Book 3 of Aristotle’s On Rhetoric begins his discussion of the both the overall importance of delivery and its individual elements. The word that Aristotle uses for delivery is hypokrisis, which in ancient Greek meant “acting.”[1] Modern usage of the word is also decidedly not about delivery, either, since hypocrites are people whose actions don’t match up with their words. Given this interesting confluence of meaning and the fact that delivery is one of the marginalized canons of rhetoric, it is only right that the term Aristotle uses be examined with greater precision.

Book 3, chapter 1 of On Rhetoric begins with Aristotle explaining that whereas the previous books have described the types of proofs and the composition used in creating speeches, he is now turning to elements of delivery. He uses the term hypokrisis in a paragraph describing the similarities between poetry, theater, politics, and rhetoric. Aristotle ends with a curious move that simultaneously recognizes the power of delivery while at the same time marginalizing it as being part of a “sad state of governments.”[2] In Kennedy’s translation this passage is footnoted with a comment that Aristotle is repeating a common Platonic critique of oratory in the democracy in Athens, calling it a form a flattery. Further on Aristotle seems to reluctantly accept the necessity of teaching hypokrisis has a “small, but necessary place.”

Perhaps it is not a coincidence, then, that hypokrisis took on a meaning that has pejorative undertones. After all, delivery (along with memory) is one of the least-cherished of the five canons of traditional rhetoric, having frequently been omitted from textbooks on speech[3] (including our own public speaking texts, where discussion of delivery is banished to the appendices.) Lynee Louis Gaillet makes this very argument, stating that “the terminology of ancient rhetoric as it has developed over the centuries is mute testimony to its scorned state. The Greek word for the fifth office of rhetoric hypokrisis is the root of the modern word hypocrisy and the term rhetoric to a layperson means empty and insincere speech.”[4]

Despite its traditional marginalization, modern rhetorical scholars are now starting to pay more attention to hypokrisis. Jodi Enders discusses the way that rhetoric intersects with acting, writing that “since delivery supplies considerable information about the nature, circumstances, and material trappings of histrionic performance, it is in the performative context that the similarities of rhetoric and drama may be most fully understood.”[5] The emergence of new technology-driven content delivery has intrigued many rhetorical scholars, prompting them to revisit the question of delivery while simultaneously critiquing the shrinking of the canon down to arrangement and style.[6] As technologies like web 2.0 mature it is likely that more and more attention will be paid to hypokrisis, whether Aristotle likes it or not.

[2] Aristotle. On Rhetoric. Trans. George A. Kennedy. New York: Oxford UP, 1991.Page 218

[4] Lewis Gaillet, Lynee. Scottish Rhetoric and its Influences. Routledge, 1998. Page 2

[5] Enders, Jodi. Landmark Essays on Rhetoric and Literature. Ed. Craig Kallendorf. Hermagoras, 1999.Page 66

[6] Re-situating and re-mediating the canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity, http://www.technorhetoric.net/11.3/topoi/prior-et-al/core/core.pdf

1 comment:

LeAnn Winter said...

The marginalization of hypokrisis parallels the classic idea that a true orator cannot be taught the skill of eloquence. Aristotle must have thought, as did others, that it would be a waste of time trying to teach someone a skill that they could only be born with. If we hold true to this then the question becomes how much time should we spend with hypokrisis? If not, then what have we learned since the time of Aristotle and the classics about the education of eloquence?