Oral Tradition In Ancient Greece

Oral tradition or culture can be described as cultural materials, concepts or ideas that transmitted without the help of written records. Some of the oral forms of culture include poetry, genealogies, folktales, songs, rhetoric, narrative poetry, sayings, and jokes. According to Worthington (2002), Greek oratory and Greek rhetoric are the critical elements of oral culture in ancient Greek, and the two are intimately connected. The Greeks have traditionally been known for their art of rhetoric through persuasive verbal communication.

Ancient Greek Rhetoric

The rhetoric concept was always a constant feature in ancient Greek. Classical rhetoric was discovered in the ancient city-state of Athens. According to McKay (2018), all free males were expected to engage in politics under the Athenian democracy, and this marked the beginning of ancient rhetoric. In this case, every man in Athen was supposed to persuade his countrymen to support or reject a particular piece of legislation in the assembly. Therefore, a man‘s rhetorical ability determined his influence and success in the community. The Sophists were 5th-century teachers that emerged to teach rhetoric in schools to ensure that every man had the required rhetorical ability. Also, the Sophists moved from one city to another, teaching young men how to speak and debate in public spaces. The most notable Sophists during that time were Isocrates and Gorgias and were paid large sums of money to teach rhetoric and public speaking skills. Some of the critical elements of the Sophist curriculum included; instruction and guidelines on argumentative styles, the definition of different parts of speech, as well as analysis of poetry. In this case, students were taught how to make a strong argument weak and a weak argument stronger. Although the traditional Sophists disregarded the truth and primarily focused on emotional persuasion, McKay (2018) observes that the rhetoric concept was later adopted by famous philosophers such Aristotle who used it to help their audiences to understand and see the truth. Persuasive language, as well as logical principles, was used to persuade audiences. Aristotle managed to effectively apply the concept through effective use of style, parts of speech, rhetorical topics, the three genres of rhetoric, as well as the three means of persuasion.

Greek Oratory

According to Worthington (2002), the spoken word concept was derived from ancient Greek oratory which is considered as the formal rhetoric. Many aspects of life in ancient Greece were shaped by rhetoric when writing and reading appeared difficult and unnatural. Greek rhetoric became the primary form of expression in the 5th and 4th centuries. Before the end of the 5th century, Greek life and culture were characterized by oral modes of thought and communication. Rhetoric was common among Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle who used to apply the communication and debating skills they learned for rhetoric to convince their audiences. Therefore, philosophy could not be separated from rhetoric in ancient Greece. Worthington (2002) observes that oral communication through rhetoric influenced how society conceived speech as well as well as societal institutions and processes. The spoken word assumed most burdens in communication because written texts were rare. Therefore, important information had been presented through memorable speeches characterized by eloquence and sweet words. The degree of charm in verbal communication was used to the effectiveness of verbal communication. In the pre-historic age, the speaker’s intentions and speaking techniques were never used to classify or assess oral communication.

Generally, Greek rhetoric and Greek oratory are the two major forms of oral culture in ancient Greek. The two forms of culture shaped various aspect of life in Greek including communication, politics, education, and Greek philosophy. Rhetoric was introduced in the 5th century when written materials were rare and unnatural. Therefore, oral culture played a critical role in shaping ancient Greek traditions, institutions, and processes.

10 October 2020
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