branches of oratory
genera causarum

In classical rhetoric, oratory was divided into three branches or kinds of causes (genera causarum):

  1. judicial oratory (or "forensic");
  2. deliberative oratory (or "legislative") and
  3. epideictic oratory ("ceremonial" or "demonstrative").
For both the analysis of speeches and for composing them, students were trained in recognizing the appropriate kind of oratory. Aristotle associated with each type of oratory an aspect of time (past, present, future), set purposes, and appropriate ("special") topics of invention:
branch of oratory
special topics
of invention
accuse or defend
exhort or dissuade
praise or blame

There is little doubt that these categories do not exhaust the kinds of discourse (or even oratory) possible. Quintilian, for example, cataloged many other possible divisions of discourse outlined from antiquity (3.4). Yet these three have persisted and still prove useful in rhetorical analysis, partly because they focus on common social situations where persuasion is important and on broad categories of intention (the purposes listed above).

See Also

  • stasis
    The branches of oratory are closely tied to this process of establishing the issue at question.

Sample Rhetorical Analysis: BRANCHES OF ORATORY

In the third act of Shakespeare's Timon of Athens Alcibiades attempts to sway the Athenian senators from condemning a friend of his who killed someone in a bar fight. He thus employs judicial oratory, attempting to defend his friend. This is also apparent in his use of those special topics of invention Aristotle identified as appropriate for forensic oratory, "justice and injustice." In this case, Alcibiades tries to show that killing, while usually unjust, sometimes isn't wrong. In terms of stasis he does not dispute whether the killing took place (an sit?), or that it was a killing (quid sit?); rather, he argues on the basis of the nature of that act and its justification (quale sit?).

Alcibiades combines judicial and epideictic oratory when he adds praises regarding his friend (an encomium), hoping that his long service record will get him off the hook. The senators see through these ploys, however, and Alcibiades is banished.

  Sources: Aristotle, Rhetoric 1.3; Cic. Top. 23.91; Quint. 3.4


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Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University
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