Thursday, August 28, 2008

Greek Rhetoric does Matter, even if Cahill omits it.

Having enjoyed Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization, I eagerly bought his Sailing the Wine Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, when I saw it on remainder. It is part of Cahill's series "The Hinges of History." Cahill's web page describes the book as showing
"the birth of a new cultural outlook that permeates the West to this day"
and "a magnificent new perspective on the evolution of the Western world. "
I am nearly finished reading, and on the whole, I have enjoyed it and learned. Joy Connolly's review from the New York Times, November, 2003, is generally favorable and in depth, whereas an anonymous citizen reviewer is a bit more critical (and less in depth). Perhaps my favorite parts are the first two chapters, on fighting in the Illiad and homecoming in the Odyssey. The book is divided into chapters about what western culture has learned from the Greeks, such as "how to fight" and "how to think."

I was surprised not to find "rhetoric" in the index, but I figured that the chapter on philosphy and Aristotle would surely mention rhetoric among the cognitive advances made by the Greeks. However, rhetoric is not there - neither with philosophy nor with politics and how to rule. It's an astonishing oversight on Cahill's part. I would love to ask him about his decision to omit rhetoric. In my opinion - OK biased - the ability to persuade (which is what rhetoric is) is fundamental to western culture and an understanding of psychology and philosophy (what counts as evidence, what does the audience value, how do we know what we know). And if you are going to discuss Aristotle's contribution to taxonomies, then his categorizing of appeals and topoi would be logical to mention.



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