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Giving Beothius a little Ars dictiminus

We send you greetings, Boethius, born of fine Roman heritage and bless’d by Peter, John, and Mary (et. al) and beseech you to reconsider your position on the subordination of rhetoric to dialectic. Further, we urge you to examine your not fully developed (nor perhaps transcribed…?) treatment of Cicero’s three purposes of rhetoric, for though teaching and moving an audience are to be commended, would not this purpose be more fully fulfilled in a state of pleasure? Should not the audience be pleased to learn and thus more moved to do so? Also, I should like to inquire about the distinctions between constitutiones and status, for clearly there is one where the former is and is not parts of the latter, but which the latter might constitute the entirety of the former, if I understand your meaning, which I am fairly sure I do not.


Given your esteem of Cicero, I am disheartened at your low treatment of rhetoric as dealing only with the “civil hypotheses” which needs “both an adversary and a judge” (489). Did not your esteemed Cicero state that language, which is the purview of both rhetoric and dialectic, is our “greatest advantage over the brute creation [which allows us to] reproduce our thought in word” (293)? Further, in discussing “the highest achievement of eloquence” he asks, “what other power could have been strong enough either to gather scattered humanity in one place, or to lead it out of its brutish existence in the wilderness up to our present condition of civilization as men and as citizens?”(293-4). For Cicero, rhetoric calls forth the brute from the wilderness, thus placing its power before dialectic, where dialectic is predicated upon the communication and civility of otherwise feral men. What power is it that calls them forth from their brutality and fierceness? That of rhetoric, that of the orator, that of eloquence well placed and timed.


Thus I request that you return to your notes, perhaps ill-scribed in poor lighting, to treat and retreat these statements of yours to be more in accordance with those whose ideas came before and from which you might do well to learn. While admiring your treatments of dialectic (though, which I confess, I have not read) I pray to all the virgins and saints (and whomever else is listening) that you reconsider your position on the limits of rhetoric, for to confine it within these categoric limitations is to disempower a force that can turn animals into men and wolf packs into civilizations. Where would your precious dialectic be without these institutions, securities, and language?


Carry on, dear sir. Your friend, humble servant, and etc.




One comment on “Giving Beothius a little Ars dictiminus

  1. This is great–meeting Beothius on his own turf to question his distinction of rhetoric and dialectic. It’s a very dialectic move. Also, the move to quote Cicero as a way to boost your ethos while questioning his claims is something out of the Medieval tradition that is reapplied when humanism and scholasticism vie for power in England during the Tudor era. But my favorite part is that this is written as a persuasive letter, which would have been a newer use of an older technology at this point–one that recognizes the power of written language as persuasive (the rhetoric Boethius seems not-so-fond of). By making the argument in the form that you’ve selected, you’ve already made a point that is hard to disagree with.

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