman education system with respect to grammar was at least twofold. As the Empire expanded, it provided schools or modified curricula in existing schools to meet Roman standards. Grammar in- struction throughout Europe therefore had a coherent orientation that empha- sized adherence to a literary norm. However, after the Empire collapsed, the fragmented European societies had a new Golden Age — the time of the Em- pire — and Latin was their bridge to a more civilized and sophisticated past.

    The Church emerged from the collapse of civilization not only as the most pow- erful social force in Europe but also as the sole repository of classical knowledge. Soon it found itself in a difficult position. For at least years before the fall of the Empire, the Church had been a fierce opponent of education. But rampant il- literacy was an obstacle to priesthood; a priest who could not read could not in- struct parishioners in the lessons of the Bible.

    In this context, knowledge of Latin also became a source of power. Although the Venerable Bede translated portions of the Bible into English as early as the end of the 7 th century, vernacular translations were rare and essentially uncirculated.

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    Nearly all copies of the Bible existed only in Latin. Thus, even as the Latin language was changing rapidly into Spanish, Italian, French, and Portuguese, the Church schools continued to use Latin as the basis of instruction and continued to teach Latin grammar. When Latin ceased being a liv- ing language — that is, when it no longer had any native speakers — the only way to learn it was through mastering its complex grammar.

    In the Middle Ages, then, we see a fundamental shift in the nature of educa- tion from the secular to the religious. The focus was not on providing universal education but rather on providing a religious education to a select few. More- over, the goal was not to develop more enlightened and productive citizens but rather to maintain a steady flow of literate priests. Even many kings were illiter- ate. Latin became the prestige language, much as Greek had been during the Empire, and educated people — that is, members of the priesthood — were ex- pected to be bilingual, with Latin as their second language.

    Nevertheless, Church leaders saw no need to reinvent the wheel. The system of religious education that developed drew heavily on the Roman model. The CHAPTER 1 course of study continued to be divided into the elementary trivium and the more advanced quadrivium; the trivium, however, was altered to include a heavier emphasis on the study of literature. Rhetoric no longer dealt exclu- sively with the means of persuasion but now included the study of law.

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    More striking is that the trivium no longer was limited to elementary education; in- stead, it was expanded greatly, encompassing elementary, secondary, and col- lege education. Completion of the trivium entitled students to a bachelor of arts degree. The quadrivium still included arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy, but geography and natural history, as well as astrology, were added to the curricu- lum.

    Music study, on the other hand, was reduced almost completely to signing and composing hymns. When students finished the quadrivium, they were awarded a master of arts degree. The seven arts of the Roman period became the "seven liberal arts," a phrase that eventually was reduced simply to the "liberal arts," which form the basis of our undergraduate education today.

    Throughout the Middle Ages, the study of grammar maintained its impor- tant place in education. Hunt stated that, during the 11 lh and 12 th centuries, "everyone had to study grammar, and it was regarded as the 'founda- tion and root' of all teaching" p. It is easy to understand why. When a language has no native speakers, nu- ances of expression and structure are easily lost and difficult if not impossible to retrieve.

    Consequently, students and teachers during the Middle Ages had to rely on the Latin grammars produced by Donatus and Priscian to understand the form and function of the language. Written in the 4 lh and 6 th centuries, re- spectively, these grammars were comprehensive and authoritative but difficult to understand because they were written for native speakers of Latin and were not intended to teach Latin as a second language.

    Consequently, teachers and students alike faced a dual challenge: mastering Latin grammar and also trying to understand exactly what Donatus and Priscian meant. Scholars during this period did not write new grammar books — rather they wrote glosses, or explan- atory commentaries, on Donatus and Priscian in an effort to understand the nuances of the language R. Hunt, These commentaries usually referred to classical literary texts to illustrate difficult points.

    The approach to instruction was similar in many respects to the grammar-translation method still used today in some schools to teach foreign languages. Students would study Latin grammar and vocabulary and then ap- ply their knowledge to translating and in some cases explaining the text of an ancient author, such as Cicero. By the end of the 13 th century, the curriculum began to change. Throughout the Greek and Roman periods and during the early Middle Ages, grammar and logic were distinct areas of study. Logic and grammar often were studied and taught together as language scholars connected the two areas in an attempt to approach language with the orderliness found in logic.

    For many years, Latin was viewed as the logically normal form of speech, but the growing influence of mathematics led to more formal logical structures that increasingly became the norm by which to mea- sure language. Scholars began comparing the natural language of speech to the artificial languages of math and logic and asserted that natural language should conform accordingly. The appeal of order may have been the result of fundamental changes in the way Europeans viewed the world.

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    Before 1 AD, people viewed reality in qualitative terms. For example, the cardinal directions were not viewed merely as points on a map — they had a more profound signification. As Crosby noted: South signified warmth and was associated with charity and the Passion of Jesus. East, toward the location of the terrestrial paradise, Eden, was especially potent, and that is why churches were oriented east-west with the business end, the altar, at the east.

    World maps were drawn with east at the top. We know that during this same period scholars produced a variety of general grammars that were different from their prede- cessors in that they attempted to show how linguistic structure was based on logical principles. What emerged was the view that people who spoke "incor- rectly" were not only violating the rules of the grammar but also were being il- logical.

    In a world increasingly dominated by logic rather than faith, the label of "illogical" was damning — and still is. Grammar study, therefore, was believed to improve the quality of mind. The Renaissance, however, with its celebration of the human as well as the divine, gave rise to a sense of in- dividualism that had been absent in Medieval society.


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    Perhaps more important for societies and civilization was the significant increase in commerce, which grew almost without interruption after the early s. By creating a middle class, which had not existed since the fall of the Roman Empire, commerce al- tered the very structure of Medieval society. For example, the law of primogen- iture required transfer of property from parents to their firstborn sons.

    As a result, large numbers of young men who were not firstborn had for centuries turned to the Church and priestly orders for their livelihood. Commerce offered opportunities where none had previously existed: These second sons could look forward to a future in business.